Top Ten Tuesday- I'm a Sucker...

[Labradoodle source; other two of ARC and Junot Diaz are my own]
I'm definitely a sucker for certain words and phrases when it comes to book selecting. I may not buy the book after further inspection, but certain claims on the cover or reviews can definitely make me take a look. The Broke and Bookish ask what our top ten are this week:

1. "Debut author"- I definitely have a soft soft for freshmen attempts. It's hard to get your book out there and be successful!

2. Author blurbs- If Junot Diaz gives his blessing I'm all yours.

3. "A story about a writer"- I like getting into the psyche of writers.

4. "The story about a doctor"- I like getting into the psyche of doctors.

5. A cross between [book/author I love] and [book/author I love]- Look at the success Labradors and Poodles have had. You tell me that book x is a cross between Tom Perotta and John Irving than I'm there.

6."Winner of the Booker/Nobel Prize"- If the committees liked it enough to give it a look than I can too.

7. Coming of age story/bildungsroman- Ironically, I hate YA, yet you give me a well-written coming of age story and I'm going to read the back.

8. A story incorporating magical realism- No explanation required.

9. Iowa Writers' Workshop- In my head the Workshop is this magical place that churns out genius writers. You went there? You absolutely must be amazing.

10. "Uncorrected proof"- Fine, fine these are ones I agree to or request, but I still get excited every time I see the sticker or fine print. 

What are you a sucker for?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. While on a walk the other day with my two dogs I stopped at a house to inquire about what type of dog the lady had. We got to chatting and her two-year-old came up to see Chomsky, my big-ass lab. The little girl had no fear and the mom asked if she could pet him, so I bent down to make sure he didn't try to jump on her. I got back to chatting with the mom, and all the sudden I looked down and realize that the little girl was playing with my panting dog's tongue. And he loved it! And her! It was gross, but also a little adorable. 

[next time I might eat you, little girl]

2. I just bought new copies of Hamlet and Macbeth to read. I need to teach one of them and decided a rereading was necessary. Thoughts? I think there's something to be said about a graduating high school senior being able to say that they've read, and understood, Hamlet, but perhaps I'm just putting it on a pedestal. There's this constant conflict that I feel as a teacher: do I make things easy and accessible so that most of the kids will understand (not that Macbeth is super easy) or do I up the ante and try to kill them just a little bit? Generally I try to land somewhere in the middle, but I want to work them hard next year so they're read for college. Hamlet vs. Macbeth Smackdown: who will win?

3. Tomorrow night is prom at the high school where I teach. The kids keep asking me about my experiences, which has been sort of fun (when it's not annoying the shit out of me that they won't talk about anything else). Junior year I went with a dear friend and had a great time. Senior year I went with my boyfriend and fought most of the night (it was how we rolled for the three years that followed, too). 

[so bad they're good. back before prom went hoochie]

4. I have made a bit of a dent in my TBR pile- we're down to 56 books, thanks to the fact that I've read like eight this month. Just over a month and I can start buying them again...

5. I used to follow a lot of daily health and fitness blogs until they all started popping out kids and yammering on and on about them. It's made me think, though, lately, what the impact of social media will be on this current young generation. Parents are plastering their kids' pictures all over blogs, Facebook and Instagram- is that healthy? And is there a difference between "my baby is super cute" and "should I circumcise my baby/what do you think about his spit up/do you want to see a picture of him nekkid?" I think there is- I think kids deserve a certain level of privacy. Cute pictures for the win, but what happens when little Billy grows up and realizes that his mom described his poo on the Internet? As as a teacher I'm sensitive about this issue- unless a student is eighteen and consents, I won't put a picture giving away his/her identity on any form of social media without blurring the faces because they have right to anonymity. People get sued for that shit! Unfortunately, little Billy probably won't be able to file a suit against his Mom for talking about eating the placenta he was attached to...

6. This has been the longest week ever. 

7. Gary Shteyngart is coming out with a memoir. I'm not sure exactly when it will hit, but I've read all of his book and have seen him read through ALOUD once. I'm sure it will be great.

8. My students just reread Athol Fugard's "Master Harold"... and the boys and I assigned them the task of writing a five-minute scene about a current controversial issue that endangers a friendship. I'm really, really excited to see what they come up with- there have been talks of costumes, projected settings, and Ke$ha soundtracks.

