Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

“I love you. I love you all the way.” Is love ever wrong, or is love ever right?

In a hundred years, I could see Bryn Greenwood’s, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things as required reading. This novel has been compared to Lolita, Wuthering Heights, or Tampa, and in some ways, that comparison is apt. This book is a masterpiece because like all great classics, it makes you answer a murky question. In this book, the question is: is it wrong?

Wavy is the daughter of two meth dealers in the Midwest. Although she is just a child, she learns quickly that she can trust no one, and that the only person that she can rely on is herself. Adolescent Wavy raises her younger brother Donal in her broken home while retreating deeper into herself. Those that know her, see her as quiet, strange, and reclusive.

That is until she meets Jesse James Kellen.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is the ultimate noir fairy tale, with Wavy as the wounded beauty, small and blonde, abused in body and spirit, and Kellen as the beast, big and hulking but just as broken. The evil father, wasted mother, and other family members, all have their roles to play – and they all impart truths that move the book along at a fast and mesmerizing pace.

Nina Sankovitch, Best Selling Author

Kellen is no knight in shining armor. He works for Wavy’s father and is big, burly, insecure, and just as alone as Wavy. It is their striking similarities and Kellen’s surprising gentleness that draws the two together. Kellen is the father that Wavy never had and she in turn is like a daughter to him.

That is until it evolves into something more. As Wavy says, she wants Kellen to love her “all the way”. Kellen at first resists, until that unexplainable force that first brought them together, brings them even closer.

It would be sweet if Wavy wasn’t fourteen years old and Kellen around twenty-five.

Bryn Greenwood commented on her novel, “As for my book, I firmly maintain that Kellen is not a pedophile (nor an ephebophile), but he has the misfortune of falling for the right girl at the wrong time. From Wavy’s perspective, he falls for her at the perfect time: when she desperately needs him. Life’s funny that way. My intention in writing the book was not to titillate, but to tell a story about love and perseverance that reflects parts of American life that don’t often get seen beyond headlines.”

The two are torn apart, but that can’t keep Wavy and Kellen from recognizing that in this world, all they really need and want is each other. Even though one is a legal adult, and the other is a minor.

The book posits so many questions about statutory rape, consent, love, and whether or not these two similar characters should or should not be together. Upon putting the book down, you are haunted by it and turn over these characters in your head. What are everyone’s motives? Are those who are convicted truly at fault? Are those following the law really doing the right thing? How can you ever have a satisfying ending? Are we supposed to?

It is a very uncomfortable book, but that is the quality that makes it great.

Review: Lolita

Can the manner in which a story is told influence how we receive it?

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.”

Photo by Emma Bauso on

Vladimir Nabokov is an incredible author. This awe is only expounded by the knowledge that English was not his first language. He’s not just describing reality, he’s recreating reality with his own linguistic tools.

That being said, Lolita is a truly disturbing book. If you are like most people, you know that Lolita is a book about a pedophilic relationship between an adult man (around 37) and a twelve-year-old girl who he later makes his step-daughter. Not only does he lust for her, but he strategically manipulates her, captures her, and rapes her. It is understandable for the average reader to eschew the book altogether. The topic is not for the faint of heart.

As an English graduate, I knew that I should read the book eventually, but I avoided it knowing that the topic would make my stomach turn. My stomach did turn, but I did not expect to be as drawn to the book as I was. While I would refrain from calling it my favorite, it is a book that makes you dive into your senses. It made me realize how a writer can literally make you feel, hear, touch, and smell, every sense a character has.

The Power That Is Lolita

The style in which it is written makes it seem so realistic. The careful thoughtfulness of the first half gives way to anticlimatic pandemonium at the conclusion as Humbert begins to lose control of the situation. He has only planned and dreamed of the first half, he has never planned for what happens when his nymphet grows up and wants to leave him. The whole book mimics his sexual desire; it builds until it has the object of desire, it enjoys it, only to have it give way to awkward tension after the climax.

I don’t believe there is an occurrence that you truly sympathize with Humbert Humbert, but you are supposed to understand him. He is not some animal that is swept away by primal lust, he is a warm, calculating, emotional, and very disturbed man. His awkward love is distasteful, but it isn’t incomprehensible, at least in how he describes it.

And he is good at it too. He may have faulty logic, but he does employ logic.

Humbert Humbert extolls “certain East Indian provinces [where men of] eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” Before he encounters Dolores Haze, his step-daughter, he was in his habit of seeking out very young girls wherever he could find them, in orphanages and reform schools and public places: “Ah, leave me alone in my pubescent park, in my mossy garden. Let them play around me forever. Never grow up.”

Humbert is trying to lead the reader astray, in an adept and lyrical ploy. If that didn’t work on you, then you aren’t easily fooled.

It is disturbing and uncomfortable, but that is what is supposed to happen.

You want to see how the story ends, even though you know that a happy ending is impossible.

You can rail against Lolita forever… But these reasonable impulses will get you nowhere. Lolita does not ask us: Are you a feminist, a crusader, an upholder of morals, a defender of girls? Lolita asks us only one question: Are you a reader?

… The revulsion is why it endures—long past Story of O or Tropic of Cancer, or any other forbidden text of the past—as a book that shakes its readers, no matter how modern. Lolita will always be both ravishing and shocking, a fire opal dissolving in a ripple-ringed pool.

Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

Penguin: The Press of the People?

Image Courtesy of Penguin Books

Since its beginnings in 1935, Penguin Publishing has evolved into a substantial and prominent publishing house. The company began publishing popular literature under a variety of genres. Penguin books to this day continue to publish contemporary books and specialize in publishing classical literature which is not accessible through other venues. While Penguin is a viable and competitive publishing company, what makes it stand apart is not the books it publishes but the lawsuits it has engaged in. Penguin Books, from the beginning of its publication, has challenged and changed the publishing industry through a series of important lawsuits.

