1 John 3:17-18

Back in September, I went home to Chicago for a weekend to celebrate (and officiate, imagine that!) one of my best friend’s wedding. While I was there, I started talking with my other best friend (yes: I have two. They’re literally the best people. And I do wake up thankful every day for the fact that I can call them both “friend”) about a conversation I had with my husband. 

I’m not sure how exactly this topic arose, some discussion about our compatibilities and why we have been together so long, but my husband mentioned that he is a “nice” person, whereas I am a “kind” person. So, on the surface, or until people really get to know us, my husband is the one who seems approachable, friendly, sympathetic, and all things “nice;” On the other hand, I’ve often been told that people are at first intimidated by me, that I seem intense, quiet, and distant, which they (mis)take for judgmental or cold. We learned something interesting about this when, years ago, we were both working at a book store. Once people got to know both of us individually, and then as a couple, we noticed they would go to him to ask for something, because they knew he would be nice about it, but what they were asking for was often something that I would need to do (because they knew I would probably do it, they just didn’t want to ask me… I don’t suppose my sarcasm helped those situations.) 

Anyway, I was talking to my friend about this and she seemed not only to agree, but to think that it made a lot of sense. That it created some kind of balance. The conversation has had me thinking about these concepts of kindness and niceness; whether most people tend to be one or the other, and how often is it both? (We all know some people who are definitely neither.) I can think of another friend who is both nice and kind, seemingly as a default; she is one of the most decent people I have ever met. But that seems to me to be truly rare. And I wonder why this is. Does it leave us too vulnerable? Is it too exhausting? Are we too often rebuffed or abused if we are always nice and kind? Do people think this is “fake”? 

I do try to be nice, meaning I often find that it takes some effort; but I don’t feel the same about kindness. I don’t often find myself trying to be kind. For me, the “public” nature of niceness, things like friendliness and openness, and even looking people in the eye, takes work. I’ve begun to wonder if that is a part of my introverted personality and something that I can switch “off” in certain scenarios. With my students, for example, I turn “on” in a significant way, and become much more extroverted. On the other hand, kindness, I think, seems to be a deeper and less mutable part of me. I’m probably sometimes too empathetic, and getting even more so as I age, if I’m being honest. There are any number of times that I can recall trying to make someone else’s day or time or experience a little bit better, even at the expense to my own welfare. If I have something and you need it, I’m going to give it to you. If you need a ride or help moving or whatever, and it’s my only day off in 10 days, I’m still going to be there. If someone I don’t know passes away and I’m asked to the wake by a colleague or mutual friend, I usually end up going (even though this has always felt extremely awkward to me). Where does kindness come from? Niceness? Are they both learned traits? Do we start with certain degrees of each and then expand or contract depending on our own experiences? 

Recently, I read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book, What Happened, and she shares some similar insights into this question. She seems, like me, to struggle sometimes to project the image of “niceness” and empathy, while internally she is a deeply compassionate and concerned person. This might be one of the reasons I have always admired her beyond the work she has done, and beyond her incredible work ethic and rich knowledge about so many complex issues. Instead, I respect her simply due to this connection with another person of a similar type. Unlike me, Clinton is a religious person. And I pondered that, too. Where do niceness and kindness and morality all come together? There seems to be some kind of “golden rule” at the center of most major religions, though I would never agree that one must be religious in order to be a moral or ethical person. Still, I’ve read the Christian bible a number of times and a verse comes to mind:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Somehow this passage speaks to me about the truth and value of kindness. This is not to say that the passage is instructing us away from niceness–not at all. But, what I see is that contrast between speaking and doing. Between thinking and acting. Between sympathizing and empathizing. To me, the formers often apply to the nice person. A shoulder, a conversation, and even an acknowledgement of your suffering; all of these are to be found in the nice person. But the kind person is the one who keeps his heart open in order to act. The kind person loves by example, by commitment, and by following through on what is needed most, when it is needed most, and especially, without design or expectation for reward or reciprocity.