9. I am absolutely obsessed with a Milly + Banana Republic dress that I saw in In Style (that I of course can't find a picture of anywhere). I begrudgingly signed up for their emails just so I can make sure I know when the line is released. Have we talked about how I get fixated on things and won't give up until I get what I want? 

10. Speaking of my rampant materialism, I really, really want an old-school ice cream maker. We had one growing up and it's the only homemade ice cream that I can remember actually turning out, texture wise. I bought a Cuisinart one a few years ago and is sucked balls- if I wanted soup I'd get ice cream and stir it up with my spoon (did anyone else do that as a kid?). Bring on the rock salt. Oh, and there's this person, I'm not sure if he reads, but anyway, this person owes me one as a house-warming present. Just an FYI...

[Note to self: wait until after the cruise...]

Top Ten Tuesday- More or Less

The Broke and the Bookish asks us this week about books we thought we'd like more or less than we did. Here's a few of each:

Thought They'd Have Been Better:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Fine, I guess my expectations weren't too high for this book to begin with, but I didn't love it. It was way too reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye and just too angsty for me. Start the hating in five... four... three.. two... aaaaand one!

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady: I had high hopes for this novel about a man who is writing his own story through emails. The narrator had been a college hockey star and was trying to fight through the guilt he felt killing someone when he was in high school. It could have been worse... but it could have been better. 

Anything by Chuck Palahniuk after Haunted (and that's generous): What happened to this cutting-edge author? What happened to the guy that was able to rely equally on shock value and talent? He has a new book coming out later this year and I sincerely hope that he has returned to his old self. 

Great House by Nicole Krauss: I had had really good feeling about this novel based (unfairly) on the fact that I knew her previous book had been well-received... and because she was Jonathan Safran Foer's wife. I found the different narrative threads poorly connected and the story as a whole often boring. 

Into the Wild by John Krakauer: Let me start this by saying that this isn't a bad book at all- the problem was that I read Into Thin Air first. I was absolutely in love with the Everest story and expected Into the Wild to be just as good. It is not. 

Thought They'd Have Been Worse:

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple: I thought that perhaps this book about a woman who disappears from her family right before they're about to take a trip to Antartica would perhaps be a little gimmicky or corny. It turns out that it was quirky, fun, and well-written.

Fathermucker by Greg Olear: I was worried that this book about a stay-at-home dad would be generic or maybe too reliant on crass humor, but it was instead a smart, witty read on what it's like to stay home all day with two young children (one of which has autism) while your spouse is away.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes: I thought this book about a caregiver who ends up developing a relationship with a quadrapelegic was going to be overly sentimental and borderline chic lit. It was actually well-written, smart, and sensitive without being corny. 

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: I bought this novel on a whim and didn't have high expectations at the time- I didn't know a lot about it and was, honestly, a bit off-put by the cover. Little did I know it would be one of the best books I read in 2012. 

Arcadia by Lauren Groff: Again, I just didn't have high hopes going into this novel- I knew that her previous book had gotten mixed reviews and that the premise of a hippie commune would either be a hit or miss. Luckily it ended up being a really great book, both in terms of writing and plot. 

"Sponsored" Post- Virgin Soul

Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita is about a young black woman trying to both simultaneously educate herself academically and socially. Geniece grows up in 1960s Oakland without her parents, feeling pressured to earn her degree and a steady gig. She studies hard through two years of community college so that she can transfer to CSU San Francisco. Meanwhile, she becomes entrenched in the Black Panther movement during an extremely volatile time in the Civil Rights Movement. Geniece must also handle her love life, and the serious implications it has by the end of the book. 

This typically would not be something I would normally choose for myself, although I am glad I had the opportunity to read about a portion of history I know little about. Reading from an African American woman's perspective during the radical sixties was also new for me- it was a voice that I can definitely appreciate. My one issue with the book was the last twenty or so pages- so many important events were packed in, as well as (what I thought) an unnecessary interaction between Geniece and some children she helps take care of (if it would have happened earlier in the book it would have worked better).

While I don't thin Virgin Soul is for everyone, those that are interested in the African American perspective of the sixties, or the Black Power movement, should probably give it a try. As someone from Northern California, I also got a kick out of reading places I've visited or spent time. 

