Extraordinary, Ordinary People

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
by Condoleezza Rice
An engaging look into modern American History and the life of a unique family and woman.
Appropriate for adults or interested teens
Borrowed from the Library

I have always found Condoleezza Rice to be an intriguing woman, yet despite having read this book she is still somewhat of a mystery to me. She introduces us to her family, yet her intimate thoughts, dreams, and wishes are outside of the purview of this book. What is left is still fascinating, at least to someone like me who loves to enter the homes of others and watch their interactions through the safety of a book.

I was first struck by something I had never considered. I know no single children. None. Though I would love to be wrong, as it seems like such a ridiculous statement. Hopefully someone will comment and save me from this vacuum of experience.

Condoleezza's life is very much affected by being the only child, and even more so by the fact that her parents put her education and eventual success as a paramount goal. Their high expectations are softened by a very apparent love and enjoyment of her. I appreciated her willingness to share some of her own failings so we could watch her grow in maturity and appreciation for her parents as she aged.

We also get to see life in Birmingham before and after desegregation through Condoleezza's eyes. Her thoughts on race in America, including her perspectives on Affirmative Action were intriguing. I learned a lot about the politics and organization of college campuses, her father was a college administrator and she was provost at Stanford where she currently teaches. She talks a bit about her work with both Presidents Bush, and her perspectives on Russia, her academic specialty. I would have liked to hear more about this, but the book was centered on her life with her parents, so she did not spend much time on these topics.

Overall I am glad I read it and may someday tackle her new book: No HIgher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington.

Favorite Quotes:

"By now {age eight} I was president of the family. We held an election every year. My father insisted on a secret ballot, but since my mother always voted for me, I was assured of victory. There were no term limits. My responsibilities included calling family meetings to decide matters such as departure times for trips, plans for decorating the house at Christmas, and other issues related to daily life."

"I have always thought that it's harder to be the parent of an only child than to be an only child."

"Because of this experience [KKK attacks in Birmingham in 1963] , I am a fierce defender of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Had my father and his neighbors registered their weapons, Bull Connor [racist Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham] surely would have confiscated them or worse...the Founding Fathers..insisted that citizens had the right to protect themselves when the authorities would not and, if necessary, resist the authorities themselves. "

"He [Condoleezza's father] wasn't defensive about his refusal to march with Dr. King; in fact, he told me definitively that he didn't believe in being nonviolent in the face of violence."

"[My parents] were determined to give me a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded, and that is why every night I begin my prayers saying, "Lord, I can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me." "

Abigail Adams

Childhood of Famous Americas: Abigail Adams: Girl of Colonial Days
by Jean Brown Wagoner
A fine introduction to the life of one of America's truly outstanding women.
Appropriate for 8-12
Read Aloud to my 10 year old
My Library

I read this to my 10 year old daughter who enjoyed it very much. Though I wish there was another option with greater depth and literary value, I am still grateful to introduce my little firecracker to the indomitable Abigail.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
A charming novel about a traditional British widow considering romance while facing the the limitations of himself and his changing world.
Appropriate for adults - adult situations, immoral behavior
A Novel
My Library

I enjoyed this novel. Major Pettigrew is real, sometimes frustratingly so, and his reflections on modern England are compelling. His occasional jabs at America are among my favorites. Why do we Americans love being mocked by the British? It must be some kind of little brother hoping desperately to be noticed by his older aloof sibling. I found this book to be a well-crafted fusion of love story, rich characters, and insights into life an race/class relations in the modern UK.

Some of my favorite lines:

"The Major found much to admire in America but also felt that the nation was still in its infancy...Generous to a fault--he still remembered the tins of chocolate powder and waxy crayons handed out in his school even several years after the war--America wielded her huge power in the world with a brash confidence that reminded him of a toddler who has got hold of a hammer."

Mrs. Ali: "Abdul Wahid is still exploring his relationship to his faith. We all pick and choose and make our religion our own, do we not?"

Abdul Wahid: "But I must ask you, do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?"
"My dear boy," said the Major. "Is there really any other kind?"


The Year of Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
by A. J. Jacobs
A funny, though-provoking look into a wacky guy's even wackier year.
Appropriate for adults - occasional adult language & situations, at times irreverent
Borrowed from the library

What a fun way to kick off the year! I loved A. J. Jacob's look into the difficulty of biblical adherence. A secular Jew, living in NYC, Jacobs decides to explore religion by attempting to follow "all" the commandments in the Bible. I gained insight into the problems of biblical interpretation, what it is like to approach religion from a secular mindset, and the huge variety of people who seek to follow the Bible. I didn't think that Jacobs did a very good job addressing the New Testament, he might even agree. But his zealous interest in the Old Testament and willingness to try almost anything was endearing, often hilarious, and even occasionally inspiring.

Some quotes to give you the flavor of the thing (my favorite is the last):

"If I had been in charge of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would have gotten three strikes, then a fourth, then a stern warning, then had their bedtime moved up twenty minutes. God, as you know, kicked them out. As a sign of His compassion he clothed them in animal skins before the eviction, but He still kicked them out."

"How can these ethically advanced rules and these bizarre decrees be found in the same book? And not just the same book. Sometimes the same page. The prohibition against mixing wool and linen comes right after the command to love our neighbor. It's not like the Bible has a section called "And Now for Some Crazy Laws." They're all jumbled up like a chopped salad."

On following Proverbs 31:6 "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress."
"David seems grateful for the wine...I love it when the Bible gives Emily Post-like tips that are both wise and easy to follow."

"And then it hits me: I have just done something few human beings have ever achieved. I have out-Bible-talked a Jehovah's Witness."

"I blow my shofar. It still sounds like a fax machine, but a healthy one."

"An atheist club felt oxymoronic, like an apathy parade. But against all odds, it exists."

"I ask him if it's hard to lead a group of atheists. Like herding cats, he says. Atheist aren't by nature, joiners. "they're individualists, " he says. Which perhaps explains why we had thirty separate checks for lunch."

"Here's an email I got from a conservative evangelical Christian I contacted...
"It is through being in Christ and following Him that we become transformed. Unless one takes this step, one cannot be truly transformed. So, after your year is over, you will go back to being a man who finds purpose in weird projects and writing assignments. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is much more rewarding."