A Summertime Reading List

Every year I try to put together a list recommended reading for the summer that includes maybe a little less serious than normal. I hate the terms "beach reads," because let's face it, there's a whole lot non-beach reading happening for most of us. Nonetheless, here's ten from my past year of reading that will work well while road-tripping, laying out (with SPF, of course), avoiding annoying family members, waiting in airports, or stewing in anger because you don't have time off (sorrryyyy!).

1. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson- This memoir of some extensive hiking will make you want to run out and hit the trails yourself. 

2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan- These people are ridiculous and the writing is a tad snarky- perfect if you've had a few adult beverages and need a laugh.

3. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker- I actually read most of this by the pool... in January. The quick letters are perfect if your attention span is waning or you have to look up every five seconds to check on kids.

4. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood- Her typical sci-fi, dystopian genre, but a bit less intellectually challenging than some of her other novels, like Oryx and Crake.

5. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- I have used this for a project I do with my student at work but really enjoyed her quick little snippets as a whole. It might persuade you to create your own encyclopedia- the perfect little summer project.

6. The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzalez- I have struggled to get through this book, but I've decided that it's mostly my fault. If I had a few afternoons by the pool it would be the perfect silly read. It's basically a summer block-buster kick-ass action film in book form. 

7. Euphoria by Lily King- I'm not quite half way through this right now for book club, but I LOVE it. It's a bit more complex than the others on here, but I had to include it. Lots of heat, humidity, and sex. 

8. This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison- This book is just plain fun; it reminds me a lot of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?. Plus, it's set on a cruise, and while it's destination is Alaska, that alone reminds me of summers past. 

9. American Housewife by Helen Ellis- This collection of short stories isn't perfect in the literary sense, but I think all the moms at home with kids this summer will appreciate some of the pieces.

10. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff- A monster in a lake. An affair gone wrong. A paternity mystery. Small town gossip. A group of cooky middle-aged runners. I'm starting to feel like I'm describing the Gilmore Girls... 

And a few I'm planning to give a try this summer:

1. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan- This is supposed to be an awesome memoir and I can't think of a better time to read it.

2. Zero K by Don DeLillo- His reading convinced me it was worthwhile. Plus, who doesn't love a little cryogenics in the heat of summer (I just picture Han Solo frozen... this is probably not accurate, sorry Don).

3. Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson- I'm always interested in the lives of ballerinas; their discipline is something I wish I had. 

This post was done as a part of The Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[seriously the biggest bunch of flowers I have ever received in my life]

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1. Tomorrow my seniors, whom I have had for two (some three) years are checking out for the school year. I was already really, really sad about this, and then today they went and threw me a surprise thank-you celebration sort of thing that was so incredibly generous and thoughtful that now I want them to stay forever. It was so unexpected and sweet- one of the nicest gestures anyone has ever made in my direction. I am having a rough time with this and hope to get the excessive crying over with either before or after I see them tomorrow because I really don't want to do it in public. I am such an ugly crier, which, truth be told, I am actually doing right now because I am a sappy ball of mush who cannot keep her shit together. Last time this happened, when my previous group left, I was like a month post-partum so I blamed it on the hormones, but apparently this is JUST WHO I AM. OH MY GOD.  

2. I feel like people who have have the foresight to use sun shades in their car when they park really have their shit together.

3. Yes! There will be a summer reading suggestions post. Very soon.

4. I really want a pair of wooden sunglasses but am having a hard time finding a pair I like online. This is the sort of thing I get in my head that I really want and then become determined to make happen, though. I can tell already.

5. Yesterday I dropped my effing phone face down on the concrete and smashed the screen to pieces. Because I have a co-dependent relationship with a piece of technology I basically threw my child into the car and begged the repair place to stay open. And they did and we all lived happily ever after.

6. I have started bring my son to eat dinner when he is being picky by refusing to read another page of what I'm reading him that night. It works, but I know it won't for long so I'll enjoy it lasts.

