Banned Book Review: Lord of the Flies


Lord of the Flies.  Just the name of the book makes you shiver and think of savagery and cannibalism, doesn’t it?  That’s a novel with impact.  Sadly, I’d never read William Golding’s story of boys stranded on a deserted island, even though I was an English major, until this summer.  My oldest two studied it, and it was time for the Word Nerd to catch up.  Daughter suggested I read it during the summer, since the last chapter is “one of the most disturbing things” she’s ever read and would be too depressing during the winter.
Needless to say, I picked up the novel with more than a little trepidation.


William Golding published Lord of the Flies in 1954. The novel opens without much context; we find a group of boys of various ages stranded by a plane crash on a remote island. A few clues suggest the time is World War II and the castaways are English school boys, and although I’d like more background, that’s not the point of this allegorical story.

The boys quickly divide into factions. One named Ralph leads the group craving order and reason; he wants the boys to build shelters and keep a signal fire lit, always hoping for a rescue. His adversary, Jack, appeals to basic drives, like finding food and establishing dominance. He and his followers like to cover themselves in paint and hunt in the trees for food. Soon, conflict arises between competing priorities, and disaster strikes.

What I like

Lord of the Flies is a thoughtful, well-written study of human nature. It explores themes of survival, politics, power, and the ways humans establish order for themselves – or don’t. The boys struggle with balancing the needs of a few with the needs of a group, and they fight a fall into complete savagery while living in an unstructured, foreign environment.

Golding uses vivid symbolism and description to highlight the conflict among the boys. Two great symbols: the conch shell and the Lord of the Flies, a severed pig’s head mounted on a stick in the forest. Ralph and his companion Piggy use the conch shell to maintain order during group meetings. (One can only speak when one is holding the shell.)  By the end of the novel, the conch shell shatters.  As for the Lord of the Flies, Jack and his crew mount the pig’s head in an adrenaline driven celebration of their hunt. The head comes to represent everything base and sinful about the boys on the island.

In a year of a hotly contested, and disappointing, presidential election, Lord of the Flies seems particularly relevant. Who deserves to hold power and what are the requirements of a responsible leader? What’s more important, meeting basic needs now or working towards the long term stability of the community?

Here’s a quote that resonated with me:

They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought.

On the island, the paint symbolized savagery; behind its disguise, the boys did things to each other they never would have considered in a “civil” situation. In a similar way, people today are much more likely to say brutal things behind the concealment of a Twitter account than if they were directly speaking to an individual.

What I don’t like

The writing is a bit confusing at times, with dialogue not clearly attributed and some stream of consciousness passages that are hard to follow. Otherwise, great book.


A good friend once asked what makes a classic a classic. Perhaps it’s this: a book that still has relevance to society after 60 years have passed. Lord of the Flies is definitely a classic worth reading. And, it’s super short!

bannedNotes on content

Lord of the Flies has been challenged several times over the years for various reasons, including:

  • demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal
  • excessive violence and bad language
  • statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled.

Source: American Library Association

Some scenes are violent and disturbing (hint: boys die), but compared to what we read and see in the media these days, it’s nothing too scandalous. And, the kids wrestle with the moral implications of violence.

Have you read Lord of the Flies? What did you think? Can you recommend another classic or banned book?

Happy reading!








Banned Books Week Infographic


It’s Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the right to read sponsored by the American Library Association.  Check out this amazing info graphic from that highlights some important information about Banned Books. Please welcome Brian Vu from… 

Did you know Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham was banned in China until 1991? Or that Of Mice and Men was one of the most challenged books during the early 2000s? Great pieces of literature are often lauded for their out of the box thinking, which can lead to not only best sellers but outrage from others. But the difference between a banned book and a challenged book is vast—most scandalous books in our history were never banned, rather challenged by a person or group to remove them for required reading lists. While many challenges are unsuccessful, Readers decided to document some of the most notable challenges and book banning in history. Some titles you may even recognize from your school year reading list!


The most feared books of all time, by

Fascinating stuff!  If you’d like to share this info graphic, please be sure to credit and spread the word about Banned Books.

Did any of the books on the list surprise you?

I’ll be back on Friday with a review of Lord of the Flies, one of the most frequently banned classics of all time.