Nice is the person who feels bad when a friend’s car breaks down or when they see a stranger caught in the rain. Kind is the person who doesn’t mind when his day is disrupted by that friend in need or who offers his umbrella to the stranger. 

When mother used to say, “be nice,” to the kid everyone picked on, she meant stop picking on him. When Ellen DeGeneres ends her talk show every day with, “be kind,” she means be the sort of person who never would have thought about hurting that kid in the first place. 

For some of us, it is easier, or more natural, to be one or the other. I guess I’m trying to learn how to be both. 

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October Book Swap

For about two years (wow!), I’ve been participating in a private book swap with about 15 friends/participants. The host schedules about 3 swaps per year, so every few months we get a new partner, time to shop, and time to ship. I have participated in every round so far because it is just so much fun to shop for books and personal gifts for someone who loves these sorts of things just as much as I do. Something I’ve neglected to do, though, is share my own gifts from others (except in our private group page where we all talk.) I would like to change that from now on!

This swap, taking place in October, was a fall/Halloween theme. Now, Halloween is my favorite holiday – my husband and I even got married on that holiday! I’ve been lucky to get swap partners in the past who have been thoughtful enough to think about not just me, but my anniversary. This year, as you can see, I got an awesome framed decorative “skeleton couple,” which I have set out for the season (but to be honest I’ll probably keep it out all year). In addition, I receive three awesome books from my wish list: Thank You for Arguing; Tropic of Capricorn; and Poe: A Life Cut Short. I’ve already read the Poe book, and it was good! It put me in the mood to see The Raven, John Cusack’s film from about a decade ago. I usually watch it once per year, around Halloween of course.

I also received two cool bookmarks, one from Iceland (along with Icelandic chocolate!) and one of a young Kurt Vonnegut, along with a Kurt Vonnegut doll. As plenty of people know, Vonnegut is one of my all-time favorites (he and Poe are probably my two favorite male writers). I’m so grateful for all these gifts, plus a pumpkin candle that smells absolutely incredible (we have been watching Halloween-themed movies since October 1st and light it for the viewings — atmosphere!), and a personalized drawing from my swap partner’s  daughter (which is now hanging up in my office, using the little Poe magnet I also received in this swap! See it sitting there on the Ackroyd book?) And of course, the card is perfect. 

When people ask why book blogging is so great, why I continue to bother with it, this is a great example. It’s not about the gifts (although giving and receiving are both great); it’s about the community. I’ve known some of these folks for almost a decade, now, and whether or not we’re all still keeping up with our blogs isn’t even the point. Wherever we are in the world, and we are everywhere, the connections we first made through our love of books and writing about books has gone so much farther and deeper than that. It’s not anything I ever expected to happen, but I’m sure grateful for it.

RBR About Town, Vol. 1

Nearly two months ago, my husband and I moved from Chicago to Las Vegas. We lived in Chicago for almost a decade, after meeting in Los Angeles back in 2006 (I was attending graduate school for my Master’s degree). Something I’ve regretted is that I never took the time to write about and reflect on, or share, new experiences in these different locations. To be sure, there were a lot of really wonderful things about both Los Angeles and Chicago that I could have written about and would have liked to have recorded for myself, to look back on when memory starts to fade. I do have some notes in journals and the like, and plenty of Facebook posts, but all of that was rather haphazard. Ideally, I also see myself breaking free from the chains of social media someday, so perhaps that is not the best place to store my memories after all.

Now that we are in Nevada, probably permanently, I would like to avoid past mistakes and begin to record my thoughts, memories, and experiences in a more permanent place and in a more thoughtful way. So, I’ve decided to share a little feature every once in a while, maybe monthly, called “RBR About Town.” Here’s Volume One!

Last weekend was beautiful. Now that we are into October, the 100-degree days have faded into the rear-view mirror. Most days have still been above 80, and last weekend saw temperatures in the upper-80s/lower-90s. So, we decided to do as much as we could outdoors while spending as little money as possible. A few weeks ago that meant driving out to Spring Mountain for some hiking, but it’s about a 30-minute trip each way and costs something like $9 for parking… yeah, not outrageous, but we’re on a budget!

