Top Ten Tuesday- Keeping it Real

[source; I love Phil]

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us what ten "gateway" books are into a particular genre or journey down a certain path. I really didn't grow fond of non-fiction until the last maybe five or six books- here are ten books that both helped hook me and keep me around:

1. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Bagget- Three professional twenty-somethings give up their lives to travel to exotic, off the beaten path, places for a year.

2. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall- Barefoot running, trail running, ultras.

3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer- Climbing Everest

4. Spark by John Ratey- Why exercise will help not only your physical health, but you're mental health/intelligence as well

5. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe by Katrina Firlik- A female neurosurgeon's memoir.

6. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink- The ethical dilemmas doctors and nursed were faced with during the five days after Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Medical Center.

7. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout- (Disclaimer: I listened to it) A Canadian journalist recounts her kidnapping in Somalia.

8. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- An overview of how we treat the animals we consume in America.

9. Maybe Baby by Lori Leibovich- Several years ago I was feeling uncertain about when, and if, I wanted to have kids. The stories told in this collection of people with kids, without, and those struggling to get pregnant were very thought-provoking.

10. Where Children Sleep James Mollison- This coffee table book of sorts shows photographs of children's bedrooms from around the world. I can't wait to show this to my kid to help him gain some perspective. It's given me some!

Three Defining Books

Lianne at over at Caffeinated Life wrote an interesting post the other day inspired by an NPR tweet that asked what three books would their followers. Like Lianne, I wasn't completely sure how to interpret this- did this mean the plot and characters? The title? The reading process? Given the fact that it was obviously open to interpretation I used a combination, after ruling a few out:

Me Before You
The Pregnant Widow
Everything's Perfect When You're a Liar
The Antagonist
Born to Run
The Devil in Silver
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
Naked Lunch
More Baths Less Talking

The final three: 

Underworld by Don Delillo (the process)

This was one I chose based on the reading process. I started reading it well over a decade ago and just couldn't get too far into it with the constraints of college and work. I picked it up one or two more times and just couldn't get myself to persevere. But eventually, two or so years ago, I decided it was time. I was going to finish the book, no more excuses. And so I did. The timing was right and I had fully committed. I think that's how I tend to live my life, most of the time. Generally, when I say I'm going to do something on the "bigger" side, I do. I ran (run?) half marathons, I climbed Half Dome (twice), I got my English and biology teaching credentials so my job would be more secure, I've gone to Italy. When something is important enough to me it gets done. And when I commit I stick with it until the end.

Spark: The Evolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey (content)

I firmly believe that many of life's woes and ailments can be solved by exercise. I know this isn't completely true, but exercise, whether a half hour of walking a day or Crossfit four times a week, really can change your life. It improves your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, strengthens your mental abilities, calms your stress, balances out hormones, and makes you look better. Ratey's book focuses on the brain part, citing studies that shows how much exercise can improve your cognition now and in the future. I made exercise a part of my daily routine my freshman year in college- I was horribly homesick and was finding myself very lonely and depressed at night (I really, really don't do well with free time). I started hitting the stationary bike and eventually found out that I loved the elliptical. Within a week I was feeling much more positive. To this day I have to get in probably somewhere around 180-200 minutes of movement a week to keep my sanity. I'll never be a hardcore fitness guru, but working out will be a part of my life, to some degree, forever.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith (title)

I change my mind- a lot. Sometimes over small things, like where we should go to dinner. Sometimes at work, like how I want students to complete an assignment. Sometimes with big life things, like what my career plans should be or where I'd like to live. My preferences change as well, whether we're talking music, toe nail color, men, or religion. I like having options and the freedom of not signing up for something permanently. I hate change, but I also hate the idea of commitment- quite the conundrum. When I look back at what I thought I wanted when I was in college I'd be a doctor by now, living somewhere entirely different. My hair would probably be a different color. I more than likely wouldn't have this blog. The option to change is good.

What three books would define you?

Nonfiction Nagging- 4:09:43 Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners

After a busy, stressful few days I planted myself in the backyard this beautiful afternoon with running guru Hal Higdon's new book 4:09:43 Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners and read it in one sitting (because it was less than 150 pages, not because it was fantastically amazing). Higdon, who was not present at the event, but still a very active part of the running community, pieced together the day's events through the eyes of over seventy runners and participants that day, utilizing social media. This is not a story of the bombers at all, their names not even mentioned, but a story about personal determination during the event, as well as the running community's spirit.

This probably isn't really a book for non-runners, as it slowly moves through the different sections of the Boston Marathon, chronicling the runners' progress. There's little technical talk, but we do hear about hurt IT bands, negative splits, and bag checks. There's some attention paid to the elites, Shalane Flanagan popping up a few times. As someone who will never in a million years qualify for Boston I did thoroughly appreciate the organization of the book corresponding to each major part of the race, starting with loading the bus in the morning to, for some, crossing the finish line at the end. 

There isn't a huge chunk devoted to 4:09:43, what the clock read as the first bomb went off. Instead this book pays tribute to the athletes who prepared for this race and fought the hard fight of actually running in it. The exhaustion of running and the triumph of finishing for so many turned into the terror of trying to save one's life. 