LA Times Festival of Books

Yesterday I went to the LA Times Festival of Books at USC (boo! hiss!) with some friends to hear Margaret Atwood speak and peruse the vendors. As always, Southern California showed up, making for a crowded campus and traffic. It was also warmer than it has been, as it seems to be every year. Like I've said earlier, I'm a little over walking around the tents, but we did manage to find a tent with $8 books and I was able to pick up some texts that my senior class will be reading next year (so it doesn't count as book buying, for the record). Most of the smaller tents are really random, which can be entertaining (like the Scientologists), but most are obviously there to make a buck (realtors, travel agents, etc...). Nonetheless, it's an entire weekend devoted to books and reading, which is fine by me.

[Back lit, as always]
he best part, besides the company, was definitely hearing Atwood speak. I've been a fan ever since I read The Handmaid's Tale in high school, so it was something I had looked forward to (we actually almost missed it all together- traffic was a total bitch and we had to practically run to make it in on time). She was unsurprisingly intelligent and well-informed on the industry, as well as unexpectedly funny. She spoke about her upcoming book, how her family's role in then field of biology influenced her, and how technology (like Twitter) has connected her to readers and other issues that she's involved in. I appreciated the fact that she made it a point to say that readers and novel-writing aren't going anywhere. She made the comparison between a dead animal feeding other organisms at one particular moment and a dead author "feeding" others for many, many years, in various fields (she actually illustrated this in two drawings- see one below). She was gracious to those who asked her questions and identified with her work. She was definitely worth the drive. 

[source: Margaret Atwood]
All in all it was a nice way to spend a day- I wish there had been more authors I was interested in and that Allison Bechdel hadn't canceled, though. 

"Sponsored" Post- Harley Loco

Harley Loco, by Rayya Elias, is a a memoir about a woman who has had one hell of a life. Elias grew up in affluent area in Syria and moved to the United States when she was young, her family eager to leave the growing political unrest. Once in America Elias must deal with the challenges being an immigrant brings- fitting in with others, learning English, and navigating Detroit during the race riots. She ends up find solace in punk music and drugs, becoming more entrenched in both as she grows older. As Elias grows older she also determines that she is a lesbian, a hard pill to swallow given her more conservative, old-school family. Elias spends her late teens and twenties working on her music and also making herself into a well-respected hair stylist. She ends up moving to New York, juggling her girlfriends, drug habit, music, and professional life. She continues through her twenties and thirties becoming more and more involved in the drama of relationships and settling into drug addiction. The rest of her book is about hitting bottom and how the only person that can help beat addiction is the addict herself.

To say I "enjoyed" this book feels wrong- it's heartbreaking and frustrating at times. You can't help but to like Elias and want her to stop making the horrible decisions she's making. She's obviously incredibly smart and very talented, but struggles so much with her inner demons. Her story is incredibly interesting, and you can't help but to appreciate the raw honesty of her writing.

Oh, and you'll learn a lot about drugs. I mean a lot. I could probably go out and shoot heroin now, if I wanted (I do not... I repeat, I do not). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I planted an herb garden last weekend! Maybe "garden" is a bit too generous- I bought a barrel, threw some soil in it and stuck in some mint, cilantro, parsley, and basil. Now if only I can remember that it's there...

2. I'm still in shock over what happened in Boston on Monday. As an ex(?)- runner whose crossed over many finish lines the idea of being greeted with an explosion is mind-boggling. The running community is resilient- the runners themselves and the spectators that watch them. My heart goes out to everyone involved.

3. And on that, note, I'm also so horrified about what has happened in Texas- I think the stories are competing a bit. While I am no doubt saddened by the loss of lives and injuries, I am also really feeling for the people who lost their homes. Yes, houses and what's inside them are no match for human lives, but there are still a lot of memories and pride located in a person's house.

4. I hate when people complain about paying their taxes. Were you bitching while you drove over a road while your kid was in school? Then did you go home to your house that is protected by police? Oh, and you want more financial aid for your child in college? I know the system is flawed and there is plenty of waste, but if you hate it that much move to Mexico.

5. I really, really want a Roomba. The idea of this little robot (have we talked about my love for robots?) cleaning all the dog hair off my floor during the day and occasionally scaring the bajeezus out of Cordie and Chomsky makes me so happy. Unfortunately their price tags do not.

