Saturday, January 30, 2010

Llamas With Hats

I don't know if your sense of humor is as messed up as mine is, but we're about to find out.

tall penguin

An Apology...

I came across a great blog entry this week by a woman who has done the switch from devout Christian to atheist. Blogger Rechelle, over at My Sister's Farmhouse, gives a 7-point apology for her sinning ways as a believer. She apologizes to homosexuals, her Sunday School students, non-Christians she damned to hell, her children and the world in general.

I could have written everything she has written. I still feel quite awful about some of the things I used to believe and the people I hurt as a result of those beliefs. I particularly feel bad about the preaching I did as a Jehovah's Witness. As Rechelle put it: "I apologize for not respecting your intelligence and glazing over thorny issues and rationalizing all the bullshit that is so present at all times in 'god's word'."

I think of all the hours I spent defending my beliefs to people I would meet in the door-to-door preaching ministry. I can't believe that I had the balls to come to a stranger's home uninvited and then proceed to question them on their belief systems, attempt to prove those beliefs wrong and push my JW literature on them. Fortunately, I wasn't one of those hardcore JW's that would put my foot in the door to keep it from being shut in my face, but I was still persistent and ignorant enough to think that what I believed was the truth and what you believed was a lie.

I cringe most of all when I think of the people that actually believed me. There is one family that I helped indoctrinate with the Jehovah's Witnesses belief system. When I finally saw through the JW beliefs, I went back to this family and shared with them what I had found out, imploring them to do some serious research into the JW's and to be wary of getting involved any deeper in the JW structure. The father of the family seemed to listen well to me but the mother did not. She still seemed inclined to believe and wanted to continue on the path to becoming a full JW. I have not heard from them since.

I exhale a very deep sigh when I think of my arrogance as a true believer. I apologize, as blogger Rechelle does, "for being such a huge shit head for all those years." May I be continually humbled by life and have the opportunity to make amends for my errors. Amen.

tall penguin

Monday, January 25, 2010

Asleep on the job...

This made national news here last week in Canada. This photo, taken by a passerby, captures a Toronto transit fare collector asleep on the job. The photo was tweeted and has now become an internet sensation, as well as a source of controversy. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the sleeper's employer, is taking commuters to task for not checking to see if the toll collector was alright, stating that he could've been ill or unconscious, not just sleeping.

Nice attempt at damage control, TTC. You fucked us over with yet another fare hike in the new year, you pay a number of your fare collectors salaries that hover in the six figures! and then have the nerve to imply that we're irresponsible. Asshats all.

The silver lining? Since the story hit the net, photoshop enthusiasts have been having fun. Check out this post at BlogTO for some laughs.

tall penguin


I co-hosted a party on the weekend and guess who showed up?! No fanfare for such a famous guest. He just came in and mingled his way into the crowd.

It didn't take long though for him to find his way to the alcohol.

Nor did it take him long to down a few shots and start making a fool out of his intoxicated self. This guy really knows how to blend.

Then he hopped on my computer and started muckin' about with my music playlist. The nerve! Nobody touches the playlist and lives!

But he put on some kickass breakdance music and showed us some moves, so all was forgiven.

And then he became my Bollywood dance partner. Jai ho!

He then perused the host's book collection looking for some interesting conversation topics...

...only to receive a good old-fashioned scolding from Jeff for his views on nanotechnology.

He then retreated to the kitchen in search of sugary snacks.

As the evening mellowed, he wowed us with his music skills.

He bid us farewell and headed out into the night.

Unfortunately, the tequila overtook him and he stumbled into the picnic table.

Game over. But what a great night!

tall penguin

(Photos courtesy of Chihoe and Deena.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

His Eyes.

His eyes
Brown like the earth
Beneath my feet
Follow me
Wherever I may go
They search through me
And I never know quite what they see
He doesn't say
He just smiles
As if every bit of my soul
Were perfect and good.

Thank God for him
And his eyes
That see more of me
Than I will ever see
Of myself.

tall penguin

Thursday, January 14, 2010


When I was a Jehovah's Witness, I used to think that the best thing I could do to help during a major world crisis, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, was to pray. The irony of praying to an all-powerful being to stem the suffering caused by an event that an all-powerful being could have prevented to begin with was lost on me. I've grown up now. There is no Sky Daddy. It's time to take matters into our own hands.

