August252014

"I didn’t want to lie to my son, even with a lie of omission. So I kept up a constant drone of happy, insipid, mind-deadening babble, things like, ‘Yo, Dan, that was a hell of a hill, wasn’t it, big feller, ha ha! I’ll be Mom is plenty pissed at me, ha ha! Your lip looks like a baboon’s anus, ha ha!’"
"Fibromyalgia doesn’t get worse; it just hangs around, like a dingleberry." 
"Contractions are that physiological process wherein a woman’s cervix is dilated preparatory to birth, through hours of excruciating rhythmic pain. When you think about it, this is a highly inefficient system for what is supposedly a completely natural process. It is as though God actually made a mistake… Other notable mistakes by God: menstruation, nipples on men, the need to ‘wipe.’" 
"If organs were businesses, the kidney would be a tidy French restaurant, with a pastry chef and a saucier and a head chef and a maitre d’ and a small, busy staff of waiters, busboys, and sommeliers, all working together harmoniously to create a daily miracle of art and skill. The liver, on the other hand, would be more like a sanitary landfill staffed by twelve drug addicts and a dog." 

Book: The Hypochondriac’s Guide To Life. And Death.Author: Gene WeingartenPublished: Fireside (1998)My Review: Weird going from a quiet book about Quakerism to this crazy masterpiece full of unseemly bodily functions, completely unwarranted panic, and dark hilarity. As a certified, insurance-card-carrying member of the hypochondriac club, Weingarten’s irreverent approach to life and death (and every failure, disease, malfunction in between) made me laugh so hard my stomach began to hurt and I couldn’t breathe. Which, in turn, made me worry that said stomach ache and shortness of breath could be my brain/skin/lung cancer or cirrhosis or axillary hyperhidrosis acting up. I immediately contacted my doctor, as any responsible human being would, but apparently severe laugh-induced discomfort is not “emergency” enough to warrant a call to her cell phone at 11:30pm. Outrageous.Regardless, this book is a gem. It’s full of awesomely exaggerated and misleading reflections on all things physical health— and sickness. A lighthearted twist on an often difficult and irritating phenomenon generally referred to as “completely-neurotic-costly-ridiculous-worry.” I believe that’s in the DSM. 

"I didn’t want to lie to my son, even with a lie of omission. So I kept up a constant drone of happy, insipid, mind-deadening babble, things like, ‘Yo, Dan, that was a hell of a hill, wasn’t it, big feller, ha ha! I’ll be Mom is plenty pissed at me, ha ha! Your lip looks like a baboon’s anus, ha ha!’"

"Fibromyalgia doesn’t get worse; it just hangs around, like a dingleberry." 

"Contractions are that physiological process wherein a woman’s cervix is dilated preparatory to birth, through hours of excruciating rhythmic pain. When you think about it, this is a highly inefficient system for what is supposedly a completely natural process. It is as though God actually made a mistake… Other notable mistakes by God: menstruation, nipples on men, the need to ‘wipe.’" 

"If organs were businesses, the kidney would be a tidy French restaurant, with a pastry chef and a saucier and a head chef and a maitre d’ and a small, busy staff of waiters, busboys, and sommeliers, all working together harmoniously to create a daily miracle of art and skill. The liver, on the other hand, would be more like a sanitary landfill staffed by twelve drug addicts and a dog." 

Book: The Hypochondriac’s Guide To Life. And Death.
Author: Gene Weingarten
Published: Fireside (1998)

My Review: Weird going from a quiet book about Quakerism to this crazy masterpiece full of unseemly bodily functions, completely unwarranted panic, and dark hilarity. As a certified, insurance-card-carrying member of the hypochondriac club, Weingarten’s irreverent approach to life and death (and every failure, disease, malfunction in between) made me laugh so hard my stomach began to hurt and I couldn’t breathe. Which, in turn, made me worry that said stomach ache and shortness of breath could be my brain/skin/lung cancer or cirrhosis or axillary hyperhidrosis acting up. I immediately contacted my doctor, as any responsible human being would, but apparently severe laugh-induced discomfort is not “emergency” enough to warrant a call to her cell phone at 11:30pm. Outrageous.

Regardless, this book is a gem. It’s full of awesomely exaggerated and misleading reflections on all things physical health— and sickness. A lighthearted twist on an often difficult and irritating phenomenon generally referred to as “completely-neurotic-costly-ridiculous-worry.” I believe that’s in the DSM. 

August242014

"Quakerism is the only faith that is most commonly explained in a cascade of negatives. Quakerism has no theology, no body of religious dogma, no sacred books, no written creed. Traditional Quaker worship does not involve a minister, priest, or other religious leader. There is no liturgy. There are no crucifixes or other religious images in Quaker Meetinghouses or homes. Quakers do not accept the idea of original sin, nor do they believe in a personal God who rewards and punishes." 
"The language of truth can often be heard in silence, if only we know how to listen." 
"What do I need?" is simplicity’s fundamental question, a question that rubs against our natural proclivity for acquiring things, a question few of us feel ready to address."
"A weapon is an enemy even to its owner." 
"What we must bring to the task of making our lives speak is an unswerving belief in the sacredness and dignity of ordinary life and of every person. I believe that the life of the spirit is heroic and enduring. The capacity to be guided by the wisdom that comes from within, from continuing revelation, if you will, is constantly being renewed in people as they confront difficult problems and adverse circumstances. Creativity of the spirit requires no expertise and is as readily available as the air we breathe." 

Book: A Quaker Book Of WisdomAuthor: Robert Lawrence SmithPublished: HarperCollins (1998)
My Review: There’s a right time for every book, and the time was right for this one. A light, quick read, but refreshing and remarkably insightful. Despite my professed atheism, I’ve come to realize that I may actually be a Quaker at heart. *Gasp!*
Even in the absence of belief in any kind of traditional god, though, Quakerism makes sense in the context of my own understanding of existence through the lens of karma, connectedness to others and to the world, and the fundamental importance of doing good.
Quakerism is admirably accepting of challenges and darkness, but plants its roots firmly in the knowledge that challenge leads to growth and, when the time is right, “the way will open.” Because there is darkness, there is light, and we can choose (and, I would argue, have a responsibility) to continually contribute what goodness we have to offer in the ways that we have to offer it. 
I am drawn to every aspect of this religion— although I am less inclined to call it religion than a clear and meaningful way of life. I am in awe of Quakerism’s simplicity, compassion, egalitarian values and focus on social justice, and its simultaneous appreciation for both individual growth/revelation and the wellbeing of the whole. Because, in the end, who are we without others? And what is the purpose of existence if not positive contribution to something outside of ourselves?
This whole Quaker business reminds me of the incredibly wise (and unfortunately stolen and partially spoiled by Madonna) African proverb: “I am because we are.” That statement, reflected in the practice of Quakerism, just about sums up all my beliefs about this life and our purpose here. 
Perfect timing, Book Gods (atheism be damned). I needed that. 

