Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Make (Me) Believe

In Books, Church, Learning, spirituality on August 8, 2017 at 6:37 am







I was talking to a couple of the young men in our congregation about our beliefs. Greg said, “I believe Jesus died for our sins.” The other man agreed, and I said, “I don’t believe that.” Frankly, I don’t even know what it means.
Greg looked shocked and said, “You HAVE to believe that.”
I said, “The reason I like this church is that nobody gets to tell me what I have to believe.”
Fourteen or so years later, I’m still here, but Greg left not too long after our conversation. I don’t imagine that had anything to do with his leaving, but I do imagine he found a church where he could tell people what they have to believe.
It all goes back to the Bible. I’ve never been much of a Bible reader. I don’t know if it’s the small print, the tissue thin pages, or the archaic language (and, yes, I know there are versions available that correct all those “defects.”) Shortly after I started going to church I bought The Children’s Illustrated Bible thinking I might actually read that, but no. Somehow I never managed to read more than a few of the stories in that book.
Call me a secular Christian. I accept the Bible as part of my cultural heritage while not considering it factual.
A book I did read was A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Ten years ago when it first came out, I thought it was hilarious, showing how futile and frustrating a quest it was.
I just reread it and still find it very funny. I enjoyed his discovering the near impossibility of not mixing fabrics as well as his difficulty in locating an adulterer to stone. He carried pebbles in his pocket just in case he found one. (He did and the man threw the pebbles at him.) He also had to try many tactics to avoid lusting after women in his heart before finally hitting on one that worked: thinking of them as his mother.
Nevertheless, some of the rules had a positive effect on his life. For example, when he stopped cursing, he became calmer, not so angry. Wearing white made him feel light and happy.
He ended the year still an agnostic, but observing that “the Bible may not have been dictated by God, it may have had a messy and complicated birth, one filled with political agendas and outdated ideas, but that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be beautiful and sacred.”
That I can believe.

Reading Roundup

In Books, Learning, spirituality on July 25, 2017 at 7:23 am

Here are the books I’m currently reading. I never read just one at a time.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
A mystery set in a thinly disguised Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lower Downtown Denver, one of my favorite places. This book has everything I love: a bookstore (the best one ever), Denver, quirky characters, an imaginative mystery, and terrific writing. I’m about a third of the way through and trying to balance my wanting to know what happens next with my desire to go slowly and make it last. He can’t write his next book fast enough to suit me.
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
A secular Jew, Jacobs decides to explore religion by taking a deep dive into the Bible a year trying to obey all of the 700+ rules documented there. One of my favorites is his difficulty in finding clothing that doesn’t mix fibers. He also carries pebbles in his pocket looking for an opportunity to stone an adulterer. The often contradictory and nonsensical rules lead him to a funny and thoughtful spiritual journey. I first read this when it came out ten years ago and chose to reread it (this time on audio) to accompany the next book.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
This is not an instruction manual.
Evans, raised in an evangelical home in Dayton, Tennessee, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, now writes progressive Christian books and blogs. Using humor and compassion, she explores Biblical heroines and wrestles with passages that encourage misogyny and violence against women. I just started reading it on Kindle and look forward to accompanying her as she remains silent in church (some advice I definitely won’t be taking) and moves into a tent in her yard during her “unclean” times.
Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins
I’ve followed Goins’ career since he came to prominence through his blog several years ago. This is just the sort of book I ought to like, but I’m finding it a difficult slog. He has some good ideas and an interesting perspective although too much of the book is rehashed from other books I’ve read and liked more (see Austin Kleon). He comes across just a little too earnest and humorless for my taste. I may manage to make it through before its due date only because it’s a short book.
There you go. What are you reading?

