Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oh, they probably turned it in for some books at the local community center. Where you think it's at, man?

I mentioned that I was thinking about book recommendations and I started wondering, Ok what was the best book I read this year? It's not quite the end of the year, but I decided since that is only a few weeks away, I'll just go ahead and post my list now.

And because that is simply too difficult of a question to answer, I split it into categories.

Category one: Fiction
Well, I picked two as the best from this category, but I am struggling with that so much that I can't even bring myself to definitively write them down.

I'm just going to do it!

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.)


Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Girl in Translation

Category 2: Nonfiction
I have a stand out favorite in this category. And I have recommended it to just about everyone I know.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Category 3: Classic Fiction
I can't actually finish this post without even a nod at the beautiful books that I read for my American Lit class.
Absolute favorite: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

If you are interested in the full list for 2011, here it is:

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

Declaring Spinsterhood by Jamie Lynn Braziel

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Deep Down True by Juliette Fay
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

The Running Man by Stephen King
Naked Heat by Richard Castle
No Time Left by David Baldacci
Leaving Home by Jodi Piccoult
The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

Mars and Venus on a Date by John Gray
The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

Change Anything by Kerry Patterson
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman
Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo

Classic Fiction
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Everyone's pushing small town rural. A farm book would just be white noise.

I have had several people ask me recently for book recommendations. And I almost said, oh, just check my blog. And then I didn't because I decided it would be embarrassing. But it made me think that I haven't posted a review for a while. Now that is partly because my extracurricular reading has slowed way down, and partly because my posting has slowed way down.

So some book reviews tonight.

Beloved Publisher: Vintage
Beloved by Toni Morrison

This book was for my American Lit class. True confessions, I finished reading it (and it was my second time reading it) two weeks before they started. Phew. 

The story: Sethe is a woman who escapes from slavery with her children and it is the story of how her life falls apart. Characters enter her life, Paul D who she knew as a slave, and a mysterious young woman. The story is about slavery and it is raw and brutal. 

The review: One of my students described it best when she said this book is raw. It is raw and describes very ugly things in a lot of detail. So it is not a pleasurable book to read. But after studying it with my students, I just feel like this book is really beautiful. The language and craft with words is beautiful and amazing (oh, I just got a little too English Professor on you). But also the ability to look at something that ugly and really confront it is powerful. 

My students, for the most part, hated it. And I fully understand why. It is not easy and it is depressing. But I told them, "It's ok if you hate this book. But this book won a Pulitzer Prize, and Toni Morrison is a big deal. And I want you to figure out why." And at the end, they did. 

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.)
These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

The story: This is written as the journal of Sarah Agnes Prine who is living in the Arizona Territory. She is a strong woman who fights through terrible circumstances to help her family get settled and prosper in the new territory. Besides Sarah being a very cool and powerful woman, it is a love story. 

The review: The first 100 pages of the book were really slow. And I actually had a hard time getting through it. But then the story picked up and I really enjoyed it. There are some shockingly brutal scenes, but they are told so delicately from Sarah's perspective that it doesn't make the book horrible. And I cried. It has been a long time since a book made me cry. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Because you sent me that picture of a cat playing the piano with the caption "this is funny".

Oh the days are long and the weeks fly by. And I only seem to be able to keep up with work stuff -- some of the time -- so everything else (especially blogging) falls to the wayside. 

But I took a couple of pictures of things. So here they are:

A baby blanket I made for a friend's new baby. He was born on 11/11/11, just like my little niece. 

I put up my Christmas decorations. 

And I realized I hadn't shown you some of my favorite new things. 

These are the pictures that Kim painted me this summer. They are on the huge wall in my bedroom. 

And these are the cool little hooks that I found for my mirror. Perfect for necklace hanging. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

That's an heirloom. You should put it on your family tree.

I already have Christmas on the brain.

I was thinking that it's just me. But clearly all the retail companies have Christmas on the brain too. I noticed this weekend all the ads have Christmas trees and Santa Claus in them now.

So, what's your vote? Should I do the ladder Christmas tree again or try something different?

Did you start that new book?

Book review! This is a monumental book review, because this is book number 40 for the year. Even I feel impressed with myself.

