Boooooo! October Reviews

And by "boo" I'm not referring to Halloween (not my favorite holiday), just to the fact that I only read two books this month (even if that is better than September). The two that I did read were definitely worth it:

Maybe Baby by Lori Leibovich (and 28 assorted writers)
288 Pages

I wrote a bit about this book a few weeks ago for Nonfiction Nagging, but I have to say it was a great read that really catalyzed some important, timely thought and dialogue in my life. While I'm not sure if people who have kids will benefit as much from it, I really think those that are childless and contemplating their next steps would take away something. It's aim isn't to push you one way or the other, but instead give you different viewpoints to facilitate your own thinking. All I know is that if/when I have kids they're not going to be spoiled or lazy and that I'm not going to lose my own identity and passions to motherhood.

The Selected Works of TS Spivet
by Reif Larsen
400 pages

I adore this book- the writing, the characters, the story. It's not your normal text- there are sketches in the margins, "side" notes, and it's just a weird shape. Spivet is a twelve-year-old savant who makes maps of basically everything. His work is submitted to the Smithsonian and wins a prestigious prize, without them realizing that he is just a child. He accepts without telling his parents and thus begins a journey across the country. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for first novels and comin
g-of-age stories and this is both. Spivet is quirky, awkward, and just inherently a good person. There will definitely be people in my life getting this book for Christmas. This was my choice, based on my husband's recommendation, for book club and the three of us all really enjoyed it.

Up next- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Right after I paint my last room. Mother effer.

It's the End of the World and Blablablabla

By now we've become immune to this idea that the world is ending and treat each new prediction like a joke (my students are even making this the theme of this year's yearbook, since supposedly we're for sure dying in December of 2012). We toss around theories about how we'll meet our maker and what the world will be like post-apocalypse. But it's not just that; our culture has become obsessed with zombies, vampires, werewolves and other sorts of dystopian elements. They surround us on t-shirts, in movies, and, of course, in books. Interestingly, this genre has really become a money maker in the young-adult market. But why?

In a recent article written for The Guardian by Moira Young, this topic is briefly discussed. She boils it down to one simple idea: excitement. She talks about heroes and adventures and how teens gravitate towards those things (she's a YA dystopian writer herself). If that's true why aren't they clamoring for medieval tales? Westerns? She brushes off the more psychological notion that teens are actually identifying with the elements that are imbedded in these novels, which Laura Miller examines in an old article ("Fresh Hell") from the New Yorker. Adolescents always think the world is ending, dramatize everything, feel they are controlled by the powers that be (home and school), and constantly hear how horrible the world has become on the news. Double dip into another genre (horror, horror, or some extra sci-fi elements) and there you have it- the next Twilight rip off is born.

Confession: I haven't read any of these modern dystopain or post-apocalyptic novels. Some of the more literary, older ones like On the Road and Fahrenheit 451, yes, but not Twilight, The Hunger Games, or any of the the other novels that have been flooding the shelves. I'm in not place to judge (except Twilight; I will judge that until I'm blue in the goddamn face), but none have really called out to me, except The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I'm still undecided on. Are they well-written? Are they expanding the reader's mind? Or, is it like Young says- purely for excitement?

My theory is a bit like that of Miller's, but I think we're just seeing another trend in literature; one that's providing an escape that young people often need (and yay that it can't be smoked, swallowed, or injected). Their parents are losing their jobs, they're being forced to move from their homes into apartments, and hear nothing but doom and gloom on TV. Their teachers are laid off, their parents' banks have failed, and their best friends have to move out of state to live with relatives. They worry about graduating, about college, and about what will happen in a few short years when they're adults. This genre's popularity gives them the opportunity to distract themselves and see that maybe life doesn't suck quite as hard as they thought it did.

In a way, it's therapy. It's escapism. It's not really my type of genre, and, from the snippets here or there that I've read, I don't necessarily consider it a "literary" genre as a whole (not saying there aren't exceptions, so relax). Do I think an adult's literary diet should consist purely of the YA dystopian genre? Please. But, for teenagers who are torn between ditching school and getting high at the park or immersing themselves in a depressing book, I say go for it and do me a favor- try some of the old favorites once in awhile.

Pin the Tail on the Semi-Pointless Timesuck

Everyone and their mother (okay, not mine) seems to be on Pinterest, so I've finally bit the bullet and signed up. It's fun to pin my stuff, but is it bad that I don't really care about anyone else's? I'm not really in the market for finding artsy craftsy activities or seeing what other people want for their birthdays. In fact I'm pretty sure it's just another way to stalk people. I do love lists, though, and see it as a way to stay organized so I may use it for that.

