Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overwhelmed... Amazed... Exhausted

I can't begin to describe how tired I am.

The last few weeks have been busy as work.  When you're a fundraiser, there really isn't a "slow" time of year, but calendar and fiscal year ends tend to keep you busier than you could possibly imagine.  Between the back and forth about mailings, the conference I attended last week, the students in and out of my office making last minute phonathon calls and freaking out about finals, and the constant checking of totals to make sure we stay ahead of last year's numbers............. Whew.

I love my job.  Seriously.  I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

I will be home for Christmas in 10 days.  The entire family is going home.  My sister Abby, her FIANCE* Eric, their puppy Ellie, their cat Shmoe, Lady Bug, and me... all of us... road tripping home to Wisconsin... in a Honda CRV.  I have never needed that chaotic family togetherness more.

On to the real reason for the tiredness.  I don't want this whole post to be negative or sound like I'm a Debbie Downer but it's been a really rough week for my family.  My uncle's house burned down yesterday.  He, his wife, and their two sons have nowhere to live, nothing to wear, none of their tangible memories.  It's devastating - I can't even imagine what they're going through.

That being said, I feel so incredibly blessed right now.  All of them made it out without a problem.  They may not have any physical belongings but they are alive and healthy and safe and that's what's most important.

Friends from all parts of my life have stepped up and offered to help.  People at work have been bringing things in and enlisting their friends help.  My best friends from Minnesota are collecting things at work and from friends and family and sending them packages of essentials, blankets, and little gifts.  Friends who I have barely spoken to in years have ordered them new clothes, are sending gift cards, and are offering more items than they could possibly take.  I can't begin to described how loved we all feel.  In less than 48 hours, our friends and family have rallied together and are providing for some of the most precious people in my life.  The people that are helping them have never met my uncle, aunt, or cousins.  Many of the people who have offered help have never met me.

Sometimes we look around this world and we see the bad things.  I've worked in public schools where kids only have one pair of shoes that they make last all year.  And heard stories from refugees about the horrible things they've seen.  I've seen people die much too young because of needless tragedies that could have been avoided.  But then something happens and we are reminded that humans are inherently good.  That when someone needs something, we will drop everything to help people we've never even met just because someone who knows someone who knows the person in need once did something that touched us.  We all roll our eyes at technology and how we're addicted to Facebook and how it's our lifeline to our friends.  But with one little Facebook status, I was able to reach hundreds of people who are at very least sending positive thoughts all towards my family when they need it most.  And all of the physical goods are of course important and they need that.  But just knowing that my family is important to all of those people, that so many people are willing to help, is overwhelming... and amazing... I've said both of those words probably 500 times today.

*Squeeeeee!  My sister got engaged last weekend.  In the midst of some really long and hard days, my baby sister who I think is one of the most incredible people ever is getting married... to a man who I am proud to call my brother.  None of that in-law crap.  If my half-brother is a real brother in my family, than so is my brother-in-law.  Congrats you two.  I'm so happy for you.  There will be many more posts about your lives together and the wedding planning to come.  I'm sorry you only got a footnote in this post.  You deserve a billboard, not a footnote.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This Has Been a Wonderful Couple of Book Weeks

So I obviously posted this morning but it wasn't about anything I've read lately.  Honestly, I haven't had time to update in a while because I've been hurrying home to read more.  Fall is officially here (well, back at home winter is officially here but down here in Kentucky, I'm content with fall for now) and I've spent lots of nights laying on the couch with a fire going, a glass of wine in my hand, Lady Bug curled up on my feet and wonderful read spread out in front of me.  I know I mentioned that in one of my last real post but seriously.  I am so incredibly content with my life lately that it was worth mentioning again.

So in my post about The Thirteenth Tale, I went on and on about what a good book it was because I loved reading other people's stories.  That book, combined with some recommendations from friends and family, has gotten me a new genre trend - books about libraries or books.  I read three in a row that fit that bill and I loved each and every one of them. 