There isn't anything groundbreaking in this short text, but it was interesting and a quick read. It definitely made me nostalgic for racing again. I was never fast, but I was consistent and I liked the racing community and just the routine of training. There's something about race day, from waking up early to porta-potty lines to your method of handling water stations. Runners are generally kind, helpful people and the volunteers and crowds are amazing. The fact that someone would come along and cause pain and death is absurd.

As Boston prepares for this year's race in just a few short weeks I'm sure tensions are running high. Boston will never be the same and running it has taken on a new sort of meaning. They'll definitely be in my thoughts. 

The Fault in Our Stars- My Thoughts

I need to preface this review-of-sorts with a few things:

1. I don't read YA. Like I really, really, really don't read YA.
2. I'm not a fan of overly-sappy books.
3. I listened to this on Audible.
4. I decided to give this book a fair chance because of the movie coming out, the fact that some people I truly respect like it, and because I felt a smidge bad telling probably forty students they couldn't read it for outside reading over the past few years.
5. We can still be friends if you like it.

There are some popular books I refuse to touch, the Twilight series and Fifty Shades of Grey being examples. Other books I've given into the hype about and have come up with mixed feelings, such as These Lovely Bones, The Casual Vacancy, The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series. After the aforementioned reason number four, I decided to give John Green's The Fault in Our Stars a try.

First off, I will say that I have an inkling that it probably is one of the better written, or at least thought-out, YA books. There are some heavy themes dealing with life and death (and supposedly existentialism... ha!) that can at least get people to question their own mortality and I appreciated that he handled the love story aspect pretty tastefully. Yes, they're teenagers, so there are lines about how Augustus is "hot" and the normal back and forth "do I like him?" nonsense that I see every day at work. I also must say that John Green seems like a decent guy, after listening to the interview at the end of the audiobook, as well as from his preface and afterward.

All in all, I don't think this is a literary book by any means (and I know most people don't necessarily consider it one, but I have heard the argument that for YA it is literary), nor did I really enjoy it. First of all, it was beyond sappy. I swear, there was crying by one character or another on at least half (or more) of the pages. I know, I know, cancer is sad. But still, the level of weepy drama was too much. Hazel's poor dad's only purpose in this text is to cry. I hope they buy Kleenex at Costco in bulk, for crap's sake. While I thought Hazel's character was slightly more realistic, there were times with Augustus Waters was just too much- I work with teenagers all day, every day and while I have no doubt he was one smart cookie, I just felt like he was often a bit unrealistic. The writing was absolutely mediocre and at times, from what I can tell from listening to the audiobook, anyway, the script aspect was annoying ("Mom: blablabla Me: blablabla").

The lesser characters were quite flat, and some of their little subplots were just so underdeveloped and seemed to be an afterthought (I don't want to give anything away, just in case I was in fact not the last person on the planet to be exposed to this book). The entire premise of going to the Netherlands to seek out an author without really solidifying any plans seems a bit contrived. I did appreciate how drunk and crazy he was, though. His reappearance later in the novel at an event that I will not divulge made me laugh out loud. Sure he'd really attend. Suuuuuuure. And I'm sorry, the obsession those two have with the ending is just ridiculous. It's not even that big of a cliffhanger.

Oh, and I thought the ending was extremely predictable. Green was obviously trying not to come across this way, but in his attempt to mislead the reader throughout he ended up being obvious. I felt that as a whole he did try a bit too hard with this text; there's isn't a natural flow to it.

I completely and understand the draw people have to it; it has the teenage angst that some people love, it has travel, it has a love story, it has drama, it has tragedy. For me, it simply did not work. 

You loved it, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?!?! Tell me why. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[I have no time to find pictures, so please enjoy this one of Chomsky putting himself in the corner]

Link up below! Thanks so much for playing along... once life gets a little less crazy (soon! Sunday!) I'll be stopping by to see your lists.

1. I can't believe I don't have an Italian cookbook. Weird.

2. Tomorrow is parent teacher conferences- something I always dread but end up leaving feeling positive. It's three straight hours of talking to parents and students, sometimes good things... and sometimes not so much. I've never had a parent flip out on me and after having most of my kids two and three years I have a good relationship with many. In fact, this will be the last time I see many of the parents, so it will be a bit sad. But also exhausting.

3. I have a March madness bracket through work and my bracket has totally busted. Granted, my picks may not have been the smartest (Kansas? What was I thinking?). I seriously love it, though- I get into checking the scores and getting excited when I'm doing well. I had my students fill out brackets and most of them went for Wichita- dundundun. Most importantly- UCLA is in the Sweet Sixteen! 

4. So my brother deployed last week for seven months and before he left he bought a Kindle and loaded it with books (we all know I'm anti-ereader, but for situations where you have absolutely no storage and are floating around the Pacific I'll let it slide). He then proceeded to leave it in his girlfriend's car! Augh! Poor kid! She's sending it to him, but I have a feeling it will take a few weeks. A few weeks with out reading... THE HORROR!

5. I'm so sick of healthy living bloggers posting their stupid Stitch Fix Box contents. I know, I know. It is my fault for reading them, but it drives me crazy. Supposedly they're not compensated, but I call bullshit. So many of them talk about being on budgets but all the sudden they're cool dropping $50 on a shirt and $80 on a dress? 

6. The Book Wheel and Love at First Book are hosting a great virtual book club in April and May. They're trying out a companion read, Lolita first and then Reading Lolita in Tehran. I've had Lolita on my shelf for years and this will be the motivation I need to read it. I've done two of their other book clubs and really enjoyed them.

7. People are totally missing the point on this Common Core math problem that's been circulating Facebook and what not. The point is that kids are not currently not being taught actual concepts, but just quick shortcuts and equations. They have no idea why they do what they do, just that they end up at the right answer. I'm on our district's committee to rewrite the curriculum for Common Core and could go on for days and days but I'll spare you. It's not a perfect system, there are going to be flaws, and it will probably take five years to see a true change, but I do believe we are headed in a better direction.

8. We're having a few couples over for dinner on Saturday night- is it bad that when deciding the menu my first main concern was dessert? Would people mind if I just made like five different types of desserts and gave them alcohol? If I wasn't pregnant that would be the best meal ever.

9. Things I refuse to give up, despite them not being as popular anymore: sock buns, Toms, and Shazam.

10. I just finished listening to The Fault in Our Stars- my first official YA experience. Post to come. Hint: I stand by my decision to not let me students read it for outside reading... 

Top Ten Tuesday- Some Day

[I blame this]

I hate the word "bucket list"- bucket lists are something that you do when you're anticipating death, but pop culture has decided to use it as a way to just make lists of what you want to do. Convenient.


This week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish asks us what would be on ours. Here are mine:

1. To consistently have my TBR list to between 5-10 (you have to have options! Just maybe not 50+ of them).

2. To write my own novel and maybe even have it published by a legit house.

3. Open a very hip, cool, happening bookstore/bar in a bustling college town.

4. For the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to be moved back to UCLA, from USC (what, I have no control over this?)

5. To instill my love of books and reading in my own children.

6. To read James Joyce's Ulysses.

7. To sit outside for an entire day (in beautiful weather, of course) and read while sipping the beverage of my choice. A nice lawn chair, maybe a break for ice cream, no interruptions...

8. To walk into a classroom the night after a long reading assignment has been given and for every student to have completed it. And not only completed it, but thought about it.

9. Go to one of those awesome, foreign libraries or bookstores that float around on all those Buzzfeed lists (I have been to The Strand in NYC, though, and it was pretty awesome).

10. To read TC Boyle's, Colum McCann's, Ann Patchett's, or Margaret Atwood's complete catalogs (I'm sure there are several other authors that I'd like to throw in there, but I'm trying to make dinner and write a blog post at the same time, so we'll leave it at that).

What made your list?

And thanks to those that joined me over here for Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts last Wednesday night/Thursday. 

Blogging Habits

I am not a professional blogger. I'm not even a truly experienced blogger. I don't use affiliates, I don't have any ads, and I use the easiest platform know to man. But one thing I am? Consistent. I thought I'd share some of the things that have worked for me over the past three and a half years and fess up to a few things I need to get better at.

Scheduling Posts
To be honest, I didn't really start utilizing this until the last year or year and a half. Considering my content isn't really time-sensitive, for the most part, I can sit down once or twice a week and prepare some posts. Then, if the mood strikes, I'll sit down again and post "live." Time-wise this helps me stay on top of things, and mentally it's easier to spend one large chunk of time in the blogging zone, rather than a few snippets here or there. Whether scheduling or not, I am for three or four posts a week. And I refuse to blog if I don't have anything to say- "I have writer's block" posts are lame.

Obsess Not
I know some people obsess about their spelling, grammar, and content. I do not, which is probably bizarre for an English teacher. That's not to say I don't give my posts a few reads before hitting publish, because I do, but I don't kill myself trying to make sure everything is completely perfect. What I do do, though, is go back a few hours after posting, or even then next day, and give things another glance. Just like with papers in college, I need a little distance to catch mistakes. This isn't my dissertation, and I'm not trying to land a new job with my blog- if I accidentally leave a typo or forget to italicize a title no one is going to die.

I'm constantly jotting down ideas for posts on the notepad app on my phone. A lot of times these are just entries for Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts, but often I'll get post ideas as well that I know I'll forget later. A few months ago I was in total over-achiever mode and was sitting down at the beginning of each month and making a list of 15-20 different posts ideas and approximately when they'd show up. Why I stopped, I'm not sure, because it made things a ton easier. 

First of all, I hate the word "memes." I consider the Dos Equis man with all the "I don't always..." sayings a meme. But, the blogging world uses it for weekly, routine posts that others join in on, so that's that. Anyway, I only allow myself to do a maximum of two a week; my own and then sometimes Top Ten Tuesday through The Broke and Bookish, if I can work with their topic. Doing more allows me to get lazy with my own ideas! I do like participating, though, because it's a great way to interact with bloggers and generate a little traffic (you know for all that ad revenue I don't care about).

Open Options
When I started off blogging I felt a little pigeon-holed by the name of my blog- I was worried I had limited myself. Over time I felt more comfortable introducing non-book related topics in and gave myself permission to do so, as long as the blog didn't become something totally different. I'd say my book-to-other ratio is probably, over the course of the year, 85% books and 15% other, which works. 

I have no clue how to do anything web-related, mostly because I have never tried. Last year I decided to pay $50 and have Designer Blogs give me a facelift. I was extremely pleased with the results- as much as it may suck, the look of your blog matters. Load time matters as well; sites that have huge headers, tons of pictures, lots of buttons, and other add ons end up getting exited out of before I can even start reading because I simply don't have time to wait. 

Getting Personal
Over the last year or two I think I've gotten slightly more personal, always being very cautious of the line that exists between my actual life and the Internet. I post links occasionally to Facebook, meaning my friends, family, and a few coworkers I trust can come see what I'm writing. I also have to assume that one day a student might run across what I write, so that's a whole other issue. I'm careful to not name friends specifically and I don't usually post pictures of other people- respecting privacy is important. I do think that allowing some of yourself to show through on your blog is critical- it helps people connect to you and makes you as a writer more invested in your content.

Copyright Laws
It took my about three of four months to get really picky about sourcing my pictures in posts- I've become (for the most part) a huge stickler about giving credit for pictures. In fact, it drives me crazy when big-name bloggers don't! I don't worry about book covers or movie posters, but otherwise I try extremely hard to find the original source (i.e. not another blog, not Pinterest, not Google images) and link back. 

It's always been my goal to write authentically. I'm not in the business of pretending to be someone I'm not. I drop four-letter words, I make jokes about sex, I'm long-winded at times. I use asides. I like to use humor to balance you the offensive, controversial, or depressing side of life. I refuse to use smileys. I'd be caught dead saying "lol," "totes," or "amazeballs." It's fine to wear a different hat while blogging, but it just isn't for me. 

It was never my intent to start a blog to make money, get free stuff, or land a new gig. I don't even really like talking about it with people! I have been lucky to get offers for free books to review, but I'm pretty picky about what I'll accept, since I have my own, huge, collection of unread books (and I don't do NetGalley or any of those things). But if you are aiming to do something more with your blog that's great! I think you should just be upfront with yourself and audience about what that is, though, which I think a lot of book bloggers are. 

Room to Improve
- Use of social media to increase readership
- Interacting more with the blogging community (responding to comments, commenting on other blogs, actively searching out new blogs, etc...)
- Use my own photos when I can, along with various photo Apps and Picasa
- Become more consistent with the balance of my post lengths
- Write some more critical, analytical, English-degree using type posts 

What are your blogging habits? What works for you? What doesn't? 


Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hello! Link up below! Thanks to everyone who participates and links back!

Warning: It's another baby Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts. I haven't had one since January, and since I'm at 33+ weeks we're getting into the home stretch!

1. While I have no way of knowing if I'll have a natural, medicated, or surgical birth, I do know what I want in terms of visitors. Quick visits in the hospital are fine, but the first 2-3 days at home I want it to be just the three of us and the dogs. There's a few reasons. First of all, as soon as someone, I don't care who, walks through my door I feel like I have to be a host. Secondly, I deal best with change without feeling like I'm being watched. And thirdly, I'm expecting to feel (and look) like shit, so a few days of living in a little bubble will be necessary. I of course appreciate that people will want to come over and meet little [insert baby name here], and I'll definitely want to show him off, I just need a few days! I know it may seem harsh and may not work for some families.

2. When it comes to buying what we need I feel like we're in good shape. All the big items have been purchased, as well as many of the smaller things. We still have to decide on a monitor, the whole video vs. no video being a deciding factor right now. I usually pick up a few things here and there when I'm out and about so that it doesn't seem like we're blowing a ton of money (although we have, collectively). If the baby was born tomorrow we'd be fine.

3. I mentioned the other day that my husband is hard at work on painting the Where the Wild Things Are mural- that shit takes some serious time. I can't wait for the final product. I think I'm going to start putting together the rocker and toy organizer this weekend, but he'll have to handle the dresser (the crib is already assembled). Within a few weeks we should be set.

4. I'm proud to say that I'm still walking the dogs nearly every day for at least thirty minutes (plus walking on the treadmill and a prenatal strength training video)! My golden is super easy to handle (she barely needs a leash), but the lab is always a little unpredictable (the dog loves, or maybe hates, cats and other dogs). I'm really, really hoping to do it up until the end, even if it just means a few laps around our small blocks instead of the larger routes I normally take.

5. I need to research vaccinations. My child will be fully vaccinated, but I am interested in at least looking at a more modified schedule. Maybe. Nonetheless, whatever we decide, I want to be well-informed.

[It's gotten crazy!]
6. I'm due on May 5 (and am measuring right on time) and am crossing everything that can cross that he doesn't come before, or on, April 30 (well, I guess anytime after like 9pm is okay). That night is my students' IB Celebration, a night where they are all recognized for all their accomplishments. It's such a nice night- they dress up, the principal and counselors say nice things about them, each kid's college acceptances are highlighted and everyone gets all nostalgic and sentimental. I've gone the past two years, when they were recognized as AP sophomores and IB juniors, but this is the big year. And I want to be there. HEAR THAT BABY???

7. We haven't toured the hospital, confirmed with the pediatrician that they're taking new patients, or looked into adding the baby to our insurance. I also need to decide if we're doing a newborn photo shoot. Maybe next week.

8. People really love to tell you that you're life is going to change and you're "not going to be able to do [insert usually fun thing] anymore" once the baby is here. Okay. Got it. Thanks. 

9. It's weird to look at the end of April and have to adjust what I'm willing to sign up for. Douglas Coupland has a reading in LA towards the end of the month and I decided I probably should skip it. Same with the LA Times Festival of Books- the lineup didn't impress me much, so I'm going to not go this year. 

10. Something I am going to? Prom. Yup, I'll be almost 37 weeks pregnant, chaperoning a few hundred kids out on Balboa Island (forty so miles away). Trying to find a dress to wear was a little depressing, but my students' excitement (despite the elaborate "promposals" that are happening) is pretty sweet. I'm excited for them. 

Sponsored Post- The House at the End of Hope Street

I was recently sent a copy of The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag from Penguin and must say, it probably wasn't for me. It wasn't horrible, we just didn't click and it had some flaws. The story follows Alba Ashby, a PhD prospect in the UK, who has just been through something devastating that we're not made privy to until much, much later (and when I found out what it was I was quite underwhelmed). She also happens to have a sort of sixth sense, being able to see auras and whatnot (I didn't know this going into this book; with the exception of magical realism and a few authors, I don't generally do supernatural books). Alba ends up at a mysterious house that no one can see unless they're allowed entrance, where she's permitted to stay for not quite a hundred days so she can learn more about herself and heal. Meanwhile, the other inhabitants are introduced and we start learning about their troubled pasts. 

As I already said, the supernatural and Alba's big secret were both ho-hum for me, but the problems ran deeper. I thought most of the characters lacked depth, the dialogue was a bit contrived, and the plot (and ending) quite predictable (and a little flat). The book, and author, wanted something greater and grander, it just wasn't achieved.

I did appreciate the fact that the book centered around literature and reading, the house having temporarily housed hundreds of female writers in the past, who still talk in their picture frames (Harry Potter style). Alba is an academic and adores libraries. And the cover, at least the one I have, is very cute. It was also a very quick read. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Spring TBR

Last time I had did one of these posts, for my winter TBR, I looked back at fall to see what I had, and had not, accomplished. I was pretty impressed with myself for reading ZERO of the ten I had prophesied. I did a bit better the last few months, finishing five of the ten (I read a lot more than that, I just have a hard time sticking to what I'll say I'll read). Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish, here's what I'm "planning" on reading this spring:

1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (a reread)- this is for work, and it's the last novel my IB seniors will read in high school. Sorry, guys.

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (a reread)- this is also for work, and it's the first novel my AP Language students are reading this year. It'll serve as a way to teach humor and irony, and then as a bridge to the more literature-based IB program that they'll start junior year.

3. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp- I really thought I'd be way into reading pregnancy and baby books, but I'm not. I've had this one for awhile and even took it to Houston with me but haven't cracked it once. It's supposed to be really good...  If all else fails I'll just do what my mom used to do with the car when it made loud noises- turn up the radio!

4. Why We Write by Meredith Maran- I haven't read a reading/writing book in awhile and it'll be perfect (ha) timing to get inspired before the baby comes and I can barely string together a few coherent sentences. 

5. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie- I'm hoping to knock this one out during spring break in two weeks. It's a bit of a beast at over 600 pages, but I really want to hear about his fatwa. 

6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- I've never read it and feel like I should!

7. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese- I've had this book for quite some time and while it sounds incredibly interesting I always hesitate because I know it's long and dense. Now's the time!

8. Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas- Some motivation to work on paying down my student loans (it's about a man who travels around the country in his van so he can cut costs and pay his down).

9. Talk Talk by TC Boyle- I have three(!) unread Boyle books on my shelf, despite the fact I'd probably list him in my top five favorite authors.

10. Sous Chef by Michael Gibney- Let's be honest- I'm going to buy it. 

Listening-wise, I plan on finishing up A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout (memoir of Canadian journalist who is kidnapped in Somalia), possibly trying out The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (I don't read YA at all, but I feel like this one might be okay to listen to, and I'd like to know for sure that I don't like it... or do), and maybe something I read a long time ago and is a bit fuzzy (like The Confederacy of Dunces).

Shameless Plug!

I host Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts on Wednesday night/Thursdays- an opportunity for bloggers to link up, sharing ten random thoughts bookish or otherwise. The participating group has been growing (nowhere near TTT, but still, it's fun) and it's been incredibly interesting to see some of the more personal sides of bloggers come out. Join us! 

Weekend Update

This weekend has been the perfect mix of relaxing and productivity. Yesterday I got up early and cleaned my house, walked my dogs, and exercised. Super exciting. We then saw the Veronica Mars movie with my sister and brother-in-law, which I thought was great. If you didn't watch the show I probably wouldn't bother going, but for those of who did it's perfect. The best, and most awkward part, was when Veronica sarcastically asks Dick (a total idiot), who is on his phone, "Playing Words with Friends?" and he responds "Some people just call it texting." My husband and I silently keeled over in laughter, since absolutely no one else in the theater made a peep.

My sister-in-law gave us a cute Where the Wild Things Are bib and onesie. My husband has gotten into working on his mural and it's looking great. The time he's putting into it is insane- it took him a day to draw the scene (it's one big mural on one wall and a few small canvases on another), and he's probably put in 15-20 outlining in black... so far. I hope the baby likes it, because he's stuck with it for the rest of his entire life. I'm not allowed to put pictures up until it's done, so to be continued...

Last night my little brother and his girlfriend came over for dinner. He's leaving on deployment (he's in the Navy) on Thursday for six or so months, so I made him one last home-cooked meal. The highlight of the evening may have been when he was giving his girlfriend a hard time for listening to Paramore occasionally and I revealed that he used to have a poster of the lead singer in his room when he was younger. And if I recall, that's how the family pet got her name... Sibling love.

[Bon voyage!]

 I also made these brownies for dessert, which were amazing.

[photo source and recipe: Averie Cooks]

He brought me my Little House on the Prairie books, which I've been harassing my mom to bring down for at least a year. There's been a sort of discrepancy about who they actually belong to- supposedly they're my sister's too. But, then again so was the stereo I relinquished to her when I went to college. I read them and loved them and so they're mine (my dad bought them used when I was in kindergarten of first grade). Possession is nine-tenths of the law, right?

[Used + elementary reading = tore up from the floor up]
Today I got up went grocery shopping, did a prenatal work out video, and walked through an episode of Grey's Anatomy- my weekend mornings obviously start off incredibly interesting. Since it was nearly 90 degrees out (seriously) I let the dogs swim and scared the neighbors by laying out in my two piece. I'll spare you the pictures.

Another highlight: this Lucky Charms shake. I feel like the hour and twenty minutes worth of exercise balanced things out.

[magically fattening delicious]

I also finished the copy of The House on the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag that Penguin sent. Review to come. Spoiler: meh.

[the cover is great, though]

God forbid a weekend go by without working, so I put in some time with Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, both reading it and creating some lessons. I'm appreciating it so  much more as an adult, but I can understand why my students are struggling. It's tough. I also graded papers, finishing the weekend with a bang. Boom.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. I found this recipe for a Lucky Charms Blizzard on Pinterest and I have to make it, like now.

[recipe and picture from Sweet Treats and More]

2. Amtrak is offering a residency program for writers- they take a trip across the country in their own sleeping car, complete with desk and other amenities. I have a sort of romanticized view of train travel, always building it up to be incredibly awesome in my head and then once I'm finally traveling on one I'm over it in about an hour. But maybe when the reason is for the experience, rather than reaching a destination it might be different.

3. A student made me this as a thank you for all of my help on college and scholarship applications:

4. Since coming back from Houston, work has been ridiculous. I've had two rounds of IB paperwork to turn in, and while I was prepared with the testing I get sort of paranoid and anal when it comes to this sort of stuff and had to double and triple check everything. On top of that, the yearbook was due on Monday, so there was the normal 12+ hours of final edits that had to be done. Oh, and I spent 4.5 hours at school Saturday morning working a "bootcamp
 to tutor those in danger of not passing the high school exit exam. I'm happy to say everything is wrapped up and now I can return my focus to grading. Yay.

5. I know it's old news, but I can't stop loving Texts from Dog. They're just so hilarious. I introduced the Tumblr to a few students and they are constantly emailing me screenshots of their favorites.

6. The Veronica Mars movie comes out this weekend! And it's shockingly playing near us.


7. I finished Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink last weekend and it was fantastic. You can read my review here- I highly, highly recommend it (even better if you can make your book club, friend, or significant other read along for discussion purposes).

8. It's prom season and things are getting out of control already. Two of my students helped one of their guy friends create some sort of balloon display to ask another one of my girls to prom (she said yes). I feel bad for these poor boys! If the girls are expecting this sort of nonsense for prom, what will they want for their engagement proposals?

9. I love this shirt, which features lines from Whitman and Dickinson on it. The price tag, not so much.

[Erdem $1,490]

10. Every year one of our attendance clerks creates a huge list of messages from teachers for each of the graduating seniors. The kids pick it up when they check out and they love it. I started a spreadsheet today that I keep up on my desktop so that I can add to it when the mood strikes (I'm trying to come up with something for each of my seniors). I'm going to be soooooo sad when my last day comes. Augh.

Nonfiction Nagging: Five Days at Memorial (ie The Post With a Lot of Questions)

Last weekend I finished Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink, for our work book club. Let's just say it's going to make for a fascinating discussion. In her investigation, Fink delves into what happened during and directly following Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. The hospital faced destruction during the actual storm, but even more so when the levies broke and their humongous institution was partially flooded. The city had lost power and eventually the generator in the building that housed the patients who were not evacuated failed as well.

This book poses a series of critical questions, the first being "who gets to leave, and who has to stay?" As the city became more dangerous (supposedly; there is some debate about the rumors that ran rampant about snipers and looters) and communication between the hospital, its owner Tenet, and various sources of transportation (Coast Guard, private companies, etc...)  became less reliable, the doctors and nurses in charge, including Dr. Anna Pou, had to decide the priority list for evacuating patients. Ultimately, they created a haphazard triage system that allowed healthier, walking people and sick, but possibly saveable people, to go first (like neonates). Those with DNRs, including many in a sort of "hospital within a hospital" called Life Care, were kept to the end (as well as an obese man who they weren't sure how to move). Many of the DNRs were elderly and lacked the ability to speak for themselves. Their statuses deteriorated rapidly, due to of course their illnesses, but also because of the horrific hospital conditions that led to extreme heat, dehydration, and lack of hygiene. 

Eventually, doctors and nurses arrived at the conclusion time was running out and rescue for the remaining patients was not going to happen in the near future, meaning they themselves had to stay. The patients' conditions were deteriorating rapidly and they were suffering severely. It was decided, by someone, that those who seemed hopeless would be given a cocktail of morphine and benzodiazepine (like Ativan) to reduce their pain and anxiety... or kill them, considering the combination and dosage. It is unclean who exactly executed- it seems like a small core group (others knew and refused). Of the forty-five found dead in the hospital, twenty-three had elevated levels of these medication; twenty were labeled "homicides." Eventually, after much investigation, a doctor and two nurses were arrested for their role in the deaths (despite it seeming like others took part as well, such as Dr. John Thiele). 

And now I'll shut up because I don't want to spoil the outcome for anyone who plans to read it (and you should).

So, the million dollar questions: was it flat-out murder? Euthanasia? Justifiable? Inexcusable? It's such a delicate, sensitive topic that can so easily lead to passionate, defensive responses. I wasn't expecting it to be so thought-provoking, and a catalyst for examining my own mortality. I, of course, have an opinion, but am almost hesitant to share as it may not be the popular one. First of all, I am a supporter of physician-assisted suicide (i.e. the Jack Kevorkian special). I feel that as humans we have the right to terminate our own lives, especially when one is facing a tortuous, terminal, medical illness. While I don't have a DNR, and don't plan to make one any time soon, I would not want to be kept in a vegetative state on ventilators. If I found myself facing lung cancer at the age of ninety- five I'd spend all my money and pay someone to carry me Half Dome and push me off The Visor. I believe in quality of life. 

Those at Memorial were not given a choice; they were patients that were very sick but could have possibly regained some sort of quality of life if they were rescued and properly cared for. No one asked their family members. Patients didn't request to be medicated.

That being said, is it humane and ethical to watch someone slowly die in front of you? To drop into the tell-tale Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern that precedes death? And to not be confident that a relocation will even bring life-saving care? At what point is enough enough?

If what the staff at Memorial did was done out of reasons of convenience- they were tired of caring for these patients or they were in a hurry to leave themselves, then it was straight-out murder. I'm hoping that wasn't the case, though, and that's when it gets a bit murkier, for me. I truly don't think it should have been done. But do I understand? I can at least try to. First of all, these doctors and nurses had gotten very little sleep in five days and were literally running around the hospital trying to save lives and evacuate people. They were scared for their own families and selves. Also, they have a duty to comfort, to make people feel whole again, and they couldn't. They were helpless and these people were a hop, skip, and a jump away from dying. There are no easy decisions during  disaster.

It's so easy to judge others, whether it's how they spend their money or how they do their jobs. But until we're there, in that moment, experiencing what they've gone through, we really don't always have the right. Sure, the man who murders a little old lady only to rob her for his next hit of meth can rot in jail (or was he molested and beat for his entire childhood and has turned to drugs? Does that make it any better than the man who is just an asshole?), but the medical professionals who stayed at a destroyed hospital with no electricity, running water, or working sewage systems, trying to save person after person? Does intent matter? To me it does. These people did something wrong, and the consequences that resulted weren't what I have sanctioned, but to claim their are cold-blooded killers just doesn't work for me. 

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there. Just read it.

How Fast is too Fast?

The past few weeks I've seen the new Spritz app gaining more and more momentum. Basically, the app, which is debuting with Samsung, will allow you to take speed reading to a whole new level, eventually maxing out at 1,000 words per minute (basically the equivalent to a novel in less than 90 minutes). This is done by "remov[ing] the inconvenience of scrolling, swiping, squinting and pinching to read on your devices by streaming individual words, one by one, at the user's desired speed," according to the company. To try it, follow this link and click the "click to spritz" button in the upper right hand corner. The program will eventually allow for a variety of content, ranging from novels to email to other forms of media. They'll also be available on devices including watches.

Supposedly, they're saying it boosts comprehension, but I won't be convinced, at all, until I see more studies, including ones that involve some peer review. 

My first response is of course disapproval and disgust. They're taking away the pleasure of reading! They're making it into a race! They're making the eyes lazy! It's a gimmick! It's a joke! It's a fad!

And I still do primarily feel this way. Are we really that rushed for time as a culture that we can't simply move our eyeballs anymore? Are we that desperate for efficiency we can't be bothered to turn a page (or click a button)? Must we streamline everything? What about the need to reread, annotate, and easily return to the text? Life already moves so fast the way it is. 

I know this is a bit hypocritical- I strive for maximizing my time, multi-tasking often, making to-do lists, and searching for quicker ways to do things. But reading is sacred to me, a process so ingrained in my psyche that the idea of altering it is actually disturbing. I'm a sort of quick reader already, ranging from speeds of 400-600 words per minute, according to the tests I've taken (nerd alert). I have absolutely no desire at all to increase this though- there's a natural cadence that I fall into while reading, one that relaxes and almost soothes. Having words flash before my eyes at extreme speeds has quite the opposite effect.

In the interest of fairness, there are advantages. A friend on Facebook mentioned that this product could be used to get through less enjoyable readings, like technical manuals or textbooks, which I think is a valid point (although I still can't shake the issue of it not facilitating comprehension, sorry). When trying to get through pages and pages of my astronomy and chem texts in college I'm sure I would have been thankful for an opportunity to move a bit faster (but still... the comprehension...). But for pleasure? No thanks.

I don't want this app to succeed, I must admit. Speed up my commute, the amount of time it takes to dry a load of laundry, or the wait at the doctor's office. But reading? Let's leave it alone. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. My general first love holiday-candy wise are Reeese's Peanut Butter Cup eggs/trees/hearts, but these have always been my downfall:

[buyer beware; they're now in a green bag for some reason]

2. I feel like cars should now automatically have windshield wipers that adjust for you, depending on the current volume of water falling from the sky. They can park themselves, but they can't wipe themselves (errr...)?

3. I've started watching Nip/Tuck during my daily jaunts on the treadmill and I'm definitely enjoying so far. I was a little surprised at how graphic it is, not that it bothers me, but then again it was on F/X. 

4. I really need to buy an external hard drive. I feel like I'm playing with fire not having one. The idea of something happening to my computer and not being able to simply revert back to once was is scary. 

5. I want to read this:

[Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney]
6. Why did I just now learn about this book?

7. I was at lunch with an old, old friend that used to by my boss last weekend and she said some really kind, genuine things about me. I tried to graciously accept the compliments, but honestly I was incredibly uncomfortable. And this doesn't just happen with compliments, but with gifts, assistance, praise, etc... Basically, I'm some sort of ass-backwards, damaged individual that can't handle kindness.

8. I have two full months, supposedly, before the baby is born- my goal is to knock out fifteen books, which will probably be impossible considering how much needs to be done at work and home in the mean time. 

9. I've been in Houston for the past three days and ohmygod am I happy to be home. It was quite chilly over there (at least for someone from Southern California), the area wasn't impressive (although Rice University is pretty), and I much prefer my bed (and bathroom and kitchen and car and....). The training itself was fairly helpful (and it's so great to be around literary-minded people- I have a list of new books I need to read that I'll post later), but man I wish it had been somewhere. Plus, flying at 7 months pregnant is a little uncomfortable...

10. I'm reading Five Days at Memorial by Shari Fink for our work book club and it's absolutely insane. Hurricane Katrina was in 2005, and while I followed the hurricane destruction itself, I don't really remember hearing anything about the atrocities that happened at this particulate hospital. I'll post a full review when I'm done. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Never Ever

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us for ten popular authors we've never read. Most of mine are "never have read and am never going to," but a few fall into the literary realm that I just haven't gotten around to yet.

Never Have, Never Gonna 

1. Stephanie Meyer

2. E.L. James

3. James Patterson

4. Janet Evanovich

5. Jennifer Weiner

Never Have, Need To

6. Thomas Pynchon

7. John Updike

8. David Foster Wallace

9. James Joyce

10. Kurt Vonnegut 

What about you? Things you won't touch? Things you need to [insert raunchy joke here]?

February Reviews

[Finally! Rain in SoCal!]

This past month has been really, really busy, especially in regards to work, so I barely managed to squeak in four books:

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycha
304 pages
 I read this for a virtual book club and ended up enjoying it, despite some of the flaws it had with trying to intermix family history and a book being written on tractors into the actual prose (I thought it was not quite seamlessly done). The story, about two sisters' mission to stop their elderly father from being involved with a woman using him to get her citizenship, is touching, hilarious, and a bit ridiculous (but in a good way).

Verdict: I think if you can look past the flaws, as I did, this is a pretty interesting, entertaining read.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
304 pages
This well-hyped book from last year fell a little flat for me; the first 2/3 of the story was decent and original, but the end was too much stereotypical romantic comedy and fell in line way too neatly. The premise, a socially-stunted man from Australia who decides to embark on a project driven by logic and statistics to find a wife, all the while not seeming to understand that he has Aspergers, is quirky and interesting. He ends up working with a young woman to help her find her biological father, and an odd sort of relationship develops.

Verdict: This is a perfect beach read- keep it my mind for boozy afternoons by the pool when you're less apt to criticize endings.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
209 pages
I read this, finally, for work and really enjoyed the story of Okonkwo's quest to be nothing like his father while struggling with familial and tribal matters. The historical aspect, the arrival of the white missionaries in Africa, is also central to the text and has made for interesting discussion with my students. They initially didn't love it, since the names are really difficult (and apparently that can make or break a book for a seventeen-year-old), but they're coming around.

Verdict: I think for those of us who consider ourselves literary we should probably read it, as it did put Africa on the map, literature-wise.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
389 pages  
I received the trilogy for Christmas and just finished this one up- I loved it. I'm not one generally for sci-fi or dystopias, but Atwood is a talented enough writer to bring me over at least temporarily. This non-linear story is set in the future where most of the population has been wiped out by a disease; Snowman, or Jimmy, is alone, trying to manage the Children of Crake and Oryx (genetically modified people and animals) while coming to terms with his past.

Verdict: Like I said, this is not linear, and I know that bothers many. There's also a lot of inferences to be made, as well as a cliffhanger ending. Nonetheless, I thought it was fantastic. 

1206 pages
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Or see the geographical locations on Zee Maps (although I'm not really sure where to put Oryx and Crake...)