If you're bored/nosy/masochistic you can check you my boards (okay, just a board right now), although I think you may have to be a Pinterest member. I'm really not sure how this stupid thing works and I'm really tempted to use it to eff with people ("My favorite sex toys" board, anyone?), if I had the time.

Still tempted? Follow me button on the side.

A Little Freaky

I like my freaky readers. I hope this helped you out with all your butt-associated needs.

[search terms that lead to my blog]

Blog Hop- Judge by the Cover

I haven't done a meme in a long time, but figured what the heck. I like this topic, as I tend to be a judgmental person and base my opinions solely on looks.

This week's blog hop is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish- top ten books you picked up based on their cover:

1. The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni (the "should have been a surgeon" part of me wanted it for the heart; great book)

2. How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino (I got this book through Amazon Vine purely because of the garden gnomes of the front; short and funny)

3. The Wild Things by Dave Eggars (the novel interpretation of the recent movie; the edition I got was covered in fur with Max's eyes peaking out; really neat book for adult and kids)

4. The Russian Debutante's Daughter by Gary Shtenygart (for some reason the trashy girl lounging on the couch with rave reviews on the back intrigued me; it was fantastic, of course)

5. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas (the book first attracted me with the black page ends, gold foil edges and strange shape; haven't read it yet)

6. The Learners by Chip Kidd (my husband actually bought it, but it's simple graphic novel-esque illustration with a 1/2 red slip cover just seemed neat; haven't read it yet)

7. The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (a head of a young man with the face blanked out with a rectangle that holds the title information; interesting look at Argentina's Dirty War)

8. Composition No 1 by Marc Saporta (it's a "book in a box" that I talked about in older post; haven't yet read it)

9. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (I'm a sucker for a classic look, and the belt on the white background just sucked me in; great "anti-chic lit" chic lit read)

10. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (this one is on my wish list from Amazon, but the heart filled with script on that white background again really caught my eye)

I never just buy a book based on the cover, but that is often enough to motivate me to look to the back or do some research online. Don't worry, I love the uglies too.

Home Improvement

I love my house, I really do. But what if was made of books?

According to a video promoting the piece (see below- very interesting footage), Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's house made of books was commissioned by Modern Art of Oxford and the Fruitmarket Gallery. The instillation, The House of Books Has No Windows, was created in just three week out of vintage books set to be pulped (gasp!).

I think what really stood out to me was the fact that these books were meant to be pulped. That's book-language for slaughtered. Fast-forward twenty, thirty, forty years in the future. Is this what the future holds for books with the whole Kindle revolution? Are my great-grandchildren going to go on Antiques Roadshow in sixty years with books? And the appraiser will give them nickles? My first edition Jonathan Safran Foer Tree of Codes book will be a mere $1.50? Sad.

Dammit to Hell

What do Jeffrey Eugenides, Salman Rushdie and John Irving have in common (besides being amazing authors)?

They're all readings I was "supposed" to go to.

Irving was skipped because I was sick, Rushdie because I was overworked, and yesterday's Eugenides absence was due to the fact that I hadn't yet turned the page in my planner to this week.


I realized my error yesterday at around noon- the reading was at Skylight in LA (about 90-120 minutes away, depending on traffic) at 7:30 (i get home at 4:30). There was just no way it was going to happen- I have to have at least a day in advance to psychologically prepare myself to drive into the city and stay up on a school night.

There is definitely some morning after remorse going on. I love Eugenides! Middlesex is one of my all time favorites! Virgin Suicides was great, and I'm sure the Marriage Plot, which I pre-ordered, has been moved up to the front of the line. Seriously, ninety minutes of traffic is not that big of a deal. Being tired wouldn't be different from any other day.

I feel like a slacker. It will probably be another 6-8 years before he writes another book- who knows what life will be like then!

To make matters worse, tonight is the Foo Fighter's concert, which I'm obviously not at. Tickets were crappy when we tried to get them- not worth the price, that's for sure. I feel like I'm becoming a hermit.

Dammit to hell.

Nonfiction Nagging- Maybe Baby

I'm almost twenty-eight, have been married for almost three years, live in house with a few extra bedrooms, have a good job, appear to tolerate children, and have the opportunity to travel some in the past few years. On paper, I'm a perfect candidate for motherhood.