6. This week I am proctoring state standardized testing and, let me tell you, I'm over it (if I had a dollar every time I said that phrase I'd be a fucking kajillionaire). The kids test from 7:30 to 11:00 and then our day is split into, roughly, six periods that are less than a half an hour each. It's all kinds of ridiculous.

7. I put these awesome cookies in the oven only to be interrupted by my three new bathing suits arriving in the mail. Amazing timing. Time to jump on the treadmill.

 8. You have to visit the blog STFU, Parents which lambasts excessive sharers on the internets. I suppose some of you might be offended, especially those with kids, but seriously- no one wants to hear about, or see, your kids' poop, potty training, vomit, or bloody injuries. We don't want excessive stories about their sleep schedules, how often they eat, or about their tantrums. Cute pictures (preferably posed with a cute dog and of little girls with pigtails) or a funny story, yes, please. The occasional rant about little Johnny's insomnia for the sixth night in a row? You have the right to bitch, mommy dearest. But all the other shit you can keep to yourself.

9. Allison Bechdel canceled her panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend. I'm slightly annoyed (unless she didn't realize it was at USC and is as mad as I still am about it being moved from UCLA- then her boycott is warranted).

10. I'm a big photo album person- I have all my pictures in albums (not, I repeat not, scrapbooks) since I was about 15 years old (almost half of my life). My mom was the same way, so obviously it's a habit I can give her credit for. Lately, after reading a post on Young House Love, I've been considering switching over to picture yearbooks of sort using a company like Mixbook. This way I wouldn't have to remember to print them and could sit down at the end of every month and design the pages for what had happened the last four months. it sounds like a good summer project.

Rereading: Trusting My High School Self

I'll be honest- I'm not a rereader. I have way too many books the way it is and there are constantly new ones coming out that I want to read. But, there are always exceptions, and this week Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was one. For those not familiar with the plot, it's about a handmaid named Offred whose sole duty is to get pregnant. Dressed in bright red robes, she lives at the home of a commander, who, once a month tries to knock her up (and they wonder why there were so few births... probability, people! Once a month only works if you're drunk, sixteen, and at a party), while his wife is crouched behind, watching the whole thing. Kinky, right? Not so much. Offred is miserable, her thoughts are constantly with her husband and daughter, neither of which she knows the location of. Prudes are respected, as is silence- the government is a constant presence. Eventually, the commander's wife tries to get Offred pregnant by other means, which leads to emotional investment and possible danger. This dystopian novel is definitely in my top ten all-time favorite books.

But anyway, the rereading. It's been about eleven years since I read it the first time and while I remembered the basics, it was interesting how much I had forgotten. For example, the only thing I remembered about an episode in a gentleman's club was that the elevators were compared to glass eggs. I had also forgotten the phrase "nolite te bastardes carborundum," (don't let the bastards get you down) which Offred clings to for much of the book. I was a little apprehensive going into it- what if my high school self had horrible taste in books? I mean, Christine the teenager also really loved Cappuccino Blasts, going to Denny's with friends, and watching reruns, all things I'm not too enthusiastic about now. Luckily, my taste in books wasn't half bad (no, I'm not going to stop in and get a Grand Slam for breakfast this weekend). 

I'm also pleased with the fact that our teachers chose The Handmaid's Tale as a novel for the IB curriculum, as it is quite sexual (but then again we did read House of the Spirits as sophomores). I don't remember the class discussions, but one of the major themes has to do with whether or not women are in charge of their sexuality, as well as the ethics behind using people as just reproductive vessels. A lot of the sex is implied, but it is a bit disturbing and so different from what teenagers are used to. Personally, I don't shy away from discussing sex in the classroom. Sex is  a huge part of being human- being human is a huge part of literature. I would love to be able to use this book in my class, if only we had the budget to buy copies.

Something I did not forget was how great The Handmaid's Tale is. I think this idea of not forgetting in terms of pathos is interesting. I can tell you whether or not I liked a book and the emotional effect it had on me for every book I've read on my shelf. Perhaps I recount every tiny detail, but preference is something that apparently doesn't fade. 

"Sponsored" Post- The Burning Air

I must preface this review with the fact that I don't generally read mysteries, mostly because most are driven primarily by plot, letting other factors I consider important go by the wayside. The nice people at Viking sent me a copy and I was optimistic- I want to like the genre. It's hard to find a literary mystery, and, unfortunately, I did not find one in Erin Kelly's The Burning Air. 