Anyway, we began our day by running some errands. Afterwards, we stopped in a little cafe called Pour. The place was cute enough and the menu was filled with all sorts of healthy options for fruit and vegetable smoothies. I’m a coffee fiend, though, and have been on a mission to try something at all the cafés in our area (there are so many! Apparently, this area is known for its coffee… they call it the Second Seattle.) When I spotted the “Sin City” caramel mocha on the menu, I knew it had to be mine. And wow, talk about making the right decision!

This iced drink came in a handled mason jar and was topped with whipped cream (I’m not sure what kind – I don’t think it was house made, but it didn’t seem like the typical variety either). On top were drizzles of caramel and mocha sauce. The drink itself consisted of espresso, milk, and vanilla syrup. It was absolutely delicious. After we got our drinks, we went out to the small patio (the location is unfortunate: a small business lot with mostly vacant stores, sitting right on an extremely busy street) to enjoy the warm weather and cool latte. While relaxing, we were treated to a view of two hearts written in the sky above the Las Vegas strip. After what happened last Sunday, this was truly beautiful to see.

By the time we finished our drinks, it was well-past 2:00pm and we were both getting pretty hungry. I’m not sure what it is, but we always have our meals later than most people. Luckily, it has been fitting our schedule quite well (or maybe we just adapted our meal times to our schedules?) We’re both night owls, so while I do have to get up earlier for work a couple of days, we tend to stay up past midnight every night. Anyway, Jesse has been craving Teriyaki Chicken since we moved, and I’m a big fan of sushi, so we decided to do a quick online search for Japanese restaurants with decent reviews. There were quite a few in our area, which is surprising only because we live in the desert; but honestly, Las Vegas has everything, so I’m not sure why we doubted that we’d find something. The place we ultimately chose is called Blue Fin Sushi & Roll.

Despite rather poor service (our waiter was incredibly awkward and the service person was rude), the food itself was good and very well-priced! I got a 6-piece roll for about $7 and Jesse got a giant bowl of Teriyaki Chicken for $9.50. This was a really pleasant surprise because, in my experience, inexpensive Japanese food can turn out to be pretty awful. There were some incredible-sounding rolls on the menu, but they definitely got more expensive depending on the kind of ingredient and type of preparation. I decided to go with a pretty simple baked California roll with crab, avocado, cream cheese and eel sauce. In retrospect, I might have asked for the Yum-Yum sauce instead, but overall I was pretty thrilled with this meal. Great size for lunch, tasted good, and reasonably priced

After lunch, I convinced Jesse that we needed to go to a bookstore (or two). There was a place nearby called Books Or Books (what a great name!) that had populated in my search engine when I looked for Barnes & Noble locations a few weeks ago. It was one of only a few independent/used bookstores that I could find, so I figured we’d better take a look and see if it was any good. In Illinois, I used to go to a place called Half Price Books all the time, and I loved it. In fact, they now own thousands of books that used to be mine, as I took only a few boxes with me when we moved here (still pretty devastated about that).

The store itself was a little hard to find because it is in a small retail space between a number of larger stores, and the sign above it reads, simply, “Books.” I mean, that’s more than enough to get me in the door, believe me, but it had me imagining myself striking it rich so that I could buy them a big old sign to place out on the main road. Everyone should be able to find the bookstore! The proprietor was a nice older woman with a cute little dog — does it get more indie bookstore than that? I forgot to get her name, but I’m sure I’ll be back at some point. And I’ll be sure I ask.

Anyhow, the store itself is small, but it is well-organized (some of the classifications seemed odd, and I did spot a number of books in places where I wouldn’t have expected them, based on genre, but what do I know?) One disappointment was that there weren’t any new books for sale. Many indie resale shops I’ve been to have at least a small section for popular/anticipated new releases. I was looking for Dan Brown’s new release, Origin, which is the latest in the Robert Langdon series that I love (Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, etc.) (Shhhhh.) Still, I did find a 50th Anniversary copy of A Wrinkle in Time, which I’ve been wanting to read again before the movie comes out next year. It was in great condition and I only had to pay half-price, which is apparently the standard for everything in the store except for special editions. YES!