7. The friend that I'm traveling up north with in a few weeks texted me the other day asking me what sort snacks I wanted. This will obviously work.

8. If you want to throw yourself a pity party invite these

We're cutting things short tonight. Things to do and whatnot. Have a great rest of the week! 

Don DeLillo Reading- 5 Reasons it Was Great

Nearly two weeks ago I went to the Don DeLillo reading in Beverly Hills, put on by the awesome Writer Bloc. I read Underworld a few years ago and have loved/hated him ever since. Recently I read Point Omega and found it much more accessible and *gasp* enjoyable. Here's why this little outing was so great:

1. When I mentioned it my husband he immediately was like "Go! We will make it work!" I've had to sadly stop going to readings since having Sawyer, since they require me to leave for LA by like 4:30 and Scott doesn't get home until 7:30. This time he left super early, got stuck in traffic, but called his mom to cover as a backup. It was just nice that he knew that it was important and wanted me to go. 

2. I went with my good friend from work, who had a baby the same time as I did and has a million things on her plate as well. It was definitely a flashback to a few years ago when we went much  more often. 

3. The reading was moderated my Rachel Kushner, whose book The Flamethrowers has been on my shelf forever (she also wrote Telex from Cuba, which was pretty solid). She was great and I'll definitely read her novel this summer. They seemed to be friends, or at least friendly, so their interactions were enjoyable to observe. 

4. DeLillo talked about his writing process, which I always love to hear authors do. He still writes on a typewriter! Endearing, but my God! Neither efficient or practical, but the guy is pretty old and it obviously has brought him a lot of success. But still. And at some point he writes a paragraph per page for the revision process- that's a lot of paper. 

5. Andrea Grossman, the founder, started off the night by telling us that the night had turned into a "who's who" of the LA literary scene and if the building blew up we'd be screwed. I spotted a few of my older professors from UCLA and I know there were some people from the LA Times, but it was driving us crazy who else was there. Just the idea that there were so many creative, intelligent people in the same vicinity was cool. I remember that feeling when I was in college, of knowing I was at the bottom of the intellectual totem pole. It's actually pretty great. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. Hey! Guess what? I'm a shitty blogger this month. Hey! Guess what? No one is paying me to do this nor am I offering life-or-death information, so in the whole scheme of things it probably doesn't really matter. But maybe it does, to me, a tiny bit. 

2. I had my annual check up the other day and the night before I had a nightmare I was pregnant. I am not, at all, not even a tiny bit, but for those first five minutes when I woke up I was pretty upset --> how I know that I should not consider having another child at this point. It's good to have the occasional reality check. 

3. The same day I went to this neat little coffee shop by my doctor's (they work with a homeless rescue mission to employ some of their students) to kill time after hemming and hawing because it's housed at a mega-church, particularly one that I do not agree with the messaging behind (let's talk about religion on another day). I felt seriously awkward about even driving into the parking lot, but I was pleased that they didn't make me feel uncomfortable and that I didn't burn alive. And the coffee was decent. 

4. I realized that the eighteenth anniversary of my dad's death is approaching in the next few days (I wrote about it a little here, several years ago). Eighteen years! It honestly hadn't occurred to me that it had been that long, but I guess after a certain point you stop counting the years. I know this sounds completely and utterly horrible, but the whole thing doesn't really make me sad. It's unfortunate, for sure, and I wish the circumstances of the last few years of his life had been different, but... I am a soulless monster who is practical to a fault and good at compartmentalizing? Who knows, maybe I will have a nervous breakdown in ten years and the psychologist entrusted with my care will determine it all comes back to this. Anyway, the whole point of this is just to show how FAST life can move, not to garner sympathy. 

5. Pro Tip: if you are having people over and your house isn't really, shall we say... clean, just shut the shades. This has been my go-to cleaning tip for the last few weeks and is working wonders. Suck on that, Pinterest.

6. I went to the Don DeLillo reading last week and it was great. I sort of meant to post about it and then forgot and just remembered again right now. Soon, soon.

7. I am reading The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzalez and it has failed me as a quick read. Or maybe my life as failed to let it be a quick read, due to the grading and and end-of-the-year madness. I think my problem has been the short chapters, which typically would ensure a speedy reading experience. I'm not getting super invested in any one character, since the narrative jumps around so much. I'm therefore not compelled to read quite as often, which results in my taking way too long to get through it. 

8. I just finished listening to Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas (interesting take on someone walking the Keystone Pipeline) and am now onto Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath. Everything so far has been things I pretty much already know, but since I listen to it for part of the way home in the afternoon it's a good reminder to not eat my body weight in cookies for my snack. 

9. I ordered this from this cool Etsy shop in Poland ages ago and it finally came. I love it.

10. I find it amusing when people say that they "hate good byes." Who really likes to say good bye? I guess if you're saying good bye to someone you don't like that's one thing, but how often do we really get that opportunity? Obviously I am sadly anticipating the departure of my seniors next week...

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. I'm off to the Don DeLillo reading tonight at The Writer's Guild Theater in Beverly Hills (I think? I need to check that) with a friend. Just like old times.

2. The idea of being on autopilot when you're driving it so disturbing. I was on my way to pick up Sawyer from daycare today and all the sudden I looked around and was surprised that I was already as far down the street as I was. 

3. Next Tuesday is the Staff vs Senior Softball Game and I plan on working really hard to not humiliate myself. Last year I did fairly decent (ie no dropped fly balls or strike outs), so hopefully I can continue to not suck.

4. I'm generally sort of stingy when it comes to being affectionate (I blame my parents), but I've come to the realization that at sometimes my son will want me to not randomly kiss him in places like the grocery store or Starbucks and that is so very sad.

5. I can't stop listening to this song. It has a little bit of country-ish undertones to it, which I generally despise, but I can't help it. 

6. I don't have any real strong feelings towards Beyonce one way or the other, but a friend posted this "syllabus" in regards to Lemonade and I love the idea of combining so many mediums and making the whole thing so culturally educating. 

7. I think we're going to take Sawyer to see a movie for the first time in the theater this weekend and I'm curious to see how he will do. His attention span is obviously very limited, and we don't spend a lot of time watching TV or movies at home. I am hopeful he enjoys it and sits through most of it so that my husband can start taking him to all the lame kids ones and I can stay home alone. 

8. While I don't have a strong desire to go to BEA for whatever reason, I am a little jealous of the people who got ARCs of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book that doesn't come out until September. He hasn't had a novel come out in several years, so I'm looking forward to it.

Weekend Update

Oh man, the Sunday night blues are legit. The weekend was good and the work week seems long. In reality, soon it will be Thursday night and I'll be wondering where the time went and why I didn't get enough done. 

Yesterday my friend and I went to Downtown LA and spent so much money at Bottega Louie that I'm not sure whether or not to be amused or embarrassed. We had to wait for a table for lunch and just started buying boxes of macaroons, tarts, and beignets from the counter. Then we had cocktails, food, and dessert. When the bill for our meal came we just laughed. The place is just so cute and we don't together nearly often enough, so we figured it all averaged out. After we walked back to Grand Park to check out this little book festival, which was right across the street from the Walt Disney Music Hall. We also went by the new art museum The Broad, which had a line down the street for same day tickets- I plan to go back this summer and will definitely reserve in advance. We hadn't seen each other since February, so it was so great to catch up without having to corral kids while doing so.

Today, Mother's Day, has been pretty low key. Sawyer and I went to get coffee and grocery shop, and this afternoon we played some soccer (I use that term very loosely) at the park and then to walk around the duck pond near by. My not-so-secret hope is that he is exhausted and sleeps until I wake him in the morning, which hasn't been happening as often as I'd prefer lately. The last few weeks I've been dragging big time. 