So, please, donate to your local Red Cross or other charitable organization involved in relief work for Haiti. I know that here in Canada, according to the Canadian International Development Agency, "The Government of Canada will match dollar for dollar the contributions of individual Canadians to eligible Canadian charitable organizations in support of humanitarian, recovery, and reconstruction efforts in response to the earthquake in Haiti, up to a total of $50 million."

More than prayers to an imaginary entity, let's contribute something that will really make a difference.

tall penguin

Same Difference...

"Just remember who loved who first," he said.

"Ah, but while you were loving long, I was loving wide," she replied.

tall penguin


His love moves through me
Like lightning passes through rain
Never striking twice.

tall penguin

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Silver Cord

A strap of silver
Around her wrist
A binding cord
Of a boundless love.

tall penguin

The Book: Days Twelve and Thirteen

Pages Written: 2

I really hate being on a daily writing routine. Much like I would totally hate being on a daily exercise routine. I'm sure it's no different. I'm hoping my writing brain is like any other muscle and will become accustomed to regular use.

In other news...actually, in totally ironic news, I started an Introductory Creative Writing course tonight. Yes, as if I'm not writing enough these days, I thought I would torture myself by entering the world of assignments, grades and course credits. It might have seemed entirely intelligent to take a memoir writing class at this point in my life, but instead, I'm jumping into fiction, my most-hated form of writing. What can I say...I'm a sucker for punishment, or is it that I crave variety? Maybe it's both. Maybe neither. Who knows why the tall penguin does anything at all?

The first class tonight was all kinds of fun. We did an hour of ice-breaking games, which I always appreciate. I firmly believe in bonding a group early in a course. When I used to teach workshops, I always got the group up and interacting as soon as possible. People who laugh together can create together. I think most corporations, and educational institutions, and governments, for that matter, forget this. The world is far too serious. We need to learn to laugh more.

The instructor gained Brownie points with me when she handed out an extensive recommended reading list on the art of writing, but then qualified it by saying, "If you only read one book on writing, it should be, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Nathalie Goldberg." I was given this book by my High School English teacher many years ago and have always considered Goldberg a writing guru. Reading her books is like talking to a friend over coffee. She addresses the writer's mind in a simple and honoring way.

We did a short sample writing during class tonight; what the instructor called a "diagnostic". We had to write about a particularly traumatic or emotional time during our childhood. As you can imagine, this was not difficult for me. And yet, I didn't write about anything you'd probably think I would write about. I didn't write about being raised a Jehovah's Witness; I wrote about a particularly scarring, yet humorous, event that happened when I was five. And it's going in The Book for sure.

I really have to stop capitalizing "The Book". It makes it out to be this big, ugly scary monster; the kind I'd like to have extracted from under my bed. I think I'm making it out to be scarier than it needs to be. They're just words on a page. Just words on a page. To paraphrase Dory in Finding Nemo: "Just keep writing. Just keep writing."

tall penguin

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Book: Day Eleven

Pages Written Today: 1

In other news, I started Art Class tonight!!! Wahoo!!! I and my friend D are taking a Beginner's Drawing and Painting class. We did some really great introductory exercises tonight that have me excited about what I'm going to learn over the next 9 weeks. Can't wait for the next class!

tall penguin

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Book: Day Ten

Pages Written Today: 1.5

I wrote. Stuff is coming back to me. Memory is a tricky thing though. It's hard to decipher fact from fantasy. The further you get from an event, the more likely your brain has added to it, rewritten it in some way, or otherwise altered the past.

I have asked my friend J, the infamous J who I left the Jehovah's Witnesses with, who subsequently became my boyfriend for two years, then dumped me and is now my friend again, to send me all our email correspondence during the time we were together. Along with my blog entries, I think that will give me a more accurate picture of what happened in those first years just after we left the JW's. Why don't I have those emails? Well, in the name of catharsis, I deleted a bunch of past relationship stuff some time ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time but now seems like the worst idea ever.

Mental Note: Cathartic bonfires good for normal people; not good for writers.

tall penguin

His Brother Jon...

At the ex-Jehovah's Witness forum I used to frequent heavily upon leaving the JW's, a post went up today by a poster I've known for quite some time. I got his permission to post it here in its entirety. I believe it speaks for itself.

"I had a brother. His name was Jon.

Jon was a sweet, super sensitive guy. Also, a very tortured soul. He wanted so much to be accepted, to be certain that god was with him. Actually, he really did believe that Jehovah was god, and that Jehovah didn't hate gay people.

You see, Jon was gay. And he was baptized as a JW at 13 years old. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of what he would be like had he been able to survive his tortured confusion. Jon killed himself in 1998. He would have been 34 this year.