The beginning of Penguin Press is romantic in its origins. According to popular legend, Allen Lane was on his way home from visiting his good friend, Agatha Christie, in Devon, U.K. He was unable to find a decent book at Exeter Station and while on the train, conceived of the idea to create decent and inexpensive literature. His daughter, Clare Morpugo (2006) said that she did not think that the idea was, “from a purely philanthropic angle – he was just keen to produce good books which the public would want to buy and might make him a penny or two at the same time” (p. 1).  He presented the idea to his two brothers, Richard and Allen who were thrilled with the idea, and so Penguin was born.

Although the Lane brothers believed that their paperback books would be a success, they had difficulties making the idea sell. The brothers presented the idea to the Board of Bodley Head, the publishers, and the booksellers, but the idea was rejected by each of them. Paperback books were seen as ‘cheap literature,’ while ‘good literature’ was published on expensive hardcovers. Bodley Head believed that paperback copies of traditional literature would be redundant and that buyers of ‘cheap fiction’ would not want quality literature. Despite their opposition, the Lane brothers decided to attempt the venture anyway. They published ten titles all owned by Bodley Head which included Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, and The Unpleasantness of the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers. Lane hoped that prominent names would make his new idea take off.

Lane wanted to create paperback books that were aesthetically pleasing to readers. According to Sagar (2013), Allen thought that illustrated titles were trashy and opted for neater, plain covers using different colored binding for different genres. He created a unique coding system for their books: orange for general fiction, green for crime fiction, dark blue for biographies, and red for drama were just a few examples of their system. To choose the company’s logo, Lane sent Edward Young, a young twenty-one-year-old office junior, to the zoo to illustrate the different birds he saw. Lane eventually settled on the penguin because of its sharp black and white contrast, which he thought would attract readers.

Despite the odds of success, Lane and his brothers were able to popularize their idea. The first printing was a mere 20,000 copies, but Allen Lane creatively marketed them. Morpugo (2006) said that Lane went to Woolworth’s, one of England’s largest retail stores, and managed to persuade him to take a few dozen copies. By the end of the month, Woolworth wanted 63,000 copies of Penguin’s books. Customers were lured by Penguin’s “flippant yet dignified logo” (Morpugo, 2006, p. 4). Penguin books flew off of shelves.

By 1936, a mere year after launching, Penguin had become quite successful and broke away from its parent, Bodley Head. Richard, John, and Allen Lane moved to larger offices and began a very limited “Penguin Books Ltd” with the brothers serving as directors. The company continued to grow and moved to larger offices in 1937 where they published hundreds of titles every year. Nothing seemed to stop the booming company until the 1940s and war reached England.

According to Morpugo (2006), “It is often said that the worst part of being at war is not just the fear but the terrible boredom and maybe Penguins did its part in alleviating this.” (p. 4). Allen Lane had shrewdly managed to arrange for the same amount of paper to be delivered to Penguin as they had received before the war. While other publishing agencies were affected by paper rations, Penguin kept their presses hot. Most conveniently for Penguin, their paperback books fit perfectly into the breast pockets of army uniforms, so soldiers could read them at leisure. Penguin operated during World War II on a skeleton staff of forty employees, yet still managed to publish 500 new titles and open new branches like Pelican’s, Penguin Poets, and Puffin Story Books to name just a few. (Murpugo, 2006, p. 6). Despite the War, the 1940s were truly Penguins’ golden age.

The company has continued to reflect Allen Lane’s entrepreneurial and daring spirit. Since 1950, Penguin has been involved in a variety of lawsuits over the content of its published materials. Regina v. Penguin Books Limited, Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books, and Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd. The company has tested the definitions of what is socially acceptable and pushed against the boundaries of publishing laws.  

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

In August of 1960, Penguin published the first unedited version of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Written in 1928, the book was published privately in Australia and Italy but banned in both England and the United States. The novel, in brief, is about an aristocratic woman who has an affair with her husband’s gamekeeper. Several expurgated copies of the book existed, but the promiscuity of the characters’ relationship caused the book to be heavily censored. Krash (1962) believed that Lawrence’s use of “normally unprintable four-lettered Anglo-Saxon words” made the work generally distasteful and such revolutionary work.

England has always had strict laws censoring media. A censoring law prohibiting the publication of literature with obscene and sexual content seems to have been in effect since the late 18th century. According to Hilliard (2013), “Emboldened by the 1959 Obscene Publication Act, which made literary merit a defense, Penguin published an unexpurgated edition (of Lady Chatterley’s Lover)the following year.” (p. 653). Of course, there were serious repercussions. The book was published in August 1960 and by October 1960, Penguin Books had a court date in London’s criminal court.

Perhaps surprisingly, the real issue of Penguin’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover lay in the book’s publishing medium. According to Hilliard (2013), the publication of the book could function as a type of censorship. The more expensive a book was, the more limited the audience would be. Books with morally questionable content were able to slip by and were seen as socially acceptable because the mass population would be less susceptible to buy the book because it was expensive. An MP of the Labor Party, Horace King, expressed his disgust that Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, which is about an incestuous relationship, was socially acceptable only because it cost more than seven times more than Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Hilliard 2013). The real qualms that the government felt towards Lady Chatterley’s Lover was that the book was inexpensive and accessible to the general public.

Penguin was summoned to Central Criminal Court in London in October of 1960 to respond to their publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The prosecuting counsel, Mervyn Griffith-Jones alienated and ostracized himself. He famously quoted that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was, “a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read” (Hilliard, 2013, p. 654). He implied a dated social structure in which women and the working class were inferior to whites, educated males with money, like himself. His elitist comment did very little to sustain the prosecution. Gerald Gardiner, who outlined the case of the defense, brilliantly turned the Penguin’s case into a crusade for the people. Gardiner said that Penguins had been created to fight against inequality and make great books accessible to the public (Hilliard, 2013, p. 672). When framed in an equality outlook, Penguin’s case became one of literary freedom. The trial only lasted six days, with Penguin emerging victorious.