The first book after The Thirteenth Tale that I devoured (well, it was really brownies or cookies that I was devouring probably but the book was just as delicious in it's own way) was The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  Add it to the book club recommendations.  It's about a woman, Nell, and her granddaughter, Cassandra, and their separate journeys to discover who Nell really was.  As a child, Nell was discovered on a boat dock in Australia and brought up by a family that was not her own.  Life, and later death, intervened before she could solve her own mystery so her granddaughter picks up when she left off and ultimately discovers her family heritage after her grandmother's death.  The book does a wonderful job of telling the story from all of the perspectives and time periods involved and conjures up incredible images of stories that are waiting to be deciphered.  One of the only things that Nell has to help solve her mystery is a book of fairy tales that she arrived with in Australia.  The fairy tales themselves are a clue and tell the stories of lost princesses, scary old witches, homely but kind hearted crones... It gives me chills just thinking of how artfully these stories are crafted into this book.

After finishing that book cuddled in my bed on Saturday morning, I opened up The Shadow of the Wind, yet another book that tells the story of a mysterious book.  This story talks about a magical, if not sad, place that I wish really existed - the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  I want a job someday guarding those books so they are not forgotten.  Seriously.  Anywho, the eerie tale that follows about a boy who "adopts" one of these forgotten books and subsequently goes on a quest to discover why it has all but disappeared is one that will suck you in on a rainy Saturday night and not let you out of its grasp until you reach the end and learn all of the gritty details sometime in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday.  I loved this book.  Very rarely do I read a book and think that I need to own it so that I can pass it along to everyone who is willing to read it, but this is one of those books.

Alright, that was sort of brief but it's 5:30 and I don't want to sit at my desk any longer.  Just wanted to mention a couple of wonderful reads for those of you who are going to be settling for the holidays and want something to read.

Oh yeah!  And I couple of movie recommendations too...
  • 27 Dresses - So cute that I went out and bought a copy... 
  • Avatar - I've been putting off seeing this because my tv isn't worthy.  Well I watched it last weekend anyway and hello, AMAZING.  I don't care who you are, watch it.  My mom even loved it and my mom is not a movie person.  That was the fastest 2.5 hours I've spent watching a movie in a long time.  Beautiful, political, and heartwarming all rolled into one.
  • My Sisters Keeper - Yeah, no.  Not a bad movie if you haven't read the book but I am not surprised that Jodi Picoult hated it so much.  Terrible adaptation of a great story.  Skip the movie and read the book.
  • The Queen - How did it take so long for me to see this movie?!  It was so royal, and British, and somehow comforting and uncomfortable all at once.  And I love Helen Mirren.  Wonderful.
Clearly I've been a busy lady lately.  Or a homebody... ha ha

Happy Thanksgiving friends!

100 Books...

This thing is going around Facebook, and while I don't usually do things like this, I had to laugh at how many of these books I've read. I already added the rest of them to my reading list. Anything bolded below are books that I’ve read… The italicized are those that I started but didn’t finish. Wow.

The BBC believes that most people will have read only 6 of these 100 books.  I read 68 of them.  That either means I'm really well read or have no life.  Either way, for your viewing pleasure, here's my 100 books list.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible (I read the whole thing in middle school and high school.)

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Close, but not the whole thing… I own it though so maybe that’s a good project for Thanksgiving break. Ha ha)

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne (Yes Dad, I read them without you!)

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Just finished it! Review coming soon!)

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Inferno - Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tales Untold

As you know, everyone has a story.  Whether it's interesting or not is another thing.  But bottom line, everyone has a story.

Some stories are sad.  Some are joyful.  Some make you pause.  Some make you appreciate the life you've had or wish you'd made some different choices or been born into a different time, place, or family.  Some stories do all of those things.