When we were kids, we used to talk about how our families would visit each other, etc. Jon looked up to me, and I know that he loved me very much. That brings me a lot of comfort. Because of JW dogma regarding disfellowshipping and shunning, which I bought into, I wasn't able to help Jon at all when he needed me the most.

Jon was disfellowshipped 2 months after I got married to my now ex wife. For the next 4 years, he was in and out of my parents house, eventually moved out and lived with people who sometimes exploited him, othertimes tried to help him. Jon in all this time never stopped believing in Jehovah, the only god he knew. He would go to gay bars and look for gay Catholics to try and witness to. He went to the meetings at KH's on occasion and would tell the elders that he knew Jehovah annointed him with holy spirit, and that they were wrong to reject him for his homosexuality.

I know that he was disturbed, that he needed help. He called me three times after I moved away from Florida, one time, to tell me that my parents were divorced... 6 months previous. (!!) The last 2 were his efforts to try and feel me out, to see where I was. Jon knew I was a dyed in the wool JW. The last time, he asked if he could visit, and I had to turn him down. He said he understood, and that he loved me anyway.

Did you know that was the first time ever in my adult JW existence that I felt I was doing something wrong by obeying the JW dogma and edict? Jon was the first person to shake my tree a bit, to get me to feel. And all I did was say no to my brother in his time of need. But in Jon's time of need, somehow, he knew that he needed to know that he loved me. He knew that in the future, I would need that. It was Jon's love that slowly started the opening of my eyes, and started the erosion of the JW hold on me.

3 months later, Jon left us. He left me. But he also left me a great gift.

And yet, while I miss him, I know that Jon wouldn't want me to feel bad or regret. Jon wanted me to be happy. As I look back, he knew even then I was trapped in a way of thinking that deep down, wasn't mine.

Jon wasn't about rejecting others for who they were or weren't, for shunning people based on their narrow definition of god, he was about love and acceptance. In the end, he got neither love or acceptance. In that, for his life to have meaning means that I must try and apply the lesson Jon was trying to teach me. (and may still be trying to teach me.)

We must love and accept each other. We must forgive whenever we can. We must not waste time getting caught up in things that don't really matter.

Do you have family that you love? Maybe you can't get in touch with them right now. Respect where they are, even as Jon tried to do with me. Jon somehow knew that his love for me would somehow shake me. It did. I thank him for that.

Time is short. My mom is now sick. My dad and I aren't close, though we love each other. Yet everyday, this culture tells us that work, making a living, having a savings account is the best way to show you love your family and friends.

I say, there is no substitute for the time you can give others. And even if the JW cult has your loved ones in a vise that you can't break right now, please know that an expression of love from you is more powerful then any effort to dissuade them from the cult. Because deep down, your family loves you too. Deep down, your love is the best weapon against this cult. Send them an email. Put in the subject line "I Love You". Don't talk about JW's. Just tell them how you feel. Tell them you love them, and that you hope that one day, you can be a family again. JW's have no antidote for that. At some point, even if its years down the road, it will bear fruit.

Most of all, my life experience has taught me that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Make the most of today. Love, but not in a religious sense. You know what love is. Give into it, give it and accept it.

If you do that, I promise you my brother, and others like him, will not have lived in vain. It will in the end make us all more powerful then this cult. It might even help us to be at peace, at long last."

Thank you to Jeff, for allowing me to post this. All the best to you and yours.

tall penguin


Tim Minchin, Australian comedian, actor, musician and skeptic is going to take the world by storm with an animated short of his classic comedy act flaming the ideology of those who support alternative medicine. Produced by Skepchick Tracy King, Storm will take Minchin's comedic attack on the typical arguments of alt med woomeisters (like "Big Pharma is out to get us!" and "Science doesn't know everything.") and turn it into a great little short that is sure to get people thinking. Or so we hope.

Here's the official trailer:

tall penguin

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Maker

This song has been floating through my head the past week. This is Daniel Lanois, famous Canadian artist and internationally known producer, singer/songwriter and guitarist, singing a beautiful song called "The Maker", which was featured on the Sling Blade soundtrack years after it was first recorded. Enjoy.

tall penguin

The Maker

Daniel Lanois | MySpace Music Videos

The Book: Days Eight and Nine

Pages Written: 3

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein."
~~Walter Smith

I've been in a funk the last few days; thus the failure to check in yesterday. Yes, I've written. But it's been hell. I'm only nine days into this project and already the "What's the point?" voices have begun. I didn't think they'd arrive so early. Just when I said that I was strong enough to write this book now, and also that I was experiencing a quiet calm as of late, the voices come along to try to prove me a liar. Well, fuck the voices and the depression they rode in on. I'm gonna keep writing. Even if it kills me.

tall penguin

I still believe in love...