"Quakerism is the only faith that is most commonly explained in a cascade of negatives. Quakerism has no theology, no body of religious dogma, no sacred books, no written creed. Traditional Quaker worship does not involve a minister, priest, or other religious leader. There is no liturgy. There are no crucifixes or other religious images in Quaker Meetinghouses or homes. Quakers do not accept the idea of original sin, nor do they believe in a personal God who rewards and punishes." 

"The language of truth can often be heard in silence, if only we know how to listen." 

"What do I need?" is simplicity’s fundamental question, a question that rubs against our natural proclivity for acquiring things, a question few of us feel ready to address."

"A weapon is an enemy even to its owner." 

"What we must bring to the task of making our lives speak is an unswerving belief in the sacredness and dignity of ordinary life and of every person. I believe that the life of the spirit is heroic and enduring. The capacity to be guided by the wisdom that comes from within, from continuing revelation, if you will, is constantly being renewed in people as they confront difficult problems and adverse circumstances. Creativity of the spirit requires no expertise and is as readily available as the air we breathe." 

Book: A Quaker Book Of Wisdom
Author: Robert Lawrence Smith
Published: HarperCollins (1998)

My Review: There’s a right time for every book, and the time was right for this one. A light, quick read, but refreshing and remarkably insightful. Despite my professed atheism, I’ve come to realize that I may actually be a Quaker at heart. *Gasp!*

Even in the absence of belief in any kind of traditional god, though, Quakerism makes sense in the context of my own understanding of existence through the lens of karma, connectedness to others and to the world, and the fundamental importance of doing good.

Quakerism is admirably accepting of challenges and darkness, but plants its roots firmly in the knowledge that challenge leads to growth and, when the time is right, “the way will open.” Because there is darkness, there is light, and we can choose (and, I would argue, have a responsibility) to continually contribute what goodness we have to offer in the ways that we have to offer it. 

I am drawn to every aspect of this religion— although I am less inclined to call it religion than a clear and meaningful way of life. I am in awe of Quakerism’s simplicity, compassion, egalitarian values and focus on social justice, and its simultaneous appreciation for both individual growth/revelation and the wellbeing of the whole. Because, in the end, who are we without others? And what is the purpose of existence if not positive contribution to something outside of ourselves?

This whole Quaker business reminds me of the incredibly wise (and unfortunately stolen and partially spoiled by Madonna) African proverb: “I am because we are.” That statement, reflected in the practice of Quakerism, just about sums up all my beliefs about this life and our purpose here. 

Perfect timing, Book Gods (atheism be damned). I needed that. 

August212014

"Aikido (much like horsemanship), by its very nature, is a highly personal art. it is all about improving one’s self. But to achieve this improvement, the aididoka enlists the help of training partners. These partners in turn are also working on their own aikido, their own personal improvement. The only way for harmony to be achieved while they practice together is if both individuals train honestly and to the best of their ability. This means that uke must give an honest attack, and nage must perform an honest technique. And in this honesty is where growth, and ultimately harmony, is achieved." 
"Nature’s way of dealing with things consists of a continuous cycle of give and take. If nature gives something, it takes something in return, and if it takes something, it also gives something in return. So unlied the way we humans might see the world around us, where everything must be fair and just and if it isn’t someone must take the blame or be held accountable, nature, on the other hand, is all about balance. And in nature’s way of balance, there is no good or bad or right or wrong, but rather there is only what is of benefit to the whole." 
"What I’m talking about here is the type of work that strives to move beyond what one might refer to as the "synthetic horsemanship" that we see so much of these days. It’s getting past the type of horsemanship where the main focus is on the human, not necessarily the horse, and where making the horse perform needless and often mindless tasks over and over in the quest for "respect" is often the goal. Rather, the type of horsemanship I’m referring to here doesn’t belong to anybody; it isn’t trademarked, and it doesn’t even have a name. It is simply the development of honest communication between horse and rider based on the best understanding we each have for one another at any given time. It’s taking the good with the bad without placing blame or fault, and doing our best to direct energy instead of stifling or stopping it." 

Book: Nature in Horsemanship: Discovering Harmony Through Principles of AikidoAuthor: Mark RashidPublished: Skyhorse (2011)My Review: Not my favorite of Rashid’s books, but stunning nonetheless. I don’t actually think he’s capable of writing a bad book. I know nothing about Aikido, though, and was a bit distracted by the incorporation of that particular component. Not that I’m against the practice— in fact I should probably sign myself up for a class or two based on the apparent benefits— but I’m pretty damn ignorant about the subject and, quite frankly, have never given much thought to martial arts in general aside from a very strange and morbid fascination with MMA cage-fighting (the principles of which I really don’t think apply to horsemanship quite as comfortably as Aikido). Despite my occasional mental wanderings, there were many pieces in here that are, as always with Rashid’s books, quite helpful in everyday life and work with horses. Common themes resurfaced with different stories and examples: breathing, mindfulness, pressure/release, distance, respect, creativity… An overall excellent reminder to get in touch with that elusive inner calm and throw out as much heart and soul as we expect in return, even if that means looking ridiculous and making mistakes. Life is messy— suit up. 

"Aikido (much like horsemanship), by its very nature, is a highly personal art. it is all about improving one’s self. But to achieve this improvement, the aididoka enlists the help of training partners. These partners in turn are also working on their own aikido, their own personal improvement. The only way for harmony to be achieved while they practice together is if both individuals train honestly and to the best of their ability. This means that uke must give an honest attack, and nage must perform an honest technique. And in this honesty is where growth, and ultimately harmony, is achieved." 