How to Be an American Housewife

This is for my in-person book club this month: How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway.

The story: First this is fiction. It is the story of a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier at the end of World War II. They move to America, and sometime during their first year of marriage he gives her a book called "How to Be an American Housewife" that is written in English and Japanese with tips on how to acclimate to American life and culture. The novel actually takes place when Shoko (the Japanese woman) is old and having health problems and is mainly about her relationship with her daughter and her family that is still in Japan.

The review: The story is a good story of reconciliation. There are flashbacks to Shoko's past as a young woman in Japan, and it is an interesting view of the culture. It is also interesting to see what has happened to her family.

While the story is good, the writing isn't very good. It is pretty flat and stilted. I kept wondering if she was trying to imitate a dialect, even in Shoko's thoughts, but she wasn't.

I finished my eight-week class last week. Heather and I both said that I needed to do something special as a celebration. Heather had tons of suggestions for how to splurge, but after thinking about it I decided all I wanted to do was lay on my couch and read a book for mindless entertainment. 

Heat Rises (Nikki Heat 3)

So I got Heat Rises by Richard Castle.

The story: This is the third installment of the Nikki Heat detective series that goes with the TV show Castle. So once again Nikki Heat teams up with Jameson Rook to solve a murder. 

The review: 
Here are the things that I love about this series:
1. It's hilarious.
2. There are tons of references to the TV show, like Castle making all kinds of references to himself in the story. 
3. It's kind of fun to see Castle and Beckett sort of get together, since it probably will never happen in the TV show.
4. There are tons of pop-culture references, which are just funny too. 

If you really wanted to surprise him, why don't you do something like clean your apartment?

I did a "grandma clean" yesterday. If anyone has been thinking it would be fun to visit me, now would be a great time. I can have the airbed set up in no time.

Isn't it amazing how a super clean house can make everything seem better?

I also decorated for Halloween. Cute, right?

Baby blanket! Get it off, get it off...

The finished product! Finally!

This is the blanket for Carla Junior. I undid it twice, so this is actually blanket number three. But I put it in the mail, and told Carla Junior (metaphorically... or telepathically, take your pick) "Ok baby, you can come now!" 

Maybe she's just waiting for the package to arrive. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

I was wrong! This is the musing-out-loud part. Do I actually need to be here?

I was listening to one of my podcasts, and it was an interview with Sherry Turkle who studies and writes about technology. One of the things she said that caught my attention was that social media -- especially facebook -- has given people a forum for sharing things, but that it has also become a place where people don't feel like they can share things. So she interviewed someone and the girl said that she didn't feel like she could post on facebook that her dog died. It just didn't seem like the place.

It was an interesting interview. But I really bring it up to explain the long silence. This isn't the place.

So now I will treat you to a random collection of musings that I have had over the past couple of weeks. Maybe this can be a set of ramblings that Carla will enjoy again.

I have been bringing the same thing to work for lunch every day all semester long. (We have officially completed week 8 -- halfway!). I bring a salad. I start with spinach and sometimes kale. Then I add tomato, cucumber, daikon radish, bell pepper, and peas. I bring another container with brown rice in it. At lunch time, I heat up the rice and then dump it on the salad. Everything is dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper. 

It's good. Now, let me be clear. I know it's not an exciting lunch, but I find it quite tasty. 

But here is what I have noticed. 

When I eat with my coworkers, they watch me open up my salad and they say, "Oh, that looks healthy." 

At first I was like, "Yup. It's good." 

But then I realized I was getting funny looks when I said it was good. And then I listened more closely. And I discovered they aren't saying, Wow, what a great looking lunch, how delicious. They are saying, ew, healthy, how can you eat that? 

And here I thought a salad was more normal than.... I don't know how to finish that sentence. Anything else I eat? Tuna straight from the can? Squash? Soup?

As I have been driving around town, I keep hearing commercials recruiting applicants for jobs at the CIA. The job title is something like Clandestine Services Operator, but I know what that really means. It means a spy. 

I've been so tempted to apply. 

I love my subscription to Entertainment Weekly. A few weeks ago they had an indepth interview with Brad Pitt. 

