Friday, May 31, 2013

Charles Lamb, my latest fascination...

(Wikimedia Commons)

There is an awesome portrait of him HERE, but I can't post it because it isn't in the public domain. Sigh. Still, you can see it for yourself by clicking on the link.

I am fascinated by the story of Charles and his sister Mary. For a brief overview, see HERE. I am in the middle of researching this sibling pair, and I will probably bore you with blog posts about them as time goes on. Sorry in advance. :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I finally bought a keyboard for my iPad! I can't tell you what a difference this is making for me. I have the iPad for work, but I often find it so cumbersome to use it for editing, simply because I always have to use the touch keyboard when I try to edit. This is SO much better! I love it! I feel like I have a second laptop, and this means that I will use the iPad that much more.

Also, I downloaded Pages from the App Store. I love it, too. I always used the Apple word processing software before they started using Word. I found Appleworks (and its various incarnations) to be so much more user friendly. I have missed it! Well, now I basically have it again! YAY! I can do just about anything on Pages through my iPad, and I can install it on my computer at home, too. This is a great day!

In other news:

Jeff graduated from BCT on Friday! AND: the graduated with honors in the top ten percent of his class!! Hooray for Jeff! I am so proud of him! I know that his parents and sister are having a great time with him, but his weekend pass is almost over. :(  He will stay at Ft. Sill for his AIT training. At least we will see him afterward when he comes home for a little while before shipping out!

Well, that is about it. I am just so happy to be able to blog remotely with this keyboard. I love, love, love it!! (Yeah, I know...I am behind the times...but these things are expensive. I had to wait until I could afford it all! LOL! The funniest part is that I keep trying to use my thumb to scroll up with a touch pad, just like I do with my laptop. Then, I have to remind myself that I have to use my fingers on the actual iPad screen and not my keyboard! Ha!)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I don't feel so bad...

So, I googled photos of other "TBR" piles, and I realized two things:

1. We have a lot of the same books in our "TBR" piles....

2. I am not alone in my guilt that I have a lot of unread books around the house!

It really is pathetic, though. I mean, books are expensive. Why do I buy one and then not read it immediately? Better yet: why do I buy books at all right now (or even download them), if I haven't finished what I have? I think the truth is that I am an emotional reader. What I mean by that is that I have to choose my reading material based on my mood or need at the time. Still, I have way too many books. I need to donate them to our friends of the library store, because I know I will never get through all of them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A beautiful Tuesday on campus at The University of Alabama!

Denny Chimes
(Photo by Susan Reynolds)

Historical Marker
(Photo by Susan Reynolds)

Gorgas Library
(Photo by Susan Reynolds)

Gorgas House
(Photo by Susan Reynolds)

A spot of shade on the quad...PS: Thanks, squirrel, for photo bombing my picture.
Good thing you are so cute. :)
(Photo by Susan Reynolds)

Monday, May 13, 2013

R.I.P. Kilgore House

“I have spent the past three years writing an architectural history of the University of Alabama for the UA Press (it will be available this September), so I am very familiar with the campus. I think the demolition of the Kilgore House today was a terrible loss for the University and also Bryce Hospital.

“The University has spent a tremendous amount of time and money developing a well thought out master plan and a set of architectural guidelines for future growth that (on paper, but obviously not in practice) pay respect to and "protect" the historical portions of campus. These guidelines also emphasize ‘green solutions’ whenever possible (sending a 123 year old house to a landfill is not one of them). Demolishing an historic building with many important historical and architectural links to the history of both the University of Alabama and to Bryce Hospital is, in my opinion, shocking. Replacing it with an ‘outdoor food court’ leaves me speechless.” 

-- Dr. Robert Mellown, Associate Professor of Art History Emeritus

Agreed, Dr. Mellown. The historic Kilgore House is being torn down today and tomorrow. As some of you know, I used to work there (as of last July...we were moved out and into another historic home, which is also lovely, in downtown N'port). Anyway, this is my favorite photo of the house (well, the interior, at least). I was upstairs in my office when a violent thunderstorm began. I was a bit scared to be up there (the chimney over my office was unstable and the wind was really blowing hard), so I came down and sat on the staircase. This photo shows how warm and homey our work space was.

