Top Ten Tuesday- I Solemnly Swear

The Broke and the Bookish ask us to list the top ten books we "resolve" to read in 2013. I hereby solemnly swear that in 2013 I will read the following books*:

1. Heyday by Kurt Anderson- I've had this for so long I've forgotten what it's about. I think it's length has deterred me, so apparently it's going to be become the Underworld of 2013.

2. Reading and the Brain by Stanislaus Dehaene- Another one I've had for a long time, this one touts the neurological importance of reading. 

3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson- I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo quite a long time ago and have had no real desire to continue the series. I already own the second and third books, though, so I'm going to have to suck it up. 

4. The Problem of Pain CS Lewis- Religion and the existence of God is something I really struggle with. How and why does God let horrible things happen to good people? Why were 20 little kids killed in Connecticut? Why do countries blow each other up? Why hasn't Rage Against the Machine put out a new album in years (kidding, really)? My Uncle, a pastor, recommended this book to me so maybe it's time I gained some perspective. 

5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann- I am fairly positive that I will love this book. That being said, I've owned this for quite some time and haven't read it yet. Lame.

6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov- I've always wanted to read it (obviously, I own it) and a student just read it and suggested it to me (and acted a tad snotty when she learned I've never read it). 

7. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling- Time to make up my mind for myself!

8. Big Girls Don't Cry- The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister- I had wanted to read this during the election to get in the spirit of things but I didn't. I think as Obama is inaugurated again (yay!) and Hilary steps down from Secretary of State (boo!) this may feel a little more relevent. 

9. Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon- I know this may be a bit of a challenging book for me, which can be a good thing.

10. Fathermucker by Greg Olear- I hear this book if pretty hilarious- there will undoubtedly be a time this year where I need a laugh.

*I'll probably only read 4 of these.
Have you read any of these? What are you planning on reading this year? 

Eff Off, 2012/Top Ten Books of the Year/Resolutions

[If you are here for the Top Ten Tuesday from the Broke and the Bookish, please scroll waaaaaay down for my ten "bookish goals" for 2013 (sorry!). And if you're a follower and have already read them, check out The Holden Caulfield Drinking Game post instead. Thanks so much for stopping by!]

This is a long post. Hopefully my delightful wit and fascinating commentary will hook you in. If not, you can always go read about Kim K's pregnancy on 

I tend to get a little nostalgic this time of the year- I take stock, reflect, and plan. 2012 was definitely not my favorite year- it brought a great deal of challenges personally and at times professionally. And while not all were bad, the accompanying stress hasn't been appreciated in the slightest (don't you love it when people allude to juicy information and then fail to throw you a bone?). And, for the record, I think it's okay to have "so-so" or even bad years- it makes the great ones that much better. In the whole "scope of life" things could have been much worse, and for that I am thankful. I'm still married, live in a pretty nice house, have the health of my prized pups, am fortunate enough to have a steady gig, and have great friends. I faced some fears this year (skydiving!), took some fun little trips (Yosemite to climb Half Dome again, San Diego, Vegas, Arizona), nailed some projects (blanket making, NaNoWriMo's 40,000 word count, working on my yoga moves), and have tried to get out and "do things" (museums, readings, restaurants).

Oh, and I read some books. 60 of them, to be exact, giving me an average of 5 books per month, compared to the 38 I read last year, at a measly 3.17 books per month.


And, without further adieu, in no particular order:

Top Ten of 2012

1.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami- I just finished this short memoir today and loved the marriage between writing and running that Murakami creates.  This is by far the best running book I've ever read; a post devoted to it and my complicated relationship with running will be up soon.

2. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt- The writing and the story were both spot on- I was hooked from page one. Brunt tells the story of a teenaged protagonist who loses her beloved uncle to AIDS. If you read just one book on this list, let it be this one.

3. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach- I read this book as my Giants slowly maneuvered their way into first place in the NL West, making it an even more appropriate read for me. But it's not just about baseball- it's a coming of age story that will make you care about the characters and their futures. 

4. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- The two words that perfectly describe this book is fucking hilarious. I've written about it many times before, so I'll spare you the details, but if you need a laugh read it.

5. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- This isn't exactly a literary feat, but I really, really loved this quirky little story about the island that loses letters of their alphabet. 

6. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer- Another one I've written about before, this is the story of a man who decides to climb Everest. It's adventurous and exciting and had been read by pretty much everyone but me prior to January 2012.

7. Habibi by Craig Thompson- The first graphic novel I had ever read, this one was the way to go. I still don't feel completely comfortable reading these, but I'll get there.

8. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I stopped eating meat early last year and read this soon after. I learned a lot, and while I'm still struggling with making sure my body has what it needs, I do think that relying as little as possible on meat is the way to go.