The Good Old Days

In Books, Church on July 11, 2017 at 7:48 am








I don’t remember her name, I only remember how stunned I was to learn that my new ninth grade locker mate was married. Fourteen and married.
Let’s call her Ann. She had transferred from a small Christian school run by the fundamentalist Pillar of Fire church. Her parents made her get married when they found out she was having sex with her boyfriend.
I don’t know what happened to her. She was gone by the time we went to high school. Possibly she was pregnant by then. At that time, in the early 1960s, birth control pills were legal for married women (with, I believe, the consent of their husbands), so Ann would have qualified. Teenagers still had to rely on luck, timing, back alley abortions, or the “visit to her aunt” where the baby was given up for adoption. Girls who got pregnant at our school simply disappeared.
The next summer, my friend Debbie told me that a popular boy in our class asked her to come to his house one afternoon and forced himself on her. I was more upset that she might be pregnant than that the sex was, as we now say, not consensual. I don’t know if I even knew the word rape.
Debbie assured me that everything was okay because her aunt (it’s always the aunt) had mafia connections and, if worse came to worst, she could get an abortion. She knew this because her older brother’s girlfriend had gotten pregnant and the aunt took care of things.
I would have thought things might have progressed a bit in fifty years, but no, the religious right wants to take us back to those “good old days.”
Is it any wonder that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel about the future suppression of women, has become a #1 bestseller and a wildly popular TV series more than 30 years after it was written? Or that signs at protests admonish that the book was never meant to be an instruction manual?
Earlier this year, former President Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist church after more than 60 years. “The truth,” he said, “is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
Who’d have believed we’d still be fighting these battles in 2017?


In Books, creativity, Home on July 7, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I’ve been a little on edge all week. I blame the heat and the return of my gout and my air conditioning problems and my friend’s frightening encounter with the police and a holiday I couldn’t celebrate.
At times like these, I lose myself in books and music.
I’m reading Song of the Lion, that third entry into the Chee and Leaphorn Navajo mysteries conceived by Tony Hillerman and continued after his death by his daughter, Anne Hillerman. The second one disappointed me, but so far this one is fine. It’s also set in winter, which helps me to mentally cool off a little during this heat wave.
The playlist I listen to the most includes my current obsession, Africa by Toto (Toto?), The Blue Danube, Rhapsody in Blue, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, some Paul Simon, and anything by the Beatles.
That reminds me. Happy birthday to Ringo, who turns 77 on 7/7.
So. The holiday is over, my air conditioning is fixed, I’m coping with gout by taking more ibuprofen than I should, and I’m having breakfast tomorrow with my friend. Things are looking up.
Now if the temperature would just beat a retreat, I might reset to happy next week.

At Leisure

In Books, Learning, work on May 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I didn’t want to retire. I even wrote a book about it, although it never got published – Don’t Die Wondering: A Guide to a Non-retiring Life. I suppose I could publish it now on Kindle, but I’d have to update it first, and I’m not interested in doing that, especially since I’m no longer working myself.

When I lost my last job, it wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t my choice either. I worked at home on my own schedule editing student papers and doing as much or as little as I wanted. Editing let me be hypercritical (a superpower of mine) without ever having to deal with actual people. I’m not what you’d call a people person.

The university decided that editors had to teach as well, and I was through with teaching. So that was that.

I was retired.

I don’t like the word because it makes me feel useless and irrelevant. Apparently plenty of other people my age agree. AARP uses only initials now to avoid calling its members “retired people.” Dozens of books have been written (and published!) to redefine our so-called Golden Years. They use words such as rewired, retread (there’s a lovely image) refired, reinvented, renewed, recycled, second act, and second wind.

It’s just a word, people tell me, but words matter. I just tell people to say I’m no longer working or better, I’m “at leisure.”

At first I was mostly bored. I went to museums, concerts, and plays, but at best, I was just filling time. At worst, I was killing time. I’m reminded of the saying, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.”

It took four years for me to start feeling comfortable not working. I’ve found that Parkinson’s Law works just as well now as when I had a job. Leisure expands to fit the time available.

I suppose I could find a part-time job or volunteer, but all I really want to do is read and write and see my friends at church or the gym or for occasional lunches. This isn’t what I envisioned as a non-retiring life, but it suits me fine. For now.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.

A Mystery to Me

In Books, Uncategorized on May 5, 2017 at 9:53 am

As a kid, I read all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books I could get my hands on and later discovered Agatha Christie. Then I abandoned mysteries. In my twenties, I was all about science fiction, reading Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert’s Dune series. A friend told me he thought I’d like Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends are Going to be Strangers. He was right; I read every McMurtry book that came out through the exquisite Lonesome Dove and several beyond that, although there was no matching that one.

