Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. The other day I was thinking about how a large group of my friends and I got together regularly for massive board game/food nights at different people's houses towards the end of senior year and the summer after. It was really, really fun, as lame as it may sound, and I wish I could do that now with my friends. Maybe when everyone's kids are older!

2. Saturday Sawyer's preschool is having a Parent's Night Out- for $10 they'll watch the kids from 6:30-10:00 so parents can have some time. My husband is at a conference, so my friend and I are going to get dinner and drinks at a family-UNfriendly place and catch up. I can't wait!

3. Besides that, my plan is to Christmas the shit out of this weekend. Tomorrow Sawyer and I are going to see Polar Express at my school that the choir is hosting, Friday (if it's not too windy), we're going downtown to see the Festival of Lights, Saturday morning we're having breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant, and hopefully Sunday I'll do some baking.

4. My students and are wading through Sylvia Plath's poetry (I know, so festive), and it's actually going really well. I've split their work on each poem in thirds, between independent/group/whole class analysis and they're doing well. And because they're so receptive to the work, I'm enjoying it a lot more. Win-win.

5. Between nonsense going on with the government (looking at you, tax bill) and our school board, I have to be really careful about what I consume right now. It's so easy to get wrapped up and emotionally carried away. 

6. Earlier today I got the urge to just book a train ride up the coast, snag a window seat, and read and roll for a day. I have no idea where it came from, but it just sounds so peaceful.

7. I hadn't planned on going to Modesto to visit my family over the holidays, but *newsflash* apparently my mom and her longtime boyfriend are getting hitched at City Hall and I feel like an asshole for not attending. So it looks like Sawyer and I are going on a little bit of a road trip. I'm hoping that if the weather is good enough and I can coerce at least one other family member into it, I might head to San Francisco for a day. 

8. I finished listening to Jodi Piccoult's Small Great Things and what a piece of crap. Sorry (but not really). It's so over-the-top and the ending is just so far-fetched and ridiculous. She didn't racial issues justice at all. I am now listening to Running Man, Carlie Engle's memoir, and so far I'm enjoying. 

Zadie Smith in Conversation with Michael Chabon


The other day I was looking up a reading for the spring at UCLA and saw that two days later Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon would be together for an evening. My first reaction was disappointment, since I had nothing to do with Sawyer (it started at 8, which means that I'd have to leave by 5:30 to fight seventy miles in the horrible LA traffic- my husband usually comes home around 7:15). I then mentioned it to Scott and, knowing how important seeing these two would be to me, suggested I drop Sawyer off at his office with the iPad for the last part of his work day. DONE. Traffic ended up being worse than normal, since a few big rigs decided to overturn, so I had to leave at 5:10 and ended up getting to UCLA at 7:40. Sigh. It's the price we pay to live down here, I guess.

The event was at Royce Hall, which is absolutely beautiful and one of the buildings I had class in once upon a time in my youth. The political and social rhetoric of those emceeing the event were just what you'd expect for an arts program at a UC, something the audience obviously appreciated- I definitely had a "I'm home!" kind of moment. Once Smith and Chabon came out they agreed to put off talking about the general horrible-ness that is the US as long as possible, which ended up being a solid thirty minutes or so.

Chabon mentioned that this was the fifth time the two had participated in an event like this one, which is explained their natural chemistry and knowledge of one another (sometimes when it's just local moderator it's a bit awkward if the proper research and pre-interview conversation haven't happened). The two spent awhile talking about what they were reading and the role of the historical novel, since they are both reading older books and she is writing one right now (despite not being very fond of them). The topic of conversation then turned to the internet and how it's such a huge weight on them both, especially in the current climate. Smith talked about how she read something about Trump on a plane the other day and then spent hours just reading comments and articles that validated her opinion. They then contrasted escaping into the internet with escaping into books, which I could have listened to for five hours. 

The two took some questions that had been pre-written by the audience, which asked about the importance of places to them in real life and in their works (something I then started reflecting personally on), cultural appropriation, inspiration (Smith made a comment on how she takes things from her own life, puts then into her novels, and then ends up being incredibly tired of them, like tap dancing), and writing dialogue (the both downplayed it's importance and even said it can be used as a "crutch"). 

I must say, that this was definitely one of the best events I have ever been to, and there are have been many. I thought that Chabon might come off as a bit pretentious, since I've gotten that vibe from him through his writing before. I wasn't sure what Smith would be like, but maybe a little intimidating because she's just so damn brilliant. Instead I fell in love a little more, listening to her talk about going to dinner with her husband and kids and feeling like a circus act since none of them were on their phones and were trying to entertain and corral the whole time (I have a no device policy at dinner for my kid too, so I was like "I get you, Zadie!"). They were fantastic. 

Things to Look Forward to: December

1. Reading a different Christmas story every night with Sawyer 
2. Breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant
3. Traditional pictures with Santa
4. Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn
5. Our nightly Star Wars Advent Calendar
6. Dinner out with a friend while Sawyer is at his preschool's Parent's Night Out (and his other parent is at a video game convention)
7. Decorating the tree and rest of the house 
8. Donating to toy and canned tree drives
9. Making a "snow globe" door for Sawyer's room
10. Knitting lessons and lunch with a friend
11. Seeing New Star Wars movie
12. Making a million peanut butter balls
13. Seeing if we can pull off this year's Christmas card photo shoot 
14. Finishing up my 2017 family photo book
15. Wrapping gifts (I really, really love doing this)
16. Going to Santa's Village in Lake Arrowhead
17. Making a cookie a tree with my ridiculous new Wilton's cutters
18. Watching Home Alone
19. Being thankful our gifts for Sawyer this year don't involve assembly 
20. Seeing my brother when he visits California (and hopefully my mom)
21. Three weeks of winter break
22. Attempting a Scrabble tournament in my classroom
23. Pretending to hate Christmas music but listening it in secret with Sawyer 
24. Watching Home Alone 
25. Putting everything away and getting life back to normal 

November Reviews

Happy December, guys! I've never been a super excited "ohmygod I love Christmas" kind of person, but I have to say having a three-year-old who "gets it" makes this holiday season one of the best yet (hopefully). November had some life hiccups, but I did read a few good books- here's a glimpse:

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
304 pages
This short story compilation has a range of stories, including everything from a woman who throws herself an artificial insemination party to a friendship that has to cope with dementia to a man who doesn't receive the proper medical care for intestinal issues abroad. The stories sometimes sound a little silly from a brief summarizing sentence, but they deal with complicated issues like aging, relationships, and family. 