It hurts
And it's irrational
And it leaves me broken and bruised
But I still believe in love.

It is just so many chemicals
And firing synapses
And mental arguments
But I still believe in love.

It leaves me crying out
In the middle of the night
To an unseen god,
Begging for mercy
And explanation;
It is the silence that answers back
But I still believe in love.

It is the cold hand of grief
And the fiery finger of lust
The gaze of Medusa
And the Siren's song.
It is death and life
And every twisted moment in between
But I still believe in love.

It is his sweet breath on my neck
At the end of the day
And his words of farewell
Come morning.
It is my heaving chest
In the throes of freedom
And my tears
When all is done.

It is heaven
And hell
And sweet purgatory
The last light of day
And the christening
Of dawn.
It is clay
And mortar
Silk and satin
Leather and lace.
But I still believe in love.

It is the spider's kiss
And the butterfly's wings
A newborn child
And an aborted dream.
It is the wind and the rain
And the scorching sun
But I still believe in love.

It is the dream
Within the dream
Within the dream
The neverending story
And the star of the show.
It is the beauty
And the beast
The legend
And the widow
The hero
And the soldier.

It is black
And crimson
And cerulean blue.
The Alpha
The Omega
The First and The Last
And the crowd in the few.
But I still believe in love.

It is the end of the beginning
The beginning of the end
The words on a blank page
And the art carried within.
It is the bones and sinew
The flesh and the blood
The levee and the concrete
And the unexpected flood.

It is the way his eyes reveal me
And the way they shut me down
It is the sound of one hand clapping
And the way a child drowns
It is every unsent letter
Sealed with bloody candle wax
The faceless in the mirror
But I still believe in love.

It is the tombstone
Made of granite
And the mattress
Made of hay
It is being lost
And being found
And being lead astray.

It leaves us wanting
It leaves us still
It leaves us wondering
It leaves us ill.
It leaves us naked
And craving death;
It leaves us,
Oh how it leaves us
But I still believe in love.

I still believe in love.

tall penguin

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Book: Day Seven

Pages Written Today: 1

It's getting easier to write daily now. I am winning the battle with the voice in my head that wants to edit every word that my fingers type. I am learning to just write for the sake of writing, trusting that there's time enough for editin' when the dealin's done.

In other news, a quiet calm has come over me as of late. I like it.

tall penguin

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Check out... cool new hair! Ya baby.

tall penguin

The Book: Day Six

Pages Written Today: 1

I spent much of the day with my parents, who are becoming cooler by the minute. We've come a very long way in the past four years since my leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although they're still active members, they don't shun me, we get together regularly now for shopping and meals and we call each other much more often now on the phone. This is HUGE for them, since active JW's aren't supposed to socialize with an "apostate" like me, even if we're family. The official dogma states that they're supposed to communicate with me only in the case of an emergency, not actively "fellowshipping" with me. So, kudos to my parents for being as freethinking as they can while in a cult. I must say I'm mighty impressed with them.

The thought also crossed my mind that it's very possible that by year's end when I have a manuscript of some sort ready, my folks may actually be ready to read it. My deepest hope is that they would give it their blessing before it's published. A year is a long time and I have much confidence in our growing relationship. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

tall penguin

p.s. I don't know precisely when it happened but sometime in the past week, I have accepted the fact that I am a writer. Not just accepted, but welcomed, embraced and danced with the fact that I am a writer. Let me say that again. I am a writer. It feels all warm and fuzzy, like falling in love. Maybe I'm the one I've been waiting for. Huh.

In Memoriam...

I wrote yesterday about the passing of musical artist Lhasa de Sela at the age of 37. Off her last album, Lhasa, released in 2009, there is a hauntingly beautiful track called, "I'm Going In" which will hit you as a heart-wrenching farewell.