"Nature’s way of dealing with things consists of a continuous cycle of give and take. If nature gives something, it takes something in return, and if it takes something, it also gives something in return. So unlied the way we humans might see the world around us, where everything must be fair and just and if it isn’t someone must take the blame or be held accountable, nature, on the other hand, is all about balance. And in nature’s way of balance, there is no good or bad or right or wrong, but rather there is only what is of benefit to the whole." 

"What I’m talking about here is the type of work that strives to move beyond what one might refer to as the "synthetic horsemanship" that we see so much of these days. It’s getting past the type of horsemanship where the main focus is on the human, not necessarily the horse, and where making the horse perform needless and often mindless tasks over and over in the quest for "respect" is often the goal. Rather, the type of horsemanship I’m referring to here doesn’t belong to anybody; it isn’t trademarked, and it doesn’t even have a name. It is simply the development of honest communication between horse and rider based on the best understanding we each have for one another at any given time. It’s taking the good with the bad without placing blame or fault, and doing our best to direct energy instead of stifling or stopping it." 
Book: Nature in Horsemanship: Discovering Harmony Through Principles of Aikido
Author: Mark Rashid
Published: Skyhorse (2011)

My Review: Not my favorite of Rashid’s books, but stunning nonetheless. I don’t actually think he’s capable of writing a bad book. I know nothing about Aikido, though, and was a bit distracted by the incorporation of that particular component. Not that I’m against the practice— in fact I should probably sign myself up for a class or two based on the apparent benefits— but I’m pretty damn ignorant about the subject and, quite frankly, have never given much thought to martial arts in general aside from a very strange and morbid fascination with MMA cage-fighting (the principles of which I really don’t think apply to horsemanship quite as comfortably as Aikido). 

Despite my occasional mental wanderings, there were many pieces in here that are, as always with Rashid’s books, quite helpful in everyday life and work with horses. Common themes resurfaced with different stories and examples: breathing, mindfulness, pressure/release, distance, respect, creativity… An overall excellent reminder to get in touch with that elusive inner calm and throw out as much heart and soul as we expect in return, even if that means looking ridiculous and making mistakes. Life is messy— suit up. 
August192014

"I offered the opinion that nowhere is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots played out quite so dramatically as it is on the racetrack." 
"There are no laws against hardheartedness. A horse is private property, and private property is a sacred notion. And so it is that some Thoroughbreds must literally run for their lives. There is glory on the racetrack, glory writ large. But there are shameful acts, too, and callousness." 
"We on the periphery gravitate to the classic images of victory: the great horse coming down the stretch, in the winner’s circle, the jockey’s hand raised in victory. The groom treasures the quieter moments, when the charger is at peace." 
"A Thoroughbred takes a mere six strides from the starting gate to hit forty miles an hour and start taking in five gallons of air a second. The force of all that weight and speed exerts an impact on the horse’s cannon bone of ten thousand to twelve thousand pounds." 
"A study done several years ago at the University of Pennsylvania found that 98 percent of pet owners talk to their animals, as if to a sympathetic friend. But I wonder how many listen to their animals in the way, say, that Eddie Sweat listened to Secretariat— listened with his ears, his heart, listened in his bones." 

Book: The Horse God BuiltAuthor: Lawrence ScanlanPublished: Thomas Dunne Books (2007)
My Review: For something I was expecting to be an easy-read and palate cleanser (yes, I’m moping over Outlander), this book was surprisingly complex and interesting. 
Horse racing doesn’t sit right with me. To me, the sport screams horse-as-machine; it goes fast when we jump in the saddle, goes faster still when we throttle toward the finish line, and suffers in silence as its health and well-being become dismissed as non-issues in the eyes of the consumer (owner, trainer, jockey, etc.). Shattered bone? Colic? Laminitis? Might as well be engine failure or a broken alternator. If it can’t continue running, just trade the bugger in. The only thing missing is a warranty! 
I’m a cynic, yes, but am I wrong? Am I the only one disgusted by this? 
There are two sides to every story, though. Duly noted. The more compassionate side of racing should be known and understood as well as its cruel counterpart. Which is why I liked this book.
Scanlon does a phenomenal job exploring, understanding, and documenting both sides of horse racing. One side shows us unfathomable cruelty, human selfishness, unbridled ego, racism, classism, and greed. Did I mention all seven deadly sins? Because I meant to. They’re all there, I’m sure. And animal cruelty should be listed as an eighth deadly sin. 
BUT.
Apparently this horse racing beast has a soft(er) underbelly, though. Frequently out of sight, behind the curtains, in “the backstretch,” as they say, are genuine human beings connecting with living, breathing, beautifully honest animals.
And this incredible book highlights the groom, the hardest and least appreciated team member who is forced to hang on for dear life to the lowest rung of the horse racing ladder. The camera rarely strays from the winner’s circle to the stables where the real work (and the real compassion) gets done, day in and day out, and day in again.
There are other reasons, I think, particularly when Secretariat was running in the 70’s, that made integration between the haves and the have nots (race & class) an almost impossible political feat. During this time, owners, trainers, jockeys were rich and white. Grooms and other lower-rung workers, however, were (with few exceptions) black and poor as all get out.
Interesting that today the situation hasn’t changed much. Only one small change, really. The owners, trainers, jockeys are still white, but the grooms are, with few exceptions, poor white women and poor hispanics.
[INSERT ASTUTE POLITICAL DECONSTRUCTION AND ANALYSIS OF INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN RACE, GENDER, CLASS, POWER, AND PRIVILEGE HERE]
I’ll spare you my own deconstruction, but I’m serious when I say check in with yourself here. Who does horse racing benefit? Who works hardest? Who gets respect and reward, and why? How is life (human and horse) treated? What are the values of the sport? 
And finally, do these values mirror your own? 
Chew on that, nerdy book friends, feminists, and fellow horse lovers! This book, apparently, hits a hot topic for everyone!  

"I offered the opinion that nowhere is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots played out quite so dramatically as it is on the racetrack." 

"There are no laws against hardheartedness. A horse is private property, and private property is a sacred notion. And so it is that some Thoroughbreds must literally run for their lives. There is glory on the racetrack, glory writ large. But there are shameful acts, too, and callousness." 

"We on the periphery gravitate to the classic images of victory: the great horse coming down the stretch, in the winner’s circle, the jockey’s hand raised in victory. The groom treasures the quieter moments, when the charger is at peace." 

"A Thoroughbred takes a mere six strides from the starting gate to hit forty miles an hour and start taking in five gallons of air a second. The force of all that weight and speed exerts an impact on the horse’s cannon bone of ten thousand to twelve thousand pounds." 

"A study done several years ago at the University of Pennsylvania found that 98 percent of pet owners talk to their animals, as if to a sympathetic friend. But I wonder how many listen to their animals in the way, say, that Eddie Sweat listened to Secretariat— listened with his ears, his heart, listened in his bones." 

Book: The Horse God Built
Author: Lawrence Scanlan
Published: Thomas Dunne Books (2007)

My Review: For something I was expecting to be an easy-read and palate cleanser (yes, I’m moping over Outlander), this book was surprisingly complex and interesting. 

Horse racing doesn’t sit right with me. To me, the sport screams horse-as-machine; it goes fast when we jump in the saddle, goes faster still when we throttle toward the finish line, and suffers in silence as its health and well-being become dismissed as non-issues in the eyes of the consumer (owner, trainer, jockey, etc.). Shattered bone? Colic? Laminitis? Might as well be engine failure or a broken alternator. If it can’t continue running, just trade the bugger in. The only thing missing is a warranty! 

I’m a cynic, yes, but am I wrong? Am I the only one disgusted by this? 

There are two sides to every story, though. Duly noted. The more compassionate side of racing should be known and understood as well as its cruel counterpart. Which is why I liked this book.

Scanlon does a phenomenal job exploring, understanding, and documenting both sides of horse racing. One side shows us unfathomable cruelty, human selfishness, unbridled ego, racism, classism, and greed. Did I mention all seven deadly sins? Because I meant to. They’re all there, I’m sure. And animal cruelty should be listed as an eighth deadly sin. 

BUT.

Apparently this horse racing beast has a soft(er) underbelly, though. Frequently out of sight, behind the curtains, in “the backstretch,” as they say, are genuine human beings connecting with living, breathing, beautifully honest animals.

And this incredible book highlights the groom, the hardest and least appreciated team member who is forced to hang on for dear life to the lowest rung of the horse racing ladder. The camera rarely strays from the winner’s circle to the stables where the real work (and the real compassion) gets done, day in and day out, and day in again.

There are other reasons, I think, particularly when Secretariat was running in the 70’s, that made integration between the haves and the have nots (race & class) an almost impossible political feat. During this time, owners, trainers, jockeys were rich and white. Grooms and other lower-rung workers, however, were (with few exceptions) black and poor as all get out.

Interesting that today the situation hasn’t changed much. Only one small change, really. The owners, trainers, jockeys are still white, but the grooms are, with few exceptions, poor white women and poor hispanics.

[INSERT ASTUTE POLITICAL DECONSTRUCTION AND ANALYSIS OF INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN RACE, GENDER, CLASS, POWER, AND PRIVILEGE HERE]

I’ll spare you my own deconstruction, but I’m serious when I say check in with yourself here. Who does horse racing benefit? Who works hardest? Who gets respect and reward, and why? How is life (human and horse) treated? What are the values of the sport? 

And finally, do these values mirror your own? 

Chew on that, nerdy book friends, feminists, and fellow horse lovers! This book, apparently, hits a hot topic for everyone!  

August152014

"The phrase ‘Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed’ floated through his head. It was maybe not the believing that was the blessing; it was the not having to look. Seeing, sometimes, was bloody awful." 
"Thy life’s journey lies along its own path, Ian," she said, "and I cannot share thy journey— but I can walk beside thee. And I will." 
"Brave covers everything from complete insanity and bloody disregard of other people’s lives— generals tend to go in for that sort— to drunkenness, foolhardiness, and outright idiocy— to the sort of thing that will make a man sweat and tremble and throw up… and go and do what he thinks he has to do anyway." 
"Ye turn my heart to water, lass— and should anything happen to you or to wee Oggy, it would punch a hole in me that would let my life run out." 

Book: Written In My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander Series, VIII)Author: Diana GabaldonPublished: Delacorte Press (June 2014)
My Review: The Outlander books are literally my favorite series of all time. And I have a love-hate relationship with them the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. The reading I absolutely adore— I am obsessed and enthralled and 110% unavailable to anyone or anything requiring my attention while I’m burning through pages. But closing that back cover is literary heartbreak. As much as I love the story, I loathe the finishing. 
And, thus, I’m thrown unwillingly and unhappily back into my period of mourning for my adventure-romance-time-traveling companions. Tomorrow morning will greet me with a sleepy yawn, a nice stretch, and then BAM! — book hangover. Who knows how long it’ll last this time; the last seven Outlander endings left me soulless and desolate for days on end. And, kick me when I’m down, the 9th book isn’t even a spark in Gabaldon’s eye yet! I could die and never know the end, heaven forbid.
Hysterics aside, I’ll state the obvious: the book was good. Check out my seven previous Outlander reviews if you want all the ridiculous squealing and swooning— and a bit of critique every now and then.
And then read these books because they are a.maz.ing. Yes, I added grammatically incorrect punctuation marks to emphasize my enthusiasm. And also because I’m a rebel… or something.
Just a little FYI to top it all off, the TV show is officially airing on Starz now (you’re welcome!). That said, no bibliophile of good repute would watch a show without first having the REAL story from which to criticize the re-making. Am I right?? 

"The phrase ‘Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed’ floated through his head. It was maybe not the believing that was the blessing; it was the not having to look. Seeing, sometimes, was bloody awful." 

"Thy life’s journey lies along its own path, Ian," she said, "and I cannot share thy journey— but I can walk beside thee. And I will." 

"Brave covers everything from complete insanity and bloody disregard of other people’s lives— generals tend to go in for that sort— to drunkenness, foolhardiness, and outright idiocy— to the sort of thing that will make a man sweat and tremble and throw up… and go and do what he thinks he has to do anyway." 

"Ye turn my heart to water, lass— and should anything happen to you or to wee Oggy, it would punch a hole in me that would let my life run out." 