The best part of the interview was the very end. The interviewer asked Brad what he thought about the ways he has popped up in popular culture recently. He started with "Billionaire" by Travie McCoy. 

Brad's response: "It's just unfortunate that my last name rhymes with S#%@."

I had a new funny story about old people at the gym. But it's not coming to me right now. 

And maybe that's a sign....

Do you have  those terrible movies that you watched in college and they still pop up in your mind every once in a while?

I keep thinking about that Adam Sandler movie where he somehow gets a little boy and teaches the kid all kinds of disgusting things and uses him to pick up girls. None of that is relevant, but at the beginning he lets the kid do whatever he wants. He doesn't make him take a bath or wash his favorite clothes. So then the kindergarten teacher stops Adam Sandler one day and tells him that his kid is the smelly kid in class. 

Terrible movie. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don't touch my hair.

So after being told that I need a haircut, I decided to go get a haircut. I decided to just get a trim.

Yeah, here's how that actually went.

Me: "I am growing my hair out. I just want a little trim. And something to fix up the bangs."
Stylist: "Yeah, what's up with the bangs?"
Me: "Uhhhh...."
Stylist: "How about we do them like Reese Witherspoon?"
Me: "The last time I saw Reese Witherspoon she didn't have bangs."
Stylist: Explains. At length.
Me: "Uhhh...."
Stylist: Explains. At length. Again.
Me: "Uhhh...."
Stylist: "Of course, only if you are comfortable..."
Me: "Well, here's what I am worried about with bangs."
Stylist: Explains. At length. Again.
Me: Sigh. "Ok."

So here is the haircut after a very long day when I took a while to flip it under.

And here it is after a very long day when I didn't take a while to flip it under.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I love comic books, sometimes I wish I had thought bubbles, do you see anything?

We were having a discussion at work the other day (Have you noticed that if I am talking about students I call it "school" but if I am talking about colleagues I call it "work"? Funny.) So I was having a discussion with coworkers, and one of my fellow English teachers was saying that he is always reading 4-5 books at a time.

This is true for me.

So I just finished the last book of the batch that I was working on. And I must admit I am now at a little bit of a loss. What do I start? I have two books that at this point are kind of looming over me -- Beloved for my American Lit class, and Team of Rivals for book club -- and both just feel really daunting right now.

It feels like most of this last batch of books that I have read have been non-fiction. And so then I needed a break.

The non-fiction review:

Mars and Venus on a Date by John Gray

My friend Julianne asked me to read this. She wanted my opinion on it.

The story: Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like -- a "men are from mars, women are from venus" approach to the dating world.

The review:
Point 1: I liked this book a whole lot better after I decided that I didn't have to read every word. Yes, by reading between the lines, you should reach the conclusion that there is something wrong. This book is horribly written. It is extremely repetitive and the examples sound like they are totally made up and not based on any actual people. After reading so much really good non-fiction, I was truly pained. I went so far as to use this as an example in my writing classes of what not to do (despite my embarrassment about the topic).

Point 2: I was really turned off by his emphasis on "soul mates."

Point 3: After I stopped reading every word, it actually was more enjoyable and I could see the validity of certain points. I even laughed at one section. But here's where I am a little hung up: he insists that in order to have a successful relationship women need to stop being so self-sufficient, forget the things that have made them successful in their careers, and need a man so that the man can then provide and can feel all warm and fuzzy. Well, my hang-up is this: how do you form a mutually-beneficial, evenly-yoked relationship if that is your beginning?

Point 4: He says that opposites attract. So if you are not religious, start going to church and you will meet your soul mate. So where do the atheists hang out?

Point 5: Can you tell who it is marketed to?

The mindless entertainment fiction read

Declaring Spinsterhood by Jamie Lynn Braziel

I bought this for $1 on Amazon. I love Amazon.

The story: Chick-lit. A girl turns 30, decides she has had enough of her family trying to find her a guy, and says no more. Naturally she then realizes she's in love with her best friend. Oops, I didn't say "spoiler alert," but let's face it, you knew that was going to happen before you even opened the book.

The review: I needed mindless entertainment, and this was a great provider of that. I finished it in less time than it takes to watch a movie, and it was cute, cheesy chick-lit.