9. The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar- While I definitely am by no means a social activist, I am interested in the sociological and economic implications of immigration in Southern California. Combined with the recession and the dynamics of marriage, Tobar creates a fascinating story.

10. When the Killing's Done by TC Boyle- The fact that this is by the TC Boyle aside, I loved the questions this book left me with in terms of what my stance is on certain environmental issues.

Some people don't like resolutions, but I do. And while I have some in my mysterious, hush hush personal life that I won't mention (basically, I want to quit stripping, stop spending all my money on blow, and find Jesus), I do have some in regards to reading, books and blogging. So here we are:

1. Read 61 books
2. Go to at least 10 readings
3. Visit the Huntington Library again
4. Check out some of the few independent bookstores left in LA
5. Consider moving the blog to a different format/host (a big we'll see)
6. Continue to grow the blog by being super smart and funny
7. Read at least 2 graphic novels
8. Read at least 10 nonfiction works
9. Read at least 5 "classics"
10. Finish a draft of my novel by the end of the school year, work on editing during summer break, and then go from there

The End
Hope everyone has a wonderful New Years and that 2013 brings you loads of awesome shit.

Books on Your Back- Poe Boy

This "Critique This" shirt on Threadless that is great (not sure if it ever was issued as an actual design to buy): 

[Source: Threadless via Sconehenge]

Nonfiction Nagging- Into the Wild

[I have the movie cover. Gross]
It's been almost three months since I read something besides a novel- I've overdue for some reality, apparently. I just finished Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, the story of Alex/Chris McCandless who ends up dying in the Alaska wild. It was turned into a movie several years ago and while my husband actually has it I haven't seen it. Interestingly, I think it may cross into the "I think the movie is slow and boring but I liked the book" categories. Anyway, I thought Into the Wild was interesting, but it had absolutely nothing on Into Thin Air, which I literally couldn't put down.

The premise itself is fascinating- putting together the pieces of a man who disappeared from his upper-middle class home and moved out West with the goal of living off the land in Alaska. McCandless hitchhiked and "tramped" around Arizona and Southern California and slowly worked his way North. He picked up odd jobs and made friends with his honest, kind personality. People appreciated his intelligence (he was college graduate) and determination to be independent. McCandless represents what we all wish we could do (at some point in our lives)- the ability to take off and just go. He gives away the $25,000 he had saved, burns his money, abandons his car, and carries minimal material goods. McCandless eventually finds his way to Alaska and dies (this is no spoiler, folks) alone in a bus, cause of death likely from starvation (or from consuming moldy seeds). Krakauer uses his journals, pictures, and interviews with those he touched along the way to piece together his story.

It's not all a romantic story that Walden, Thoreau, London or whoever would be proud of, though. McCandless makes a lot of stupid mistakes that cost him his life. First of all, he doesn't carry maps with him, nor does he make any sort of effort to carry any sort of gear besides a few guns. This part really frustrates me; I understand not wanting to form attachment to material goods and to truly get in touch with the land, but unless you're a trained naturalist or a super hardcore Boy Scout it's a mistake. He leaves a family behind that is desperate with worry, including a sister he is especially close to (I found myself getting really angry and upset picturing my younger brother doing something like this). I had to remember that this wasn't fiction; Krakauer didn't create him, he was just reporting on what had happened.

Speaking of Krakauer, I felt a few parts of the text were unnecessary. A whole section is devoted to Krakauer's experience in Alaska when he was younger- I wanted to read about McCandless' life, not his. I know he viewed his research as cathartic, given the parallels he drew between his life and the wandering Alex/Chris, but they were just plopped in at the end in a self-centered insertion. He also includes background on other Alaskan adventurers that I thought were not needed- at 203 pages it seemed that perhaps he was just trying to stretch his word count a tad.

All in all, this was a really interesting, quick read. It wasn't quite what I expected, but I still definitely recommend this (although if you haven't read Into Thin Air read that instead). 

Books Make the Best Presents

So I got a few books for Christmas. My family and husband (I guess he's technically family too...) knows me well- ten new novels, a cookbook, Jane Mount's awesome coffee table book, a sewing book, and then a question a day book that spans over five years (more on that later). I feel super lucky. And a little bit anxious about the fact that I'm now up to 59 unread books (49 pre-Christmas, plus ten novels).

Arcosanti- Crazy or Onto Something?

For the past four years my husband and I go on vacation, just the two of us, for Christmas. We've done Yosemite, Hawaii, and San Francisco in years past and this year decided to check out Phoenix (our original plan was Seattle, but airfare was astronomically expensive by the time we started looking into it). It turned out to be a really great trip- we stayed at the fancy Biltmore (hooray for offpeak prices), visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesan West campus, explored the Biosphere 2 in Tuscon, and enjoyed a delicious Christmas brunch in Scottsdale. We ate at local restaurants and had plenty of time to relax, too (I read a book and half and became semi-addicted to Wordament). After four days we then drove the five hours home and I whined most of the way about being tired of driving. I can be really charming when I try.