Book: Written In My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander Series, VIII)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Published: Delacorte Press (June 2014)

My Review: The Outlander books are literally my favorite series of all time. And I have a love-hate relationship with them the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. The reading I absolutely adore— I am obsessed and enthralled and 110% unavailable to anyone or anything requiring my attention while I’m burning through pages. But closing that back cover is literary heartbreak. As much as I love the story, I loathe the finishing. 

And, thus, I’m thrown unwillingly and unhappily back into my period of mourning for my adventure-romance-time-traveling companions. Tomorrow morning will greet me with a sleepy yawn, a nice stretch, and then BAM! — book hangover. Who knows how long it’ll last this time; the last seven Outlander endings left me soulless and desolate for days on end. And, kick me when I’m down, the 9th book isn’t even a spark in Gabaldon’s eye yet! I could die and never know the end, heaven forbid.

Hysterics aside, I’ll state the obvious: the book was good. Check out my seven previous Outlander reviews if you want all the ridiculous squealing and swooning— and a bit of critique every now and then.

And then read these books because they are a.maz.ing. Yes, I added grammatically incorrect punctuation marks to emphasize my enthusiasm. And also because I’m a rebel… or something.

Just a little FYI to top it all off, the TV show is officially airing on Starz now (you’re welcome!). That said, no bibliophile of good repute would watch a show without first having the REAL story from which to criticize the re-making. Am I right?? 

August22014

"It’s funny how sometimes in life you can look at something for years and years, and for years and years the picture never changes. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a new piece of information comes in. Even though the picture doesn’t change, we start seeing the scene in a completely different light." 
"There is no magic, and training tools and techniques are only as good as the person using them. For me, what it’s about is getting involved and giving guidance… trying hard, making mistakes, getting it right… falling down, then getting back up again… and most of all becoming part of the process."
"The difference for me is that lightness is primarily on the outside of the horse and is mostly technique-based, while softness comes from inside of the horse and is a combination of technique, trust, conviction, and feel that is exchanged between rider and horse and back again. Softness is a conversation and a way to be, rather than a thing to do." 
"If I had to guess," the old man continued, "I’d say the reason you’re feeling bad here is because you went and did something with this horse that not a lot of folks ever do. You gave him your heart." … "In return, this horse gave you himself, and that doesn’t happen very often." 

Book: Whole Heart Whole HorseAuthor: Mark RashidPublished: Skyhorse Publishing (2009, 2014)
My Review: After marathon-reading a bunch of Mark Rashid’s books (the next one up is in the mail as we speak, by the way), I’ve come to the conclusion that this man is the epitome of everything I want to be as an equestrian— and probably as a human being, as well. Calm, soft, thoughtful, creative, humble, self-aware and aware of others…
Rashid has a respect for the life around him that is uniquely genuine and commendable. No one is perfect, of course, (including Mark Rashid) but it is my belief that the closest we come to perfection is being ever-mindful of our weaknesses and actively working toward growing into a better version of ourselves. If there is even a smidgeon of truth in these memoirs, Rashid is quite an impressive illustration of self-awareness and lifelong growth.
The process of being a good human and, in this case a good horseman, never ends, and as a mentor of mine once said, there is no arrival time. The piece that matters is doing it, showing up; trying once, trying again, and trying each time after that until either your life or your passion has gone.

"It’s funny how sometimes in life you can look at something for years and years, and for years and years the picture never changes. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a new piece of information comes in. Even though the picture doesn’t change, we start seeing the scene in a completely different light." 

"There is no magic, and training tools and techniques are only as good as the person using them. For me, what it’s about is getting involved and giving guidance… trying hard, making mistakes, getting it right… falling down, then getting back up again… and most of all becoming part of the process."

"The difference for me is that lightness is primarily on the outside of the horse and is mostly technique-based, while softness comes from inside of the horse and is a combination of technique, trust, conviction, and feel that is exchanged between rider and horse and back again. Softness is a conversation and a way to be, rather than a thing to do." 

"If I had to guess," the old man continued, "I’d say the reason you’re feeling bad here is because you went and did something with this horse that not a lot of folks ever do. You gave him your heart." … "In return, this horse gave you himself, and that doesn’t happen very often." 

Book: Whole Heart Whole Horse
Author: Mark Rashid
Published: Skyhorse Publishing (2009, 2014)

My Review: After marathon-reading a bunch of Mark Rashid’s books (the next one up is in the mail as we speak, by the way), I’ve come to the conclusion that this man is the epitome of everything I want to be as an equestrian— and probably as a human being, as well. Calm, soft, thoughtful, creative, humble, self-aware and aware of others…

Rashid has a respect for the life around him that is uniquely genuine and commendable. No one is perfect, of course, (including Mark Rashid) but it is my belief that the closest we come to perfection is being ever-mindful of our weaknesses and actively working toward growing into a better version of ourselves. If there is even a smidgeon of truth in these memoirs, Rashid is quite an impressive illustration of self-awareness and lifelong growth.

The process of being a good human and, in this case a good horseman, never ends, and as a mentor of mine once said, there is no arrival time. The piece that matters is doing it, showing up; trying once, trying again, and trying each time after that until either your life or your passion has gone.

August12014

"Belief wasn’t something that could be compromised to fit changing circumstances: a man embraced and practiced the divine revelations of Joseph Smith or he did not. One had to be either willing to denounce human laws for the laws of God or he was an apostate."
"You have no business trying to embarrass the boys by talking about these secret things," she said. "They have a sex drive and that’s that." The teenager tried to put up an argument but was overmatched. "You can;t blame boys for acting that way," the woman said. "And you deserve what you get for dressing like that." "I didn’t dress this way," Sara replied, "when I was five." 
"In spite of the rise of Warren Jeffs and the growing human damage created by the "sacred principle" of polygamy, the official Mormon Church ignored these developments… [It] wanted nothing to do with its bastard cousin down in Dixie, even if the fundamentalists were living truer to Smith’s ideas than were the faithful in Salt Lake City."
"We shouldn’t be focused just on Warren Jeffs," one boy said after the Prophet was caught, "but on fighting religious terrorism as a whole. You can’t change everything all at once. There’s no fix-it pill for this problem. But what you can do is talk to the person on your right and to the person on your left and help them understand." 
"It’s very easy to criticize our government, which is bound to make mistakes when trying to confront and solve entangled problems. But every now and then, those in charge come close to living out the wisdom behind the principles that created the United States… These people not only give us hope, but the opportunity to think about what power is and the best way to use it." 