The story itself is interesting and entertaining, and in terms of the components a mystery needs it met the requirements. Sophie's family is getting together one weekend at a country estate to spread their mother's ashes. After leaving her baby home with her brother's new girlfriend one evening things go horribly bad. The narration is primarily split between Sophie and a man named Darcy, whose connection is revealed about half way through the book. The final two sections are narrated by Rowan, Sophie's father, and Kerry, the girlfriend. Like with any mystery, it's hard to summarize, since it's so easy to give away part of the surprise. Let's just say it's all about family secrets, vendettas, and inner demons (not literally). 

While the overall plot was fairly interesting, I wasn't impressed by the execution- the writing wasn't exceptional and the characters (especially the MacBrides) lacked substantial depth. The relationships between the characters were at times frustrating- for example, Sophie and her husband Will are experiencing difficulties as a result of his affair, which she had found out about through pictures being sent via the mail. Kelly refuses to elaborate- does Sophie question who sent the photos? Are they planning to stay married? Does Sophie know who the woman is? The lack of communication is infuriating and unrealistic, as are some of the developments that happen towards the end that I don't want to give away. 

If you enjoy standard mysteries that go for it- the pacing is fast, the general story is interesting. I can absolutely see this as a beach read this summer. If you are looking for something a bit more cerebral it may not be for you. 

Reading: Cheryl Strayed

Last night I drove to the LA Public Library downtown to see Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, her memoir; Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of advice column responses; and Torch, an older novel. I had mixed feelings about the book when I read it and felt it was fair to give her a shot in "real life," as real as a book reading is. I'm going to try to be democratic and diplomatic and all of those other words that imply honesty and fairness. Read between the lines, people.

First of all, the place was packed- the most crowded I've ever seen it. Anything that draws attention to ALOUD or reading in general is great, although I wish the incredibly talented Nathan Englander, whom I saw last month, would have gotten the same draw. The group was also quite diverse, and there were a lot of women there (despite Strayed's insistence that there is a 50/50 divide on readership). The moderator, an environmental writer, was kind, interesting, and very obviously a fan.

Strayed spoke on the three of her books pretty equally, which I was happy about- I have no real desire to read her other two and was worried it would be pure promotion for Tiny Beautiful Things. I appreciated her comment that Wild was definitely not a how-to guide, despite the fact that it has inspired many to hike the PCT (she'll tell you all about her fan mail). I was also pleased that she finally addressed her preparation for the hike a bit more than she did in the book (before going I was tempted to ask her during the audience Q & A if she had read or seen Into the Wild...). Apparently she had run cross country back in Minnesota and her family's home was way out in the middle of nowhere without consistently running water or electricity. She said that she'd often encounter bears and other wild animals just jogging down the driveway, which made a lot more sense as to why she was so willing to hike. She openly mentioned more than once her heroin use and tendencies towards promiscuity, not shying away or acting embarrassed. Strayed also mentioned that Reese Witherspoon's company optioned the film rights (she plans to play Strayed... sorry Oprah) and that Nick Hornby wrote a screenplay, both enough to make me want to see the movie if it ever gets made. She's very proud of her craft and passionate about the writing community.

Wasn't that nice? And honest? And fair?

I think my biggest issue, just like in her book, is that things didn't seem entirely natural. Sure, maybe she's extremely articulate and good at thinking on her feet, but she was ready to answer every question the moderator had before she even completely finished asking it. Most authors that I've seen speak are a little more organic- they pause, they think aloud, they ponder. Her jokes also seemed a bit rehearsed as well. I know that the reading circuit will probably do that to you, but I don't need a performance. She was also extremely indignant about the fact that people have said she has "come out of nowhere," when in fact her novel was published several years ago. What got me, though, was the fact that she said she was really just upset on behalf of others in her "literary circle" that have been around just as long and aren't "nowhere." She was definitely there to promote herself and liked to reference the people that have written to her saying how much they connect with her and how she tells their story.

I do have to say that she is unapologetic and owns her story- I have to respect that. 

Oh, and on the way home, I managed to somehow get distracted and get off the freeway in Boyle Heights, only to find myself driving around looking for an on-ramp. East Siiiiiiiiide (picture me saying that in a really loud, deep voice with weird accented syllables, throwing up the appropriate gang sign).