Penguin’s victory with Lady Chatterley’s Lover opened new possibilities in the publishing industry. Krash (1962) says that Lady Chatterley’s case stands as a “hallmark for literary freedom” (p. 1363). The validity of the prosecuting council’s argument about the accessibility of books was no longer considered viable. Books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover became accessible to the general public at an inexpensive price. Although this was a great victory for all publishing agencies, Penguin brushed the trial off as “probably the most thorough and expensive seminar of Lawrence’s work ever given” (Krash 1962, p. 1359). The trial of Regina v. Penguin Books accurately demonstrated the social inequalities which had divided society, which Penguin had successfully tried to breach.

The Cat NOT in the Hat!

Penguin’s Regina v. Penguin Publishing over the Lady Chatterley’s Lover seems a sharp and serious contrast to Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books more flippant nature. In 1995, Penguin Books USA published a book called The Cat NOT in the Hat! by Dr. Juice. The book covered the O. J. Simpson double-murder trial in a similar format to Theodor S. Geisel’s children’s book, The Cat in the Hat. The author, Alan Katz, and the illustrator, Chris Wrinn parodied the classic children’s book to supply a “fresh new look” into the O. J. Simpson trial (Jung 1998, p. 120). According to Jung (1998), “Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books is one of the first cases to address the acceptable limits of parody.” Seuss Enterprises filed suit for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and trademark dilution in March 1997.

The difference between a parody and a satire became essential in determining whether Penguin was guilty. Jung (1998) clarifies that; “parody uses elements of a prior work to criticize or comment on that work, a satire uses elements of a prior work to criticize or comment on another subject” (p.121). Since The Cat NOT in the Hat! did not directly criticize Geisel’s original book, the court determined that the book was a parody. However, the court ended up in an awkward position when considering copyright laws. The fair use doctrine allows the public to quote copyrighted materials without consulting the owner. Jung (1998) says that this fair doctrine also applies to allow new “transformative works to be created using the copyrighted material, for example, parody or satire” (p. 124-125). Since The Cat NOT in the Hat! was considered a parody the court had to seriously consider Penguin’s legal ramifications.

The nature of the book itself became the final determination for the court’s final ruling. According to Jung (1998), the book had no real literary merit and therefore was not protected by copyright laws. The books parody of the phrases “One Knife? / Two Knife? / Red Knife / Dead Wife” and “He said what he meant / A houseguest is faithful /One hundred percent” were too similar to Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and quote from Horton Hears a Who (Court Proceedings). The court found Penguin guilty of copyright infringement. Penguin acknowledged that the title of both the book, the author parodied pseudonym, and the striped stovepipe hat were recognized trademarks. The court further ruled that Penguin had, “likely intent in selecting the Seuss marks was to draw consumer attention to what would otherwise be just one more book on the O.J. Simpson murder trial” (Court Proceedings section IV A). Hilliard (1998) said that Seuss has become incorporated into the vernacular of the English language.

While The Cat NOT in the Hat! was not the noblest endeavor, the book was a hallmark for the boundaries of acceptable writing. The characterization and satirizing of the popular children’s books were inappropriate, but it took Penguin’s terrible mistake to realize it. The court case also served as a gauge for Penguin as a publishing company. Until roughly around this time, Penguin had a free license with its publication but realized that it may not be the invincible company it thought itself to be.

Hitler’s War

By far, the most costly and comprehensive of Penguin’s court litigations was Penguins Books Ltd. V. David Irving in a libel lawsuit. The court case was rather unusual in its proceedings as Penguin books were not directly affiliated. One of Penguin’s authors, Deborah Lipstadt wrote in her book, Denying the Holocaust, that David Irving was “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial” (Evans, 2002, p. 6). Lipstadt went on to accuse Irving of falsifying historical documents and giving a hyper-positive view of Hitler.  

David Irving was in an unusual position as a historical writer. Irving had no real historical accolades to his name or even a degree. He had started a science degree at London University but never finished it. According to David Irving in an interview in 1986, “History was the only subject that I flunked when I was at school” (Evans 2001, p. 5).  Irving’s books were never fully considered viable historical sources outside of the mainstream. However, his resourcefulness and his ability to access otherwise obscure historical documents won him some recognition and prominence even among historians. David Irving had written several historical books including The Destruction of Dresden, Hitler’s War, and Churchill’s War. Irving had taken a controversial opinion in his book Hitler’s War, claiming that Hitler did not know about the Holocaust. Later Irving seemed to demonstrate dissension about the authenticity of the Holocaust.

Irving wrote Penguin in 1995 demanding that the book be pulled from circulation. The excerpt only comprised a small fraction of the book’s total so Penguin was unwilling to pull the book from the market. Irving’s personal vendetta was not against Penguin books but rather against Deborah Lipstadt. According to Guttenplan (2002) perhaps ironically, Penguin had formerly published Irving’s book, The War Between the Generals, prior to the lawsuit in 1981. Evans (2001) says that Penguin knew that Irving would never settle and the company was unwilling to leave Lipstadt stranded in a convoluted court case. Guttenplan (2002) says that Penguin decided to back up Lipstadt out of a sense of guilt for not prospering by censoring the potential libelous material.