Here are the song lyrics:

I'm Going In
by Lhasa de Sela

When my lifetime had just ended
And my death had just begun
I told you I’d never leave you
But I knew this day would come

Give me blood for my blood wedding
I am ready to be born
I feel new
As if this body were the first I’d ever worn

I need straw for the straw fire
I need hard earth for the plow
Don't ask me to reconsider
I am ready to go now

I'm going in I’m going in
This is how it starts
I can see in so far
But afterwards we always forget
Who we are

I'm going in I’m going in
I can stand the pain
And the blinding heat
'Cause I won't remember you
The next time we meet

You'll be making the arrangements
You'll be trying to set me free
Not a moment for the meeting
I'll be busy as a bee

You'll be talking to me
But I just won't understand
I'll be falling by the wayside
You'll be holding out your hand

Don't you tempt me with perfection
I have other things to do
I didn't burrow this far in
Just to come right back to you

I'm going in I’m going in
I have never been so ugly
I have never been so slow
These prison walls get closer now
The further in I go

I'm going in I’m going in
I like to see you from a distance
And just barely believe
And think that
Even lost and blind
I still invented love

I'm going in
I’m going in
I’m going in

And here is a video someone put up on youtube of images to the song (I'm not crazy about the video but at least you get to hear the song). Her voice will move you. I'm sure of it.

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It Wouldn't...

...have stopped me, but then I had a bit of a bad girl streak.

Gettin' Schooled...

"Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions."
~Frater Ravus

As you well know, I can't stop asking questions. So, in addition to the heap of books I read over the course of 2009, I spent a good deal of time on Science blogs and Science-based Medicine blogs, gettin' my ass schooled in critical thinking. I have, once again, been humbled by my ignorance.

What blogs have I been reading? Here's my top three:

Respectful Insolence, which in its own words is: "the miscellaneous ramblings of a surgeon/scientist on medicine, quackery, science, pseudoscience, history, and pseudohistory (and anything else that interests him)."

Science-Based Medicine: "Exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine."

Pharyngula, where the always interesting, cephalopod-loving, PZ Myers resides.

I've been reading these blogs for months now and still don't feel like I have the skills to get involved in the discussions. And this is probably as it should be, considering all the time I've spent in my life blathering on about stuff I had no idea about (thanks be to my Jehovah's Witness upbringing on that one). It seems only fitting that I should take my time before opening my mouth on topics now, particularly those of which I have little formal knowledge.

I'm quite enjoying learning from the back of the room. But at some point this year, I'm planning to enroll in a college-level critical thinking class and formally get my butt kicked. It's time for me to try out that thicker skin I've been working on these past four years.

This really does seem to be my "coming out" year doesn't it?

tall penguin

The Book: Day Five

Pages Written Today: 0

I spent more than six hours today writing up the My Year In Books post. I'm satisfied with that as my writing work for this day.

I did however dig up some journals that will prove useful to the book project. I'm also attempting to recover some emails that I will need as source material. There's a lot of background work to do before I can even sit down and write properly. I trust that as the materials come together, the structure will become clearer and the words will flow more easily. If not, this is going to be one helluva bumpy road.

tall penguin

My Year in Books: 2009

As promised, here is my review of the books I read in 2009. You may recall that I read a lot of books this past year. So many that it made me a little crazy. But I'm much better now. ;)

Most of these books were fresh reads for me. But there are some revisits. Great books deserve revisiting, much like great music and great movies.

I have done my best to recall all that I read over the past year but know for a fact that I've left some out. My notes are not as comprehensive as I would have liked. I'll do better in 2010.

Where possible, I have linked the book title to and the author to wikipedia.

Here we go. In no particular order:

  1. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

    This is a rather in-depth history of money, how it came to be and what purpose it has served to advance civilization. I liked this book, although I found it to be a somewhat challenging read, as I don't have a background in finance. Still, it was worth reading and broadened my perspective on the subject.

    Favorite Quotes:

    The Crusades, like the conquests that followed, were as much about overcoming Europe's monetary shortage as about converting heathens to Christianity.”

    If the financial system has a defect, it is that it reflects and magnifies what we human beings are like. As we are learning from a growing volume of research in the field of behavioral finance, money amplifies our tendency to overreact, to swing from exuberance when things are going well to deep depression when they go wrong. Booms and busts are products, at root, of our emotional volatility.”

  2. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated by Judith Rich Harris

    I reviewed this book here.

  3. When Atheism Becomes Religion: America's New Fundamentalists by Chris Hedges

    I reviewed this book here.

  4. The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph Of Spectacle by Chris Hedges

    I like Hedges' style of writing. Here he explores our entertainment-driven society and the implications of a post-literate world. From New Age fundamentalism to professional wrestling, Hedges tackles the danger of illusions and what it says about our social evolution. His polemic is refreshing albeit alarming.