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I like to play this game called "what Instagram tell me about a person's life"- I know, bad title. But it is interesting, on a sociological level, what someone pictures tell the world about them. Personally, people will note that I love baked goods, my dogs, being out and about, and the occasional adult beverage. Seems about right (you can follow me at Christeenie22... once I deem you worthy of an add).

2. I sucked it up and bought a pass to the LA Times Festival of Books so that I could reserve tickets for Margaret Atwood and Allison Bechdel. I hate their system of regular $1 tickets opening up just a few days before- I need to plan my life, thankyouverymuch. Plus, I'm over just cruising the festival. I'm not going to drive all the way up there and deal with parking to walk around the tents, sorry. I need sustenance.

3.  There's something about using the acronym RIP in reference to someone who has just died that I find really tacky. The person just lost their life- can you not write out the three words?

4. I have a student who has read all of Jeffrey Eugenides' works. If she wasn't already getting an A she sure as hell would be after I learned that (not really).

5.  "Squeeeeeee" is not a fucking a word. Do people actually say it? No. Does it actually legitimately mean something? No. 

6. My husband bought me a Kinect sports game for Easter so that I could play bowling (I was supposed to finish all of my x-Box LEGO games first, but he realized that I average one game a year and it would take me until 2017 at this rate). We've played a few evenings and it's so fun- it's nice to have a new option of things to do together.

7. I should have learned to play the piano when I was younger. I always had a slight interest and I have long, thin "piano fingers," as everyone says. I feel like it's too late. This yearning for musical talent may come from the fact that I've decided a beautiful mahogany piano would look very nice in my front room...

8. This past week I have learned if I make my peanut butter and apple butter sandwich the night before and just take it to eat in the car, I can sleep in an additional, glorious, seven minutes. This is a serious gift from the Gods.

9. I've been reading like a mo'fo lately- I'm on my fifth book this month. 

10. I bought three bathing suits today. I can't help it. My bathing suit buying addiction is starting to rival my need to own as many pieces of clothing as possible in the various shades of turquoise. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Back Then

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask up to list the top ten books we read prior to becoming bloggers. Considering I've only been blogging for less than three years and have been reading for like 25, this was actually hard because there are just so many. I've mentioned many of these before, but for good reason. 

1. Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky: I just want to go on record by saying that his last name can be spelled in two ways, since every time I type it out I'm paranoid that someone will accuse me of not knowing how to spell it. Anyway, I had to read this book as a junior in high school and fell in love with the story and Russian literature (I need to read more). The quintessential question at the heart of it is simple- how do you react to guilt? Do you let it control you? Even more so, what do you do to cause it?

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: I actually just pulled this out to reread- I think I read this junior year of high school too. The novel is set in the future where births are declining- Offred has viable ovaries and must subject herself to the Commander once a month to hopefully become pregnant.

3. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende- Man, we read some good shit in high school! I used to think that Isabel and Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez should get married on some sort of literary level and spit out wonderful, amazing magical realism babies.

4. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl- I really could not give two fucks about what anyone says about this book, or Pessl- I love this book. Yes, it's flawed, but the coming-of-age literary style turned out to be my kryptonite. I loved Blue, and I love her dad. And stay tuned for my Thursday post about how excited I am that Pessl's new book actually has a release date and cover.

5. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer- I read this in college when a professor let the class vote on what our final selection for the course was (I loved that idea so much- I left class with a nice list of books to read that day).

6. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole- I think I read this book seven or eight years ago and thought it was hilarious. Ignatius is such a pain in the ass but the adventures he ends up in are fantastic. It's fun to hate him.

7. Spark by John Ratey- I read this a few years ago as part of University of San Diego's Project INFORM- I needed the units to top out on the salary schedule. I ended up loving this book- it completely validates every minute of exercise I do. Not only is moving your ass on a regular basis important for your body, but your brain too.

8. Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle- Sorry, I know, I've mentioned this a few times before (and by a few times I mean once a month). For those that have missed my past gushes, it's about illegal immigrants in California and how we should maybe be a bit more compassionate and less dickish towards them. Do you want to raise your family in Mexico (I'm not talking Cabo, I'm talking Ciudad Juarez or Chihuahua)?

9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides- I am convinced that Eugenides is one of the best current American authors- his brilliance in terms of stories, characters, and ability to write surpasses most others. 