Book: When Men Become GodsAuthor: Stephen SingularPublished: St. Martin’s Press (2008, 2009)
My Review: It’s official. I think I’ve read all there is to read about this FLDS business. At least without having enough information about the little community to write a dissertation on the topic. Now it’s down to slightly different versions of essentially the same memoir. The weird part (and quite unfortunate part for those of you who read these little book blurbs) is that I’m still fascinated. 
Religions practice, particularly cult culture, is incredibly interesting. Not only is it difficult to imagine that these communities function as utterly isolated sub-sections of our own society, but also that enough people have escaped and generously offered us bits of their world and knowledge so that we can begin to understand. Bit by bit, we put the puzzle together and learn how the master manipulators and evil geniuses of the world manage to brainwash entire populations, scam our enormous national and state governments, and commit heinous crimes with barely the bat of an eyelid from the criminal justice system. 
And, for anyone who’s as nerdy about public administration and political science as I am, the complexity of managing this type of phenomenon in a country with such a strong belief in freedom is mind-boggling. Our systems are not set up to effectively or efficiently respond to the institutionalized abuse and neglect of hundreds of children, for instance. Or the impossible task of sorting out welfare benefits for a family with 15 wives and 70 children. And what about the pre-meditated and terrifyingly destructive brainwashing of thousands upon thousands of “consenting” adults? Who, by the way, are not really consenting as they have been given no choice.
The FLDS culture is the ultimate legal and constitutional nightmare. And we’ve been ignoring it, thus letting it become thoroughly corrupt and increasingly out of control, for almost two centuries. How on earth do you even begin to remedy that? Which traditions are protected by “religious freedom” and which are simply criminal and subject to outside intervention? What is the first step (or any of the subsequent steps for that matter) in charging, arresting, and prosecuting hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals simultaneously? 
So I challenge you! Riddle me that!

"Belief wasn’t something that could be compromised to fit changing circumstances: a man embraced and practiced the divine revelations of Joseph Smith or he did not. One had to be either willing to denounce human laws for the laws of God or he was an apostate."

"You have no business trying to embarrass the boys by talking about these secret things," she said. "They have a sex drive and that’s that." The teenager tried to put up an argument but was overmatched. "You can;t blame boys for acting that way," the woman said. "And you deserve what you get for dressing like that." "I didn’t dress this way," Sara replied, "when I was five." 

"In spite of the rise of Warren Jeffs and the growing human damage created by the "sacred principle" of polygamy, the official Mormon Church ignored these developments… [It] wanted nothing to do with its bastard cousin down in Dixie, even if the fundamentalists were living truer to Smith’s ideas than were the faithful in Salt Lake City."

"We shouldn’t be focused just on Warren Jeffs," one boy said after the Prophet was caught, "but on fighting religious terrorism as a whole. You can’t change everything all at once. There’s no fix-it pill for this problem. But what you can do is talk to the person on your right and to the person on your left and help them understand." 

"It’s very easy to criticize our government, which is bound to make mistakes when trying to confront and solve entangled problems. But every now and then, those in charge come close to living out the wisdom behind the principles that created the United States… These people not only give us hope, but the opportunity to think about what power is and the best way to use it." 

Book: When Men Become Gods
Author: Stephen Singular
Published: St. Martin’s Press (2008, 2009)

My Review: It’s official. I think I’ve read all there is to read about this FLDS business. At least without having enough information about the little community to write a dissertation on the topic. Now it’s down to slightly different versions of essentially the same memoir. The weird part (and quite unfortunate part for those of you who read these little book blurbs) is that I’m still fascinated. 

Religions practice, particularly cult culture, is incredibly interesting. Not only is it difficult to imagine that these communities function as utterly isolated sub-sections of our own society, but also that enough people have escaped and generously offered us bits of their world and knowledge so that we can begin to understand. Bit by bit, we put the puzzle together and learn how the master manipulators and evil geniuses of the world manage to brainwash entire populations, scam our enormous national and state governments, and commit heinous crimes with barely the bat of an eyelid from the criminal justice system. 

And, for anyone who’s as nerdy about public administration and political science as I am, the complexity of managing this type of phenomenon in a country with such a strong belief in freedom is mind-boggling. Our systems are not set up to effectively or efficiently respond to the institutionalized abuse and neglect of hundreds of children, for instance. Or the impossible task of sorting out welfare benefits for a family with 15 wives and 70 children. And what about the pre-meditated and terrifyingly destructive brainwashing of thousands upon thousands of “consenting” adults? Who, by the way, are not really consenting as they have been given no choice.

The FLDS culture is the ultimate legal and constitutional nightmare. And we’ve been ignoring it, thus letting it become thoroughly corrupt and increasingly out of control, for almost two centuries. How on earth do you even begin to remedy that? Which traditions are protected by “religious freedom” and which are simply criminal and subject to outside intervention? What is the first step (or any of the subsequent steps for that matter) in charging, arresting, and prosecuting hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals simultaneously? 

So I challenge you! Riddle me that!

July292014

"Once you understand how a horse communicates," the old man said, as he lit another cigarette, "you can understand how he thinks. Once you understand how he thinks, you can understand what’s important to him. And that’s the key." 
"He taught me the difference between a horse that was scared, one that was mad, and one that was somewhere in between. He showed me how to teach the ones that have trouble learning, learn from the ones that are trying to teach, and help the ones that wanted to be helped. He taught me that the best horses aren’t always the biggest, the prettiest, or the shiniest. Sometimes they’re the little skinny ones with the broom tails and big ears that stand in the back of the pen." 
"From working with the old man and Bennie, I learned two very important things about working with horses that have turned out, even to this day, to be the keys to success. One is that a horse will only learn what we have to show him if we are showing him in a way he can understand. That, I have come to realize, is really the single most important part of working with horses. The other thing is that horses will almost always learn what we have to show them. We just need to remember that they can only learn as fast as they can learn, not necessarily as fast as we can teach." 

Book: A Good Horse Is Never A Bad ColorAuthor: Mark RashidPublished: Skyhorse Publishing (2011, 2nd Ed.)
My Review: The more Mark Rashid I read, the more I like Mark Rashid. He’s one of those genuine, gentle people who makes you want to find your calm and your quiet. And despite the fact that he’s exceptional at what he does, thanks to an incredible mentor of his own, he writes with an admirable and rare (particularly in the horse world) sense of humility. Genuine? Gentle? Humble? No wonder he’s so successful with his equine companions! 
Much like his other books, this is a zen and soulful kind of read. It’s simple and flows easy, but it’s wonderfully deep and philosophical in message. While intentionally avoiding the feel of a more sterile, step-by-step horse training handbook, Rashid’s narratives and stories contain soft-spoken advice and practical tricks to use in everyday life pulled from his own learning experiences. 
Highly recommended. Good for people, good for horses. Win-win. 

"Once you understand how a horse communicates," the old man said, as he lit another cigarette, "you can understand how he thinks. Once you understand how he thinks, you can understand what’s important to him. And that’s the key." 

"He taught me the difference between a horse that was scared, one that was mad, and one that was somewhere in between. He showed me how to teach the ones that have trouble learning, learn from the ones that are trying to teach, and help the ones that wanted to be helped. He taught me that the best horses aren’t always the biggest, the prettiest, or the shiniest. Sometimes they’re the little skinny ones with the broom tails and big ears that stand in the back of the pen." 

"From working with the old man and Bennie, I learned two very important things about working with horses that have turned out, even to this day, to be the keys to success. One is that a horse will only learn what we have to show him if we are showing him in a way he can understand. That, I have come to realize, is really the single most important part of working with horses. The other thing is that horses will almost always learn what we have to show them. We just need to remember that they can only learn as fast as they can learn, not necessarily as fast as we can teach." 

Book: A Good Horse Is Never A Bad Color
Author: Mark Rashid
Published: Skyhorse Publishing (2011, 2nd Ed.)

My Review: The more Mark Rashid I read, the more I like Mark Rashid. He’s one of those genuine, gentle people who makes you want to find your calm and your quiet. And despite the fact that he’s exceptional at what he does, thanks to an incredible mentor of his own, he writes with an admirable and rare (particularly in the horse world) sense of humility. Genuine? Gentle? Humble? No wonder he’s so successful with his equine companions! 

Much like his other books, this is a zen and soulful kind of read. It’s simple and flows easy, but it’s wonderfully deep and philosophical in message. While intentionally avoiding the feel of a more sterile, step-by-step horse training handbook, Rashid’s narratives and stories contain soft-spoken advice and practical tricks to use in everyday life pulled from his own learning experiences. 

Highly recommended. Good for people, good for horses. Win-win. 

July212014

"However, for my money there is a big difference between trying to make a horse understand something and trying to help a horse understand." 
"I guess sometimes we get so tanged up in trying to find ways to teach our horses to do things or in finding training "techniques" to help us solve our horse’s problems, that we forget to take the most important factor into consideration— the horse. It seems to me that by giving our horses half a chance to tell us what’s on their minds and genuinely listening to what they have to say, we can open the door to a whole new line of communication with them, one that perhaps wasn’t even there before." 
"Things hat I used to get from my horses, such as lead changes and four-stride trot/canter/trot transitions… I see those now as gifts. Gifts that were in that moment, willingly given from my horse to me. I think there is definitely a connection between what I am able to give my horse and what the horse is able to give back to me. Things like technique, mechanics, and goals shouldn’t ever compromise the gifts from the horse." 

Book: Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive LeadershipAuthor: Mark RashidPublished: Skyhorse Publishing (1993, 2011) 
My Review: I’ve never had a quiet mind. Since the day I was born, my brain has been over-analyzing, over-thinking, over-stimulated, over-worked (mostly as a consequence of my own silly choices). And in that constant racing, it’s been easy to forget the importance of being still.
I find that I need books like this (and folks like Mark Rashid) to remind me to hush occasionally, and to simply be present in the moment. This is an especially important reminder when working with horses; often the quieter you are, the more space you create for connection. Quiet leaves room for clear and creative thought, conscious communication, and honest attention to the powerful details that are instantly overlooked in the race toward meaningless goals and the implementation of technique.
Being soft yet direct and earning the trust of those who rely almost solely on consistency takes practice and serious commitment. It’s a skill that is not often come by or valued in our frantic and over-caffeinated world. But, when it comes down to it, there’s truly nothing more valuable if you’re looking to develop a partnership based on respect and understanding with a 1,200 pound being who speaks a foreign, yet much more natural and soulful language. 
Become a passive leader, Rashid suggests. Speak with your body and your actions, lead by example. Most importantly, leave all the harshness and mindlessness of everyday life at the barn door. Make room for quiet.
Who knows, maybe if I practice enough, I’ll learn to let go of harshness and mindlessness altogether. A happy thought, if you ask me. I can’t think of a single reason to hold onto such destruction. 

"However, for my money there is a big difference between trying to make a horse understand something and trying to help a horse understand." 

"I guess sometimes we get so tanged up in trying to find ways to teach our horses to do things or in finding training "techniques" to help us solve our horse’s problems, that we forget to take the most important factor into consideration— the horse. It seems to me that by giving our horses half a chance to tell us what’s on their minds and genuinely listening to what they have to say, we can open the door to a whole new line of communication with them, one that perhaps wasn’t even there before." 

"Things hat I used to get from my horses, such as lead changes and four-stride trot/canter/trot transitions… I see those now as gifts. Gifts that were in that moment, willingly given from my horse to me. I think there is definitely a connection between what I am able to give my horse and what the horse is able to give back to me. Things like technique, mechanics, and goals shouldn’t ever compromise the gifts from the horse." 

Book: Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership
Author: Mark Rashid
Published: Skyhorse Publishing (1993, 2011) 

My Review: I’ve never had a quiet mind. Since the day I was born, my brain has been over-analyzing, over-thinking, over-stimulated, over-worked (mostly as a consequence of my own silly choices). And in that constant racing, it’s been easy to forget the importance of being still.

I find that I need books like this (and folks like Mark Rashid) to remind me to hush occasionally, and to simply be present in the moment. This is an especially important reminder when working with horses; often the quieter you are, the more space you create for connection. Quiet leaves room for clear and creative thought, conscious communication, and honest attention to the powerful details that are instantly overlooked in the race toward meaningless goals and the implementation of technique.

