Saturday, July 31, 2010

Homer's Odyssey

Book 40: Homer's Odyssey 
Gwen Cooper

I think I've said before in this blog that once in a while a book grabs me in an unexpected way, pulls me in, and affects my emotions in ways I wasn't anticipating.  Homer's Odyssey is one of these books. 

Homer's Odyssey tells the story of an abandoned, blind kitten that Gwen Cooper adopts.  As Homer adapts to his new life with Gwen and her other two cats, Scarlett and Vashti, Gwen and her friends and family learn more about life and love than they ever expected from Homer.  

I consider myself an animal person.  I'm a cat owner by default.  Growing up, we always had dogs.  I never entertained the idea of a cat until I realized my life is too unpredictable for me to be a good dog owner.  I travel too much, keep too many late hours.  I have ended up with two cats, Samantha and Magic.  I treat them like dogs, and for the most part, it works.  But I think that was one of the first things that helped me identify with Gwen Cooper- I, too, was a woman of a certain age with more than one cat.  There's a lot of stereotypes there, and I really struggled with adopting Magic because of that.  But I thought Samantha needed the companionship, and nearly two years later, here we are.  So I really understood Gwen's hesitation at agreeing to consider adopting Homer after she had two other cats already.

For animal lovers, though, there's sometime no choice. For whatever reason, that animal captures our heart and we're powerless to say no to bringing them into our lives.

So began Homer's journey with Gwen.  Cooper recounts how Homer never really realized he is blind- the world just is as it is to him, and he adjusts.  Like most animals, it took a bit of time for Scarlett and Vashti to warm up to him, but they did.

At the same time, Homer's capacity for love, and his innate ability to assume the world is a good place, despite his wretched first few weeks, taught the author a lot about how to judge character in people.  If we pay attention, we can all learn a lot from the animals around us.  So many of Cooper's friends and family took to Homer. Yes, the novelty of being blind probably sparked a lot of the interest, but the little cat managed to endear himself to so many people by doing what came naturally to him.  Reminds me of some of my friends, and how they have such special bonds with animals.

Homer has some amazing abilities, perhaps due to other senses that are heightened to compensate for his lack of  sight.  I laughed out loud reading about him going after a fly.  And I cringed out of fear for the author and was so proud of Homer in the chapter called Mucho Gato- and to avoid any spoilers, that's all I will say about that.

Cooper and the cats were living very close to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.  Cooper was forced to evacuate with no time to retrieve the cats.  I've always had a hard time grieving 9/11.  I don't know why.  Perhaps it is because if I really let myself think about the anguish and desperation of so many people, it would be hard to come out of it.  Reading Homer's Odyssey, even all these years after 9/11, I was able to do a little of that grieving.  I think it was because of how much- hope? No, that isn't the right word. Maybe community? that came out of 9/11, at least in the immediate aftermath.  So many people, friends and family, rallied to help Cooper rescue the cats and make sure they were housed after the rescue.

I don't think you have to be a cat person to appreciate Homer's Odyssey. I do think you have to be an animal person, though.  There's something about being able to appreciate our pets- always so glad to see us whether we have been gone five minutes or five days. The special bond we have with our animals, treating them as true companions. I think it would be hard for someone who doesn't have that same relationship with animals to appreciate the beauty of the story.  Cooper's writing style is open and friendly.  I felt like she could have been telling me the story of being Homer's owner over coffee or chatting at a party.

I originally bought this as an ebook, but I'll be adding a physical copy to my collection.  What can I say? I laughed, I cried, I fell a little in love with Homer.  This book was heartwarming and charming.  I'm so glad Homer found me.

Oh, and you can follow Homer on Twitter: @homerblindcat

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What Are We Really Teaching Our Kids

Book 39: Pop Goes The Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes

Most of us have sung them or chanted them. Little nursery rhymes our parents taught us to show how clever we are. Maybe to teach us a lesson of some sort.  But how many of us have ever really thought about what these nursery rhymes mean?  Some carried hidden messages, others were somewhat sinister, and many are downright bawdy.

Thanks to my friend Amy, I discovered this book.  A relatively quick read, Albert Jack takes several popular nursery rhymes and songs and traces their origins.  Of course, with many of them, there's more than one possible source, and it is interesting to read all the scenarios.

Take for instance "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary."  At first glance this is a tale of a pretty garden.  In reality, it is most likely the story of Queen Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, with the silver bells and cockleshells being thumbscrews and other  torture devices designed to squeeze certain, um, sensitive areas.  The pretty maids in a row? Guillotines.  Think about that next time you think it will be cute to teach that little ditty to a child.

What about Rub a Dub Dub?  Description of a peep show- first with three women, but then with three men.  Yep.

And our Star Spangled Banner?  Got its start as a British drinking tune. 

This is a book that is easy to read in pieces.  It is enlightening, providing insight into something that has been a part of our culture for centuries or longer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Game On, Y'all

Book 38:The Game On Diet
Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson

Through some of the other very cool book bloggers and Twitter mavens, I heard about The Game On Diet.  I've decided to join a team and play for the month of August.