Edging toward thirty, I turned to nonfiction, reading all kinds of books about philosophy and writing and finding your calling and nature.

Somehow I found my way to Louis L’Amour. I started with Riders of the Purple Sage (because purple) and then ran his entire collection of westerns. When I read his autobiography The Education of a Wandering Man, I adopted his habit of making a list of every book I read, which I continue to this day.

In the mid 1980s a friend told me about Tony Hillerman. I became a devoted Hillerman fan and through him, a fanatic reader of mysteries. I love finding new mystery writers and tend to read every book they write. Here’s a list of my favorite mystery authors with some commentary.

Tony Hillerman – when he passed away in 2008, I mourned as well the loss of his characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, so I was thrilled to learn that Hillerman’s daughter Anne intended to carry on the series. Her first book, Spider Woman’s Daughter, was terrific, but I was very disappointed in Rock With Wings. I’m cautiously optimistic about the just-released Song of the Lion. I’m #53 on the holds list, so it could be a while. I especially enjoy her emphasis on Chee’s wife, Officer Bernadette Manuelito.

Sue Grafton – I was browsing in the mystery section of Woodbury Library in 1991, before the days when every library (and every other entity in the universe) had a web site, and I found H is for Homicide. After reading that, I started over at A is for Alibi and have read every book since, three times so far. I’m looking forward to Y is for Yesterday coming out in August but also already dreading that Z is only a year or two away. Nobody even begins to fill her shoes.

Margaret Coel—the Wind River series appealed to me because it was set in Wyoming and gave me a chance to learn about the Arapaho living on the reservation there. That Coel lives in Boulder is a plus. I met her at a Colorado Authors League lunch once and turned all fan girl. I was sorry to learn that she is ending the series after Winter’s Child, the latest book.

Here in no particular order are some other mystery series authors whose books I look forward to every year.

Sara Pretsky

Marcia Muller

J A Jance

C J Box

Dana Stabenow

Craig Johnson

Nevada Barr

Julie Smith

Susan Wittig Albert

Lisa Lutz

I’m always on the lookout for new authors if you’d like to make a recommendation.

Another Genesis

In Books, Learning on April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Take a human cell, measured in micrometers. To metrically challenged Americans like me, that’s one millionth of a meter, less than one tenth the width of a human hair. Yet, laid end-to-end, if such a thing were possible, the cells of Henrietta Lacks would circle the globe at least three times.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. Her cells – taken without her knowledge — did what no previous cells had ever done. They continued to live and reproduce outside her body. Nobody knows why, but they became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. They even went up into space, so scientists could see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.

A book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, came out in 2011. I was slow getting to it, because frankly a book about medical research didn’t really appeal to me. It is about medical research, but it is also about a daughter’s search for a mother she never knew and about the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of. A fascinating story.

Now it’s an HBO movie starring the always notable Oprah Winfrey and starting Saturday. You can read about the science in the Smithsonian magazine or listen to a podcast at RadioLab.

It’s a story about the power of microscopic cells but also about the ideas those cells enabled. Here’s the thing about ideas: they’re even smaller than cells, taking up no space at all, and they can conquer the world.

Favorite Fiction Books

In Books, Uncategorized on April 18, 2017 at 10:49 am


In no particular order. There could be dozens more on this list. These are the ones that come to mind and that I return to over and over.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – first read as a high school sophomore. Thank you, Miss Jacobs. Also a great movie, and the audio book read by Sissy Spacek is outstanding.

Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols – full of subtle humor. Also one of my favorite movies.

Violet Clay by Gail Godwin

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – the six-part BBC series with Colin Firth is the definitive film adaptation.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomey

Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

People of the Book by Geraldine BrooksI couldn’t resist a book with this title. Luckily the story lived up to the title.


What’s on your list?

A Work in Progress

In Books, Learning on April 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Since you asked, and even if you didn’t, here’s my list of all-time favorite nonfiction books. Subject to change without notice.
Working by Studs Terkel
A Different Woman by Jane Howard
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
No High Adobe series by Dorothy Pillsbury
Mastery by George Leonard
Home by Witold Rybczynski
Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp