Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Month: December, 2012

A Kindly Kindle Report

I finished reading my first e-book ever today, on the new Kindle Paperwhite Steve got for Christmas. Overall, a very pleasant reading experience. Never mind what the book was, I’m talking about the actual physical experience of reading, the comfort of holding the ‘book/device’, the ease of reading due to font/contrast/clarity/lighting, page-turning… All of that was wonderful.

However, it was odd not knowing what page I was on in the actual book, and I missed that. Instead of page numbers, in the bottom left corner of the screen it tells how many minutes I have left in the book (how it knows that, I’m not sure–maybe it keeps track of how many pages/words I average per minute?) and in the bottom right corner it tells me what percent of the book I’ve read. Perhaps there’s a way I could click on something that would tell me what page I’d be on if I were reading the actual book?

I also wish I could see a fullscreen image of the cover art on the front of the book rather than just the thumbnail of it.

As for my concern about the ease of highlighting and note-taking (see December 19th’s post, To Kindle or Nook or Not?), or the comparative ease in referring back to those areas, well, I saw while reading the book how, when you tap on lines of text in the middle of the screen, the device offers you the chance to do those things, but highlighted areas and notes in an e-book would be something you could ‘lose’ if that great power outage I’m imagining might one day occur actually comes to pass. And whereas I can pick up a book with corners of pages bent over to remind me where I might want to refer back to, it seems highlighted/noted pages in an e-reader would be easy to forget about or overlook, in a sort of ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ way.

So now that I’ve actually read a book on an e-reader, my thinking on e-books is this: If I’m reading for light entertainment purposes only and I’ll probably never refer back to the book again, reading on a Kindle is great, and I prefer it to buying and reading from an actual paper book.

BUT, if the book turns out to be a favorite, so great or important that I want to underline passages to remember, study, admire, or be inspired by again and again, then I’d want to buy the book in hardback and be able to turn the corners of pages over, underline, and make notes in it as I’m used to doing.  This goes for  books I see as educational in an on-going way as well (spiritual, self-improvement, philosophy, psychology, religion, writing craft related…); if there’s something in them I know I’m going to want to work on applying to my life/work or share and discuss with others, then I want the real paper book I can pull off the shelf and instantly turn to the page I want.

In a nutshell, for quick or light reading, magazines, newspapers, e-readers can’t be beat. Once you get the hang of it–which doesn’t take long–they’re easier to read than actual books. They’re gentle on eyes, hands, and shoulders used to carrying heavy bags of books. They reduce the need for the storage, packing, and  transport of actual books. E-books are less expensive. Those are the pros. But for a book that’s to be studied and treasured, I much prefer a traditional book. The world benefits from having both kinds of books–it depends on your preference, and on what you’re reading and what you want to do with it after you’ve read it.


BRAVE: ‘a failure of female empowerment?’ No!

imgresWe watched the Disney Pixar movie Brave over the holidays and I really enjoyed it. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED it, as it’s exactly what I was starving for… A tomboy princess rebels against her over’bear’ing mom (if you haven’t seen it, bears figure into the story), a mom who reminds me of my own and how she was with me, both the good and irritating. A tomboy princess identifies strongly with her dad, a dad enjoys and encourages that; again, a dad who reminds me of my own, and how he was with me (but showing only the good side of that). Sure, I would’ve wished Princess Merida could have worn something other than the long dresses she wore, but even as a kid, I would’ve realized she was a product of her times.

Before watching Brave, I’d read several reviews with titles like, “Just Another Princess Movie,” and “Why Pixar’s Brave Is a Failure of Female Empowerment”… ( http://ideas.time.com/2012/06/22/why-pixars-brave-isa-failure-of-female-empowerment/) These reviews piqued my interest.

“Just Another Princess Movie”-http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/just-another-princess-movie/is a long essay/post with a thorough analysis of the movie and its motives and messages, and while it’s got interesting points and I actually agree with much of it, it’s confusing. The title of the post and the beginning of it are quite negative, yet  it goes on to appreciate the movie and all that can be found in it if you look deeper than many of its critics have (or if you don’t try to overanalyze things?). A point it makes that summarizes my feelings on the story is, “It’s in its exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter that the film really shines.”

Although many of the criticisms I read in reviews wouldn’t have occurred to me, it’s always interesting to see how others see things, and I get some of the complaints, especially this one; we need more girl main characters that fall between the extremes we’ve been presented with by movie makers. Historically we’ve been shown girl leads who are valued for their crowns and/or beauty, and we’ve recently had a few girl protagonists who are amazing with the bow-and-arrow or who can fight with the boys like Mulan or ‘bend it like Beckham,’ but we need to show more ‘normal,’ average types of girls and their stories, girls who are celebrated neither for being extremely feminine nor for their masculine prowess, girls who are not princesses or orphans. But Brave was a refreshing, non-stereotypical tomboy movie (although hardy, Merida was physically feminine) and another step in the right direction. Just maybe not as big a step as some were hoping for.

12/21/12, a Time of BIG Change? Let’s Hope So… Let’s Make It So


the end of time1

Much has been said about this date as a milestone, and what it might mean. Besides noting that the sky seemed especially bright when I stepped outside this morning at 7:45 (my son remarked on it as well, that the daylight seemed more like what you’d expect in the afternoon), that and the flickering of our power this morning due to some heavy winds that must’ve been affecting an electric line, today seems like any other  bright Virginia winter day. And yet I hope it is different, becomes different yet. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on, tangible and intangible. I see it in our national and world news. I see and feel it in the people around me, in myself. It’s been a rough week.

I hope we can all take a timeout today, each in our own private way, to stop and think how we could all be more aware of each other, how we could be there for each other. Was talking to my daughter this week about the school shooting in CT; she, like many, was so affected by it, and she was saying how she wished she could DO something to help, and I thought about how–other than lobbying for gun control–there isn’t really anything most of us can immediately do to help, except pray, or send out loving vibes to those people (which I think is the same as praying). Let’s see if we can find some Peace on Earth, if we can send it out to each other in whatever minimal form we’re capable of today.

I apologize to anyone who’s felt my agitation. Trying to redirect myself. Going to take my timeout. May we all have restful and rejuvenating holidays.

To Kindle or Nook or Not?

I’ve been torn about whether to get an e-reader. I like reading from real books with paper pages that smell good and that you can highlight on and where you can write notes in the margins. I’ve been told you can highlight and make notes on some readers as well. But what happens if the power goes out, for a long time? If we have all our books as virtual things, and nothing in hard copy, then if catastrophe strikes and the power grids go down, there go all my books and notes. We still need real books, and libraries and bookstores with shelves and shelves of them.

But Steve has expressed an interest in an e-reader, and when I lie in bed with my carpal tunnel bothering me because I’m holding up a heavy book, or when I travel and can’t fit in all the books I want to, the idea of a thin, light little reader really is appealing. Not only that, but if I might publish electronically someday, it only makes sense to see how things read electronically, how that format looks, how stories come across that way. What do they do with maps on endpapers (no more, I imagine, just included as illustrations?), and how Read the rest of this entry »

Remember Burning Barrels, Dumps, and Junk Yards? When did they go by the wayside and Trash Pick-Up begin?

burning barrel

I’m writing a scene involving a family’s burning barrel and taking out the garbage–it’s set in a rural area in 1973. But I can’t remember what we did with trash back then. We had a big rusty burning barrel behind our garage, with holes poked in it, and my dad burned whatever got put in it fairly regularly, but I didn’t pay much attention to how often he burned in it or what exactly went into it. I knew by the smell of it and the color of the smoke that came out, that it was more than just paper, leaves, brush, scrap wood, and stuff that was ‘good’ or safe to burn/breathe. Sometimes there was this really bad chemical stink like there must’ve plastic or rubber in there.

But certainly we didn’t throw glass and metal in there or it would’ve piled up, and I wonder what we did with that. I know there were more dumps than there are now, and junk yards, and people would go to them to dispose of appliances, mattresses, etc. It was fun to pick around in the glistening piles of glass and metal. These places were not always authorized trash disposal places like landfills, but sometimes just a piece of property where tradition had it that no one would mind if you added your stuff to all the old rubbish already there. Sometimes it was a spot just off the side of the roads, in the woods, or a gravel pit where people pitched their stuff over the edge of a steep hill. But what about trash pick-ups at the top of the drive? People who lived in cities or suburbs probably had curb pickups and they put their cans out , but any of you who grew up in the country, do you remember how your family collected and disposed of trash, when you started getting regular trash pick up? I do recall putting things in round silver galvanized aluminum cans with lids (that you still sometimes see), rather than the large heavy-duty plastic things on wheels that we use now. So we had outdoor trash or garbage cans, but…

I’ve asked my mom about this, and she has a hard time remembering when we began with a regular trash service as well. I know I’m writing fiction and could make it be however I want, and I know there are places where people still use burning barrels and dump things into ravines (right here in Virginia), but I don’t want to be totally off the mark.

So we’re talking 1972-1973–If you lived in the country then and can remember, what did you or your parents do with non-burnable trash?

They had flying dreams, too…

fly over lakes2

I fly in dreams, I know it is my privilege, I do not recall a single situation in dreams when I was unable to fly. To execute every sort of curve and angle with a light impulse, a flying mathematics – that is so distinct a happiness that it has permanently suffused my basic sense of happiness.

~Friedrich Nietzsche

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

~Leonardo da Vinci

Yes! What is it about those flying dreams?

What ‘Should’ I Write?


I’ve come to hate the word ‘should’ but Mary Amato wrote a great blog post today titled What Should I Write?, which I wholeheartedly agree with (yes, it ‘should’ be “with which I wholeheartedly agree,” but this is my blog and I can write it the way that sounds good to me here), …and she says it so much more concisely than I ever could, so I wanted to link over to it here. Check it out: (http://www.maryamato.com/what-should-i-write)

Mary is an award-winning children’s book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. I met her at this year’s annual Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), when I was lucky enough to have been paired with her for a one-on-one critique. She read sample pages of my manuscript and gave honest but encouraging feedback that was much appreciated. I was really impressed with her as a person, with her advice and the way she delivered it. Then she spoke to the conference as a whole and I was even more impressed with her, and in more ways, as a speaker and writer as well. I’m about to read one of her books, and I suspect I’ll be impressed with it, too:


Our Only May Amelia


Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm is a story set in 1899 about a girl growing up in the state of Washington. She has seven older brothers and no sisters. She’s not only the only girl in her pioneering Finnish family (besides her mama), but the only girl ever born in their settlement. They live along a river where she and her brothers work, play, fish, explore, and encounter all sorts of outdoor adventures in their logging/fishing/farming community. May Amelia has a very hard time behaving or dressing like the proper young lady her family expects her to be. Maybe it would be easier if there were at least one other girl around, she thinks. Her secret wish is for a sister. And then Mama gets pregnant. Maybe she really will get a baby… Let’s just say this is a great story, wonderful setting, wonderful main character. It’s one of my all-time favorite tomboy novels.

The sequel to this story, The Trouble with May Amelia, came out in 2011.  just discovered it in doing this post and looking up the cover image for Our Only May Amelia, but I can’t wait to read it now.


Jennifer Holm is the award winning author of several middle grade and YA books I’ve enjoyed, including Boston Jane and the other books in the Boston Jane trilogy (as well as Newberry Honor Book Penny from Heaven).

Raimon Panikkar

“I left Europe as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian.” ~Raimon Panikkar

Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) was a Roman Catholic theologian who was very influential in encouraging inter-religious dialogue. He was a philosopher, scholar, scientist, teacher, professor, mentor, author, lecturer, poet, mystic… Born in Barcelona to a father who was a Hindu from India and a mother who was a Spanish Roman Catholic, he lived a colorful and important life that lasted almost 92 years.

There’s so much to him that I’ll just summarize the things I’ve learned about him that I found most interesting:

–He was a priest (ordained in 1946) and and a professor of philosophy at the University of Madrid when he traveled to India for the first time in 1954, at age 36. There he studied Indian philosophy and religion at the University of Mysore and Banaras Hindu University, and befriended two Western monks looking for Eastern ways of expressing their Christian beliefs as well. He became fascinated with Hindu scripture and also embraced Buddhism, reconciling many things about those Eastern traditions and Christianity, finding much common ground. It was a spiritually life-changing experience for him, after which he was quoted as saying the above, which I love. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Is Beautiful, and why we like movies and stories that make us cry



My daughter has to take a language proficiency test in Italian so in her free time she’s been watching Italian movies. A couple days ago she called while halfway through Life Is Beautiful (with subtitles in English). She was loving it but had to interrupt her viewing of it to go somewhere and couldn’t wait to get back home where she could continue it on Netflix. She asked if I’d ever seen it and I said, yes, it’s a great movie–I loved it, too.

A while later she called back sniffly from crying and saying she’d just finished the movie and that she thought she just might watch it over and over again until she had to take her language proficiency test. She thought it was that good.

We talked about how odd it is that we would love a movie that makes us cry. While there are definitely parts of the movie that make you smile and are happy or lighthearted or at least uplifting, it is very sad. Which reminded me of my school visit the night before, my presentation to the Henley Middle School 7th graders, and their parents, who’d read my book Going for the Record. My book, based in large part on my dad’s death, is sad, too, and makes people cry. And what my daughter and I were discussing had come up with the Henley kids so I told her about it…

During the Q&A part of my presentation, a boy raised his hand and asked me which part of the book was the most fun to write. I smiled and hesitated and said something to the effect of, “I’m not sure if you want me to answer in terms of fun as in ‘I smiled and laughed and had a really good time writing it,’ or if you’d be OK with me telling you which part was my favorite part to write. Because a lot of the story is sad and I know it might sound weird to say that you enjoy being sad or crying, but Read the rest of this entry »