10.  Empire Falls by Richard Russo- There's something about Richard Russo that's so... familiar. Maybe it's his easy prose or the fact that so many of his stories are set in small towns with people that you could easily imagine knowing.

Bookish (and no so Bookish) Thoughts

1. March Madness was so much fun while it lasted- soon after Gonzaga tanked so did my bracket.

2. I really wish I could get into NPR... but I can't. 

3. I have no desire at all to see the new Gatsby movie, at least in the theater. It just looks so over-the-top, and I am highly suspicious of the fact that the release date was pushed back.

4. Never calculate what your true hourly rate is, what your lifelong total purchase amount is on iTunes, or how much you paid in rent before owning a home. They're all very tragic amounts.

5. How excited are we for the Arrested Development episodes to hit Netflix in May? Ummm... very.

[between House of Cards and this Netflix is so worth it]

6. I love the part in About a Boy where the main character talks about breaking up days into half hour increments of time. You can do so much in a half hour! I've been trying to employ that mentality while at home this week- I'll read for thirty minutes and then do chores for thirty minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat.

7. I have a possibly interesting short story idea with a sort of magical realism flair. Let's see if it ever gets written.

8. Speaking of writing, I think it would be kind of fun to write short stories if I ever do NaNoWriMo again- 50,000 words worth of them.

9. I love this card from Urban Outfitters:


10. What's up with North Korea? Why are they being so particularly feisty lately? Simmer down Kim Jong Un! Point your missiles somewhere else, please. 

By the Book: Lemon Bars

So, we have this lemon tree that we pretty much ignore- well, that is up until the last week. The poor tree was at the point where it was starting to lean to the left under the weight of all the lemons it was producing (which is technically its own fault). The highest branches were sagging and it just looked... uncomfortable. So, I picked all of the 6,432,909 lemons and then my husband pruned the hell out of it (yes, I know, not the right season, but it was the humane thing to do, trust me). And then I decided to make lemon bars.

I have actually never made lemon bars in my life and have only had them two or three times. Instead of slumming it on Pinterest, I decided to use my trusty Better Homes and Gardens book (online recipe here) for inspiration and, of course, found an easy recipe.

Unfortunately, 3/4 cup of lemon juice requires approximately 4 lemons. Apparently I should have made ten pans. 

The most irritating part of making any sort of pastry crust in using a pastry blender to cut in the butter (or shortening, if that's how you roll). It's just so tedious and my hand gets tired (insert dirty joke here). Anyway, after you're done making the crust (flour, butter, powder sugar, corn starch, salt) you pop it in the oven to cook while you make the lemon filling (lemons, eggs, sugar, milk). I choose to leave out the lemon peel because for some reason I've decided it's gross. After the crust is done you pour the lemon mixture on top, pop it back in the oven for fifteen minutes and you're good to go. 

They turned out pretty damn good- my husband, who claimed to not like lemon bars, even seemed to like them. 

Detour: Why Women's Races Take Feminism a Step Backwards

Before you get your Nike Tempos in a bunch remember, this is just one woman's opinion (and I'd love to hear what you have to think).


In 1967 Kathrine Switzer did something controversial and amazing- she entered the Boston Marathon as the gender-neutral K.V. Switzer during a time when women were not allowed to compete. Five years later women were finally permitted to run against men. And since then? Women have worked tirelessly to earn equality in regards to wages, politics, education, relationships, and the military.

And it is this reason I am baffled by the influx of "women's only" races that have popped up in the last few years. Zooma, Iron Girl, Dirt Girl Mud Run, Mermaid, Diva Dash, Nike Women's Half- the list goes on and on. Women have labored so hard over the years for equality and recognition, and yet they're purposefully denying themselves the chance to compete against their male counterparts? What message does that send? What are we doing to feminism?

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First of all, let's look at the overall appearance behind these races. I'd say nine out of ten are pink themed, because, naturally, all women love pink. Right? Occasionally there are some flowers sprinkled in and even the tiara/tu-tu get-up. In an industry that's supposedly about female-empowerment (we'll get there in a minute) why add to the stereotypes that are already out there? Pink t-shirts and emphasis on race "bling" is telling the world that all that's happening is a glorified, grown-up, dress-up party set along a 5k/10k/half marathon course.