Image Courtesy of PBS

Irving was very clever in his filing suit. Irving filed a lawsuit in London, partly because of Penguin, but also because English libel laws are very different than they are in the United States. In an American courtroom, Lipstadt would have had some protection under the first amendment and would have had to have proven actual malice. British libel cases generally are in favor of the one who files the suit. According to Guttenplan (2002), the case was about proving what Lipstadt had written was true rather than proving it false. Since the libel case was about Irving being an uncreditable historian and Holocaust denier, the case really became about the validity of the Holocaust and Auschwitz.

The outline of the court case was extensive. D.D. Guttenplan (2002) expressed the very delicate situation that Penguin was placed in. Penguin had an obligation to win the course case based on the direction that the case had taken. If Irving had been found out to be wrong about Auschwitz but been vindicated on all other charges, Penguin and Lipstadt would have to pay all court fees (Guttenplan, 2002, p. 22). Throughout the entirety of the extensive court proceedings, David Irving seemed to have been not only trying to defend his name but also undermining the credibility of the Holocaust.

The court did eventually find Irving guilty of the charges that Lipstadt had asserted in her book. The evidence provided by Professor Richard Evans demonstrated that Irving had tampered with historical documents to suit his own viewpoint. Other allegations against Irving that were confirmed by the presiding judge were anti-Semitism, being a racist, and associating with militant neo-Nazis (Evans, 2001, p. 228). Deborah Lipstadt is cited in Guttenplan (2002), saying, “There is no end to the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred” (p. 285). The Irving v. Penguin books case became the case that championed justice and the tragedy of the Holocaust.

According to D. D. Guttenplan (2002), the court case was serious enough in the mind of Penguin books that they were willing to “spend over a million pounds on lawyers fees and hundreds of thousands more hiring expert witnesses” (p. 2). Evans (2001) highlighted the extensive financial backing that Penguin Books provided. “Despite Irving’s assertions to the contrary… it was Penguin that paid the fees of the experts, leading counsel, junior counsel” and also paid all the researchers (Evans, 2001, p. 230). Penguin was seen as the press of the people, who stood up for the oppressed.

Penguin has been in a unique position from other publishing industries. While it is commonly viewed as the press for old literature, this cannot be further from the truth. Penguin has stirred the waters of the publishing industry since it was founded by Allen Lane. Allen Lane’s daughter, Clare Morpurgo (2006), commented that the Allen Lane Foundation has, “MADE A DIFFERENCE to people’s lives- which after all what Allen Lane really wanted when he created the foundation in the first place” (p. 15). However, I think this quote may also be adequately applied to Penguin Books Ltd as well. The company has provided literature to a wide and heterogeneous audience with books that have challenged both individual minds as well as whole companies.

Penguin Books has always been a controversial publisher. However, without its numerous fearless innovations against what was traditionally acceptable many of the books we take for granted today may not have been published. According to Morpurgo (2006), the founders of Penguin, “worked with the zeal of missionaries bringing to their work all their hopes for the future” (p. 6). This ‘mission’ has been successful as its numerous lawsuits solidified its role as a company devoted to the people it serves. Its fresh new take on what ought to be acceptable and accessible to the public has made its home on the shelves of nearly every home.


Clements, T. (2015). History of Penguin Archive.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Penguin Books USA, INC., a corporation; Dove Audio, Inc., a corporation, Defendants-Appellants. No. 96-55619.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (Decided: March 27, 1997)

Evans, R. J. (2001). Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Guttenplan, D. D. (2001). The Holocaust on Trial. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company Inc.

Hilliard, C. (2013). “Is It a Book That You Would Even Wish Your Wife or Your Servants to Read?” Obscenity Law and the Politics of Reading in Modern England. The American Historical Review, 118, 653-678.

Jung, G. (1998). Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 13, 119-135.

Krash, A. (1962). “Review”, The Yale Law Journal, 71 (7), 1351-1363. doi:10.2307/794688

Morpurgo, C. (2006). The Allen Lane Foundation. Transcript of Lecture:

Sagar, J. (Creative Blog Staff. (2013, November 21). The Tale Behind the Penguin Logo. (Web Log comment), an edited abstract from book The 50 Best Logos Ever. Retrieved from:

Go West Young Man

The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, and these are of them

There are plains that seem to extend the length and the breadth of the world.

They are in the mind’s eye. They are never-ending. You can stretch and strain your eyes but you will never trace the edge of that graying horizon. The end is so hazy and undefined, seemingly eons away. Maybe two hills dot the distance along those long open plains like two shoulders thrown back in an expansive embrace, the grass sticking out like awry hair, but these are nothing.

There are no obstructions to limit its expanse. You feel that if you could only reach out far enough you could catch the breath of the wind and it would take you to that edge and on; on to the end of the world.

Close your eyes. Can you feel the earth beneath your feet? It is cold, isn’t it? When you walk on the plain, you are lost in it as though it absorbs you. It is like your veins suddenly bond with the vinous intricacies of the pungent earth, or like a string is being wrapped and pulled around your ribs.

They say you can walk the plains but in reality, the plains walk you. They somehow manipulate themselves into those lonely beaten paths of your heart. The plains exploit your loneliness but somehow fill it up with its great empty expanse. The plains never really end; they merely dissolve into something… They dissolve into you.

The earth hath its bubbles. When gazing out into that expanse you feel like you have reached a place where time has stood still. One thousand years from now the trees will be taller, the hills more pronounced but another pair of eyes will scan the expanse. The souls of a thousand’s past linger, hovering between that fine veil between past and present.

The world seems to call out my name, but it is not in laudation. It is low and clear, as though all has been discovered and doesn’t belong. Is this the call to the West that men have written about for decades?

Redefining “Normal”

Normalcy is an illusion.

According to Merriam Webster, normal is characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine. So, in other words, we somehow took the average of all human experiences and slapped a “normal” label on it. We made generalizations about shared human experience and said it was expected of the whole of humanity.

