Books on Your Back- I Heart It

I actually bought this Threadless shirt last week- a pink heart made of books:

Threadless, $20

For the record, I really don't "heart" anything- you can't. It's a noun. Get with the program, boys and girls.

Top Ten Tuesday- Trading Places

This week The Broke and the Bookish is asking us for ten characters we'd like to trade places with, a tough task for me. 

1. Alice, from Alice in Wonderland- Imagination, dreams, a talking cats, a mean Queen, crazy tea parties.

2. Cotter, from Underworld- He was there when the Giants beat the Dodgers, back in the pennant race when they were both New York Teams. My boys need that same magic right now..

3. One of the girls from a Jane Austen novel- Somewhere inside of me I'd like to wear a petticoat, partake in innocent flirtations, not worry about money, and watch men fight over me. 

4. Atticus, from To Kill a Mockingbird- Honestly, I'd much rather be the love interest of Atticus, but there was none. He's such a good, smart person.

5. Ruth Ramsey, from The Abstinence Teacher- Ruth is a sex-ed teacher that actually teaches kids that sex can be a good thing, as long as the proper precautions are being taken. In this day and age where the stance taken in public schools is that students are supposed to abstain, I can appreciate a character like Ruth.

6. Fern, from Charlotte's Web- The girl in me from Central California would love to live on a farm and raise a piggy of her own.

7. Jessica Wakefield, from Sweet Valley High- I'd love to redo my high school years a little more scandalously. 

8. Dr. Marina Singh, State of Wonder- I know I use this book frequently, but I love the idea that she just took off and went to the Amazon. Granted she didn't have the same obligations many of us to, but it was still a gutsy trip. It's not like she went to, like, Omaha. 

9. Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew Series- I loved these books growing up and always hoped to find a trapdoor somewhere or some sort of random clue to lead me on an adventure. And, now that I'm an adult, I'm betting Ned Nickerson is a good time, ifyaknowwhatImean.

10. Katrina Firlik, from Another Day in the Frontal Lobe- Fine, fine, this is nonfiction but I'd love the be a neurosurgeon for the day. Even better if I get daily rate (at least a thousand bucks). 

Not my favorite topic- perhaps easier if the men in the half naked men twisting around on bars in front of me weren't on (I'm at home, watching the Olympics, not at a strip club). 

The Million Dollar Book

A million dollars. A million! For a first time novelist! I still am having trouble wrapping my little head around the fact that Karen Thompson Walker was paid (allegedly) a million dollars after a nine-house (what the hell!) bidding war for her book The Age of Miracles. A million dollars. To put this in perspective, Jonathan Safran Foer was given an impressive (and reportedly) $500,000 for his debut, Everything is Illuminated back in 2002- and that was a big fat deal. A million dollars- well, that's quite the chunk of change.

I, of course, was initially wary, considering plenty of crap is given large amounts of money (ahem, Fifty Shades of Gray). But then I read the premise and was intrigued enough to order it. Told from the perspective of a sixth-grader, the novel delves into the question of what would happen if our days started getting longer (because the earth starts rotating slower). How would our essential crops continue to grow when the nights got longer? How would people sleep when it was daylight for long stretches (Alaska already had this in the bag)? What would happen to people on a psychological level? Would life end? Would a fix be made? 

I just finished it today and have some very mixed feelings. First of all, it's a very quick, interesting read. I recommend it as a quirky little sci-fi "beach" read, I suppose. The main character Julia was written decently, the level of fear the author invokes is to be commended, and the side plots are woven into the major concept well. I also really appreciate the environmental undertones- can we ever really know what our planetary abuses will cause later down the line? How can we be prepared globally for such a change? Sustainability in terms of the environment, and even ourselves, is a huge theme in this book.

And now I will attack. Sort of.

It was simply just not worth the one million bucks on a literary level. Random House saw it as marketable (although I'm surprised there hasn't bee more publicity) and knew a movie studio would swoop in. Her writing is good for a first-time novelist, but it's not amazing by any means. Some of the characters and their relationships are quite one-dimensional, and some of the judgement calls the narrator makes raise some eyebrows, considering her age (she must keep some big secrets from her mom regarding her dad- she can't keep it a secret that her friend has run off to join a commune, but she is able to keep it a secret pretty easily that her dad is boinging the piano teacher? I needed more inner turmoil and debate, I guess). I think my biggest point of contention is the sketchy science; Walker said that she had an astrophysicist read it and make corrections, but some of it just bothered me. First of all, the rate at which the earth speeding up and the point at which it was discovered and announced seemed off. I would have liked to see the seasonal changes addressed better, as well as the radiation and impact of the solar storms. And I know there are people out there that would tell me to shut up, that "it's just a story," but as a reader those questions tend to really bother me. I know we have no way of knowing of this sort of an event would impact Earth, but she should have made something up, like she did with everything else. And without giving anything away, I was not pleased by the ending. 

I feel bad, in a way- my praise is a mere fraction of the size of the complaints. Strangely, though, I do recommend this book. It's an interesting premise and it makes you really think about what you would do if you were in the same position. Would you go on the twenty-four hour clock that the government calls for? Or would you live according to the light and dark, like the ostracized people that feel force to move to communes? I found the whole notion unsettling- I live and die by the time. People think that I'm constantly on my phone when in fact I'm generally checking the time (fine, fine, that does tend to be the gateway to email checking and texting). I wore a watch from second grade up until a year or so ago when all of my watches either died or broke at the same time. If I wake up in the middle of the night I check. I obsessively calculate time and drive distance on trips. A world where the twenty-four hour day becomes 36 or even 70 bothers me greatly. In this unpredictable world I know I can at least count on sixty minutes in an hour and twenty-four hours in a day.

And that's why this book has some definite redeeming qualities- it does make you consider living outside your comfort zone. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Where You At?

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and Bookish involves setting, an element I find very interesting. In some novels, the setting is everything- it's a character in and of itself. Yet, on the other hand, a good story with quality characters and writing doesn't necessarily require an elaborate locale. And I appreciate that setting can be broad, as in "on a tropical island" or something extremely specific, like "the living room at 1513 Manchester Avenue in Santa Cruz." It can be literal and it can be metaphorical. It can be dazzling or it can be more mundane as a drive across the desert. That being said, here are ten of my favorite settings:

1. Arcadia by Lauren Groff- I just finished this novel (which I loved) and was mesmerized by the hippie commune a majority of the story was set on. The setting stood for so much and went through so many transitions throughout the decades in which the novel spans. 

2. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett- I've mentioned this travel memoir a few times before- three girls abandon their city lives and travel the world for a year. They go places like Thailand, New Zealand, and Kenya. It may not be the best book, but the setting makes up for the lack of juicy details.

3. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- After reading the series you can't help but to want to visit Hogwarts. A friend and I have joked about picking up and flying to Florida for two days just to go to the theme park- you never know....

4. Wild by Cheryl Strayed- I wrote about this memoir a few weeks ago, but must reiterate how amazing the Pacific Crest Trail is. I spent a few days in Yosemite and Tahoe this summer, both of which are on it and hope to one day see more.

5. When the Killing's Done by TC Boyle- There are two juxtaposing settings in this novel- the rural Channel Islands and the urban jungle of Los Angeles. 

6. The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen- It's been awhile since I've mentioned my beloved little TS! The settings in this book range from the family's secluded Montana home to life on the railroad to the Smithsonian and Washington DC. The fact that you're getting these places from the eyes of a brilliant kid makes them even better.

7. Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie- This novel takes place in Seattle, a city that, for some reason, I'm determined to visit. It just seems so clean... and healthy. 

8. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- Most of this awesome novel takes place in the rainforests of the Amazon, where the dangers parallel the astounding beauty. 

9. Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones- This novel is set on a tropical island that is secluded from the rest of the world. The only white man in the village decides to read the kids Great Expectations as their world starts crumbling as a result of local violence. 

10. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon- Four words: Cemetery of Forgotten Books. 

Books on Your Back- Take a Look

I'm super busy, doing super important stuff right now, but I leave you with this awesomely awesome shirt from 


Obligations Blow

It's a sun. And it's reading. So clever. [source]
For anyone that's been in an Honors, AP, or IB class in high school it's always assumed that there will be summer reading. Personally, I was always initially excited ("Jane Eyre and 100 questions? No problem, plenty of time, it'll be fun") and then by the end of July pretty pissed ("what the hell kind of teacher expects us to read this effing long novel and answer all these questions? Does he not have a life?"). Now, as an AP and IB teacher I was able to get my revenge, assigning the AP kids one book and the IB kids three (ha! take that!). And as if the reading weren't enough, they had some essays and other assignments to go with it. 

Unfortunately, this means I now have summer work as well. 

But you love reading! And I'm sure you've read these before!

I do love reading, when it doesn't feel like an obligation. And I have actually only read one of the four books assigned (the selections are department/program choices, so I didn't just randomly pull books out of my ass to assign to the kids). I've read one so far, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, but still need to read Thank You For Arguing (have never read it), Antigone (read in tenth grade), and Master Harold and the Boys (never read). The three I haven't read are all short and I'm sure they're good- I just can't get myself to do it.

I've always had issues with feeling obligated to do something. As soon as I feel forced I become resentful, even if the task at hand is something relatively painless. Baby showers? Pout central. Family gatherings that I "have to" go to? Don't wanna. Races that I signed up way too far in advance for? Irritation inducing.* The older I get the less willing I am to spend my life doing things that I don't want to do- time is a precious commodity, thankyouverymuch. Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Yeah, you can shoot down a few family dinners, blow off some errands, avoid phone calls, but eventually you have to put on your big kind undies and man up. Like when it comes to doing your summer homework. 

So why assign it? If the kids hate it and the teacher even puts it off, why bother? The quick answer is that precious commodity time- we simply don't have enough school days to cover all the necessary material. There's also the issue of keeping the kids at least slightly academically engaged while they are off, as well as helping them establish some sort of foundation for the course they're about to take. I also appreciate the responsibility factor- as a teacher I'll know the first day who's on top of their work and who is not. 

I still have three weeks. I don't want to read everything early and forget it all before I go back. Right?

* Speaking of races... I'm signed up for the Disneyland Half Marathon on September 2 and have decided to not run it. If anyone wants to buy my bib, let me know!  


I bought some books. Call it a reward for finishing summer school, for hiking Half Dome, losing ten pounds, or enduring a longer-than-usual first half of the year. Whatever it is, I don't really care- they're here and they're mine. 


Finished, I Am

Last month I declared that after trying to read Underworld by Don DeLillo several times over the course of a decade I'd be finishing it by July 16th. And, 4 days early, I finished it yesterday.

Finished, I am [source]. Random, yes.
Thank Buddha/God/Mother Earth/Yoda.

I'm still coming to terms with what it was even about (all 826 pages), if I like DeLillo, and if this a text I actually enjoyed. Unfortunately, I think it's the type of book that would be best comprehended if read a few times, which sure as hell is not happening. I mean I understand it, but I know there are things I'm missing. There are many, many different characters and their lives span across decades, all connecting in ways big and small. The book delves into nuclear warfare, class, religion, marriage, gender, politics, the significance of waste, baseball, family dynamics, incarceration- basically any sort of theme imaginable. It's exhausting to even think about.  

A huge part of me is relieved and excited to be done- I want to read something else and am happy to have the nagging feeling of an unfinished off my back. But, I'm a little sad too- the exaggerated hatred for DeLillo and the book was a little fun. 

So now what?

Now that I've spent half a day pondering this beast, I'm going to start poking around online and reading some analysis and critical essays. Part of me feels like such a fraud doing this, but, frankly, I need some guidance. I have a lot of jumbled up ideas that would probably turn into a decent term paper... if I was in college and had to write one (if I was, possible topics would include: the symbolic nature of garbage, DeLillo's use of repetition, the paradoxical presence of the "mystery ship," or the subtle importance of heroin) . Don't worry, this is it- I'm not going to bore everyone with a 5,000 word analysis once I've thought and researched.

Finally. It's over. And I'm still leaving the nonsensical tags of yesteryear on. 

Yosemite and Books

On Monday I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with some good friends, making it the second, and last, time for me. In order to prepare for this god awful lovely 16-mile hike that ends up in an almost 5,000 foot gain I reviewed this book:

When we arrived here:

Yosemite National Park- Our cabin
I made some significant progress on this:

I still can't figure out the tabs

After I hiked to this:

I climbed up these:

To see this:

Oh crap. We still have to go all the way back down.

I saw this on an older woman's baseball cap on the climb down (she was going up) and had to give her some encouragement and a compliment for being both literary and brave:


I then talked for a full twenty seconds about this:

She had obviously enjoyed it... [source]

but had to tell her (nicely) I'd have to Google more information so I could stop facing the ground holding myself up with my arms worrying that I might die.

The end.

Nonfiction Nagging- Those Silly Scientologists

Billion year contracts. Audits. Hip hip hooray. Tax exemption. Xenu. Tom Cruise jumping on a couch. Tom Cruise telling Brooke Shields she sucks for taking Xanax for post-partum depression.

Man, those Scientologists are a cooky bunch. 

My selection for book club this month (and by month I mean the three or four that has passed since the last book) was Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. The timing with the whole Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise divorce was (I guess) perfect- why the hell she waited this long to bail is beyond me. Prior to reading the text I had known that the religion was a bit weird, but now, well now I know more about it than I need to. I could probably go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, but here are some of the very basics:

Scientology was invented by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s as an extension of his first program, Dianetics. Basically, the premise is that people have to learn to help themselves by discovering everything about themselves and by blindly serving the organization. Scientologists believe that they are immortal and that they merely inhabit their physical forms before moving on- hence the need for billion year contracts. Scientologists join the church and pay for audits- specialized counseling sessions. They progress through different levels of awareness, passing over the "Bridge to Total Awareness." 

Money, Money, Money
Money is at the heart and soul of Scientology- they charged money to be audited, to be trained, and if they decide to leave the Church. They pressure members for donations and expect local orgs to raise million of dollars. A huge war of sorts went on with the IRS in order to obtain tax exemption- the Scientologists insisted that they were no different than the Catholics, Protestants or any other church in the nation. Some serious, serious harassment went on and then poof the IRS granted the Scientologists exemption. Oh, and they were off the hook in regards to paying what they owed when they weren't exempt. Sweet deal.

Dark Side
I think up until I read this book I thought of the organization as just being a little weird, but not necessarily dangerous. Now I'm not so sure. Punishments include time in isolation, manual labor, forced exercise, lack of medical care, and disregard of mental well being, just to name a few. The text told of one specific case, of a young woman named Lisa McPherson, who ended up dying because she was not given the care she needed. McPherson was heavily involved in the Church, but eventually reached her breaking point- after a fender bender she stripped her clothes off and started walking around the street naked. She was taken to a hospital after asking for help but was intercepted by several other members and taken back to the Church. She was kept in a room alone and received inadequate care, eventually dying. Her death was first listed as an embolism as a result of dehydration and forced bed rest. She had cockroach bites on her and contusions. The Church later forced the county to change their records to basically say it was an accident. 

Celebrity Status
Convincing celebrities to join was a huge component for the Scientologists- celebrities meant more attention and more money. Tom Cruise is of course one of the famous, as is John Travolta. Others include Jenna Elfman (haha, anyone remember Dharma and Greg?), Elizabeth Moss, Kristy Alley, Juliette Lewis, Beck, Jason Lee and Leah Remini. 

My Take
I really don't care what religion people decide to be, as long as they're not trying to convert me, are tolerant, and aren't endangering others. You can go ahead and worship a magical talking purple hippopotamus named Fred from the planet Nanu Nanu if you'd like, as long as you're a cool person who plays nice. Scientology doesn't necessarily follow Christine's Religious Guidelines, though. They're all about making money at the expense of others, demean those who need medicine and psychological care, and have used unethical techniques to get what they want. I'm sure there are a lot of normal, decent members, but some of the actions of the Church have been questionable in my eyes (not to say that other religious groups are perfect).

The Book
As with any book like this, the author definitely had an agenda. Why else would she write it? There were also some grammatical mistakes that should have been caught (for example "well-do-to" instead of "well-to-do"). At times it was a little boring and since there are so many acronyms and names your mind can't wander for a second or you'll have to go back and reread. That being said, I did find it very interesting. I was also a little disturbed by the fact that so many of the older compounds and ranches (including a massive headquarters called Gold Base) were/are located near the area where I currently live, a bit outside LA (this article has some interesting pictures).

Books on Your Back- Unplug

After seeing this shirt on Book Riot this morning I actually clicked on over to TwillCoTShirts on Etsy to purchase (my first Etsy purchase ever; don't worry, I'm not getting all crafty). For only $15.49 with free shipping not a bad deal at all!

I will be sure to rock this with bikini bottoms... [source]

Top Ten Tuesday

Two blog posts in one day- it must be Monday night... The Broke and the Bookish asks us this week to suggest book for people who "like x author." 

1. Mark Haddon (The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime) --> Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to Be Good); contemporary British humor

2.  TC Boyle (Tortilla Curtain, When the Killing's Done) --> Hector Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries); controversial social issues in California

3. Cormac McCarthy (The Road) --> Sigrid Nunez (Salvation City); the apocalypse with simple prose

4. Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) --> Nathan Englander (What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank, The Ministry of Special Cases); Jewish writers, family history

5.  Eli Wiessel (Night) --> Imre Kertesz (Fatelessness); Nazi Germany

6. Isabel Allende (House of the Spirts, Eva Luna) --> Karen Tei Yamashita (Tropic of Orange); magical realism

7. Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) --> David Mitchell (Number 9 Dream, Cloud Atlas); smart contemporary male writers that give you something to sink your teeth into

8. John Irving (The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules) --> Richard Russo (Empire Falls, Mohawk); nostalgic tones

9. Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) --> Erksine Caldwell (Tobacco Road, God's Little Acre); sometimes humorous writers in two different time periods that try to shock their reader with taboos

10.  Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) --> Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove); westerns (and a bit of a stretch because I'm out of ideas)

June Reviews

If it hadn't been for summer school taking over my life I definitely would have read more than four books during my first month of summer vacation. All I've got:

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
272 pages 
I already went of this book in a Non-Fiction Nagging post, but to quickly sum it up it's about Yvon Chouinard's development of Patagonia, an outdoor gear and clothing company. He talks about the trials and tribulations of trying to start a business from nothing and maintaining an approach that values both the customers and the employees. Read more here.

Verdict: Being a fan of Chouinard's environmental work and business outlook I really enjoyed it; I can, though, see how some people may be bored by it.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky 
304 pages
I can't believe this book hasn't gotten more buzz than it has- smart, hysterical, and often a bit random. Rosa, a middle-aged Soviet woman, is horrified when her disappointment of a daughter ends up pregnant. Rosa desperately tries to bring about an abortion, but her daughter remains pregnant. Rosa ends up falling in love with her granddaughter and dedicates her life to it, despite the fact that her daughter spends some time keeping the two apart. Rosa eventually tries to marry her daughter off to a rich German, in order to ensure their immigration to a more reputable country. Below the humor and outrageous characters is the simple story of family and the connections mothers, daughters, and granddaughters have with each other.

Verdict: This was definitely the best book of the month. It's a really quick read that I think most people will appreciate.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
336 pages
I actually already wrote a post about this book as well. In this memoir Cheryl Strayed writes about how hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone helped bring about perspective and clarity after years of spiraling out of control. While I could have done without her constant mentioning of the condom she kept with her (and then disappeared) or the out of place comments about self-pleasure, the hiking component was incredibly interesting. Read more here.

Verdict: I think this book is one that you have to just ignore the flaws for in order to get to the real meat. It was a bit rough around the edges, but I'm thinking a girl who is able to hike 100 days alone may be too.

Luminous Airplanes by Paul LaFarge
256 pages
I was quite disappointed in this book, as well as in the online component. The premise has been done many, many times before- adult male returns home after a family death in order to sort out what remains while encountering ghosts from the past. That's not to say it shouldn't be done again- it should just bring something new to the table. The ending is flawed and rushed, and the writing isn't anything special. The hypertext component confused the hell out of me- there is supposedly additional content on the site, but I had a hard time getting through the original text of the book to get to it. Eventually I reminded myself I'd hate reading on the screen anyway and gave up.

Verdict: Pass. 

July will definitely be revenge month. Game on.

Late, Tired, and Wordy

Lake Tahoe, CA
This past week and a half have been busy, to say the least. A few thoughts:

- I went to IB training (IB is basically an international, "whole student" approach version of AP, to make a long story short) in Lake Tahoe last weekend and was amazed by how beautiful, useful, and fun it was (fun was thanks to the colleagues, not necessarily the sessions). I truly appreciated the intelligence of the other attendees and how well-read the English teachers were. I kept a list of book suggestions mentioned during the classes to someday buy. Such a great experience. I can't wait until next school year.

- This weekend I went to Vegas and it was far from literary. I brought my book and read 0.0 pages. There's something about car rides and cabanas that is much more conducive to magazine reading. 

- I am failing miserably at the Don DeLillo project. Time to amp it up- I can't fail again. If I read a hundred pages a day I'd have it done before I go out of town next...

-  I received the ARC for new Victor Lavalle book, The Devil in Silver. I have absolutely no idea what it's about and don't give a crap- Big Machine was so fantastic it wouldn't even make a difference. I also have Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carole Rifka Brunt, which has received some excellent praise so far (I think it's been released, though, so my ARC is a little less-advanced). I do need to stop requesting books; I have plenty and keep feeling the itch to buy a few that I've been eying.

- I think some people sometimes take this blog too seriously; they decide I'm this crazy person and like to decide that I'm automatically mad if they decide to read, say, Fifty Shades of Gray. This blog is for fun, folks! Do we automatically assume the narrator of a novel is in fact the author's voice? The speaker of a poem the poet? Yes, I do feel strongly about quality literature, but the 75% of my blogs are labeled with the tag "being over-dramatic" for a reason. I just get enthusiastic. So, anyway, if you admit to reading less-than-literary fiction to me I may tease you, but seriously, I have bigger things in my life to worry about than what you read. Like world peace.

By the way, this isn't rooted in some sort of confrontation, or anything. The people that really know me know better. I wish I could report on some sort of juicy fight I had with someone where I started yelling at them about the literary merit of Oscar Wilde, but alas, not so much.

- I am done with Summer Academy, meaning I'm done with my daily readings of the high school biology book. Like I've said, it was a good experience in the sense that I now know I can teach science and survive, but it definitely made me miss teaching English. This was probably apparent when I assigned an essay to the poor biology students... sorry, guys. Now I can finally enjoy my summer and recharge for next school year.