Then there is the overall women's empowerment aspect- the advertisements in Runner's World for these races usually promote strength, solidarity, camaraderie, and fun. These are fine, definitely, but how strong are you really when you take out fifty percent of the population from a competition? If you win, that's great, but how victorious are you really? If women are so powerful and mighty why can't they compete against men? By not racing against them we're actually sending the message that we're weak- that we can't handle the competition and masculinity. That the very presence of men negatively impacts our ability to have fun with your girlfriends. I've run twelve (or thirteen-?) half marathons, one 10k, and three 5ks and I've never once been affected by the presence of the opposite sex.

And seriously, what about the whole segregation issue? I'm sure that many of these races would allow men to race (like the Tinkerbell Half Disney does), but what self-respecting man is going to don a pink tech-t and dodge all that silliness? Personally, this is such a key component of the issue. Women were excluded and forbidden to participate in so many aspects of society for so long and are now virtually doing the same thing. It's hypocritical. There are some men's only races, but they are far less popular and less publicized, probably due to the fact that they fear being called sexist. Ha! Frankly, there need to be more- if this trend of women's only races continue there needs to be a response from men.  

[Source and via Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31799 DLC

I understand that some female runners want to have fun, and that women's only races are an opportunity to do so. And I know that most support good causes (as do normal coed races). Part of me completely gets this, really. But the girl in me that would have been out burning bras in the sixties thinks women's only races are a bunch of pink, frou-frou crap.

Books on Your Back- Ball So Hard

All I know is that Where's Waldo is not reading. But I'm sure it builds hand-eye coordination or something like that. Problem solving skills, perhaps? Or maybe it was some genius idea to keep kids occupied on long car rides. Or it was created by a Canadian illustrator named Martin Handford under the original title of Where's Wally?


March Reviews

March has been a much-needed blast- the yearbook was finished, I saw Wicked, attended a Nathan Englander reading, went to the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA, found a new trail to hike only a few miles away from home, took a trapeze class with my sister, have tried a few new restaurants, and was able to spend some time with family. Oh, and I read some good books.

Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann
375 pages
I already wrote a post on how this book achieved the ultimate trifecta- it has a great plot, amazing characters, and spot-on writing. The novel is centered around several characters that all connect in round-about-ways to each other through both strong and weak links. While brothers from Ireland are struggling in New York City, prostitutes they know are fighting the street. A mother is mourning her sons death, while her husband is trying to bring justice to the city. An artist couple must come to terms with their actions, while a young boy rides the subway looking for graffiti. It's amazing.

Verdict: As much as it pains me to say this, it's not a book that's for everyone. If you prefer simple plot lines and being told everything up-front it's simply not for you.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards 
Kristopher Jansma
272 pages
I actually already wrote about this book too, and how I had to accept the fact that the narrator was so unreliable that it was impossible to completely understand what was happening (but not in a horrible Naked Lunch kind of way). The story is basically about what it means to be a writer- where do the lines between your life and what you're writing about blur? The narrator (and or character in his book) travels around the globe while still never forgetting the girl he thought he fell in love with in college.

Verdict: This is a bit like the above caveat- if you're not a fan of ambiguity stay away from this one. The novel is written well and the story itself is great once you react and realize you don't always have to be in control as the reader.

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar
Kelly Oxford 
336 pages
I don't normally read celebrity books, but I've been following writer Kelly Oxford on Twitter for awhile and was curious to see what her book was like (lucky for me I snagged an ARC). It was extremely funny, a bit raunchy, and only a little bit tiresome. It chronicled her life as a rebellious, nerdy kid in Canada up until now, as she's starting to become a bit famous. 

Verdict: I suggest looking at her old tweets- if you think she's funny than go for it. It will definitely be on my beach reads list for the summer. 

The Interestings
Meg Wolitzer
468 pages
I am absolutely in love with this book- I haven't been able to put it down all week. The novel starts off with six gifted teenagers at summer camp- they form a tight bond and, with the exception of one, remain friends for the rest of their lives. Somewhere in one of the reviews someone referred to it as "panoramic" (maybe Jeffrey Eugenides), which I think is the perfect way of describing it. You see such a wide range of their lives, which Wolitzer does so well. It was fascinating to see how different, and yet similar, the six become as adults and to see how the handle the trials and tribulations of life.

Verdict: It's a bit longer, but I definitely think it's worth it.  I can't wait to read more books by her.

1,451 pages