I'm almost twenty-eight, love going to dinner at nine-o-clock at night with my husband, live in a house that I insists stay clean, have a tiring job, frequently visualize myself yelling at crying kids in stores, and want to travel to South America and Europe sooner rather than later. Candidacy revoked.

Caught up in this whole "my thirties are approaching" conundrum I did what I do best for advice- I turned to books. Maybe Baby, a collection of personal accounts by twenty-eight writers, details the decisions people have made in regards to becoming parents. The ratio is definitely far from even- six opposed, seven unsure, and fifteen who have taken the plunge. I suppose the lack of balance is realistic, as making a conscious decision to abstain from raising childhood isn't as common as the alternative.

The essays were quite interesting, and I have to admit I often found myself wholeheartedly agr
eeing with those who have decided to not reproduce. Like so many of the writers, I enjoy my life without children. On a recent drive home from a night out with friends it occurred to me how hard it would be to enjoy these sort of spontaneous outings with a baby at home. I'd have to schedule a sitter, write out pages of instructions, and pray nothing went wrong. And, let's face it: the dogs are hard enough to deal with hung over. The writers list the financial advantages of not having kids (I love the point one made about pinching pennies so "someone else" could go to college) and the research that has shown that having children can take a serious toll on your marriage. Not to mention the fact that kids are loud, full of germs, and enjoy annoying toys. And, more seriously, they can come with or develop serious diseases, be kidnapped, morph into the unibomber ("oh my kid would never do that" mothers around the world claim), or even die. And I'd do this by choice?

Those on the "other" side told tales of how they were pregnant accidentally, had sick children that live, and had trouble conceiving. Many discussed their hesitancy to become parents and how happy they decided to be. They mention love, happiness, and energetic infants. They claim parenting is a fight worth partaking in and how the struggle is worth it. They don't sugar coat pregnancy or child-rearing, but they're obviously all pleased with what sprung forth from their loins.

An important question that I think underlies so many of these stories is that of why people feel the need to have babies. Those that discuss their decisions to have children claim that there wasn't really an urge, seeming to at least partially attribute their lack of interest to biology. Those that do seem to just know. I suppose there is definitely a innate, Darwinian sort of aspect to having kids- our bloodlines and race must survive. I'm sure there are other reasons, anywhere from wanting to give someone a better opportunity at life, needing to "feel complete," wanting something meaningful to focus on, or needing something to love.

I've always assumed that I'd want kids- coming from a large family it just seems to be what everyone does. Yet as the "time" approaches it's a little bit of a harder pill to swallow. I worked very har
d through high school, college, and the first few years of teaching and am now at a point where I'm a little selfish. I get irritated when people screw around with my schedule or mess with my things. I'm very self-sufficient and I expect everyone else around me to be (last I checked babies aren't even capable of changing their own clothes, let alone folding them).

On the other hand, I know that when I'm forty-five or fifty I'll regret it if I never had kids (although I may be regretting it from a villa overlooking the Mediterranean while I'm enjoying some wine and cheese in Greece). With a few exceptions, I've always been a baby person- growing up I babysat constantly, was the baby-holder at gatherings, and I have to admit to frequently stopping the teen-moms pushing their babies in strollers at work for a peek. And at Target and other stores my eyes do linger over the cute little doll-size dresses on display. But then I start thinking of how quickly they grow and need new clothes. Or how they poop on everything and stain up all their clothes.

I know some of you reading are parents and are either secretly agreeing or are slamming your desk because I just don't "get how wonderful motherhood really is." The best posts are the most controversial! I highly recommend this book to anyone "on the fence," or needing an audience to validate the decisions they've already made. It won't push you either way, but, as we can all see from this long diatribe, it will make you carefully consider where you're at on the subject.

So, basically, from the way I see it, my dogs need to learn how to change diapers and breastfeed.

The Narcisstic Hypocrite

I'm in love with Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet.

The irony/hypocrisy of this post is that it follows one I recently wrote about it not being necessary to love the main character of the book you reading.

And it gets worse- I like him because he is so much like me. So, basically, I'm a narcissistic hypocrite. Wow, look at everyone jumping at the chance to be friends with me.

