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Mar 12

This winter just keeps on going. It’s a pretty snow this time, but it’s worn out its welcome. Spring, where are you?

Just trying out the “blog this review” functionality on the social reading site I use, GoodReads. I love using GoodReads to keep track of books I’ve read, and, especially, to remember the books I intend to read. I also get a lot of new reading ideas from my friends on the site. I don’t do a lot of book reviews, but maybe I’ll start!

Three Stages of Amazement: A Novel

Three Stages of Amazement: A Novel by Carol Edgarian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love books that try to make sense of life, and for that I give this book due respect. Somehow it managed to capture the essence of “middle marriage” without being trite or predictable (though it skated right on the edge). It brought home some universal themes with great details and a few memorable characters; unfortunately the main character was not one. While I related to the heroine, Lena, I never fully bought her character. I felt that I had to take the narrator’s word for it that Lena was “all that”: everyone else certainly seemed to worship her, but I never quite got the evidence that she was doing anything more than surviving. Ivy and Cal were the best-made characters in the book, in my opinion. I found the author’s voice a little confused at times. Instead of an omniscient narrator, it almost seemed that the characters were omniscient, making comments that were almost unbelievably global and perceptive. Once I suspended my disbelief and moved past that, the book picked up and the story became quite compelling.

I did find it stunning that the author managed to make this book as current as the events of 2009 and handled that context very well. In all, I enjoyed the storytelling and the themes. What this novel depicts well is that wounded children become lost adults who then wound their own children; that we take our mates for granted, “throwing love over our shoulders” while we try to deal with our own demons, and that “being here now” is all that really matters, for we can lose everything in a heartbeat.

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Today I saw a respected feminist writer openly mock another woman on her Facebook page. Not only did she post a picture of the targeted woman’s face, she accompanied the photo with a snarky “quiz” about what the woman’s facial expression showed she was thinking. That is pretty mean, right?  We would expect better from our pre-teen kids on Facebook, correct? Not to mention that the owner of the Facebook page has 9,000 followers and the “target,” while she had agreed to appear on a national TV show, was a regular person and relatively “klout”-less.

Yet this behavior was justified by the poster and many of her followers because the targeted woman was “unenlightened” – as it were.

Here’s what I saw: Mean girl behavior, plain and simple. The owner of the Facebook page, perhaps a little giddy from some recent successes by her and her tribe, simply took it too far.

Was it a funny? Perhaps. Did it give her followers a good bonding moment as they trashed the stupidity of the target? Definitely. Did it set a good example for their daughters? Not so much.

My stomach turned when I saw it. I debated on whether to say anything, because the page owner is someone I respect, and I did not want to start a flame war. But, because I tell my kids to stand up when they see bullying, I called it as I saw it. I was mildly attacked by one commenter, but a few people agreed with me. The page owner, though she back-pedaled a bit by asking people to focus on the issue and not the targeted woman, has not said she was wrong nor apologized.

As adults, we need to be conscious of the example we set with our behavior. We need to make sure our behavior lines up with the values we espouse. And then, if we screw up, admit as much, repair the damage if possible, and try to have better behavior next time. That’s what I tell my kids, anyway.

Plush toys aplenty

UPDATE: As of 2/20/12, the WONDER! store has closed. 

I keep my kids out of the mall/Target/ToysRUs as much as possible, partly because I don’t want to promote “shopping as a pastime,” or consumerism, and partly because I don’t want to have to say “no” a million times when they ask for everything in sight. So, when I was invited to the new WONDER! store opening in Deerfield, Illinois, I was a little skeptical. After all, do we really need another big toy store? Wasn’t it just going to be another egregious display of consumerism in the affluent suburbs of Chicago? A company touting itself as “the country’s largest children’s retailer” surely sounds like a place to be overwhelmed and underinspired. So, imagine my surprise when WONDER! turned out to be rather delightful. Yes, it’s slick, but it’s also surprising. Yes, it’s upscale, but it’s also down-to-earth.

Art supplies abound

Targeted mainly at families with kids ages 0 to 7, the enormous WONDER! store features 135,000 square feet of retail space. An impressively large proportion of that space has been devoted to letting kids play, including a 20,000-square-foot interactive play space with “custom topography” (colorful hills to play on). Add to that party rooms and class rooms which are set to feature a variety of educational offerings from art to zoology, and WONDER! has created a potentially hot destination for frazzled parents during a long Chicago winter.

Test track for trikes

The aisles are wide, and play is encouraged, from a bike-and-trike “test track” to the dollhouse aisle, where kids are encouraged to try out the product. When I asked founder Shane Christensen whether WONDER! has a philosophy that helps determine what types of toys to carry, he said the company wants to encourage “unstructured play and imagination.” Though the store does carry mass-market products such as Barbie and HotWheels, he seemed particularly proud of the arts-and-crafts selection, which is huge. It’s definitely the largest selection of Alex and Melissa and Doug products I’ve seen under one roof.

Dollhouses you can actually try

Another feature that makes this a great family destination is the on-premise Bean Sprouts Cafe (soon to be completed). Serving food that is kid-friendly, fun, and healthy is no small feat, but these folks have perfected that art. Bean Sprouts is also nut-free, music to the ears of many parents with food allergies in the family. WONDER! has also opened an online shopping site, www.shopwonder.com, but the main attraction right now is the unique retail space and interactive play offerings. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and shop with your kids. So why not get the job done and have fun?

Dreamy play space

Finally, I don’t see any information about community outreach on the WONDER! website yet, but I hope that’s in the offing. I’d love to see WONDER! conduct a coat or mitten drive to help needy local families, make a donation to an infant needs outreach like First Things First, or perhaps offer some “scholarships” to some of their cool enrichment classes. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt while they complete their massive launch, because WONDER! seems like a store with its heart in the right place. Have fun checking it out with your kids!

Disclosure: I was invited to a blogger event at the WONDER store, where I received a gift card, cookbook and music CD. I was not asked to write this blog post.

Ever since Borders announced it was closing its stores, smart book shoppers have been haunting their local Borders each week as the prices dip lower and lower. I imagine there was a pretty good selection when the discount was 40%, but I didn’t get around to visiting until last week. I went on an email tip from an Borders employee that since the stores are selling all their fixtures, solid wood bookcases could be had at a steal. Alas, I didn’t really care for the bookcases. I meant it to be a quick trip, but I found myself browsing the books that still populate the shelves. The pickings are slim, but at a 80-90% discount, why not look around?


Cringe. In fairness, Simon's bio was still on the shelf too, along with multiple copies of David Archuleta's

Clearly, this is a downer.

There were literally stacks and stacks of these.

And these.

Add to these piles of manga, technical manuals and outdated self-help tomes, and you have the majority of what remains on the shelves. Needless to say, I did not leave Borders with any book bargains this day. I did actually have a couple of $1 or $2 books in my hand (a Chris Cleave novel and a guide to my horoscope for 2011), but when I realized there were 20 people in line ahead of me, I decided to ditch them. I won’t be going back. So long, Borders, it was nice knowing you.

Obama releases his summer reading list: http://bit.ly/qNdmaf Have you read any of the titles? I haven’t, but perhaps I’ll check some of them out.

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