I wrote almost all of my dissertation at the Kilgore House, and I made friends with more than one ghostly presence. :)  I will miss the house terribly.

Click HERE for an article about the Kilgore House.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Cahaba River!

If you would like to see photos of our (the magazine staff's) field trip to see the Cahaba River and Centerville, check out my blog Alabama Letters! Click HERE.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Teaser from Amazon:

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

If you saw my preview to this review (posted last week), you know that I have never read a novel about September 11, 2001. I have waited a long time to see a novel that might describe something--anything--about those events in an accurate way, and I think that Jonathan Safran Foer's novel comes as close as possible. Because how do you really describe something like 9/11? No, I wasn't in New York City. I am not a New Yorker. But that doesn't mean that that day didn't have a profound impact on my life.

And I remember almost everything about "the worst day," as Foer describes it. I remember my mother waking me up, saying that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers. I remember turning on the television just in time to see the second plane flying toward the next tower. I remember holding my breath and knowing, immediately, that this was not an accident. I thought about the people in the planes and then about the people in the towers. I knew the towers wouldn't hold up.

I had to go to class that day, and I remember running to our student union building before class so that I could stare in silence (with a couple hundred other people...people I didn't know but who were such a comfort) at a television screen. News tickers started to take over my life. When I finally walked to class, I was still in shock. I couldn't imagine discussing literary criticism in the  middle of all of this. But that is what we did...well, at least after the first fifteen minutes of class. My professor, when he came into the room, went on a tirade about Bush, and I remember thinking, "This is not the time."

I also remember picking up my mom for her dinner hour that day. She had to work late, and I always picked her up to take her to dinner around 5 p.m. On the way to the department store where she worked, I saw guards standing everywhere around the Veteran's hospital, watching for who knows what. The streets were empty on the way to the store, and we sat in a small cafe and watched the news over dinner.

In the days that followed, I had a strange physical reaction to everything. My chest hurt so badly, and I realized that I had been curled up into myself for days (literally), and that my muscles were protesting. I went to church that Friday, because the president asked us to go. And I still continued to watch the news, leaving the television on as I slept at night.

Throughout the whole experience, the news (even though we might question what we heard in retrospect) was my lifeline to my sanity and my country. I had to watch because I had to know...something. Anything. The chaos and insecurity of that time--exactly what the terrorists wanted--happened. Some say that allowed them to win, but I would say that it made me stronger. The thing about constant news (and the need to know) is that it arms you. Sometimes it is with really bad information, and you have to develop the common sense to know how to filter what you hear. But having information makes you powerful. Knowing the state of the world makes you powerful--and usually in really unexpected ways.

As I said in my "preview" post about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, one of my first thoughts after I calmed down from the chaos of 9/11 was that I knew the children and young people who went through it first hand in New York would one day produce works of art--movies, paintings, books--of such amazing beauty about this event. I don't think I was wrong.

Though Foer's book doesn't directly allow you to experience 9/11 through the eyes of one of the immediate victims in the towers or airplanes (which would be hard to do unless that person survived), it does give you the experience of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father died in the towers on the morning of the terrorist attack.

I love Oskar. He is strange and quirky and unreasonable in so many ways, but his voice stays with me. I miss him now that I have finished reading the book, and, to me, that is the mark of a good reading experience.

The essence of the plot is this: 

Oskar Schell, released from school early on September 11, 2001, arrives home to find messages on his answering machine. The messages are from his father, who is trapped on one of the upper floors of the trade center towers. Unable to answer the phone when it rings again with his father's last message, Oskar is haunted by his actions and by the events which took his father's life. Oskar's father, Thomas, loved to play games that required Oskar to go on scavenger hunts, and when Oskar finds an envelope in his father's closet, he wonders if this is the last game instigated by his dad. The envelope simply has the word "Black" written on the outside. Inside, there is a key. Oskar spends the remainder of the book searching for the key's lock, meeting all kinds of people along the way who help him (ultimately) come to an understanding about himself and his father's death.


Yeah, that is it in a nutshell. But there is so much more. There is the background story of Oskar's grandparents, the mystery of Oskar's mother's actions throughout the story, and so much more to consider. In the end, the most wonderful thing about this book is that it explores what so many of us felt on that horrible day. Yes, Oskar is directly changed by 9/11, seeing as how he is related to a victim and lives in New York. He claims a certain ownership over the tragedy (I believe at one point he says, "Shouldn't this be mine?" or something like that). But his confusion and grief are common to most Americans and others around the world as they watched what happened.

The other side of the coin...

Not everyone loves this book, though. I read one review that explained that though Foer did get Oskar's sadness right, the rest of the book was "annoying." Well, it is told in unusual ways (there are photos and strange manipulations of text...but none of that bothers fact, I like it). There are little things Oskar does that might seem annoying, but he doesn't bother me either. He is a child, but he is also an old soul in a child's body. He has been through so much, and it has completely altered his existence.

Another reviewer said that she didn't like the book because eventually she basically had to feel too much.

I get it. This isn't an easy read or an easy subject. We are all going to have different reactions.

But, just for me, the book was close to perfect. It captured the one overriding need that I had during the whole event: the need to cling to whatever truths I could find.

And Oskar does this, too. He talks about truth a lot, but he also struggles with holding onto it. It is a mark of trauma, this need to hold onto reality and yet relive and make up things, and Oskar's character brilliantly portrays this issue. One thing Oskar keeps saying throughout the book is, "I know this." Each time he said this (or something like it), I almost broke down. I think those moments captured the desperation of his mind to cling to anything that is stable. So much is unknown and causes him panic (a feeling, as I said, I remember well at that time), and to think of a little boy having to give himself some confidence in his world by saying, "I know this," is just staggering.

In any case, you should read this book. Though it can be strange and you need to make an effort with it at times, I think this book is totally worth it. It is cathartic, healing, and beautiful.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Galleys are here! AKA: Time to break into the chocolate stash.

Happy Birthday to my parents!

My parents have birthdays that are one week apart! Last weekend, my mom celebrated her birthday, and this weekend, dad will celebrate his! Happy Birthday to my parents! I love you!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

I miss Jeff!!!

Jeff is at BCT in Oklahoma, and I miss him so much! This was taken VERY early in the morning on our graduation day (he graduated with his BS in criminal justice; I graduated with the PhD in was a great day! I loved sharing it with him!). I love you, Jeff!!! I can't wait until you have leave to come home!!!!

What I am reading now: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I haven't updated in a while, because our production cycle was crazy at the magazine! Also, because of the delays, we had to jump right into the next issue...which has been crazy and full of challenges, too! I don't have a review ready for you just yet, but I should soon. I just finished a reread of About a Boy (for the online class I am participating in), and I am now in the middle of  Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I am interested to see how this book will end. So far, I really love it. It is unusual and the main character, young Oskar, has a distinctive voice. I have read some reviews of the book where people found (eventually) the book to be a bit annoying, though every book reviewer also mentioned that Foer is capable of portraying the sense of loss very well. I agree.

This is the first "9/11" book I have been able to summon the courage to read (other than the 9/11 Report). As someone who loves books and writing, one of my first thoughts (after I could actually manage to think again) after the first days of the tragedy passed was that some incredible literature would come out of this event. Still, reading about 9/11 is a difficult thing to do, at least for me. I will discuss my reactions to 9/11 in my actual review of the book, but so far I think this book does a great job of capturing certain emotions I was feeling, even though I was not living in New York.

The imagination is a powerful thing, and I think that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is doing a great job of capturing what happens to the mind of someone who not only lived in New York/America at the time of the tragedy, but also of someone who lost someone that day. Like I said, I don't have a final verdict yet, but I like it so far.