So many people struggle to live a “normal” life. This could mean access to basic needs, average health, traditional family environments, or feelings of self-worth. While not having access to basic rights or common attributes can be a setback, that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t right or normal. Situations do not define a person – their response does.

Besides moral imperatives, the basis of what is “right” is all an illusion. No one is the same, and no experience is the same, so it is impossible to say someone or something is not normal.

While mental health doesn’t carry the same stigmatism as it has in the past, we are still a long way from understanding and accepting mental health issues.

You could be the best communicator in the world, asking for a basic need, but people will still always hear you through the lens of their own experiences, perceptions, and emotional capacity. How people receive your needs and requests isn’t about you.

It is okay if you are different from others. In fact, that feeling illustrates your authenticity.

You can be different than other people and still connect with them. You are worthy.

You are a human being because you are inherently imperfect.

Know it is okay to ask for support.

Normalcy is an illusion.

Me First!

What exactly are the effects of birth order on family?

Although we all may come from a family, not everyone in a family grows up the same way. Our interactions with our family can determine a lot about a person. Various personalities can develop within a family unit, even among siblings where the parenting style might not alter between children. A great deal of personality can depend on genes and the individual, but there is evidence that birth order may affect how a person develops.

Everyone has certain birth order regardless of family size. The order in which a person comes into a family can directly impact the way an individual will act both in the family and in their social interactions. Traditionally, birth order is broken into the categories of firstborn, middle born, and last born. According to Jeffery Kluger, in numerous families and case studies, “the simple roll of the birth-date dice has an odd and arbitrary power all its own”. Everyone has birth order traits whether they be from a big family or an only child. Although it is not an infallible record, birth order can be an interesting indicator of personality.

Determining Birth Order

The assumption is that birth order would be fairly straightforward; however, the differentiation process is perhaps more convoluted. Leman says that the eldest child in a family, as well as the eldest child of a particular gender, will have firstborn characteristics. In that manner, the eldest son and daughter in a family will have similar personality traits. However, there are further subdivisions that make this process even more convoluted. If there is a large age of five years or more between siblings, the younger sibling may take on firstborn traits as well if there are any siblings with physical disabilities. Birth order can be a convoluted process and is not an infallible record.

First Born Children

Due to the typical climate of single and two children families, firstborn children comprise the majority of the population. Firstborns have the most inherent leadership qualities. Kevin Leman in his book The Firstborn Advantage, says that firstborn children are traditionally reliable and independent, both functioning as a leader and a mediator. This manifests itself in a variety of different ways in the family.

Leman says that there are two types of firstborns: “the pleaser and the controller.” The pleaser will try to solve any physical, emotional, or psychological need that comes their way instead of delegating. The controller will be the first to delegate or criticize those around them because of their high expectations. Both have essentially the same function for the firstborn since both attempt to assume a leadership role.

Firstborn children assume the roles of mini-adults since most of their exposure to the world is from direct interactions with adults. A study from Joseph Price says firstborn children have the most interaction with parents even after other siblings join the family. For this reason, firstborns, at times, will supplement the role of a ‘second parent’ for younger siblings. Firstborn children will take on a parenting role to assert dominance and please their parents. This offsets some of the jealousy and feelings of displacement that a child may feel when a younger sibling is introduced into the family. However, Wallace says that this ‘parenting’ role can often be a learning experience for the older child and make them more sympathetic. This ties in with the idea from Lehman of the firstborn pleaser since the firstborn is so closely attuned to the emotional, psychological, and physical needs of the family.

As the natural-born leaders of a family, the firstborn children are expected to assume responsibility. This is supported by Roher, who says that firstborns are privileged, but also the most burdened of the three categories. Once younger children are introduced into the family, sometimes firstborn children are expected to grow up completely. Some firstborn children may flourish under the pressure while others may become frustrated and later estranged from the family.

The pressure of perfection and the high standards at home can lead to academic success for firstborn children. A research study by Daniel Eckstein stated that firstborn children demonstrated six common traits:

  • (a) the highest achieving
  • (b) highest IQ
  • (c) greatest academic success/ fewest academic problems
  • (d) highest motivation, and need for achievement
  • (e) overrepresented in learned groups (e.g. college students, faculty)
  • (f) most affiliative under stress

The firstborn drive to attain perfection and serve as an additional ‘parent’ can be a positive thing, but there are also many issues with firstborn communication. Leman details the various points of contention that may arise. He says there are issues when a firstborn child decides to marry another firstborn child, since both may become very controlling; however, marrying someone who is not a firstborn can be frustrating since the couple might not share the same goals or motivation. Couples in this circumstance have to learn how to compromise and delegate, playing to both their pleaser as well as controlling strengths.

Leman also mentions the interesting dynamic of a firstborn parent to a firstborn child. He says that the parent can also, perhaps unknowingly, reinforce and create some of the inherent tensions that a firstborn child has.  However, he acknowledges that the child also needs their own space to truly flourish. Thoughtful communication and work are key in any relationship but realizing the traits and ideals of family members facilitates the process.

Middle Children

Somewhat ironically, the middle children have the least amount of research concerning their personality. (Poor middleborns!)

Wallace says that middle-born children are in a unique position where they are always attempting to catch up with the older sibling while trying to keep ahead of the younger siblings. They have the opportunity to mirror the older sibling but also serve as a role model for the younger sibling. Research from Eckstein seems to indicate that middle children have the:

  • (a) fewest “acting out” problems
  • (b) sociable
  • (c) the greatest feeling of not belonging

They are trying to define themselves and perhaps align themselves to both firstborn and lastborn traits.

Middle-born children are generalized as being typically quiet, but this is not always the case. Lehman noted that oftentimes middle-born children would adopt similar traits to firstborn or lastborn children depending from family to family.

Middle-born children are paradoxically caught between the world of their parents and their siblings. According to Wallace, the middle child “is constantly chasing after the older one to catch up, while racing to stay ahead of the younger one”. Later-born children generally take a route of agreeableness since they do not want to make their family unhappy. This does not mean that all middle-born children are perfect angels. Most later-born children will also try to provoke family members. This can be to get unwanted attention or to feel in charge. Middle-born children are not the paradigms of childhood virtue as we would like to believe.

Youngest Children

Last-born children are an interesting paradox. They have distinct personality traits that leave them in a middling position beneath their other siblings. According to Joseph Price, “parents provide roughly equal time to each of their children at each point in time but spend less time with each child as their children get older”. Consequently, lastborn children are the ones who traditionally look up to their parents as well as any older siblings to learn social cues and family norms. Later-born children are continually hiding in the shadow of their older siblings. Wallace says that parents should make their younger children feel more welcome and distinct from the other children. The younger siblings are vying for attention.

Lastborn children are the ones who are traditionally the most outgoing. Bossard and Boll said that younger, third-born children often will be the social butterflies of the family. They are more willing to put themselves outside of their comfort zone socially. Kluger says that last-born children will be more willing to take risks especially as it pertains to getting an adrenaline rush.  Part of this willingness to take risks comes out of a need to test the boundaries set by older siblings. For this reason, Bossard and Boll say that older siblings will emphasize how younger siblings are “spoiled” and can get away with more. By allowing themselves to challenge themselves, lastborn children set themselves up as independent and vivacious personalities.

Concluding Thoughts

In any family, birth order can play an almost detrimental role in determining personality. While families are not bound hard and fast to the rules of personality, there are typical roles that individual family members can fall into. Firstborn children will tend to flourish and lead the family as the natural secondary leaders of the family. Both middle and lastborn children learn to grow in the overarching shadow of both their parents and can have the most varied personalities. While each child can differ wildly from one another, they together create a cohesive and diverse family whole.

All this must be caveated with the note that not all families will fall hard and fast to this birth order. Fortunately, there are some things like foster parenting, adoption, and blended families which gratefully “muddy” what we may view as a nuclear family. However, as with any communication social study, it is fascinating to see how birth order resonates with some people and how when and where in your family you were born can affect who you are today.


Belmont, L., & Marolla, F. A. (1973). Birth order, family size, and intelligence: A study of a total population of 19-year-old men born in the Netherlands is presented. Science182 (4117), p. 1096-1101.

Bialik, K. (2018, August 19). Middle children have become rarer, but a growing share of Americans now say three or more kids are ‘ideal’. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from:

Bossard, J. H., & Boll, E. S. (1955). Personality roles in the large family. Child Development, 26 (1), 71-78. doi:10.2307/1126079

Kluger, J. (2007 October 17). The power of birth order: Parents insist that how kids turn out depends on when they were born. More and more, science agrees. Times. Retrieved from:,9171,1673284,00.html

Leman, K. (2008). The firstborn advantage: Making your birth order work for you. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

Michalski, R. L., & Shackelford, T. K. (2002). An attempted replication of the relationships between birth order and personality. Journal of Research in Personality36 (2), 182-188.

Minnett, A., Vandell, D., & Santrock, J. (1983). The Effects of Sibling Status on Sibling Interaction: Influence of Birth Order, Age Spacing, Sex of Child, and Sex of Sibling. Child Development, 54(4), 1064-1072. doi:10.2307/1129910

Price, J. (2008). Parent-child quality time does birth order matter?. Journal of Human Resources43(1), 240-265.

Rohrer, J. M., Egloff, B., & Schmukle, S. C. (2015). Examining the effects of birth order on personality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(46), 14224-14229.

Wallace, M. (2016, May 16). The effect of birth order on children: Birth order impacts on children’s emotions, behavior, and personality. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:    child/201605/the-effect-birth-order-children

Watch as She Fades

How do you keep the memory of deceased loved ones alive after they are gone?

During the bedbug invasion of 2020, I had the painstaking task of sorting through and washing all my clothes.

“It’s either a wash or toss,” was my mantra throughout the two weeks it took to go through everything. I might not have had much to my name, but it was enough to be painstaking work. I had held fast to the mission of bedbug eradication as I threw away garbage bags full of items.

As a college student during the pandemic, it was a disheartening task piling weeks’ worth of grocery money into industrial washers. My then-boyfriend and I were assessing the last of the damage, knee-deep in my fumigated room, donned with rubber gloves and our fashionable face masks. As we moved my bed to throw it away, I noticed a wooden box in the extreme corner of the bed that must have been moved during the extermination. I felt my stomach drop.

Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw this into the wash, but this was different. Inside was my mother’s thick blue snowflake robe that she wore every day for as long as I could remember. While the other clothes that I inherited were put to use, this robe had somehow managed to retain her smell. When I was really depressed, I would hold it close, but I didn’t do that often. I wanted to make sure that I kept that part of her with me as long as I could, so I wrapped it up carefully and hoped for the best.

“Take it”, I told Al as he marched with a heaving bag down to the laundromat. I knew I was sacrificing the physical scent, but I assured myself that I would still remember as long as I had the robe.

It has been two years since the incident, and when I pulled the robe out today and buried my face in it, I was shocked to realize that I don’t remember my mother’s scent.

The Art of Forgetting

We tend to memorize details about those that we love, but it is funny the things people remember: the color sweater you wore to an event, that the zipper to your backpack is broken, what brand of shoes you wear, how you laughed at a particular joke. There are a hundred tiny insignificant things that the average person could hardly care less about, but somehow they seem to matter the most. 

Memories of lost loved ones seem to matter the most. All you can cling to is their memory since they are now finite. The dead only live in the past, and you cannot create any new memories with them.

It is not like you want to forget about someone, but the mind can be a cruel master. As time elapses, I increasingly forget more and more. I have a long list of things that I have forgotten: I don’t remember what my mom’s goofy song for me was. I don’t remember some of her catchphrases. I don’t remember what color she used to paint her toenails. I don’t remember if she could whistle or if she could snap both her fingers. I don’t remember if she had any scars.

It may seem insignificant, but I know I had the answers to all those questions not that long ago. I just don’t remember why I forgot, or what other memory I replaced it with. Because I know that I replaced that knowledge with something else. But was it worth it?

The Responsibility of Remembering

“Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

How do you keep the memory of deceased loved ones alive after they are gone?

As long as the dead have someone to remember them, they aren’t truly forgotten, but it isn’t a task for a singular person. Unless you and your loved one lived on a deserted island isolated from the rest of humanity, there is a good chance that someone will have the answer to your questions and aid in the task of remembering.

  • Friends and family can share different stories about the deceased’s life. Depending on your relationship, there may be a lot you didn’t know about your loved one. 
  • Try to learn one thing your loved one always hoped to do but didn’t make time for. Do it for them. 
  • Write a short story, poem, collection of poems, or novel using your loved one as the main character or inspiration for the plot.
  • Begin a message board to collect stories about your loved ones.
  • Carry on their traditions and celebrate their birthdays.

Nothing can bring back the dead, but their memory can live on. It is painful trying to piece together what you remember but it is important to never forget. There will be some things that will be forgotten, but as long as we can hang on to the important things then are they truly forgotten?

Yes, I no longer remember my mother’s smell but it in no way diminishes how much she meant to me. Things like that will never change.

Felix Culpa

We are failures mired in mediocrity. Then comes Easter.

Out of evil, God creates something beautiful. This is no more apparent in the horrendous mode of execution employed on Good Friday. Films like The Passion of the Christ only grasp the true horror of crucifixion. I can’t watch the film without becoming sick to my stomach- not just because of the torture affliction suffered, but because I know that the victim is totally innocent. God took on all our offenses and paid the ultimate price.

It only makes sense that from the nadir of existence Christ would also achieve its zenith.

Adam’s Happy Fault

Felix Culpa is a Latin expression that roughly translates to “O Happy Fault”.  It is derived from the writings of St. Augustine regarding the Fall of Man, and the source of original sin: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”

It is the “curse” of humanity to have free will. If we could not choose for ourselves we would be no better than robot slaves who are programmed to do exactly what they are told. While our ability to choose good and evil makes us more than subservient automatons, it also enables us to fail. And we all will fail at some point in time.

While it may seem cruel to have been created to make mistakes, it is a perfect design. There has to be a balance in order for us to understand varying degrees of goodness. Opposites must exist as we can see even at the point of creation: dark and light, the land and sea, birds of the air and fish of the sea, angels and demons. You can’t have one without the other.

The Greatest Expression of Love

There is a long theological debate about why Christ had to die on the cross.

Thomas Aquinas agreed that debt had to be paid for human salvation because of the sin of Adam. But Franciscan John Duns Scotus said that Jesus wasn’t solving any problems by coming to earth and dying. God did not need Jesus to die on the cross to decide to love humanity, His love was infinite from the first moment of creation. The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God.

Humanity sinned and was in need of a redeemer. Christ’s blood paid the price and fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, but it was also the greatest expression of his love for mankind to turn our hardened hearts. Duns Scotus’ message may be confusing to some people, so pope emeritus Benedict XVI clears up some of this confusion:

Although Duns Scotus was aware that in fact, because of original sin, Christ redeemed us with his Passion, Death and Resurrection, he reaffirmed that the Incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation, that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact but is God’s original idea of ultimately uniting with himself the whole of creation, in the Person and Flesh of the Son.

God did not want Adam to fail

God is not some vindictive judge who waits for us to fail in order to glorify Himself. Nor does He want us to give in to evil just because we can.

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi comments on this truth: “As can be seen, according to Ambrose, God creates the universe for man, and creates man in order to be merciful. It cannot be said that he creates man as a sinner or in order that he should sin, but it must certainly be said that the ultimate rest of Christ in his redemptive death and manifestation of divine mercy represents the ultimate and highest meaning of creation.”

God did not want us to sin, but He balanced the scales of humanity. From our free will he gave us good and evil, from our evil He can create the greatest good.

Saint Thomas Aquinas develops this truth in his Summa: “But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom” (Third Part, Question 1, Article 3, Reply to Objection 3)

We are failures mired in mediocrity. Then comes Easter. His triumph is our triumph because he won the victory for us. Each year Easter is a new beginning for us, not because it tells a story about the past, but because it tells a story about today. Though we are sinners, it is our great privilege to be able to claim a champion Savior. Oh, happy fault indeed!

Photo by Italo Melo on

Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

My dearest friends, standing with me in this holy light,
join me in asking God for mercy,
that he may give his unworthy minister
grace to sing his Easter praises.

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin
to our eternal Father!

This is our Passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin
and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave
you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God
to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night
dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!
Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church’s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame
still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son who lives and reigns forever and ever.

414 is a Wonderful Number

Beer. Cheese. The Bucks. Lake Michigan. Milwaukee is a city with much to offer.

“Milwaukee Day is for you if you are from here or you miss being here or you visited here and loved it, whatever it might be.”

Andy Silverman, Founder of Milwaukee Day

Milwaukee is a city is either overshadowed by Chicago to the south or wrongly cast as just another decaying, Midwest town. The only time the city seems to be is mentioned in national news is to highlight how it is the hub of modern crime or yokel suburbia. While no city is perfect, the true version of Milwaukee extends far beyond its caricature.