Thanks for celebrating books with me!Julia






Who I Am: Lifelong Nerd

Who I Am 2

There’s a reason I call myself a “Word Nerd”. I am an unashamed lover of learning, books, and color-coded note cards. It’s a good thing, because I spent my first three decades in school, taking notes and fretting over tests. Now, here I am in my 40s, a stay-at-home-mom with two Master’s Degrees and but no career to speak of.  But I finally see that all the stops on my convoluted educational journey contribute to where I am right now. And where I am is great. But first, the beginning…

Class of 1989

I went to high school in Fairfax County, a wealthy district in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. I had a fabulous secondary education to prepare me for college, and since Virginia has several excellent universities, I did not look far to find an undergraduate home. In fact, I only visited three schools and applied to one, UVA, early decision. While my friends freaked over applications during the winter of our senior year, I sat back and smiled. I was a Wahoo by November.

[Aside: My oldest child, a junior, is now looking at schools. He only has three on his radar, and I’d like him to explore a fourth. He’s like, “Mom, these schools have what I want, and I’m pretty sure I can get into two of them.” Perhaps I should let it rest. Everything worked out okay for me, right?]

The Rotunda at The University of Virginia, spring 1990
The Rotunda at The University of Virginia, spring 1990, with the boy who would become my husband.

When I started at UVA, I wanted to teach. The school of education had a great program: study five years and get a Bachelor’s Degree from the College and a Master’s in Teaching. I loved my classes, but as I spent more time in schools, I got the uncomfortable feeling that education wasn’t the right fit. What did capture my passion was teaching aerobics for the UVA rec department. I believed (and still do) that exercise has the power to change lives, and I loved getting people excited about fitness. Also, my mom had a few rounds of physical therapy for her chronic illness which spurred my interest. So I gobbled up information about anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology with thoughts of pursuing physical therapy. When I graduated from UVA, I had a fiance going to med school, so I decided I would teach and earn income while he was in school and look into PT when he finished. Ha! Enter reality here.

Um, I’m Going Back to School

I took a job teaching special ed in a public school, and although I loved the kids, the administration wore me down. I came home most nights crying over lack of support and programming, and I couldn’t handle the ten million different jobs a teacher has to do every day. After a year of spinning my legs in a system that didn’t help my students, I couldn’t teach anymore. Husband was already attending MCV’s med school, and all I (the English major) had to do was take chemistry, physics, statistics, and physiology to apply to MCV’s PT program. No sweat, right?

I’ll never forget my father’s reaction when I told him I wanted to go back to school:

“I thought we were done.”

Sorry Dad.

In May of 1995, I cleaned out my classroom and started prerequisite course work. A moment of insanity prompted me to take physics over the summer, so I had a full year’s worth of physics curriculum smashed into twelve weeks of classes.  More crying ensued; physics rocked my world. With extensive help from hubby (the math & science guy), I survived physics, and my other classes, and went on to MCV’s PT program. Sadly, my mom died early in my prerequisite year and never knew that I went on to a career that enabled me to help people like her.

Graduation from Physical Therapy school, 1999. I couldn’t have done it without hubby.

Hubby and I spent our 20s learning about anatomy and health care reform.  We scraped by financially with loans, coupon cutting, and generous help from our parents. PT school challenged me as nothing else had: I struggled with on the spot problem solving and had to will myself not to pass out while dissecting cadavers in anatomy lab.

On the day we cut the brains out of our cadavers for the following semester’s neuroanatomy class, I lost it. My mother’s death was fresh in my mind, along with the autopsy ordered of her central nervous system. As the saws revved in the lab, I imagined what the pathologists had done to get samples of my mother’s brain and spinal cord, and I couldn’t stay. My kind professor allowed a rare day off.

Life Since School

After graduation from PT school, I worked at a fabulous children’s hospital in Norfolk with brilliant people who taught me so much about pediatric physical therapy. A year in, I had my first child and switched to part-time. When hubby finished his medical training (a total of seven years for family practice), we moved to the mountains of southwest Virginia for a taste of life away from the suburbs. He also got loan repayment, a huge bonus. I worked part-time PT, doing home health and school visits, until my second child kept getting sick in day care, and I decided to stay home.

I stayed home for these guys. The one on the left is now 16.
I stayed home for these guys. The one on the left is now 16.

Mommying consumed my attention until my youngest hit kindergarten. Once I had breathing space, an old interest popped up. When I learned that Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight while waiting for her kids at swim practice, the English major in me awoke. Now I’m a student again, although on a much less rigorous program of study than I took in my 20s. I scour writing books and journals and attend conferences when I can, working around my primary role as mom. And of course, I write. Not every day, but enough.

I used to worry, and some careless remarks from others reinforced my fear, that I wasted all the time and money I spent on school. But finally, after years of feeling conflicted, I’m embracing my choice to stay at home and use my education in atypical ways. I’m a mom, a writer, and a coach, and my studies of English, Education, and Physical Therapy have informed my ability to do those jobs well.


You don’t have to be a student to learn, and you don’t have to have a career to be valuable.

Some closing thoughts on education:

  • It’s hard to know what you’re going to do with your life at age 20, so make the best choices you can and be open to change. (As long as you are actually pursuing a degree or career and not loafing on your parents’ couch).
  • Let your nerd flag fly and keep learning. (I’ve got highlighters and note cards in my back pack. Do you?)
  • Never stop seeking to apply the things you have learned.

What have you learned from your educational journey?

If you’d like to join the Who I Am project, visit Dana’s blog to learn more.











What Is Aquafaba?

Photo Credit: Dan4th Nicolas via Flickr CC-BY

Daughter has adopted a vegan diet, which means we now have exotic food items like lentils and black rice in the pantry.  Recently, she sent me to the store with a curious list of recipe ingredients, including “aquafaba”.  Do you know what this is?

Don't forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!
Don’t forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

If you like learning new words, join the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme via Bermuda Onion.  Bloggers share new or interesting words they’ve learned.

Back to the grocery store.  I had no idea what aquafaba was and Googled it in the middle of the pasta/grains aisle.  Turns out, it’s a pretty basic pantry item.

Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of beans.

Apparently, it can be used to replace egg whites in many recipes.  Here are some vegan cooking tips for aquafaba from

  • use aquafaba from white beans; it has the most neutral color and taste
  • to collect aquafaba, pour a can of beans into a colander with a bowl underneath to collect the liquid
  • aquafaba can keep in the fridge 1-2 days
  • 1/4 cup aquafaba = one egg

Confession: I’ve never actually tried to cook with aquafaba and neither has Daughter.  She usually uses a cider vinegar/ baking soda/ baking powder combination that mimics the action of eggs in baking recipes.  Her cookies and cupcakes remain the yummiest around, despite the lack of chicken eggs.

What unusual words from cooking have you come across lately?  

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

Bean photo credit: Dan4th Nicolas via Flickr CC-BY








San Francisco: Travel Info and Advice

Coit Tower and the financial district

We live in a tiny town, population 9,000.  This summer, we wanted to expose our kids to a “big city” experience, so on our way to Yosemite, we spent a few days in San Francisco.  We booked a VRBO and did NOT rent a car, so that the family could get a feel for city life, public transportation and all.  The result?  Tons of fun, a few frustrating hours (there are a zillion modes of transportation in S.F.), and lots of walking.

And now, a few tips for you, should you plan to visit the city by the bay.  (And I think you should.)

Things to Know

  • San Fran is big: population 805,235.  (To compare, NYC has 8.4 million and LA has 3.8 million, but to us, SF was BIG.)
  • The people of San Fran are friendly, despite the super size.  The cashier at Sausolito Cafe on 1st St. in the Financial District wrote down a list of good places to visit.  The grip man on our cable car shared a website for learning photography when he saw me toting my new Canon DSLR.  Funny note, just as I said to my family, “I love San Francisco!  Everyone is so friendly here!”, while we waited at a bus stop, a bus nearly ran over a biker, which resulted in abundant profanity and fist shaking that continued for at least a block.  So much for everyone being friendly.  😉
  • San Fran is HILLY.  We spent much of Day 1 exploring the city on foot because the transportation system is a tad overwhelming.  (More on that later.)  I swear we walked at least four miles and all at a decent clip because my long legged husband doesn’t tolerate dawdling.  I recommend good shoes and strong quads if you decide to hoof it.
  • San Fran is COOL.  It was 65 degrees in the middle of July.  The nice lady from Sausolito Cafe told us that summer comes to SF in September and October.  Luckily we had been warned by the quote, “The coldest winter I spent was summer in San Francisco”.  Layers strongly recommended.