On a side note, we've finally stared the last season of Mad Man and I hate the clothes so much. The seventies were ugly. I've also been reading The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales and while it's way out of my normal reading ballpark, it's been a fun, quick read that will probably be on my beach reads list here in the next few weeks (note to self: write this post). 

Have a good week, folks! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. There's an interesting difference between acknowledgement and validation.

2. I have a problem with the aggressive military recruitment of high school seniors.

3. Someday I'm going to do an experiment: I'm going to leave my curling iron or hair straightener on all day while I am home to prove to myself that nothing (I think...) will happen if it gets left plugged in on accident while I'm at work. While this is obviously not something I plan on doing on purpose, I hate myself every time I triple check that it's off in the morning.

4. Do you ever think someone is upset with you or mad at you all of the sudden and you have no clue why, so you keep replaying your last interaction with them over and over again? Yes? Me too. 

5. The other day I saw something about Machu Picchu online and texted my brother about hiking it (we've talked about it before). This is why I love him- without any hesitation he answered "is this a question?" I tossed out the year 2021, since that would give us plenty of time. I have no clue if this will happen, since it's quite the undertaking. I don't want to do one of the wimpy up in a day with a guide trips, but nor do I want to backpack for five days. I also know that acclimation can be an issue, as is timing since they're below the equator. Who knows. In the meantime it's fun to hope.

6. Follow Book Bento Box on Instagram. It's fun and pretty.

7. I've ordered two more books this week (three if you count the Scrabble dictionary I got for my classroom). I have a disease.

8. One of my best friends and I are probably going to drive together (with Sawyer) back to our hometown in the Central Valley in a little over a month. THAT is the sign of a good friend- someone willing to be trapped in a car for 350 miles with my two-year-old. She's the best. 

9. I assigned my seniors their "Dictionary of Self" (I need to think of a new title) assignment to do, based on Amy Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary. I always feel compelled to write one myself so that I have a model for years to come and because it seems sort of fun. The obvious problem is that I don't have time, but I'm also conflicted about what exactly I should write. It's meant to be authentic and fun, but I don't want to accidentally over share, if that makes sense. 

10. I got a pair of Tom's for $18 the other day- Zappos sent me a random $30 credit  out of nowhere. I was a Nordstrom about to wander into the shoe department and was checking my email, and there it was. Such timing, Zappos. Lucky for me, considering how much I had just shelled out for a bottle of foundation in my ever-present quest to look like I have the skin of a twenty-year-old again. 

April, Revisited, Plus May

Sometimes I think my goals for the month should be:

1. Keep everyone alive
2. Don't lose my shit
3. Prevent house from becoming a hazmat area

But, alas, I like to torture myself. 

Last month's goals and progress:

1. Prep my students for testing: Yes At least to the best of my abilities and as much as they were willing to cooperate. Today was day one and they came out with the perfect level of confidence. Too much in either direction can be unsettling. I'm cautiously optimistic. 

2. Plan something for Sawyer's birthday: Yup We had fun at the aquarium, had his favorite dinner, and did the cake and present thing.

3. Book map up: No This shouldn't so hard.

4. Curb 3-7 snacking: Partially "Curb" is definitely not quite the word I'd use to describe it, but I definitely have improved. Some days I still want to eat everything that has excessive amounts of carbs and fat in the house (and, uh, probably do...), but on the days I'm careful and deliberate it's fine. I've noticed my levels of stress and energy are of course a factor. Smoothies have been a success in the sense that I've made them twice and have like a dozen cute little baggies full of frozen fruits and veggies made in the freezer... why am I lazy about the easiest part? 

5. Finish my audiobook and choose a new one: Yup and yup!


1. Abs, abs, and more abs- Once upon a time (aka before Sawyer) my core was fairly strong. Well, at least strong enough that I could pop up in a tripod headstand. While that is definitely something I'd like to be able to do again, right now I'd like to get into a routine of a quick ab routine five days a week.

2. Finalize June travel plans- I'm making two trips to places in June (Lake Tahoe for work and back home for... fun... or something like that) and need to deal with logistics.