After our trip to the indie book shop, we decided to head down the road a few miles to Barnes & Noble so I could get my Dan Brown book after all. We ended our day out with a long walk around the mall, which has become a new favorite spot. It’s especially helpful in the summer months, when we want to take walks without melting or burning up in the 115-degree temperatures. Whenever we go to this mall, people walking around with clipboards ask us if we want to earn $5 for watching and reviewing a short film/advertisement. I honestly have no idea what they show people (maybe a commercial?) because we always say no; but now I’m starting to think, why not? Every trip to the mall could pay for the next Sin City caramel mocha!

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby asks the question: what would you do if you discovered the power to make you a god? Suddenly, the command of life and death, sickness and health, growth and destruction, is in your hands. Do you want it? Will you use it? Can you control it? 

Carl Streator, the main character and narrator, is a journalist who stumbles upon the mysterious powers of a Culling song, an ancient spell that, when read aloud or focused on in the mind, has the power not only to put people to sleep but also kill them. As he discovers the vast reach of the song, he meets another, Helen Hoover Boyle (a real estate agent), who knows this secret and who has been using it to assassinate people all over the world. The two quickly come together, both hoping to find the Book of Shadows, an ancient spell book where the Culling song originated; Streator so he can destroy it and Boyle so she can become even more powerful and invincible. The two will be hunted down by time, by witches, by police detectives, and by each other, until the Book of Shadows falls into the wrong hands and, suddenly, the two realize they must become the hunters. 

In Palahniuk’s books, characterization, I find, is typically the weaker element, much less dynamic than the prose and plot. That is not the case in Lullaby. One of the most fascinating elements in this book is its characterization; how will different people react to the power they find? What do our actions tell us about human nature and the nature of power? Perhaps the reason the characters are so interesting is because they are based on people in Palahniuk’s own world; perhaps the reason their stories are so powerful is because Palahniuk wrote this book when mired in a deep, personal struggle (his father and father’s girlfriend had recently been murdered by the woman’s ex-husband), which directly relates to the plot of the story: How do we decide who lives and who dies? Does any one of us, regardless of circumstances, have authority over another’s fate? All-in-all, the dark personal circumstances of Palahniuk’s life create great tension and allow for extraordinary character growth and development. Each individual in the book, from the main characters, Streator and Hoover, to their friends and rivals, Mona and Oyster, down to a necrophilia-obsessed paramedic,  has a back story, a history, and a purpose, which makes them all equally interesting and dynamic, particularly in relation to the others. 

There is no doubt that Palahniuk is a master of the macabre. He explores the darkest, most dangerous elements of human nature, in transgressive style. The book is structured by a temporal ending, which frames the story and is interspersed throughout the traditional, linear plotline. As with most Palahniuk books, there is a plot twist near the end of the story, which brings the temporal ending into focus with the linear plot. The temporal segment chapters are italicized, which creates an enigma of sorts, as the reader cannot be entirely sure whether or not the narrator of both the present and future stories is the same person, or even whether or not the future narrator is alive (thus putting the “present-linear” plot into a past tense, without expressly doing so in the linear style). The story progresses quickly and is well-paced, but the plot twist at the end, which was hinted at throughout the story by those temporal-future segments, could likely have been achieved without those interruptions. 

The best thing about great books is that they are more than just a good story. While Lullaby is entertaining, mysterious, and bizarre, it is also highly psychologically exploratory. The story is meant to make the readers think: think about power and how one should (or would) wield it; think about capital punishment, its merits/effectiveness or lack thereof; think about sacrifice, self-worth, penitence, forgiveness, mourning, and recovery. So much of what happens in this story is deeper than the story itself, but that these themes and elements are delivered within the realm of such an interesting, disturbing, and quite terrifying story just makes it all the better. The gothic writers would be proud of what Palahniuk achieves here.

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

Notable Quotes:

“Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed. He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix. He’s making sure your attention is always filled. And this being fed, it’s worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s in your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world.”