[Some of Frank Lloyd Wright's books in his bedroom at Taliesan West]

Anyway, the point. 

On our first full day away we went to this strange little place 70 or so miles North called Arcosanti. Their website describes them as  "an urban laboratory focused on innovative design, community, and environmental accountability. Our goal is to actively pursue lean alternatives to urban sprawl based on Paolo Soleri's theory of compact city design, Arcology (architecture + ecology)." It sounded pretty interesting, so we made the drive through the mountains and desert to investigate.

After getting off the freeway in the middle of nowhere, we had to drive up a rough dirt road a mile or so, passing by open space dotted with cows. Eventually I pulled into a dirt lot right in front of a small gated area that looks like a junk yard, complete with a few broken down campers and bicycles. We followed the signs and entered a large building made of cement and glass- at this point my husband was cracking jokes about being forced to join a cult and possibly being murdered. It was eerily quiet and there were very few people around. The woman at the front desk told us that we had a half hour to the next tour, so we paid our ten bucks and looked around the gift shop, which was mostly comprised of the bells the people at Arcosanti make. There were also expensive books written by the founder, Paolo Soleri, outlining his philosophy on sustainable living and reducing urban sprawl. At this point I was pretty jazzed- this place was weird enough to be memorable but not enough so as to make me think I might get my head chopped off. 

When the tour started our guide had us sit down in front of a thirteen minute film that outlined the premise for Arcosanti- it was basically the city of the future that would be self-inclusive. You would live, work, learn, and be entertained within a structure that spanned about a half mile. There would be no cars, limited pollution, and as little as possible reliance on the outside world as possible. It would be the ultimate community. The video was filled with impressive drawings and renderings of what the city would look like- a beautiful structure full of sharp lines, gleaming surfaces, and fresh vegetation. 

And then we went outside.

Arcosanti is nothing like the images in the lobby and on the video- instead it looks like a half-finished construction site that has been taken over by a group of conscientious hobos. Harsh, I know. There are clothes drying outside on lines, toys strewn over common living spaces, dirt-caked windows, and cluttered porches. At least that's how it appeared at first.

But as I heard the guide talk, I could tell that it was more than just a haphazard commune. It was a group of people that truly, truly believed in something. They want to create a better world- they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, live off the land, and know their neighbors on a deeper level than those of us in suburbia. They understand that the rate the world is growing is problematic and will eventually be impossible to sustain. They care about the environment and each other. And they don't give a flying fuck if people think they're weird or misguided. I can appreciate that. 

This isn't to say that their operation has been successful or that they're even realistic. They've been working on Arcosanti for decades and only have a few main buildings that house, at the most 150 people (the finished product is supposed to hold 10,000) during peak season. Their bells are beautiful, but overpriced and not really useful- you can't create a futuristic, self-sustaining city off the income of bells. They don't have a fully functioning agricultural space, nor do they have the means to educate the children that live there (the guide says they will "eventually" have their own school, but for now they send them to the local public one). This idea of "in the future" is attached to so much of what Arcosanti is- their vision will become a reality.... someday...

Arcosanti isn't exactly beautiful, and it isn't overly exciting. But I left with a deep appreciation for the people that live and work there. They really believe in something- so much so that they're willing to abandon "normal" society and devote their time and energy into maintaining something that may never truly come to fruition. I can't say that about myself, and I doubt that most of the people I know can. I think as a society we're so quick to judge people like those of Arcosanti, to cast them off as "hippies" or as "crazy," but in fact we just don't understand what it's like to take that step and change our lifestyles for a cause.

Am I going to run off and join Arcosanti? No, I'm not (she said wistfully). But part of me really, really wishes I  had the balls to at least do one of their one or two week live-in programs. Maybe someday.

"Sponsored" Review- The Darlings

If you've been a reader for long you know that I don't do typical book blog reviews i.e. a post per book (instead I generally do a monthly round up). Well, the kind folks at Penguin sent me The Darlings by Cristina Alger, so I figured I owed them more than the usual tiny snippet. Bottom line- the only time this will actually happen is when someone fancy sends me something. Despite the "corporate connection" I will, as always, be absolutely honest.

Alrighty then. 