Milwaukee is a gem along Lake Michigan. Besides the palm trees and saltwater, Milwaukee feels like a coastal city. Once you drive as far east as you can all you can see is blue water as far as the eye can see. Sailboats bob in the harbor and lighthouses stand along golden beaches. You can go swimming, fishing, water-skiing, or surfing depending on your mood or the type of day. The particularly adventurous could even take the ferry to Michigan as you watch one shore disappear and the other appear.

If water isn’t your thing, then you can go to any of the 150 Milwaukee parks scattered throughout the county. Even in the heart of the city, you can surprisingly find yourself lost in nature. What other city can you see the lake, go to the Museum, go for a wooded hike, and then go bar hopping without getting in your car?

Behind my apartment complex just this week we managed to locate 10 deer and a domesticated chicken on our walk home from the voting polls. We passed the local McDonald’s at the corner on our way back.

According to one source, Milwaukee natives will, “tell you that Milwaukee feels surprisingly European, too, with German, Polish, and Italian roots so deep that a myriad of imported traditions has blended to form a singular culture based on some very good things: beer, festivals, and food.”

But the atmosphere isn’t strictly European anymore. St. Josaphat, which has a Polish heritage, is now nestled in a Spanish community that I would argue has the best and most inexpensive desserts in the whole city.

We hold festivals that celebrate all the different cultures that have created the melting pot that is Milwaukee. And how else could we effectively celebrate without food, music, and company? The midwest values run deep in how we communicate with each other and how we perceive ourselves as a city.

Milwaukee does seem to embrace everyone. Its affordability and down-to-earth sensibility has made Milwaukee a place for everyone to live. Where else can you find a industrial hub that is still connected to civilization that is also affordable? It is city without unnecessary frills but manages to encompass all the conveniences of city life.

In 2018, Vouge published an article, “Why Milwaukee Is the Midwest’s Coolest (and Most Underrated) City”. Although the article is a few years old, the sentiment and truth still ring true.

Milwaukee is an underappreciated city with a proud history. If you catch me on a good day I will generally praise Milwaukee but on Milwaukee day, 4/14, you may find that I am just a little more biased.

All photographs in this post were taken by the author. Use of these images without photo credit is strictly prohibited.

Culture Needs to be Digested

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so why can’t we reach each other’s hearts through the things we have in common?

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”

Chinese Proverb
Photo by Lum3n on

For the most part, my husband and I match the standard stereotype of a Midwestern couple. However, on this particular snowy morning on the north side of Milwaukee, we were overwhelmingly out of our element.

This Asian grocery store is silent, dark, and crowded with pallets of goods marked in logographic text. You can buy rice and hot peppers by the pound, and wine is sold in the spice aisle under the cinnamon sticks. When we get to the deli portion of the market, I make direct eye contact with a squid (which has eyes that are too humanlike for my comfort level- but hey, that is just my hot take). A perusal of the poultry portion features duck heads, chicken feet, duck blood, and a whole plucked chicken in a bag. I pondered how durian ice cream tasted in the frozen section before I looked at crawdad chips in the snack aisle.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is fantastic that my perception of “normal food” is subverted. Asia contributes a staggering 60% to the world population, so this urban grocery store is like millions of stores around the world.

Ethnic Food

The United States is supposed to be this melting pot of cultures yet we still have the tendency to “other” or romanticize cultures that are not European. Most culturally different foods are put into limited ethnic food aisles – if they are sold at all. But somehow ethnic food has come to mean non-Western.

In a New York Times article, Chitra Agrawal draws attention to this disparity, “I buy Finnish crackers. Why are they not in the ethnic aisle?” she said. “An Asian rice cracker would be in the ethnic aisle.” Unfortunately, this is also the only way that some consumers seem to get in touch with diverse products.

Several food purveyors of color see the aisle as a necessary evil — a way to introduce their products to shoppers who may be unfamiliar with, say, Indian food — though a barrier to bigger success… The employees’ solution has been to put the same product in a few places, and include signs providing background on items and how they’re used.

The New York Times

These ‘ethnic’ grocery stores are seen as quirky and quaint representations of “other cultures”, but in reality, they are providing access to a limited cultural resource. In fact, these grocery stores could be an important factor in expressing and growing acceptance of other cultures.

Window into Reality

A quote from an article on The Grocer hits the issue right on the head, “Long-established mindsets and ways of doing things mean colonial attitudes seep into the way products are developed, and the perceptions and expectations of the majority customers are prioritized… What good is a magazine feature on diverse chefs if consumers can’t find the ingredients for their published recipes in store?”

Having places that readily supply materials and foods that aren’t commonly found in American grocery stores allows people to expand their scope of knowledge as well as their comfort zones. You do not necessarily have to leave the country to be exposed to another culture.

According to Matadornetwork:

The monument and sights that make a place famous aren’t necessarily the best way to understand the people who live there. Yeah, Rome’s Colosseum is an important piece of history, but you’re not going to find insight into modern Italian life among the crowds of tour groups. Same for American culture while standing in front of Mount Rushmore. If you really want to learn about a place and its people, skip the tourist attractions and go to the grocery store.

The grocery store is the truest representation of reality. All of humanity ends up in the grocery store for nourishment. They aren’t parading for your benefit or sugar-coating their culture. Have you pondered what other comfort foods exist outside of ice cream and pizza? You may gain that insight by strolling through a grocery store in Manila, Rome, or Tokyo, or you may learn by stopping by your community’s “ethnic grocer”.

There’s no need for grocery store-focused travel influencers, but there is a need for people who are willing to step outside of their skin. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so why can’t we reach each other’s hearts through the things we have in common? We all eat, we all thrive off of our community, and we all need each other.

But in the meantime, I need to go back, expand my palette, and answer my burning question: What exactly does a pickled lime taste like?

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