“When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy them, but now they call this free will.”

“You turn up your music to hide the noise. Other people turn up their music to hide yours. You turn up yours again. Everyone buys a bigger stereo system. This is the arms race of sound.  You don’t win with a lot of treble. This isn’t about quality. It’s about volume. This isn’t about music. This is about winning.”

“The best way to waste your life is by taking notes. The easiest way to avoid living is to just watch.”

“These people so scared of silence. These are my neighbors. These sound-oholics. These quiet-ophobics.”

The Blessings of Liberty

What do these all have in common?

  • Religious fanatic who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Political ideologue who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Racist who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Mentally ill person who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Homophobe who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Seemingly “normal” person who snaps and slaughters people with a gun.
  • Child who accidentally kills himself or someone else with a gun.
  • Individual who commits suicide with a gun.

I’m done with the pitiful attempts at injecting false nuance into this debate. I’m done with the lazy, cowardly responses that “anyone who wants to get a gun will.” I’m done with legislators who want to legislate everything else about our lives but refuse to legislate the one thing robbing us of life itself.

Yes, there are any number of factors that could contribute to any of these incidents. But there is ONE result made more possible by ONE factor. Easy ACCESS to an overabundance of unnecessarily lethal weapons.

They say the second amendment is sacred, nevermind how outdated. But what about our “Unalienable rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What about the Constitution’s first purpose: to “insure domestic Tranquility . . . promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”?  Are we tranquil? Are we well and safe? Did the children of Newtown receive their Blessings of Liberty?

It is past time to demand that the Second Amendment no longer speak for the entire Constitution.

It is past time to demand that our lawmakers respect OUR will and speak OUR voice, rather than perform at the pleasure of the NRA and other powerful moneyed interests.

It is past time to demand that the 97% of the population who want to see progress on this are freed from their bondage to the other 3%.

It is past time that we start to value our right to survive more than we value someone else’s right to murder us.

It can be done. It has been done in other places. We in “the home of the brave” need to grow a spine and do it here.

It is time for courage.

Every Day by David Levithan

13262783Can you imagine yourself not as a physical being, but as an ethereal entity – a formless consciousness that floats through life from day-to-day, always looking like someone different but always knowing yourself to be the same?

Every day since birth, A wakes up in a different body. Sometimes he wakes up as a boy, sometimes she wakes up as a girl. A has no physical or biological sex, instead needing to adapt to the sex of the host body where s/he resides any particular day. S/he is capable of accessing the memories of the host bodies and can also allow (or not) that host to remember what A experiences on the day of his visit, though s/he usually chooses to block these memories so that the host will not feel as if they have been possessed or invaded. Each night, when A falls asleep in one body, s/he knows that s/he will wake up in the morning as someone entirely different.

A does have a personality, consciousness, and sense of self that is entirely individual, though s/he has no physical form, and A carries this individuality into each new day and every new body. This is the story of 40 days in the life of A – perhaps the most important 40 days that s/he will ever experience. S/he learns that s/he is perhaps not alone in this very unique experience – there may be others out there who are doomed (or blessed?) to exist only in others’ bodies. A also falls in love, for the second time, and must learn how to make a relationship work under such extraordinary circumstances or s/he must choose to make the ultimate sacrifice, for someone else’s happiness.

The two main characters are A and Rhiannon, 16 year olds who are on their own paths to self-discovery and whose encounter with each other will set the trajectories of their lives in new directions. Through A, we also witness, on the surface, the lives of dozens of other teenagers: boys and girls; popular kids and nerds; athletic kids and beautiful ones; kids who are blind, fat, depressed, alcoholic, addicts, or suffering from ADHD. We also get glimpses of their families and friends, though their stories are always in the background as A navigates their lives for one day, in pursuit of his own. The only other recurring characters include two of A’s former hosts, Justin (Rhiannon’s boyfriend and the way A comes to meet her – awkward!) and Nathan, whom A has left, perhaps purposely, with lingering feelings of his “possession” and who ultimately introduces him to Reverend Poole, the man who will change A’s perspective forever. Levithan’s primary characters are interesting individuals, as are the host bodies, all of whom are believable teenagers with varied personalities and circumstances. Viewing the characters through A, who essentially is each of them (including Rhiannon) at one point or another, creates a unique experience for the reader.