The Darlings, Cristina Alger's first novel, is about the downfall of the elite Manhattan Darling family during the market disaster of 2008. The story is apparently going to become a show on Bravo at some point, too. Here's what I liked... and what I didn't:

- If you like the stock market, financial scandals, or were interested in Bernie Madoff then you'll appreciate the economic foundation that this book is built on. It is obvious that Alger is knowledgeable in this area- she gets a bit technical at times (see below). Alger is a graduate of Harvard and NYU- the girl knows her shit.
- Reading about the horrors of the Dow plummeting and people losing everything actually made me feel better about our current economy. Things used to be much, much worse and sometimes a little bit of perspective on how we've progressed is refreshing.
- Sometimes it can be fun to read about the extremely wealthy- the clothes, the galas, the connections. Algers isn't subtle in her description of the Darlings and their friends- they are filthy stinking rich. But beneath these lavish lifestyles lays the universal truth that "money can't buy happiness." At the end of the day your money won't save you, and it can be lost much, much more quickly than it was made.
- There are some  interesting characters, that I actually wished I had gotten to know more about. For example, the protagonist Paul, a man who finds himself unknowingly involved in the family scandal due to the job he took with his father-in-law, Carter Darling. Paul's wife, Merrill, Carter himself, and his wife Ines, end up beating the quite large pack of characters Algers includes.
- The plot itself is intriguing- it reads fast and the suspense will keep you moving, despite the flaws. Algers brings the reader into a world and makes them privy to information that even those involved with the scandal aren't aware of.
- Setting the novel during Thanksgiving weekend was a pretty genius idea; the markets are closed, people are out of reach, and press' reaction over news stories can be delayed. This time of the year is also quintessentially family-driven, a critical component to Alger's story. The family is brought together, but they are also driven apart.

- There are way too many similes and metaphors- a gross reliance on them, in fact. I started counting in the beginning but gave up. 
- At times I felt that Algers was trying to do too much in terms of her characters. There were too many of them; I would have much preferred her to focus on about half as many but do it better, with more depth. I understand that she was trying to create depth and backstory, but the section on Lily and Adrian (Carter's other daughter) were unnecessary, as were a few of the other characters. Do less, and do less better.
- I can absolutely see the financial aspects turning people away from this book. I consider myself to have a slightly above average understanding of the market and what happened on Wall Street during the beginning of the recession, but even I at times was a little confused.
- The ending should not have included the epilogue. Alger needed to trust her reader to come to conclusions on their own. 

All in all, I found this an entertaining read. I think that it was a bit rough around the edges, something that can be attributed to Alger's greenness. I think she does have potential, though, and she offers something that isn't commonly seen in young, attractive women writers- she's actually knowledgeable about something other than dating, makeup, and working as an assistant. We'll see what she comes up with next. 

Happy Holidays

On this magical Christmas Day I hope that you all found plenty of books under your trees, that those creepy elves you invite in your homes have returned to the North Pole, and that you're enjoying a delicious meal with abundant booze.

Something I Miss

I don't miss much about teaching elementary aged kids- get me the heck away from the vomit, tears, and lice, thankyouverymuch. But, once in awhile I do get a little nostalgic. It was easier in terms of the work load and the kids can occasionally be cute, but, most of all, I miss reading aloud cute Christmas books to them. I have a ton- I used to read a book a day after lunch for two weeks or so leading up to break. My favorites: 

[I always did a memorization contest with this; I may still remember the whole thing!]
[I have a Grinchy heart]

[Fine, not Christmas-y but wintery for sure]

[Didn't read this to my students, but it was a favorite from childhood]
[Me too. I wish I was a Christmas tree...]

Don't kill me, but I think the Polar Express is boring.

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts- Things I Don't Like Edition

1. The Hobbit- I'm about half way through and while I'm not saying it's bad, I'm definitely not enjoying it. The bright spot is that sneaky little Gollum. Bilboa, on the other hand is a whiny twat (at least so far). "Waaah my clothes got messed up." "Waaah I don't want to go on an adventure." "Waaah there are dwarves in my house and I don't want to make them breakfast." He reminds me of Luke Skywalker- everyone loves him but really he's just an annoying stupid bitch. 

2. The new iTunes- The old one was just fine, thanks.

3. Dog hair- The Golden is shedding like it's summer. It's ridiculous. 

4. Being nice when people want to talk about shitty books- I was just at the Honda dealer and when the guy handling my car found out that I was an English teacher he wanted to tell me about this really good author, James Patterson. He followed up with Dan Brown. But because I'm only a douchebag on the inside, I had to smile and say "Yeah, people really seem to like them." 

5. Life's bullshit- I'm fairly certain that the power(s) that be are/is constantly testing my strength, patience, and faith in humanity. Like on a daily basis.

6. 50 Shades of Grey (still)- A student asked me if I wanted to borrow her copy. This time the douchebag on the inside appeared on the outside- I believe my exact words were "Get out of my classroom, I don't want your taste for bad books to rub on everyone else." It was a joke (said while shaking head vigorously).

7. Speaking in front of others- I had to do a brief presentation with two colleagues yesterday in front of the entire staff (so like 100 people) and it was torture. And it was absolutely made worse by the fact that I had to pee like a mofo and had to remember who not to look at so I didn't laugh.