Verdict: I really, really think that this book is being overlooked by people. I know that some were disappointed in The Marriage Plot, after his first two, but this one was a really strong collection. These stories are truly crafted and were a pleasure to read. 

Artemis by Andy Weir 
320 pages
Andy Weir's sophomore attempt following The Martian is about life on the moon and the challenges of it's class system. Jazz is a young smuggler who desperately wants to save enough money to upgrade her living situation (she lives in what is basically a coffin and has to use a communal bathroom where showers are paid for by the minute). She is presented with an offer she cannot refuse, which ends up going awry. 

Verdict: I had a feeling this book would fall short, and it did. In short, it was a bit sloppy- the character development, the dialogue, the predictable nature, and even the ending. There were some fun moments and it was kind of a kick to read about someone's idea of life on the moon, but it was nowhere near as good as his debut. I'm sure the movie will be super entertaining, though. 

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden
272 pages
This memoir focuses on the year that former Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau suffered from fatal brain cancer, chronicling his journey through treatment and navigating the private life of the family. Biden also discusses much of the political ongoings he was involved with the time as well, often juxtaposing his professional life with his private one.

Verdict: As a whole, I really enjoyed this book (plus, who doesn't love Joe? Remember the memes? I miss them so much). It moved me to tears several times, as Beau tried so hard to keep positive and make his family promise they'd be okay if he passed away. I thought at some points there was too much governmental and politics talk, but I may just be bitter because it made me so sad to see how things were once run right. And now they're not. Ahem. Moving on.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
304 pages
This is a novel that at it's heart about ethics, morality, religion, and guilt. Linda, a high school student who is very lonely and as a detached relationship with her parents, ex-cult/commune members, works as a babysitter for a family across the lake who has a four-year-old named Paul. Paul always seems a little sickly and his mother a little a odd, both intensifying when the husband/father comes to visit. Unfortunately, it's hard to really talk about this one without spoiling a huge part of it, so trust me when I say it's controversial and heartbreaking (but not in a Jodi Piccoult kind of way). 

Verdict: I really enjoyed this novel and read it in a weekend. I thought the pacing was excellent and that Fridlund does a wonderful job of integrating the setting, mood, and plot in a way that really sort of takes over your reading experience. She bookends the story with a connection to one of Linda's middle school teachers who is arrested for child pornography charges, which is a little odd, but relates to the greater issue of this book of how children can be let down by adults. 

1,200 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. Yesterday I was looking up a Colson Whitehead event at UCLA next spring and discovered that Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon were giving a talk tomorrow! I have never seen either of them and immediately started trying to figure out how I could bribe Sawyer into behaving for an event that started at his bedtime in a city that would require a 90+ minute drive thru traffic to get to. I mentioned it to Scott, who now works ten minutes away, and he said that I could drop him off at his office with the iPad and headphones and they would make it work for the last hour or so of my husband’s day. I hesitated for approximately twelve seconds and then bought the best ticket I could find. I’m so very excited (although also sad because my normal book-reading buddy can’t come with me).

2. I’m teaching sixteen Sylvia Plath poems over the course of twelve days. It’s like a marathon, but worse. I have a very systematic way of guiding my students through the work, though (read/annotate alone for ten minutes, collaborate with a group for ten minutes, and then discuss as a class for fifteen, before working on it the rest of the way alone at home), so I hope that we’ll all get in the groove.

3. I started reading Like Water for Chocolate and while I’m at the very beginning, I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres.

4. Can you believe in God but not the afterlife? Asking for a friend (who might be an atheist anyway).

5. Fact: when I have gift cards for clothing stores I cannot find anything I like (but when it’s my own money I find plenty). Fact: when I am bursting at the seams with blog ideas I have no time to write (but when I have time to write I have no ideas).

6. The last day of school before winter break my classes are having our first bracket of a time-based Scrabble tournament. I’m not even playing and I’m super excited. It actually might be a disaster- the kids are excited and willing, but they don’t know how to play. We’re also doing it in groups of six, as opposed to four, and we’ll only have about thirty-five minutes that day to play. But whatever. It’ll still be a fun, relaxed way to end break, since the next few weeks are consumed by Madame I Put My Head in an Oven.

7. I mapped out my grading calendar for the next three weeks, and if I am extremely diligent I can leave for our three week vacation being totally caught up. It’s probably not realistic, but I am implemented several ridiculous progress checks connected to bribes to make it happen (pedicure… massage… Peanut Butter Shake from Sonic…. I AM A GLUTTONOUS MONSTER). When we come back in January we have one regular week and then finals, so if I’m not in a good position I’ll be hating life.

8. My car accident has been resolved in less than a month- thank you Mercury! My insurance found the other driver at fault and they wanted to assign both of us 50%. My claims adjuster pressed them and they took on half of my half, which we are accepting. I get half of my deductible back, which I had kissed good bye, and my rates won’t be impacted. Good enough.