journal-011-300x200The structure of the book, too, is interesting, though not entirely unique. It is, in a way, a journal-format. Each small chapter is one day in the life of A and, indeed, the chapter titles correspond to the chronological day (such as Day 6014) in A’s life. This structure, while not entirely original, is absolutely appropriate for the type of story being told and is suitable to A’s narrative style. Levithan’s writing style, too, his prose and language, are appropriate to the age and maturity level of the narrator and also match the oftentimes didactic nature of the story. It is lofty but grounded, well-paced but reflective.

One criticism of the book is that it is at times preachy. This point is well-taken and I do agree with those who find certain elements, such as the narrative arguments for social and sexual equality, not just pointed, but sometimes heavy-handed. Levithan is an issue writer, though, and as another reviewer has aptly mentioned, issue writers are interested in making their point and, in fact, making points is necessary to their purpose. The fact that I agreed with most of the points Levithan was making (gender equality, love of the person not of the sex, etc.), made the story more interesting for me, but I can certainly see how readers who struggle or disagree with such sentiments might find the “lecture” portions of the narrative a bit jarring.

My primary point of contention comes from a particularly disturbing element of the story, which is, I believe, both indicative of the narrator’s personality but also, though I am usually reluctant to make these arguments, of the writer’s bias. Throughout the book, the narrator makes a point of being highly understanding and empathetic. Since s/he has spent his (I will stick with gendered-male pronoun from here on out, as that is ultimately how I perceived the narrator) life living inside of different bodies, it is understandable that he would be a more enlightened individual. He has been male and female, blind, deformed, ugly, and everything in-between. In each case, he makes the argument for empathy and compassion – that we should love ourselves and each other as we are and that each of us suffers from our own demons which might affect the way we treat ourselves and the way we interact with the world. A is able to build his relationship with Rhiannon, another equally enlightened young woman, whether he be in the body of a beautiful black girl, a beefy metal head, or a stringy track jock. The point is well-taken: be yourself, try to show others what is on the inside, and learn to accept others for who they truly are, not just for what they look like.

fat-thinBut then we get near the end of the book and A wakes up in the body of an obese boy. The body weighs 300 pounds and suddenly the tone changes dramatically, for the worse. This chapter, and the next one, is devoted largely not to acceptance or understanding, but to feelings of disgust and anger. It is this body, and only this one, that A is ashamed to show Rhiannon. It is this body that A blames for what it is. Unlike the addicts or depressed teenagers, whom A tries to empathize with and thereby get the reader to think more deeply about, this fat kid gets nothing but criticism – A even tries to “access” the reasons why he might be so fat, but finds only laziness as the cause. Then, after deciding to meet with Rhiannon anyway, it is after this particular meeting that Rhiannon concludes she can no longer engage in this kind of relationship, because she cannot build a relationship with someone who never looks the same. Rhiannon struggles with this all along, but with all of the other bodies, male and female, tall and short, pimpled, hairy, or beautiful, Rhiannon accepts the body. Until the fat, sweaty boy shows up and everything changes. It would be easy to say that this is just a teenage insecurity – that the author is trying to make a statement about the judgmental nature of people and youths; however, throughout the book, both A and Rhiannon, as I have already mentioned, are incredibly enlightened and accepting of all people and situations. Why, then, is this one person so different – so disgusting? Unfortunately, I feel it is a deeper bias coming from the author. He makes a point of making points in this book, as in all of his books. It would be naïve and unfair to think, then, that this, too, is anything other than his making a point: do not be fat. Fat comes from being lazy. There are no psychological or emotional reasons for obesity, it just means you eat too much and do too little. It is outrageous. Not since reading Atlas Shrugged have I been so angered by a particular element of a particular book and it saddens me that this perspective comes from Levithan who is, otherwise, a very positive, compassionate writer.