I think that's part of why I love books so much.  I love people's stories too, but people are much less likely to just lay it all out there in black and white and tell you their story.  There are always parts omitted because they don't think that bit is important or because they're embarrassed or they simply forgot.  With books, it is the author's job to make sure every little important detail is included (if the details are omitted, it's probably not a very good book.  And authors can't allow their characters to be embarrassed by their stories - if the character is not willing to share, it's simply not a part of the story.  And of course, authors can't forget details!  They've never get published if they skipped whole parts of the story.

This month is National Novel Writing Month and everywhere I look, someone is trying to write some sort of story.  Those of you who get through it will probably have a product that might some day be worth reading with a lot of editing.  Not that that's a bad thing!  I used to write and I've pretty much given it up.  Apparently my characters are too embarrassed to tell their tales.  But unless you can get it just write, you're going to have a hard time satisfying both yourself and your readers.

Of course there are hundreds of books published every year by authors that simply just missed the point, so really this rambling is going no where.


I just finished a book that was a fabulous story.  The Thirteenth Tale is about an elderly reclusive author who decides to finally tell her story to a little known biographer.  The biographer is no professional but, due to some interesting circumstances, is able to treat the story with such tenderness that the sheer ridiculousness of it doesn't phase her at all.  The author of The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield, did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of each of her characters and the story within a story within a book is so richly woven that I found myself complete engrossed.  Miss Winter, the elderly author, has a story that simply doesn't seem plausible - wealth, incest, twins, mysterious deaths, and on and on and on - but somehow in the end it comes together and you're left puzzling over how you didn't see it before.  And the narrator, the biographer, has a nasty mess of a life herself that you are easily drawn into.

Clearly, I found this a wonderful read... Highly recommended.  And it's a great book club book for all my lady friends out there.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for a day on the beach but for snuggled up next to the fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa, it couldn't be more perfect.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An addendum to the last post...

So I finally finished the Edgar Sawtelle book I mentioned in my last post.  Wow, I shouldn't have spoken so soon.  That book was wonderful until the last 30 pages and it fell flat on it's face.  I can't help but take back my recommendation.  The ending of that book was awful.  Truly awful.

Sad.  I hate when my books disappoint me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My lack of blogging has nothing to do with not having anything to write about and everything to with not having time to blog while I'm sitting at my desk during the day.  By 5:00pm, I usually just want to run home.  Considering that I've spent pretty much every night for the last two weeks laying on the couch reading a book or watching movies, with the cat curled up at my feet or on my lap, a fire going in the fireplace, usually with a bowl of popcorn in my lap and a glass of wine or mug of steaming hot cocoa on the coffeetable within arms reach... Well, needless to say, I have plenty of books and movies I should have taken the time to write about.  There just aren't enough hours in the day where I have internet available.

I'm thinking of canceling my cable now too.  Me... who is terrible-television obsessed.  It hasn't been on in almost a week except to watch football, Wheel of Fortune, and the morning news - both which I can watch without cable.

This fast moving city girl, who needs to know that she can go grocery shopping at 2:00am if she wants to (nevermind that I usually grocery shop on Sunday afternoons like civilized people these days), who sometimes wants ice cream at 1:00am on a Tuesday just because (except that I'm too lazy to get out of bed and actually get it now), who still doesn't sleep well (although lately "not getting enough sleep" means I only got 6 hours... which I was lucky to get in 3 nights during college and grad school), is slowing down.  Between the aforementioned fireplace, the cat, the frozen soups in the freezer, and the closet of comfy sweaters that were a requirement for growing up in the Midwest, I could stay home and doze on the couch all winter and not complain about not seeing anyone for weeks.  Seriously, I have turned into an old lady.  Or else the years of running like a chicken with my head cut off have caught up with me and my body is finally catching up on all of that rest I've been skipping since I was 12.