3. While at home more iced tea than Diet Soda- Heartbreaking. 

4.  Enjoy the rest of the school year- I know this is probably an oxymoron for a lot of teachers, but the next month for me is the last few weeks I'll be spending with my seniors, an opportunity to get my room organized, and a time to reflect on how I want to start next school year. 

5. Organize Sawyer's toys- I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am responsible for another human's crap. My husband and I have always taken care of our own things, and now I have to sort through the clothes and toys Sawyer has outgrown. I have to clean another person's room. It's sort of bullshit, if you think about it.

6. Do book-related things and post about (some of) them- I'm supposed to attend a reading with a friend on the eleventh, go to a book festival with another friend next weekend, and need to just generally organize my books in general.  

I have decided that if I can stick to all five these I can upgrade my Fitbit at the end of the month. I feel guilty about getting a new one, since mine works just fine, but the of the matter is the black plastic band isn't exactly cute and I'm sick of it standing out when I'm attempting to look nice. 

May! Already! It's exciting. 

April Reviews

Another month, another four books. 

April was good to me, but man were we busy. I'm sitting here on May 1st, barely able to keep my eyes open after another busy weekend, including a six-mile walk around Back Bay in Newport this morning and lots of things done around the house. Oh, and there was the DUPLO building. Such tiring work. 

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
256 pages
I wrote about this collection of essays by the late Keegan here.

Verdict: The youthful, unpolished-ness of it was part of it's charm.   

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
368 pages
I read this as a part of Brie's book club (check it out here!) and had also read What Alice Forgot last year, and enjoyed it. This novel was about a police officer that learns that he suffers from the deadly, debilitating, Huntington's Disease. What makes it even worse, is that he has four children and a grand-baby on the way- the disease in genetic and dominant. The book follows his condition but also the different paths his children take in coping with their 50/50 odds of testing positive for the gene.

Verdict: I enjoyed learning about a medical condition that I was unfamiliar with; I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff (hence my love of Grey's and ER after both lost their original charm). I didn't think the writing was anything amazing; the characters were flat, the dialogue was forced, and the ending a bit predictable. I am also concerned that Genova is a sort of one-trick pony in terms of subject matter.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
320 pages
This book is about an single elementary school teacher by day, artist by night. She's fantastic at her job but filled with rage at the same time, still mourning over the past and feeling stifled by her present and future. This changes when she becomes close to the family of one of her students, falling in love with both parents and the son in three different ways. Nora must learn to decipher her emotions and decide what she wants for the rest of her life. 

Verdict: This book suckered me in with the first few page and continued to hold me in it's grip for the first 2/3 of it. Towards the end I became slightly disinterested, though, and I'm not sure if it was because I took a quick break from reading it or because I really was tired of Nora and her excessive self-analysis. Nonetheless, Messud is a strong writer and is capable of writing strong characters. 

Point Omega by Don DeLillo
117 pages
I just finished this book this weekend, so it's still sort of percolating. This novella is about two men out in the desert skirting around creating a film the younger man wants to make of the older, a man heavily involved in the military. The story is bookended by scenes from an art gallery where the movie Psycho has been slowed down to span twenty-four hours. This idea of time, space, and detail is relevant throughout, the desert a perfect backdrop for the slow, thought-provoking text. While reading this I kept thinking about existentialism and was trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and when I saw an article in the New York Times on later it mentioned Camus. Yes! The Stranger. This meandering sense of self-reflection, dread, and a blinding honesty that maybe in the end isn't as transparent after all. 

Verdict: DeLillo is a tough guy; Underworld is my literary arch-nemesis. I am going to a reading for his new book in a week and a half (hear that? A READING! For someone amazing, too. It's just like old times) and I want to stand up during the Q&A and simultaneously yell at him and kiss his ass. He's a great challenge, though, and I think he's someone you read when you need to put your English degree to work. 

1,061 pages