[Or in my case pee themselves]

8. NaNoWriMo break- I haven't even looked at my NanoWriMo draft since I finished it on November thirtieth. I've only just started thinking about it again, to be honest. I know that sometimes a break can be good, but part of me thinks that if I was really that into it I wouldn't just abandon it for almost three weeks straight.

9. Wine shortage- I'm out of wine. I'd really like a glass right now and I'm out. And, just to be totally and completely honest, I'm not a real wine drinker- I only like moscatos, torrontes, things like that. Anyway, the only alcohol I have is beer from our party over the summer, a shot's worth of old gin, and three or four mostly-empty bottles of flavored vodka. Unfortunately, vodka doesn't quite work with the soup I'm planning on having for dinner tonight. And even if it did, there's something kind of, I don't know, culturally unacceptable, about throwing back a couple of shots of vodka with dinner on a Wednesday night. Toto, we are not in college anymore. 

10. Shit talking about teachers' vacation time- Listsen, assholes, we don't get these mysterious holiday bonuses everyone else does. Plus, we have to deal with your children more hours a day than you do. So yeah, shut up.

Festive, ain't it?

Top Ten Tuesday- A Rough Draft

The Broke and the Bookish ask us what our Top Ten books this year are and I'm a little hesitant to make the call already. I usually do a big post at the end of December just in case any of the books I read the last two weeks of the year make the cut. So, consider this the short list- fifteen hopefuls with the possiblity of additions if I read anything great in the next two weeks.

1. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer- I found the story of these Everest climbers absolutely rivoting.

2. The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer- Hilariously witty book that is part mystery, part publishing industry satire.

3. When the Killing's Done by TC Boyle- Two perspectives on wild boar population control told through a fictional narrative.

4. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- An interesting (and of course subjective) look at vegetarianism.

5. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- Quirky, fun read about governmental control. 

6. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood- A brief look into a gay man's heartache in the 1950s.

7.  The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar- What rich white people look like to the mistreated Mexican help.

8. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- Hilarious story of a dysfunctional family of performance artists. 

9. Habibi by Craig Thompson- The first graphic novel I've ever read- great story, amazing illustrations. 

10. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky- The laugh-aloud story of a Russian woman whose teenaged daughter gets pregnant.

11. Arcadia by Lauren Groff- Hippies, friendship, and love.

12. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach- More than just baseball, this well-written story is about friendship and growing up.

13. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel- My second graphic novel, this autobiographical coming-of-age story was honest and raw.

14. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison- A lost caregiver befriends his charge and ends up taking him on a road trip.

15. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka-Brunt- I loved everything about this book; the teenaged protagonist must come to terms with her uncle's death from AIDS. 

What was your favorite this year?

Giveaway Winner

We have a winner! 

Jill, please email me by Monday at with your address so that I can ship this out!

A Sensitive Matter

I got home in time today delete the post I had scheduled touting my giveaway before it was to post. Today is not the day. I can't fathom how anyone is blogging today about anything- everything is so trivial in the aftermath of the horrible Connecticut tragedy. Sure, many of us aren't connected, but we've all gone to school and we've all lost loved ones. This could happen anywhere, to anyone. 

We need to be more proactive, instead of reactive, in terms of gun control and school security. People kill, yes, but why make it easier for them to do so? We as a society have got to make acquiring firearms more difficult- more thorough background checks, psychological evaluations, better training, research on the intent of purchase, and harsher consequences about letting others use guns registered in your name. I don't think making them impossible to get is the answer either; I know plenty of very sane, kind people who own guns for sport or hunting (not that I personally condone shooting animals). I won't ever allow one in my home- accidents happen and houses get broken into.

Schools all over the country need to better security, although it's much easier said than done. An armed person enters a school office you can bet your ass the secretary is going to let them through- it's a natural reaction. People can jump fences, windows can be shot out. There's no simple answer short of building fortress walls and sticking an armed guard at the entrance. As a teacher I play the "what if we're next?" game whenever something like this happens. I work at a rougher school (that I love) and I know that some of my students' homes have guns. Area, though, has nothing to do with it- Connecticut is nowhere near slum status.

There are changes that need to be made. But tonight we pray. 

Books for Non-Readers

Obligatory reminder about the giveaway. You should enter. Free things are good (and yes, I will ship internationally; Cory did so to me, so I'll pass along the favors. Plus, it will make me feel special at the post office).

So, apparently, some idiots people aren't readers. I don't claim to understand such nonsense, but there are still books you can buy for these stupid special people during this holiday season. 

Title: How to Speak Wookie 
Author: Wu Kae Smith
Good for: People who are frustrated there's no Rosetta Stone for Wookie.

Title: Melt 100 Amazing Adventures in Grilled Cheese 
Author: Shane Kearns

Good for: People who like grilled cheese. Duh.

Title: Understand Rap
Author: William Buckholz

Good for: White people

Title: 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in USA and Canada
Author: Barbara Ireland
Good for: People who need to get out more.

Title: How Smart is Your Dog? Test Your Pet IQ
Author: Parragon Books
Good for: People with an unnatural obsession with their dogs (yeah, so, I have it on my wish list now).

Title: The Best Shots You've Never Tried
Author: Andrew Bohrer

Good for: Alcoholics. College kids. 29 year old teachers who don't cope well with their problems.

Title: Great in Bed
Author: Debby Herbenick and Grant Stoddard
Good For: People that like the sex (a legitimate substitute for reading, I suppose).

Title: F NISH TH S B   K
Author: Keri Smith
Good for: People who think "anyone can write a book."

Title: Suri's Burn Book
Author: Allie Hagan
Good for: Fashionistas. Celebrity gossip fans. Pedophiles.

Title: Raising Unicorns
Author: Jessica S. Maques
Good for: People who think child rearing is a big fat waste of time.

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'm hosting a giveaway... maybe you've heard? Follow this link.

2. I'm quite disappointed with the readings LA has to offer lately; I know "tis the season," but I haven't been to one for a few months and am missing my dose of culture and smart people.

3. I was at a restaurant this weekend and ordered the "Grapes of Wrath" Pizza- goat cheese, grapes, pumpkin seeds, and grilled butternut squash. It was amazing. Oh, and I've never read the book. 

4. I have to admit a guilty pleasure- Gossip Girl. Yup- "you know you love me, xoxo" Gossip Girl. I want to look like Serena but hang out with Derota all day. Anyway, Dan, aka "Lonely Boy" published a book (I'm a season behind). Like it's just that easy. Vanessa sends in the manuscript and they agree to publish it without meeting Dan under the name "anonymous." Sure. This isn't fucking Primary Colors, for crap's sake. All I can say is that I'm glad it didn't hang out on the best seller's list for too long.

5. My students are killing me this week. They're not doing their reading, failing quizzes, and won't shut up. It's almost worse than the elementary kids, except with the older ones I can at least threaten finals.

6. Speaking of my students, I had them read this piece from Slate last week on Elf on the Shelf in order to practice some long-lost rhetorical analysis. Their responses were hilarious- the overwhelming consensus is that the Elf is "creepy." While he is pretty effing ugly, I do understand that parents and kids have fun with it. I do think this aticle is interesting, though- what happened to Santa being enough? What about discipline (for those parents who use it to control their kids in December)? And the tattling aspect of him is a bit much. Cue the "Oh, Christine, you'll understand when you have kids" crap. Seriously, if my husband and I had one of those things we'd end up making it hump the dog toys or leave it next to a bottle of vodka and empty shot glasses.

7. Sometimes I feel guilty when I decide that I don't want to read books about things like Jews and Nazis or women struggling to read in Afghanistan. I feel like I owe it to those who have been oppressed, to recognize their plight, but it's just generally not the type of genre I gravitate towards. I seriously feel bad. 

Books on Your Back- Card Catalogs

Shameless Plug- Don't forget to enter my Coryography necklace giveaway here!

I think I love card catalogs. A few months ago I made a joke about yuppies up-cycling them for their living rooms and I've decided I totally want one. I wouldn't shove kids' toys (since, you know, I have none) or other shit in the drawers (like the yuppies do), but it would look perfect in our great room that serves as a little library. The only problem is they're crazy expensive and hard to find. I'm not against having someone custom make one, though, as long as they have it a vintagy/reclaimed/dark stained finish.

[Only $999.999 on Ebay, with local pickup for Indiana only- assholes]

Anyway, the shirt.

[$23.30, Zazzle]

A Super Awesome Giveaway and Top Ten Tuesday

Before I get into my Top Ten Tuesday list, I'd like to share the giveaway that I'm excited to be hosting. Cory from Coryographies has agreed to give one lucky Bookishly Boisterous reader a free bookshelf necklace- I have it in my hot little hands and am having a seriously hard time parting with it. But I will.

Check out Cory's Etsy Shop and Blog

All you have to do is "Like" Cory's page on Facebook and leave a comment below telling me one book you'd like for Christmas (it would be nice if you followed my blog, but it's not required since I know not everyone has Blogger). And remember, you don't have to have an account- just select "Name/URL" from the drop down menu under comments and fill in your name (URL not required). I'll announce the random winner on Saturday, December 15, so make sure to check back. And if you don't win, they retail for about $41 dollars, which isn't bad for such a cool piece.

And now for my Top Ten. I screwed up last week and did the wrong list, so this week I'll do last week's- ten books I'd like Santa to bring:

1. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling- I have a feeling I won't love it, but I feel like I owe it to the author to decide for myself, rather than go by the reviews. If it was anyone else I may not feel that way, but she did do something special with Harry Potter.

2. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan- All day, every day.

3. Flight Behavior by Barabara Kingsolver- Would be the first fictional book I've read by her.

4. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie- Ever since seeing him speak a few months ago this one has been on my radar.

5. My Ideal Bookshelf by Jane Mount- I adore her prints and until I can afford my own custom piece this would make me happy.

6. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan- This one has been on my radar for a really long time but I've never picked it up. Still love the cover.

7.  The Road to Woodstock by Holly George-Warren- Because I really wish I was a bra-burning, protest-attending, daisy-chain-weaving, free-loving hippie.

8.  Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple- The cover totally sucked me in (and the story seems interesting).

9. Solo by Rana Dasgupta- Another one with an amazing story and an equally intriguing story.

10. Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller- Because sometimes Pinterst doesn't cut it. 

Don't forget to enter below!

For Fun

I've been growing more and more interested/concerned in my students' writing as the year progresses- it's led to some intense frustration. Writing is a weakness at our site (and community) both in terms of organization and content. Part of the problem, in my humble opinion, is that the kids really just don't enjoy it. Writing essay after essay simply isn't even remotely fun if it's something that you struggle with. Especially when you have the teacher bitching you out for not having a "valid argumentative thesis," "cohesive organization," "proper textual support," or a "personal voice." Hey, it's my job.

A few weeks ago I gave the kids a project to do on The Metamorphosis and one option was to write a 8-10 page prequel to the story- total carte blanche to go where they wanted. And the ones that chose to do it loved it. I had everything from Spiderman-reminiscent bug bites to myseterious fortune tellers casting spells. The kids asked if they could write over the page limit and actually turned them in on time. I've read most of them and the kids obviously took ownership of this type of writing- the thought and detail surpassed their normal academic work. It was refreshing. 

This motivated me to try to find some more fun ways to incorporate creative writing into my classroom. I don't have the luxury of time- there are plenty of things to do prepare the kids sufficiently for their IB testing next year. So I started scouring Amazon for some sort of materials that would allow kids to write little snippets that they'd hopefully find fun and would require creativity. And I hit the the jackpot with 642 Things to Write About, by the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. Here are some of the prompts/scene suggestions:

"You are a pirate. Describe your perfect day."
"A soldier is about to embark upon a mission that she know will kill her."
"Toto, if we're not in Kansas anymore, where are we?"
"Write a love letter to a person you dislike."
"You've been caught cheating at a casino. Explain to the pit boss why this is all just a big misunderstanding."
"Write about something you know absolutely nothing about. Make all of it up."
"You are at a department store in another city, and you see one of your teachers weeping. Write the scene."
"James Joyce said that a man's errors are his portals of discovery. What mistakes have led to epiphanies for you?"
"Describe in detail an everyday object- a piece of fruit, a water botte, or your beat-up old wallet."
"A man jumps from the fortieth story of a building. As he's passing the twenty-eighth floor, he hears his phone ring and regrets that he jumped. Why?"

And so on and so forth for another 632 entries. Some are a little inappropriate, but for the most part they'll work. 

And, let's be honest- from my perspective essays get a tad boring. Reading their answers to questions like these will be entertaining as hell. 

Cabin Fever

[there will be no killing, I promise]
Before I start I have to give the obligatory disclaimer: I love my husband, my dogs, my house, and my friends. I am thankful for my job, my health, and my lifestyle. 

And now that that's out of the way, I can say, without guilt or regret, that I have the strongest case of cabin fever that I have ever had in my entire life. It almost hurts.

I just spent thirty minutes planning a trip to Paris over spring break. A pretend trip, anyway (for now).

[places I want to go. like now.]
I've traveled more than some and less than others; I've been to Hawaii, New York, Italy, Chicago, Cabo, all the states between here and Minnesota, and up and down California. I've had a taste of what's out there, and I want more- it's like reading the first chapter of a book and being told you can't finish (like that would happen). There are so many places I've never been and I know that I'm at a place in my life where picking up and leaving is almost easy. I have a good job with ample time off, some money saved up, and nothing that can't be left behind for a week or two. Easier says than does. 

An overwhelming sense of boredom and frustration for the area in which I live is also a factor- I need a break from the landscape, the people, my routine. I need to hear different languages and to feel like an outsider. There's something freeing in being a tourist- no on knows you or cares what you do. Here I can't even go to Target for fear of running into someone I know and worrying that they'll judge me for wearing yoga pants out in public. 

Plus, I think we're more likely to take risks when we're traveling- being home so often means being safe. When you travel you want to do everything the area has to offer- try to the food, see the art, absorb the culture. Staying put allows you to get stuck in a rut, never really experiencing things that are new or different (unless you make an effort, of course). And on some level being out of your comfort zone allows you to act more authentically- traveling to unfamiliar places poses challenges and decisions that force you to pull from your true self. Being free from burdens, responsibilities, and the expectations of others doesn't hurt either.