October feels like it was a blur.  Honestly, everything since about July has felt like a blur.  So much has changed in the last few months, even more if we go back a year, and I think I've just been coasting along until I got to a place where I felt comfortable examining my mistakes (honestly examining them, not just glossing over them and moving on), learning from them, and moving forward with my life.  The hours at home alone give me so much time to think and for the first time in my life, I'm not terrified of those thoughts.  In fact, it's been nice to be alone with my thoughts lately - I may be an old lady but I'm certainly not the crazy person that I always thought I was.

And I'm happy.  Sounds simple but we all know that it isn't always as simple as we'd like it to be.

Alright, on to the book and movie reviews.  It's been a while so I know I'll miss a few and these will be brief but it's worth it to share some of the great (and awful) things I've discovered lately.

  • "The Lost Symbol" (Dan Brown)
    Finally got around to reading this one.  I loved "The Da Vinci Code"  until I read "Angels & Demons" and I still think A&D is the best one.  The twists aren't twists anymore if they're pretty much the same in every book.  And this one was obvious (at least to me) but I read it in one sitting so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.  I mean, Dan Brown has a style.  If that's what you're looking for, you'll like it.  If it's not your thing, don't bother. Rating: Meh...

  • "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" (David Wroblewski)
    Ok, so I'll admit I haven't finished this yet but the fact that it's taken me almost a week to get through is a big thumbs up in itself.  It's not that it's difficult or boring or anything - it's that I want to savor it.  Yes, this book was on Oprah's list and I don't particularly like Oprah (ok, can't stand her) but it's a book about a mute boy growing up in Northern Wisconsin and his family who raises a fictional breed of dog.  As someone who (obviously) loves her pets, I find it truly awesome.  Plus, the fact that he feeds his dogs cheese curds multiple times throughout the book certainly helps me cure homesickness a bit.  It's so touching and so real (although not all at the same time) - perfect for the nights curled up on the couch that have become the norm.
    Rating: LOVE IT
  • "In the Bedroom" (2001)
    Truly awful.  I'm sorry, but it was terrible. I waited for weeks to get it from Netflix (for some reason it was always on a wait) and when I got it, it took me three tries to get through it because I kept falling asleep.  Terrible.  Netflix described Sissy Spacek & Tom Wilkinson's performances as "stunning" - bullshit.  They were flat and boring and while I understand that the story of a boy who dies while having a love affair with a single mother isn't supposed to be exciting I do expect some life.  They didn't deliver.  And Marisa Tomei only made it worse.  It got nominated for a number of Academy Awards but I couldn't stand it.  Maybe something is wrong with me.  Whatever - I don't recommend wasting your time.
    Rating: Awful
  • "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (2010)
    LOVED IT - If you have children, they will love it.  If you are a parent of children, you will love it.  Even if you just like silly movies that make you feel like you're in 6th grade and incredibly awkward again, you will also love it.  So cute.  So child friendly.  Rent it.  Two child-sized thumbs up.
    Rating: So cute
  • "The City of Lost Children" (1995)
    I should have known better than to think a 1990's French "thriller" would be thrilling.  I'll give it this much - the disjointed special effects were enough to throw you off your guard and it creeped me out a bit... but it was just weird.  Again, got great reviews, I just wasn't feeling it.  I think maybe I was just expecting too much and forgot how far cinema has come since 1995.
    Rating: It's 1995 French... what do you expect?
  • "The Changeling" (1980)
    So I didn't expect much from this movie.  "Horror" movies from the 1980's don't usually turn out quite the way I planned - they're usually so terribly made that I end up laughing instead of shuddering.  Not so much with this film.  It genuinely freaked me out a little.  I mean, it was bad 80's acting and not great cinematography BUT they followed the number one rule of horror movies (at least my number one rule) and didn't really show the "ghost."  The only time you saw a figure at all was when they showed how the boy died.  Otherwise, it was just eerie things happening and that freaks me out more than some shadowy figure.  So glad I took a chance on this one.  I think my aunt recommended it - if she happens to read this, thanks.  Well done!
    Rating: Pleasantly surprised
So there you have it friends.  The life according to me... lately at least.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not Having Internet Sucks

This whole not having internet at home thing really gets in the way of my blogging.  Carving time out of my lunch hour or staying after work just isn't an option usually.  Ugh...

Anywho, today I am sitting around waiting for some people to install tables in my phonathon room.  I'm done with the work I can do away from ym desk without my files, so I'll take a few moments to catch up on some blogging.

First of all, this month has been nuts.  I can't believe how many nights and weekends I've worked.  I hadn't even had time to read, much less watch movies or catch up with friends.  I finally took some down time last weekend and am feeling much more caught up - thank goodness.

Enjoy my musings, friends.  It's about time I had a free moment to share my thoughts with you all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kristin Hannah Does it Again

I have found my new favorite "book club" author - that author who no matter what the title is, you know you will want to read it and then sit around drinking wine with your girlfriends to discuss it.  You might remember my earlier post about her book Firefly Lane, which I wil continue to dub as my favorite summer read.

Last week I discovered another book by here, True Colors, that talked about the jealousy between sisters instead of focusing on best friends.  As someone with two sisters, both who I have had good times and bad with, this book resonated loud and clear.

Their story couldn't be more different than ours, but the bottom line is that all sisters are sisters.  We have this weird bond with one another that cannot be broken.  No matter what happens in the end, no matter how long we go between fights or how many months we spend avoiding each other, we are sisters and that is something no one can take away.

It's wonderful to me that my little sister is also counted as one of my best friends.  This hasn't always been the case and we definitely fight plenty, but if I really need something, there are very few people who will come running as quickly as Abby will.

I can't help but think back to 5th grade, when I got the shit kicked out of me in the hallway.  I was sitting in the office, a giant goose egg on my head, and my headstrong little sister comes charging in fists flying.  She may have been 3 years younger than us, but she was ready to knock the snot out of anyone who messed with her big sister.

Ok, sappy post aside, my ladies need to read this book.  It's perfect for book clubs, like I've already mentioned, but it's also great for sitting in front of the fireplace while the wind whistles around your house or lounging on the deck on a sunny day or snuggling in bed for a lazy afternoon or pretty much anytime you want a good read.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

People are People

Last week, I read a book that disturbed me in a way that no book has done in a long time.

A friend of mine asked me to read a book she was considering reading.  Everyone knows I read faster than the average human being so usually it's easier for me to read it and let people know if it's worth their time, than having people take the time out of their schedule to read something that turns out to be junk.

My friend happens to be the mother of an inter-racial child who, at 6 years old, is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis.  I think we've all been there - we look around and realize that for whatever reason, we don't fit into the world we're living in.  Usually it's for some simple and ultimately irrational reason (I don't have the right clothes, my hair's too curly, my house isn't big enough) but when a child looks around and realizes that there is no one in the life that looks anything like them, it's a little scary.

The book she asked me to read, Beyond The Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons, is written by a white woman who married a black man and also has inter-racial children.  In this case, she comes to identify more with her husband's family than with her own and her sons see themselves as black more than as white.  I can't tell you which cultural side my friend's son will grow up to identify with, but I told her she needs to read this book.  Everyone needs to read this book.

It saddened me with how honest it's portrayal of the world is.  I'd like to think that I look beyond how a person looks before I judge them, but in reality no one in our society really has.  Maybe if we were all blind, things would be different.  But then again, it's human nature to single out differences - we all want to be individuals and in doing so, we create in-groups and out-groups to help differentiate one another - so if we were blind, we'd probably marginalize groups based on how they talk or something like that.

I've always been a firm believer that it's not my place to judge.  I'm not perfect either.  Yes, it's easier said than done, but for the most part, I come to know people as people, not as a color, or a label, or any other identifying factor prescribed by our culture.  But the fact of the matter is that millions of people in our world are judged because of those things.  This book might just address race, but it makes you look at your world and see how other people are viewed regardless of who they are.  The same book could be written about homosexuals, or Muslims, or any one else who is seen as not the majority.