I'm about 55 pages into The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen and I'm infatuated with the main character, twelve-year-old TS. He's a child genius (see, I told you he was like me) who creates amazingly detailed, accurate drawings of various scientific subjects ranging from insects to facial expressions, as well as maps. His mentor submits his work to The Smithsonian under the guise that he is an adult, leading to problems when they honor him with a prestigious award. As of now, where I'm currently at, TS declines, but I have a feeling this changes.

I think the reason why I feel such a connection with this character is because he's got a lot of strange quirks that other people don't necessarily understand. He draws his cartography tools on the walls so he knows where they go after he uses them. He calculates routes from the porch to the phone in his head in order to determine what is fastest and what is the best exercise. He fantasizes about the secret world located in the long grass on his farm. He's creating a map of a novel. He can talk about random things (two animals fighting in four feet of water) for hours.

I usually feel the same feelings towards characters as I do towards people in real life- skepticism and caution. I quietly scope out the scene, waiting awhile to take the risk to connect, and then decide if it's worth the time and energy. But, as in reality, there are definitely exceptions- TS Spivet is definitely one of these. We'll see how the rest of the novel goes.

Together We Can Make a Difference

I'm here to talk to you today about a serious problem that plagues millions of people, and their loved ones, every year. It's an addiction that causes denial and shame, although sometimes delusions of grandeur. It's important, it's timely, and it's something people are afraid to talk about. It's the overuse of punctuation that allows asides (namely parentheses and commas). And as a long-time sufferer I'm prepared to break the ice today. It's time to take charge and break the cycle.

I think it stems from a deep-rooted problem that doctors call "Randomitis." There have been countless charity runs, penny drives, and benefit dinners, but researchers have yet to determine the cause or a cure. Its major symptom? The need to constantly insert information that is off topic, additional, or just plain off in right-fucking-field.

Most victims try to hide the tell-tale markers in public. They spend so much time during the day focusing on relevant subjects that when they get home their loved ones are subjected to a barrage of randomness (or, in some cases, their blog-readers). Sometimes they post things on Facebook, for example "I think marsupials are neat" or they may text their husbands "I really feel like funnel cake" for no obvious reason at all.

The initial diagnoses frequently comes from a writing sample. Skilled professionals watch for the tell-tale signs of Randomitis by searching for the punctuation marks mentioned before: commas and parentheses (please note that commas used for lists or for the insertion of a conjunction are not considered a symptom, nor are parentheses used for citation purposes). They determine whether the asides are necessary, on topic, and frequent through a complex scoring rubric that I'll spare you the details of. After the initial consultation, a diagnosis (Randomitis Stage I, II or III) is issued, and a treatment regimen created. Generally, this includes a cap on the amount of asides allowed per page, shock collars for verbal offenses, and, in the most severe cases, severing the corpus collusum (since everyone knows that parentheses and commas travel across it during the episodes of neuro-instablity that cause Randomitis).

What does the future hold for those of us who experience overuse of randomness-derived parentheses and commas? Time will only tell. So keep on walking those 5ks, buying tickets for mediocre black tie dinners, and bidding on weird flower arrangements at auctions, because together we can make a difference.

September Reviews- Bastard Alert

I have seventeen billion excuses as to why I only read one book this month.





And it was a kid's book.

I am so, so very ashamed.


And now I'm over it. At least it was a good one:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
630 Pages

Many of you may be familiar with Selznick's first children's novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret- this one was almost as good in respect to story, but better in regards to artwork. Two parallel stories run between the expressive, intricate sketches and the text, eventually merging at the end. The main character Ben, is a young boy whose mom has recently passed away and doesn't know who his dad is (bastard!). Already hard of hearing in one ear, the poor kid becomes fully deaf after a freak accident. He decides to venture to New York City to find his dad, based on a few clues he's managed to rummage up in his mom's old belongings. And thus, adventure ensues. A quick read (don't be put off by the 600+ page count, it's almost half art) that is really what kids should be reading. Even if the main character is a bastard.

If I was a good blogger I'd mention the book was free as an advanced copy through Amazon Vine.

So next month I'll be making up for this and reading ten books. Yup. Sure.

Books on Your Back- Better Late Than Never

Tardiness is one of my biggest pet peeves, more so when I'm the one that's behind. While this is rare, it's happened for the third time in my life- in the craziness/goodness that is life right now, I totally dropped the ball on Banned Books Week. I knew it was going on, mentioned it to my students, but I failed to put on my party hat and write a corresponding post. Oopsies. Here's last year's, and a shirt to commemorate 2011's from Cafe Press: