Monday, May 29, 2006

Confessions of a Bookseller

Here's one of my secrets, which I wouldn't say outloud in the company of other booksellers:

I hate reading book reviews. Book reviews, especially extra clever ones, just make my eyes glaze over.

If and when I do read a book review all the way through, I'm rarely left with a real sense of what reading the book will be like. And when I read a review of a book I'm already familiar with, I most often think, "Geez, I'd have written a very different review."

An exception: If reviewers start off by telling me how they personally connected to a book (why they chose to read it, how it influenced them, why they thought it was worth reading even if it was a tough one, etc.) I get sucked right in, I love reading what they have to say, and I may actually go read the book!

To Da Vinci or Not To Da Vinci

The other day I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR and she had several Catholic priests on a panel discussing reaction to The Da Vinci Code and the fact that the book and movie do not present the Catholic Church in a favorable light.

I only caught a few minutes of the show, but got the general impression that the priests' opinions ranged from "we need to give the reader/moviegoer credit enough not to judge the Catholic Church based on a work of fiction" to "we should boycott this book/movie because it is extremely disrepectful, potentially devasting to people with fledgling faith, and if it were presenting Judaism or Islam in such a light people would be outraged."

Some of my thoughts:

(1) I am a supporter of freedom of speech, a believer in taking literary license when writing fiction, and in my ideal world people actually think about what they read and are conscious about how it shapes their view of things that are outside their realm of experience.

(2) On the other hand, a neighbor (who lives in the real world, not in my ideal world) told me that after they saw The Da Vinci Code, her husband said he just knew there was something sinister about the Catholic Church and the movie confirms it.

(3) I believe in being respectful. As a member of an often maligned and misunderstood church, I relate on a deep emotional level with the priests' concerns. It makes me uncomfortable and, yes, defensive to think that people's views of Mormonism (which is far less known than Catholicism) are formed by reading books like Under the Banner of Heaven, which spent years on the best seller list.

(4) On the other hand, it's sort of exciting to see that in any given publication season there are a handful of titles being published by national, well known publishers with LDS characters or backdrops. Granted, most of them are negative (read: more lucrative), but they do put Mormonism on the radar screen (there's no such thing as bad publicity?).

(5) In the end, I believe it is important to have both the freedom to put ideas out there (fact, fiction, and even weird, mutated interpretations of fact) and the freedom to boycott them. And hopefully in the whole muddled mess of it all, some of us will gain greater understanding.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Funny Jack Story

Note: From here on out, I will label all funny Jack stories as such so if you are inclined to roll your eyes at utterly indulgent parents like me, you can skip over them easily. However, I have to tell you, funny Jack stories really are funny.

So this morning, the first day of summer vacation, Jack breezes into our room a full half hour earlier than we'd been waking him up for school all year. I said, "Jack, how is it that we had to drag you out of bed every morning for school, and here you are up so early today?"

"Oh," he laughed, "It's just one of the mysteries of me!"

Friday, May 26, 2006

Did I Leave You Hanging?

My friend Sara emailed me today and said that I broke a key blogging rule: following up. In my very first entry way back in December (when I was nuts enough to think I had time to start blogging), I said that "I'm pretty sure life is going to be changing for me and my family over the coming months and writing about it might help me come to terms with it all."

So far, I don't have any specific details about the changes (which are basically positive changes, btw, but I'm feeling very ambivalent about them), but as soon as I can blog about it I will. I guess I am now officially following up, but I'm still leaving you all hanging. Sorry!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No Child Left Behind

Jack brought home his final report card from first grade yesterday. He's done well in school and his teacher said she really enjoyed having him in class. (I suspect she shared more than one "Jack story" in the teacher's lounge over the course of the year.)

We're very proud of him for his end-of-year state tests. He scored 58/58 on language arts and 54/55 on math. The tests were administered as part of the No Child Left Behind initiative, which is now officially a part of our lives and a defining factor in the education Jack will participate in.

So I should probably pay more attention.

Up until now, my opinions about NCLB have been fairly superficial (although look at me bandying about an acronym like I'm in the know!). It sounds good in theory, but nightmarish in practice. I worry that schools will just teach to testing more than ever. I worry that we'll all just end up striving for mediocrity. I worry that smart, creative teachers will just start running away screaming. I worry that it will just cost lots and lots of money for little, if any, return. I worry that the struggling students we're trying to help will end up being hurt because we're under the (possibly false?) impression that NCLB is the solution.

What do you all think of NCLB? What should I know about it as a public school parent? What, if anything, needs to change? And as a parent and a citizen, how can I help that process along?

In a related story: The other day Publisher's Weekly ran a story about children's author Patricia Polacco who was uninvited to speak at the International Reading Association's national conference because she refused to censor her remarks against NCLB. Apparently a key sponsor was SRA/McGraw Hill, a company in the business of publishing NCLB tests (perhaps the very tests Jack took) ( You can also visit her website at

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Life in a Small Town

After picking Jack up at school today, we started driving to The Read Leaf and saw one of our neighbors, a junior high student, stuggling along the side of the road with a huge tuba case. We stopped to offer some help, put his tuba in the back of the Jeep, and dropped it off for him a couple of blocks away at his family's shaved ice kiosk (btw, we didn't have room in the Jeep for both him and his tuba--he had to walk).

When we got to The Read Leaf, Jack and his friends, Johnny and Benny from the Chinese restaurant next door, and I walked less than a block to the bank. While I was making a deposit, chatting it up with the tellers who all know who I am, the boys went next door to the drug store and ordered huge ice creams for $1 at their old-fashioned soda fountain.