Like I tend to do, I thought it sounded fun and I signed up without knowing anything about the diet and what the competition would be like.  But I like a competition, I'm looking for something to encourage me to do what I know I should be doing from a food and drink and exercise perspective, and this is all about points and prizes when you do the right thing.  Then I started reading the book.  And all the advice is sound- this isn't really a diet, more of a lifestyle change, and very healthy.  Except that I have to give up even diet sodas.  What?  Yes.  Well, we can have them on the food day off that the game allows each week.  This is going to be hard.  I like my sodas.  I only drink diet as it is.  So why can't we have them here?  Well, we all know sodas are full of crap.  Artificial things.  Stuff we don't really need.  And I think it will be good that I have to really, really cut back on them.  I want to be healthier and this is a good way to start.  

The other thing that's going to be interesting is cutting back on the booze.  I don't drink every day, but I do enjoy my cocktails.  I'm kind of excited about cutting way back on them.

And sleep!  With this game, we are penalized if we don't get at least seven hours of sleep a night.  I'm so excited to plan to go to bed earlier. I love my sleep.  I took a nice long nap yesterday. I loved it. I needed it. And I felt a million times better after it.  So I think this will be a good thing.

Yes, there are a lot of rules with this game.  It's trying to level the playing field for all the participants.  But we also get a day off each week from the rules of the game.  So there's the chance to relax and enjoy life with the whole thing.

Starting in August, I'll be working out more, eating better, sleeping more, and hopefully having a ton of fun.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost, Found, Still Missing

Book 37: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

What happens when you realize you are in a living hell?  When you think you've survived the worst thing that can happen, only to learn there are things far more insidious that you must endure? How do you put your life back together after everything that defined you is taken away?  Is there a point when you play into a twisted game to protect someone you care about, or even yourself?

I devoured this book.  I started it at 7:30 on Thursday evening, stayed up way too late reading it into the early hours of Friday morning, and finished it over lunch Friday afternoon. Could not put it down.

Told through sessions with a therapist, Still Missing reveals Annie O'Sullivan's story.  An up-and-coming real estate agent, Annie is kidnapped one evening as she is wrapping up an open house.  Held for a year by a man she calls simply The Freak, Annie endures physical and psychological torture at the hands of this madman.  After her eventual escape (no spoilers here, you can get this level of detail from the book jacket), Annie struggles to readjust to her life of freedom. The police are still investigating The Freak's true identity, yet little things keep happening that make Annie think the nightmare might still be going on.

As Annie tells her story to her therapist, you can sense her anger and lingering fear.  I found my own heart speeding up when Annie described her fear and confusion at her abduction.  Let's face it, most of us don't have experience here.  We only know what we've seen on TV dramas and movies.  We don't really know what we can endure, and how we would handle it, until we're in the situation.  The Freak is manipulative, exploiting Annie's fears to gain her compliance.   I found myself wondering what I would do in a similar situation.  I'm not sure I'm as strong as this character. 

Stevens throws in a twist to Annie's story that I didn't see coming. The ending has garnered the most discussion in the Amazon reviews.  I liked the twist- and there's a lot I could say on it but it would be a major spoiler and I don't want to do that.

The mark of a good storyteller, and likely something every author wants on some level, is the creation of a story that lingers even after the last word is read. Stevens has done that in Still Missing. There were a few scenes describing Annie's captivity that had me double checking the locks on the doors and making sure I had set the alarm.  Some of the psychological torture Stevens describes really got to me, as it is the kind of things that make up my nightmares.  But I liked that the story drew me in this much.  

This story has stayed with me since I finished it, making me think about a lot of things. I have a new respect for Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart.  As a public, we consumed their stories, but we don't know anything about them, not really.  Fortunately, most of us will never understand what they have been through.  And we're in no place to criticize how they made it through, and how they are surviving now. I hope they have a friend like Annie's friend Christina- someone to give them a little tough love, but who is there for them unconditionally.  Someone they can't push away, no matter how hard they try.

And I also wonder at my own actions.  I'm generally a friendly person.  I smile at strangers.  I'm careful, but I don't look at people as a potential threat to me.  Annie was like that before her abduction.  Makes me wonder a bit if I shouldn't be so unassuming. 

Stevens' debut work has me looking forward to what she has to say in future works.  Highly recommend.

Spark! Come on Baby, Light my Fire....

Book 36, The Spark!

Book 36, y'all! And you can tell from the title I'm changing up the format a bit.  I thought the book number and title might be getting a little boring. Since this is the first post of July, I thought it was a good time to mix it up a bit.

Anyway, I actually finished Spark! over a week ago.  I debated about even blogging it, and finally decided that I spent the time listening to it, I should blog it.  Why the deliberation?  I listened to it as part of a program I'm doing to eat healthier and work out more.  Some of my co-workers told me about the Spark People website, that lets you track what you eat and how you work out, helping you work towards your goals. The Spark! is the book by the program's creator.

It explains the first four weeks of the program, gives you his back story, and some inspiring vignettes from people who have been successful on the Spark People program.  It's a quick read. The audiobook was only about four hours, unabridged.

It was interesting- didn't tell me a lot that I didn't already know.  That being said, I am sure there are some people who would find it very inspiring.  I wouldn't read this one, though, unless you're doing or considering the Spark People program.