Where We Stayed

  • Decent hotels in San Fran can cost upwards of $350 per night.  We weren’t about cram six of us into one room for four nights, nor could we stand spending $700 a night for two rooms.  Instead we booked a VRBO apartment (three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen) near Golden Gate Park for about $1800 for four nights.  Things didn’t work out exactly as planned – because of a scheduling snafu, we spent two nights at the Courtyard Marriott in the Financial District and two nights in the VRBO flat.  The Financial District, on the east side of the city, is clean and close to many attractions, like cable cars, the aquarium, and Coit Tower, so I’m glad we ended up there for a few nights.
  • The Sunset District, on the west side, is more residential, close to Golden Gate Park, and an easy bus ride away from the Golden Gate Bridge.  It also has an awesome local market, Andronico’s, quite possibly my favorite grocery store ever.  Check out the yogurt bar!


Getting Around

  • San Francisco has a million modes of transportation!  There are cable cars, street cars, buses, trams… all with multiple number-coded lines.  It took an hour of map study with a glass of wine to figure it out… mostly.  On Day 3 we rode a bus in the wrong direction for 30 minutes and ended up on the opposite side of the city that we wanted to be on.  Learning opportunity!
  • City Pass – San Francisco
    Please note the ginormous hill behind the cable car!

    is well worth the money.  It got us unlimited rides on all public transportation (minus the BART, which we didn’t need) as well as tickets to several city attractions, like the aquarium and a bay cruise.  Check this option out for all major cities.

  • Ride sharing via Uber, Super Shuttle, etc.  These services were run by polite, prompt, and professional people at slightly expensive (to the rural folk) prices.
  • Cable Cars: you can’t visit San Francisco without riding them!  A great way to see the city.  Get to the Market and Powell turn-around early (like, 7am) to avoid long lines.  More info at


What to Do

  • The Aquarium of the Bay
    View of the bridge from the bay cruise. Luckily, that was a sunny day.

    – interesting, interactive exhibits, especially the one about the Great White Sharks that live near the Golden Gate.  Watch ’em take a bite out of a surf board!

  • Take a Bay Cruise (we used the Blue and Gold Fleet because it came with our City Passes) for a great view of the city, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I liked the history narrative that played during the cruise; my kids found it “overly dramatic.”
  • Ride a Cable Car!  (see above)
  • Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sadly, the day we went, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see to the top of the bridge, and the bridge itself emitted fog horns which freaked my kids out.
  • Visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and pick up a free sample on your way in.  And “go in” several times.  😉
  • Walk down Lombard St., the crookedest street in San Fran, and pause for a picture.
The crookedest street in San Fran - people actually live on it!
The crookedest street in San Fran – people actually live on it!
  • Dining out for six in a big city causes major money hemorrhage.  We had a fabulous breakfast at 8 AM on Columbus Ave, but it cost $82.  (and two of us had parfaits!)  One day for lunch we all had a bottle of water and split two soft pretzels.  Then everyone got a small scoop of Ben and Jerry’s so that we could make the trek to Ghirardelli Square.

Helpful Links

Planning a trip to San Francisco?  Here are some sites to check out:

Happy travels!

Can you add any tips for travel to San Francisco or cities in general?  Thanks for adding to the discussion.








What is a Cairn?


Have you ever been hiking and you come across a stacked pile of stones?  Well those stones have a special name: cairn.  We saw tons of them on our trip to California.

If you’re curious about words, visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion to join in the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme to learn more interesting vocab.

Cairn \ˈkern\ (sounds like care with an “n” at the end)

  • noun; a pile of stones that marks a place (such as the place where someone is buried or a battle took place) or that shows the direction of a trail.
  • From Middle English (Scots) carne, from Scottish Gaelic carn; akin to Old Irish & Welsh carn. I was really hoping for  more interesting etymology. 🙁

Thank you, Merriam-Webster.

We saw many cairns in Yosemite, and the younger members of our hiking crew liked to build their own.

Building cairns: a hiking highlight
Building cairns: a hiking highlight

Can you see the cairn my son built?  The contrast in this photo isn’t great.

Follow the pointing finger to the cairn.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you share an archaeological term you learned this summer? How about something fun from vacation?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!