When we got back, Roger headed out to the post office, which is less than two blocks away, to mail off a packet of photos that he got developed less than four blocks away at a store owned by our old neighbors. Johnny, Benny and Jack headed out to play at the playground by the library, less than a block away. Incidentally, the director of the library happens to be a neighbor of ours!

The other night we attended a wedding reception for one of our neighbors at the local art museum and people we didn't know recognized us from The Read Leaf! Last night I went to a little "work party" to help Shelley, who is a bookseller here at The Read Leaf, with her wedding invitations. One of her friends at the party saw me and said, "Didn't I see you at the reception at the art museum on Saturday?"

Shelley is having her wedding reception at her family's home. To avoid traffic congestion, they'll be asking people to park at a church parking lot a block or two away. Roger and I thought it would be a hoot to find a golf cart and offer a shuttle service that night. And who are we borrowing the golf cart from? The neighbor family of tuba boy who owns the shaved ice kiosk!


Monday, May 22, 2006

Old, Old Friends

Last night Roger, Jack and I went to a party to celebrate several birthdays with some friends that date back to college days.

Roger and Jack just had their birthday on the 17th (yes, it's very cool they have the same birthday but they are starting to plot how to leverage that to their best advantage in terms of wrangling extravagant gifts out of me). Our friend Carolyn and her daughter Kirsten (who is the same age as Jack) and our friend Jeri also have May birthdays. So we had a birthday cake with five candles on it, one for each of them.

Throughout the evening I kept thinking two things: (1) How amazingly comforting it is to be in the company of old friends that we can just fall into step with regardless of how long it's been and who love and appreciate us regardless of how all our lives have evolved over the years, and (2) how amazingly disconcerting it is to be in the company of "old" friends who now have children in college!

This past year I've reconnected with several old friends, and I'm so glad. One of my oldest friends, Judy (we date back to first grade!), found my email address one day and since then we've corresponded a bit and were able to get together for dinner last fall while Jack and I were back east. It was fun to meet her husband and daughter, and to laugh about old times. We hadn't really seen each other since high school, and it was so nice to get a glimpse of the good life she's created for herself. I'm a little worried, however, about the glimpse she had into my life--Jack could have used a bit more wrangling at the dinner table that night. Ah, but at least he's cute!

Somehow I'd lost touch with one of my favorite college friends, Sally. Every six months or so I'd google her, but no luck for several years. Just a couple of months ago, I came across her sketch blog and was able to reconnect with her. She is someone I just love knowing, and it feels good to know where she is in the world.

I loved getting an out of the blue email from Wade the other day, or getting a surprise visit from Becky and her family as they drove from Disneyland to their home in Idaho Falls over spring break, or a getting a phone call from Wendy, or sharing a rare meal with Jon and catching up on all of the changes in his life. I have such good memories of all of my old friends and hope to make more!

This past Christmas I finally got Christmas cards out after a five-year hiatus (I refused to use the lame excuse that I'm too busy owning a retail business in December anymore). Some of the cards came back undelivered. I don't know where Mindy is anymore, or Denise, or Janine, or several others. I'm going to try harder to find them and reconnect. They are all part of who I am.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Girls' Camp

Roger, Jack and I just got back from the huge, fairly new girls' camp facility just east of Heber, Utah. I'm the assistant girls' camp director for our LDS church ward this summer, and I wanted to check it out.

Wow! Here's a link if you're interested :

A few years ago, I was the camp director and we had to organize tents, food (and food storage solutions to keep bears out), cooking equipment, firewood, canoes, sanitary facilities, tarps for both shade and the inevitable rain storms, etc. for a group of about 50 girls and leaders for four days. It was a part-time job for several months. The logistics alone about killed me. Never mind the skunk some of the girls discovered in their tent at 4:00 a.m.

Going to the Heber Valley Camp will be a dream. And much more like my own camp experience as a teenager, when we'd go to a proper camp in New England. Cabins, flush toilets, dining hall.

I love connecting to nature, but much prefer it when my bunk is a few feet off the ground and I can hop in a hot shower once in a while.

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's Time to Begin

I thought I lost Jack today and hours later I'm still not recovered.

I went to his school to pick him up at 3:00 just like every other day for the entire year and he wasn't there. The kids had all gotten out early (!) because there was a program, which apparently I was supposed to attend but didn't know about. His teacher hadn't seen him for at least 15 minutes. He wasn't in the office. I drove to our bookstore on Main Street (about 10 blocks from school), looking for him the whole way but didn't see him.

When I got to the store, I asked Roger if he'd gotten any calls, but no. He took off to look for him. I called his sister (who lives in our neighborhood) to start calling neighbors to see if anyone took him home from school with them, then started ringing up a customer with tears streaming down my face. She was very reassuring and told me all about the many times she couldn't find her kids and every time it turned out okay.

Five minutes later Jack walks in the front door of the store. He had started walking to The Read Leaf from the school. Roger found him at the Chevron station down the street.

Jack has been seven years old for exactly two days. He crossed one of the busiest streets in town completely on his own. Not a week ago, we discussed what he should do if he was at school and I was late picking him up.

It's like that conversation never happened.

I don't know whether to be reassured that he would have made it to The Read Leaf on his own or to be petrified that he completely ignored our instructions to go into the school office and call us to find out where we are.

All I know is that I've never been happier to see someone in my life!