Being soft yet direct and earning the trust of those who rely almost solely on consistency takes practice and serious commitment. It’s a skill that is not often come by or valued in our frantic and over-caffeinated world. But, when it comes down to it, there’s truly nothing more valuable if you’re looking to develop a partnership based on respect and understanding with a 1,200 pound being who speaks a foreign, yet much more natural and soulful language. 

Become a passive leader, Rashid suggests. Speak with your body and your actions, lead by example. Most importantly, leave all the harshness and mindlessness of everyday life at the barn door. Make room for quiet.

Who knows, maybe if I practice enough, I’ll learn to let go of harshness and mindlessness altogether. A happy thought, if you ask me. I can’t think of a single reason to hold onto such destruction. 

July92014

"My parents were aware that it was my choice to remain in the Sea Org, but they also knew I was brainwashed. The last thing you want to tell a person who is brainwashed is that they are brainwashed." 
"In many ways, the Celebrity Centre was the perfect stage for the act that Scientology put on for the celebrities. The accommodations were gorgeous, and the beautiful grounds made the experience enjoyable. Everything was tightly controlled and orchestrated, and if the celebrities themselves took things at face value, they’d simply see the act and never witness what went on behind the curtain. There was never any risk that they would get exposed to child labor or something similar that the Church didn’t want them to see. Sea Org members at the Celebrity Centre appeared happy because it was their job to do that, so celebrities wouldn’t know from talking to them or watching them whether they’d been paid their forty-five dollars that week, or if they missed their families."

Book: Beyond BeliefAuthor: Jenna Miscavige Hill Published: HarperCollins (2013)
My Review: Shifting gears a bit with this one, from the appalling abuses of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) to the appalling abuses of Scientology. Not that much of a shift, I suppose, but a shift nonetheless! 
Despite major philosophical and practical differences, both FLDS and Scientology demonstrate cult definitions to a tee. Cults, as opposed to other more socially acceptable religious organizations, are typically characterized by relatively small groups of people who have been strategically isolated from others, coerced and brainwashed, and micromanaged to the point of complete incapacitation by leaders (typically “representing” various religious figures) who demand excessive devotion and submission of individual will in exchange for salvation, ultimate contentment, or similar grandiose purposes. 
While FLDS leaders seem to inflict significantly more extreme trauma upon individual survivors (institutionalized rape, underage marriage, physical abuse, neglect, etc.), Scientologist leaders also leave their mark, as Hill points out, with practices involving extensive child labor, strategic separation of families, intimidation techniques, and physical/financial manipulation. And, to give credit where credit is due, Scientology is WAY more famous than the FLDS; I mean, they have Tom Cruise and John Travolta toting the line! How could NOT be Ultimate Truth?!
Regardless of the techniques used, the goal of cult leaders is 100% the same: power and control. Ensuring complete power and control over individuals ensures money and status, primarily through leeching off lower-level believers who have little-to-no capacity to change their circumstances, even if they so desired (which is uncommon, as brainwashing is typically quite thorough and cult principles fundamentally internalized over time). Often, the majority of believers live in squalor and fear while the leaders they worship are enjoying a luxurious existence, showered with riches stolen in the name of religious salvation.
Convenient for these “prophets,” is it not? 
Overall, this memoir was fairly insightful and paints a basic, Cult 101-esque picture of modern-day Scientology. My only legitimate complaint is with the many grammatical and spelling errors, which may not be of concern to most (normal) people. I, on the other hand, would like to have a word with the person who calls herself Jenna Hill’s editor! 

"My parents were aware that it was my choice to remain in the Sea Org, but they also knew I was brainwashed. The last thing you want to tell a person who is brainwashed is that they are brainwashed." 

"In many ways, the Celebrity Centre was the perfect stage for the act that Scientology put on for the celebrities. The accommodations were gorgeous, and the beautiful grounds made the experience enjoyable. Everything was tightly controlled and orchestrated, and if the celebrities themselves took things at face value, they’d simply see the act and never witness what went on behind the curtain. There was never any risk that they would get exposed to child labor or something similar that the Church didn’t want them to see. Sea Org members at the Celebrity Centre appeared happy because it was their job to do that, so celebrities wouldn’t know from talking to them or watching them whether they’d been paid their forty-five dollars that week, or if they missed their families."

Book: Beyond Belief
Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill 
Published: HarperCollins (2013)

My Review: Shifting gears a bit with this one, from the appalling abuses of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) to the appalling abuses of Scientology. Not that much of a shift, I suppose, but a shift nonetheless! 

Despite major philosophical and practical differences, both FLDS and Scientology demonstrate cult definitions to a tee. Cults, as opposed to other more socially acceptable religious organizations, are typically characterized by relatively small groups of people who have been strategically isolated from others, coerced and brainwashed, and micromanaged to the point of complete incapacitation by leaders (typically “representing” various religious figures) who demand excessive devotion and submission of individual will in exchange for salvation, ultimate contentment, or similar grandiose purposes. 

While FLDS leaders seem to inflict significantly more extreme trauma upon individual survivors (institutionalized rape, underage marriage, physical abuse, neglect, etc.), Scientologist leaders also leave their mark, as Hill points out, with practices involving extensive child labor, strategic separation of families, intimidation techniques, and physical/financial manipulation. And, to give credit where credit is due, Scientology is WAY more famous than the FLDS; I mean, they have Tom Cruise and John Travolta toting the line! How could NOT be Ultimate Truth?!

Regardless of the techniques used, the goal of cult leaders is 100% the same: power and control. Ensuring complete power and control over individuals ensures money and status, primarily through leeching off lower-level believers who have little-to-no capacity to change their circumstances, even if they so desired (which is uncommon, as brainwashing is typically quite thorough and cult principles fundamentally internalized over time). Often, the majority of believers live in squalor and fear while the leaders they worship are enjoying a luxurious existence, showered with riches stolen in the name of religious salvation.

Convenient for these “prophets,” is it not? 

Overall, this memoir was fairly insightful and paints a basic, Cult 101-esque picture of modern-day Scientology. My only legitimate complaint is with the many grammatical and spelling errors, which may not be of concern to most (normal) people. I, on the other hand, would like to have a word with the person who calls herself Jenna Hill’s editor! 

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