I am well aware that any time these conversations come up, it's a touchy subject.  The overt bullying of gay people has been all over the news lately and there are plenty of people out there who don't understand what the problem is.  There was a rather shocking incident at my own alma mater, a place where I was expected to accept everyone regardless of what their background was.  Racial incidents haven't disappeared, whether our culture wants to pretend that having a black man in the White House makes a difference or not.  Religious tension is felt every single day.  Unfortunately, this is probably never going to change.  There are people who I'm very close to who might not agree that it should change. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this book reawakened me to a problem that our world can't seem to solve.  For my part, I want people to know that I accept people as people.  I think that my friends know I will support them no matter where their lives take them as long as they are willing to live honestly - I hate seeing my friends afraid to live their lives.  And I hope my students know this as well.  None of us are perfect and I can't make that big of a difference as only one person.  But I can try, right?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Tribute

I have a good excuse for not writing this time around.

Right now, I am sitting on my parent's  couch with my feet up, enjoying their company.  I hadn't planned to come home until Christmas so the trip was definitely a surprise.

Last Thursday morning, my mother called me to inform me that my dad's father was in the hospital.  By the time I made it home Thursday night, I was too late to say goodbye.

It's been a really long couple of days to say the least.

I'm home until next Saturday to spend some time with the family.  I had to leave my baby at home, which was the hardest part of leaving for this long, but work has been flexible and it's nice to have some time to see my grandma and parents.  I can take comfort in the fact that I have seen my grandpa every time I have been home in the last couple of years, but seeing that I live across the country from him, that's not saying much. 

He was an incredible little man, even if he came across as cranky most of the time.  He was independent and stubborn to a fault and it's been difficult to watch him failing in the last couple of years.  My grandfather never outgrew the childish twinkle in his eyes - his sense of humor was still quick and witty even if it took him much longer to shuffle his way across the house than when I was a child.  He insisted the day he went into the hospital that he get a haircut.  I will always think he knew something was coming.  Grandpa was gruff sometimes but we always knew that he loved us and that he was proud of all that we accomplish.  He could do crossword puzzles better than anyone I've ever met.  When I was a child, he smoked a pipe filled with cherry-flavored tobacco and though he quit years ago, I will always walk into my grandparents' dining room expecting to see him sitting at his place at the dining room table, doing his puzzles, sorting through papers, and smoking his pipe.  Over the last couple of days, I have remembered so many tiny moments with him - the time as a child that I saved sticks from our backyard and gave him kindling for Christmas, the hundreds of fish fries that I have enjoyed with him and grandma at the bar, the hours spent at their home just spending time with them.

Needless to say, the loss will be felt by my entire family for years to come.  Even though he was aging... even though his last memories where of dinner at this favorite bar, with a steak in his mouth and a drink in front of him... even though it was clearly his time... this really isn't easy for anyone.  Death never is.  But he lived a long and fruitful life and saw so many things that many people only dream of.

We love you, Grandpa.  You will be missed.  You already are.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Over Simplifying the Horror Tonight...

I read a book a few weeks ago that I just realized last night I never wrote about.  Since it's stuck with me this long and I'm still thinking about it, it's worth writing about.

While not a light read by any means, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood certainly makes you think.  It was published in 1985 but takes place in the "near future" - although while reading the book there are times when one thinks the book is set either in the past or in a third-world country.  The basic premise is that an extremist group overthrows the US government and forces women to take a lesser place in society - well, those in power claim they are protecting the woman and all that jazz, but being taken away from your husband and child and forced to serve as a concubine in hopes that a man in power can bring more off-spring into this world doesn't sound like "protection" to me.