Ultimately, though, I did love this book. I found the premise incredibly interesting and thought the social/gender politics were expressed in a unique way. The story moves at a great pace, the characters and their stories are fascinating and believable. There is a fantasy element to the story which comes into play late in the book, when Reverend Poole and A finally meet, but the narrative is still grounded firmly in reality. Had it not been for the one bizarrely glaring prejudice mentioned in the paragraph above, I could have easily found this to be a perfect read. As it is, I found it, still, to be a wonderful one. Highly recommended.

Notable Quotes:

“Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen” (56).

“You shouldn’t have to venture deep down in order to get to love” (72).

“Tomorrow . . . a little less than a promise, and a little more than a chance” (97).

“I see no sin in a kiss. I only see sin in the condemnation” (223).

“Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other” (320).

I Still Believe in Words: Sounds from Las Vegas

There’s a sick and twisted irony in this. 

Just one day ago, I had the audacity to call myself a writer. That very night, my town was ripped apart. The city of lights, dimmed. But what happened in Las Vegas will not stay in Las Vegas this time. The stem of evil and arrogance responsible for the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history has deep roots, and violence has never been outrun for long. What psalms or phrases, what songs or poems, can possibly reach us here tonight? But still, by some amazing grace, I believe in the music of words.

Guns are tools of violence designed to injure, harm, kill. Words, too, have the capacity to assault. A stinging rebuke might, like that burning bullet, report riotously through the air and propel brutally through blood and bone. But words were not designed to harm. Our language arose from a need to communicate, to warn, to protect, to thrive. Together. A gun has one purpose, and its ability to terrorize can be ended. Words are everlasting. I believe in the permanence of words.  

Last night, a thousand shots rang through the air, briefly muffling the chimes of liberty. They screeched and cawed through our neon night; this murder of crows blindly attacking its prey. Listen closely as the band stops playing and the revelers stop dancing. You’ll hear firecracker pops silencing the crowd. But not for long. Soon, meeting the attack are words and arms, hands and hearts, feet pounding pavement and words, these words: Run. Go. Hide. Get down. Words of concern, of love, of caution and care. I believe in the power of words.  

“Look for the helpers,” said a kindly neighbor, once, who held our hands through a black and terrible night. “You will always find people who are helping.” One madman with far too many weapons lay siege to a joyful crowd and quieted it for a moment. But when the din of gunfire ceased and the smell of iron was swept away, then on the winds and in the whispers of the Las Vegas valley, the silence was overwhelmed. The city’s brief stillness was stirred by the words of helpers: Where are you? I’m coming. What do you need? I’m here. Where can I donate? Don’t give up. The shots slowed. The terror ended. The words propel us forward. And I believe in the promise of words.

59 dead. 500 injured. Their voices stalled, stifled, stopped: But their memories will speak louder and ring truer and sing higher than the machine that so unthinkingly, so desperately and deliberately endeavored to mute their remarkable tones. The words they leave behind will reverberate through their friends and family, and through all of us who listen and remember. The chronicle of violence yawns dreadfully deep through the veins of our humanity, but the language of kin-folk and brotherhood is even deeper and more profound; it is steeped in the saga of friendship and fellowship, and its spine is a pillar of words that will not bend and will not break. I believe in the strength of words.

I looked into my students’ eyes today, each and every one. Staring back at me were expressions of the same ancient, eerie echoes of shock and sadness, confusion and despair. Words are my passion and my livelihood, I told them, but there are none for days like these. And yet that admission opened the floodgates. Their words, spoken, became light in an unfathomable darkness, and we anchored ourselves to them together. Answers were unimportant in the moment, but they will come someday. I believe in a new generation of words.

I am just happy to see your faces today. Was it enough to say that, for now, I wonder? To let them know that I am here, needing to be seen and heard, and that I can see and hear them there, too? When the sound of concern for those we love drowns out the noise of fear and hopelessness, then there is reason to hope, to believe, to carry on. We reach out and embrace each other, whatever the distance, with words of compassion and care and community. So, even at my most reticent, I believe in the symphony of words.