Of course, travel isn't for everyone. Some people are content in their homes and geographical bubble, and I do understand that. Travel can be hard. There are itineraries to create, directions to navigate, and obstacles to overcome. Whether it's worth it is up to the individual, I suppose. I think some people have the wanderlust gene, and some don't. 

But I do. It's sort of like male-patterned baldness- once it starts you can't stop it.

Top Ten Tuesday- New To Me

Do you remember the promos NBC used to do? "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!" No shit, Sherlock. That doesn't mean your network needs to stop playing repeats.

[source- one of the many...]

Anyway, there's a point- The Broke and the Bookish ask us to list the top ten "new to us" authors from 2012. [edited to add: I did the wrong one. Oops].

"If you haven't read him/her, him/her is new to you."

Nope. Doesn't work. Not even close.

1. Jon Krakauer- I read Into Thin Air earlier this year and loved it. 

2. James Cain- Mildred Pierce was delightfully cynical and maybe a little bit evil. I loved reading about the fourties.

3. Mark Dunn- Ella Minnow Pea was one of the quirkiest, fun, books I read all year.

4. Craig Thompson- Habibi was the first graphic novel I read this year and I really enjoyed it (and seeing him speak).

5. Lauren Groff- Arcadia and all it's hippies were a nice change from my normal reading. Her storytelling was spot-on.

6. Barbara Kingsolver- Can you believe that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was the first book I've ever read by her? For shame!

7. Jess Walters- I know everyone raved about Beautiful Ruins this year, but I just couldn't fully jump on board. He was new, but not necessarily great...

8. Alison Bechdel- Another graphic novelist with several books out. I read Fun Home a few months ago and was very impressed.

9. Christopher Isherwood- I appreciated A Single Man for what it must have meant when it was published long ago, as the story of an academic gay man who must cope with the loss of his partner.

10. Robert Anthony Siegel- I was pleasantly surprised by All Will Be Revealed- a pornographic photographer ends up helping one of his models who gets involved way over her head.

I noticed that I read a lot of familiar authors this year, and a few first timers; there weren't many ones that had been around for awhile that I was just now getting to. I feel like I'm missing out on writers! There's always next year.

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. Penguin has contacted me about reviewing some of their books. I'm a little worried about what this means for the many, many books that I already have to read.

2. There should be a reality show about retail seasonal workers. Every time one checks me out and smiles that eager smile I imagine them secretly battling it out with all the other workers to try to gain a permanent spot. 

3. I got some books for my birthday last week! Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, Home by Toni Morrison, San Miguel by TC Boyle, and The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Also $50 in Amazon gift cards, which I'll obviously spend on books (because I need more).

4. I have a new game I play when I walk the dogs in the evening- I rate the neighborhood houses on the official Tacky Holiday Decorations Scale. Automatic one point if you have something that moves (blow ups not included), and another if your decorations make noise. Two points for the bright neon LED lights that wind up your driveway or walkway. Relax, it's all in good fun- fat nylon creatures that are pumped full of air aren't exactly intended to be elegant. 

5. I'm pretty sure every single book I buy for myself should be tax-deductible. I'm an English teacher-they're making me a better teacher. Am I right, or am I right?

6. Five words: Craisin Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I invented them (unless some already did...)

7. I'm going to be hosting an awesome giveaway soon. Stay tuned.

8. I get jealous when my husband buys cool books. His limited edition of The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski came the other day and the packaging is beyond awesome. I pretended not to be interested. I was. 

November Reviews

This month was a sad, sad month on the reading front- only two books. I spent most of the month writing, not sitting on my ass doing nothing (although that sounds nice right now). Lucky for me, they weren't half bad.

Tell the Wolves I'm Gone by Carol Rifka Brunt
368 pages
After being cautious considering all the hype over this debut novel, I was pleased that it ended up being so good. June, a fourteen-year-old who is extremely close to her uncle, must come to terms after his death from AIDS. She ends up befriending his partner, a secret she must keep from her family, who blames him for the tragedy. Brunt's portrayal of the family dynamics and June's heartache is spot on- you felt for them all. The writing was also quite good- I look forward to her future books.

Verdict- Definitely read it. Brunt has a great grasp of plot, characters, and writing.

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
320 pages
While this one wasn't as good in terms of writing as the previous, I did enjoy it. The book begins when Vaclav and Lena are in elementary school, friends that work on Vaclav's magic tricks (he idolizes David Copperfield). Both from Russian families, they must learn to balance their traditional homes with American culture. Lena's aunt ends up neglecting her to the point where she is removed form her home, separating the two until they are teenagers, different yet the same in many ways. 

Verdict- I enjoyed it- Lena's character will definitely tug at your heartstrings and I thought the magic motif was a nice touch.