  5. Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals by John Gray

    I reviewed this book here.

  6. Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

    I reviewed this book here.

  7. Sadhana: The Realization of Life by Rabindranath Tagore

    Tagore, a Bengali poet and philosopher, is one of my favorite writers. He has a marvelous way of blending the material and the spiritual, with such art and grace. In this book, originally published in 1913, Tagore explores India's spirituality and philosophy, commenting on the essence of self and evil, love and beauty, life and enlightenment. A must read for the philosophical, or wannabe philosophical, mind. And you can download it here for free.

    Favorite Quotes:

    Man's cry is to reach his fullest expression.”

    Curiously enough, there are men who lose that feeling of mystery which is at the root of all our delights, when they discover the uniformity of law among the diversity of nature---as if gravity is not more of a mystery than the fall of an apple, as if the evolution from one scale of being to the other is not something that is even more shy of explanation than a succession of creations. The trouble is that we very often stop at such a law as if it were the final end of our search, and then we find that it does not even begin to emancipate our spirit. It only gives satisfaction to our intellect, and as it does not appeal to our whole being, it only deadens in us the sense of the infinite.”

  8. The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman

    Okay, confession time. I went through a stage last Summer where I revisited my woo days. And the next few book selections reflect this. I'm not apologizing, just informing; I may be a skeptic but I still read woo when I feel like it.

    One of the gifts I received for my birthday this past June was a consultation with a Vedic astrologer (edited to add: don't send me an email asking for this astrologer's contact info...I won't support your throwing good money away). Being the good little Jehovah's Witness I was, I'd never been to an astrologer of any sort and thought it might be fun. And it was fun.

    The reading seemed accurate, but knowing what I know of the human mind, suggestibility and the non-verbal cues we give off that could lead an astrologer to show an uncanny ability to predict/retrodict things, I took the whole experience with a grain of salt. But the astrologer did recommend reading Millman's, "The Life You Were Born to Live". It's a book that outlines your life path (and is quite detailed I might add) based on a form of numerology. I had fun with this book, looking up the life paths of all of my friends and co-workers. Pure entertainment.

    If you're interested, my life path according to Millman's numerology is 29/11. In brief: "Those on the 29/11 life path are here to combine creative energy with higher principles and integrity, finding ways to apply their creativity in service of others, aligned with higher wisdom." Sounds like me. But then, half of the book sounds like me. Again, take it all with a grain of salt.

  9. Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential by Caroline Myss

    Myss, a "medical intuitive", explores archetypes as a means of helping you understand your life and the “sacred contract” you've come to this planet to explore. I don't subscribe to the idea of a pre-conception "contract" but I do so LOVE archetypes and metaphor and enjoy playing with these concepts. So, from that standpoint, this is a good read.

  10. Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch

    This was a revisit. I read this book shortly after leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses. I was still a believer at that point and wanted to re-write the concept of God I'd been raised with. This book helped tremendously. I reread it this year because it's an interesting Q&A with the Divine, whatever you conceive that to be. Although I am now a non-believer, I still find the metaphor of the Divine interesting and find Walsch's take balanced and insightful. I particularly enjoyed his commentary on relationships which I blogged about here.

    Favorite Quote:

    "...the purpose of your relationship is to create an opportunity, not an obligation---an opportunity for growth, for full Self expression, for lifting your lives to their highest potential, for healing every false thought you ever had about you, and for ultimate reunion with God through the communion of your two souls..."

  11. When Everything Changes, Change Everything: In a Time of Turmoil, A Pathway to Peace by Neale Donald Walsch

    I had high hopes for this book and even wrote a blog entry mid-read about how much I loved it, but in the end, it went off into more woo than even I, a recovering woomeister, could take. Walsch, like many other New Age writers, supports the idea that we can master the universe mainly by means of our thoughts and perceptions. This book is not as bad as The Secret, (nothing is as bad as The Secret, which I wrote about way back when) but if you hold a materialist worldview, you'll be left with some vomit in your mouth. The best thing about this book is the inclusion of the poetry of Em Claire, Walsch's wife.

  12. Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

    Okay, moving right along. I am a huge Roald Dahl fan. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favorite book as a child. But it wasn't until this year that I read Danny The Champion. I had started and stopped it many times over the years and could never get into it, perhaps because it was more real-life based than Dahl's usual fanciful and fantastic story-telling. But a friend brought it to my attention and because it meant so much to him, I read it and ended up enjoying it thoroughly. It is a dear story of a father and son and will not only touch you, but make you laugh, as only Dahl can do.

    Favorite Quote:

    "Grown-ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets. Some have quirkier quirks and deeper secrets than others, but all of them, including one's own parents, have two or three private habits up their sleeves that would probably make you gasp if you knew about them."

  13. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

    Having enjoyed Gladwell's previous books, this was no exception. Gladwell looks at what makes people successful and his conclusions are not what you would think. The only criticism I have of this book is that his examples are all men; there are no female case studies in the lot. Makes me think that one of the keys to being successful in this world is being born male. But I digress.

    Favorite Quote:

    "The values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are."

  14. Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

    I enjoyed the first book, finding it a novel consideration of economics and what drives human behavior. This follow-up left me disappointed. I found many of the conclusions faulty at best, dangerous at worst (Are they really proposing drunk driving over drunk walking?!). The chapter on climate change turned out to be the most controversial (no surprise there).

    Favorite Quote:

    For all the progress women have made in the twenty-first century labor market, the typical female would come out well ahead if she had simply had the foresight to be born male.”

  15. Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

    I found this autobiography, written by someone diagnosed with Savant Syndrome, a rare form of Aspergers, to be incredibly intriguing. If you want to gain a better understanding of this oft-misunderstood illness, Tammet's book is a good place to start. His writing is sincere and simple, yet profound.

    Favorite Quote:

    Numbers are my friends and they are always around me. Each one is unique and has its own personality. Eleven is friendly and five is loud, whereas four is both shy and quiet --- it's my favourite number, perhaps because it reminds me of myself.”

  16. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

    This is the book that is moving me closer to complete vegetarianism. Foer takes a look at the question: why do we eat what we eat? He looks at the cultural, emotional, philosophical and ethical drives behind our food choices. As well, he goes behind the scenes of factory farming giving the reader a first-hand understanding of how most animals find their way to our tables. The book is not preachy, but it will make you stop and think about whether being an omnivore is the most informed choice you can make.

    Favorite Quote:

    "Not responding is a response---we are equally responsible for what we don't do."

Book Club Titles

I, and one of my managers at the bookstore where I work, started a book club at the end of 2008, which entered full swing in 2009. We covered an eclectic mix of titles. With much protestation, I took my first major leap into reading fiction, only to find myself quite enjoying some of the reads.

The following were book club reads this year:

  1. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortensen

    This is the inspiring tale of Mortensen's near-death experience mountain-climbing which lead to his beginning a great humanitarian work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A must-read.

    Favorite Quote:

    "Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls."

  2. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

    This is a fictional exploration of the dreams Einstein might have had while his waking hours were filled with theoretical formulations and work in a patent office. Short chapters and imaginative ideas make this book an easy and thought-provoking read.

    Favorite Quote:

    "Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone."

  3. Ancient Secrets of Success by Tulshi Sen

    Sen explores ancient wisdom and applies it to modern life in this title. My friend, and fellow blogger, Ganga, explores Sen's work in depth on her blog.

  4. Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

    This book was the tipping point for me; after this read, I became open to the idea that fiction and I could be friends.

    I reviewed this book here.

  5. The Book of Negroes (U.S title: Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill.

    An incredibly moving and mostly historically accurate fictional telling of one slave's journey across continents, time and history. The main character is written with such depth and emotion that you are drawn into the story immediately and have no difficulty staying with the 486 pages to completion. A captivating read.

    Favorite Quote:

    "I had imagined, somehow, that my life was unique in its unexpected migrations. I wasn't different at all, I learned. Each person who stood before me had a story every bit as unbelievable as mine."

  6. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

    This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's written for children but has become much-loved by every adult I've shared it with (I actually once did a reading of the book for my two best girlfriends which left us all in tears).

    Reminiscent of The Velveteen Rabbit, Edward Tulane, a china rabbit, goes on a hero's journey and learns, often painfully, what life and love are all about. I will confess to reading this book at least five times this year, and listening to it at least two more times on audiobook. When I feel lost, it is Edward's journey which brings me home again.

    Favorite Quote:

    If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.”

  7. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

    A reread for me. I've read it many, many times. Not much to say that hasn't been said, except, if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?

    Favorite Quote:

    "One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving."

  8. The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

    Part of a lecture series co-sponsored by the CBC radio here in Canada, The Wayfinders considers the implications of the loss of language and culture that is being experienced on our planet. While Davis at times romanticizes ancient history and culture and offers no suggestions on how best to retain their wisdom, his lecture invites a worthy contemplation of the subject.

    Favorite Quote:

    "If diversity is a source of wonder, its opposite--the ubiquitous condensation to some blandly amorphous and singularly generic modern culture that takes for granted an impoverished environment--is a source of dismay. There is, indeed, a fire burning over the earth, taking with it plants and animals, cultures, languages, ancient skills and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame, and re-inventing the poetry of diversity is perhaps the most important challenge of our times."

    (End of book club selections. On with the rest.)

  9. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donoghue

    I reviewed this here.

  10. Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

    Wow. Wow. Wow. This may be my favorite book of the year. I underlined and marked-up a considerable amount of this book. It gave me a deep appreciation for storytelling and the feminine archetype. I am woman...hear me roar.

    Favorite Quotes:

    "Although there will be scars and plenty of them, it is good to remember that in tensile strength and ability to absorb pressure, a scar is stronger than skin."

    "Stay here long enough...stay here long enough to revive your hope, to drop your terminal cool, to give up defensive half-truths, to creep, carve, bash your way through, stay here long enough to see what is right for you, stay here long enough to become strong, to try the try that will make it, stay here long enough to make the finish line, it matters not how long it takes or in what style..."

  11. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds and Are All Pretty Sure We're Way Above Average by Joseph T. Hallinan

    I reviewed this here.

  12. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

    Similar in content to Why We Make Mistakes, Lehrer considers the mechanisms that drive our decision-making processes. It's a very interesting review of the latest research in neuroscience and will open your eyes to what really drives your behavior.

    Favorite Quote:

    "A bad mood is really just a rundown prefrontal cortex."

  13. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher

    Having some ADD tendencies myself, I found this book an interesting exploration of exactly how attention span works, or doesn't.

    Favorite Quote:

    "If you really want to focus on something, says Castellanos, the optimum amount of time to spend on it is ninety minutes. "Then change tasks. And watch out for interruptions once you're really concentrating, because it will take you twenty minutes to recover.""

  14. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

    I reviewed this here.

  15. I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales From a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams

    I reviewed this here.

  16. The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession by Paolo Coelho

    Coelho is one of the few fiction authors I have read consistently over the years. His books touch on the spiritual in the mundane and never fail to delight me. This was a revisit when I was going through a rough patch in a relationship last year, as it explores the beauty of love without bounds.

    Favorite Quotes:

    "Stop being who you were and become what you are."

    "Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused."

  17. Living Without a Goal: Finding the Freedom to Live a Creative and Innovative Life by James Ogilvy

    I enjoyed this book, which explores the value of creating a life as you live it, much like an artist creates a painting from a blank canvas, as opposed to being chained to a path of overarching goals or mired in a philosophy of absolute meaning. It weighs a little heavy on jargon, but the point does come through in the end.

    Favorite Quote:

    When you try to identify the use of your entire life, you are asking to be used. When you try to identify the function of your entire life, you are asking to be turned into a mere functionary.

  18. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

    I reviewed this here.

  19. The Sexual Paradox by Susan Pinker

    I reviewed this here.

  20. Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

    As a recovering self-help addict, I found Ehrenreich's thesis well-researched and sobering. Much of what we believe about how our thinking works and its effect on the world around us, is, well, wrong. From the faulty belief that positive thinking effects cancer outcomes to believing that the Universe is your personal wishing machine (as in The Secret's "Law of Attraction"), Ehrenreich exposes the pitfalls of being “bright-sided”. Having experienced the effects of the positive thinking movement first-hand while dealing with breast cancer, Ehrenreich sheds light where it needs to be shed.

    Magical thinking continues to be one of the greatest threats on this planet. Be it religion, New Age woo, alternative medicine, the anti-vaccine movement, conspiracy theories or any other number of ways in which we deceive ourselves, we need to begin to look at how our thinking may be denying life's bitter realities and how that in turn affects life, not only in North America, but on this planet we all share. "Bright-sided" is a great way to ease yourself into critical thinking. Think of it as a loving slap upside the head.

    The great PZ Myers talks about Ehrenreich's experience and the dangers of magical thinking in matters of health. A great discussion follows the entry and is worth devoting some time to reading.

    Favorite Quote:

    "I don't want to die, but I especially don't want to die holding a pink teddy bear."


    And there you have it. I'm certain I've missed at least a dozen titles from this list but this will have to do. I'll take better notes this year. Or I'll just do my best to write a review for every title I read.

    tall penguin