It freaked me out a little bit.  Not that a modern day society could look at women in such a backward light, because that's happening all over the world as we speak.  But that such an extreme viewpoint could so easily take over!  There's a passage in the book that describes times during the woman's "past life" and she talks about how everyone purchased goods using an electronic banking system that was controlled by the government.  When the extremists got some power, they basically turned off female's ability to use their electronic accounts, thereby rendering them powerless in a capitalist driven society.  I'm over simplifying it but it's disturbing - and I write that I as think about how many times I'm casually swiped my debit card this month.  I don't have a man who could control my finances.  I would be swooped up as a concubine, or some equally ridiculous position, immediately for sure.  I pity the man that tried to tell me that I was only good for bearing children.

I don't know that I really have a point here.  I just think it's worth a read if you want to think about where society is heading and how fragile our lives as we know it are.  Again, there are people all over the world that understand this already.  But for some reason, most Americans are remarkably resilient.  What if something so catastrophic happened that as a culture we were not able to bounce back?  I think it'll stick with me the way that the movie Children of Men has.  I mean, that wasn't even that good of a movie but it gets stuck in my brain on a regular basis and I start thinking "what if life were really like that?"  That would really suck.

The Wikipedia description of this book is hilarious!  I'm pretty sure radical feminists wrote the whole thing.  The whole point of the book is that it's a white, rich, male-dominated society and women, children, minorities, and anyone else not fitting the norm have been stripped of all power - I think most of you got that from my rather lame-o description above.  It's rather unnecessary to describe the new government  as "founded by a racist, male chauvinist, nativist, theocratic-organized military coup as an ideologically-driven response to the pervasive ecological, physical and social degradation of the country."  I think we get the point.  I mean, that's just my opinion and maybe I'd feel differently if the only way I knew anything about this book was through the Wikipedia page.  But I like books.  I'd rather read the book and find that out for myself than read it on Wikipedia.  Seriously.  Chill out people.  This book is disturbing but it's a work of fiction.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Worlds, Friends, Memories Lost

Blah, blah, blah... I have been neglecting my blog again.  That's a trend from previous attempts to blog that I was hoping to change this time around.  No such luck.  I've also been neglecting my books - except those that are work related - and I'm feeling the void.  My flowers are hitting their end of summer slump so even my patio isn't looking so pretty these days.  My apologies to all of my friends out there who have also been neglected.  I missed so many birthdays in the last few weeks and that makes me a horrible person.  Or a distracted person but whatever.

It's Labor Day and I have (most of) the day off.  I would love to be spending today at a ball park or at the fair or something equally as full of friends, laughter, and beer.  Instead, I'm cooped up at home with the cat.  Allergy season has attacked me full force this year and I'm finally recovering.  It's about time.  I've been a sneezing, sloppy mess the last few weeks.  And grumpy from lack of sleep, to say the least.

The only work of fiction I've read lately that is of note has left me feeling extra nostalgic.  I volunteered to participate in a first-year engagement book project that Transy created for it's incoming students and the book we read was fabulous.  A World Lost, by Wendell Berry, may not be the most widely read nor the most exciting book I've ever mused over, but it is calming and charming, both things that I need in my life most days.  It is about a boy whose uncle dies while he is young.  As an adult, he looks back at his childhood and reflects on what sort of person this uncle was.  Perhaps because he doesn't want to understand the negatives, or perhaps because childhood is usually viewed through an overly innocent lens, the man grew up idolizing an uncle who by most accounts was not exactly a role model. 

The book made me think about all of the things I have lost - people, friends, past lives that I have left behind when I move on - and how I view these lost things.  I've discussed this to a point in an earlier post, but this book made me think about it all again.  Except this time, I'm missing people that are truly gone or whose relationships are beyond repair.  When we look back, we always remember the good.  It's not that we forget about the bad times, but how often do we sit home dreaming about a past life we've lived and think about all of the times we were disappointed?  Instead, we focus on what made us happy, made us laugh.

Maybe it's because today is a day for family and friends and I'm in short supply of those in this part of the country.  Maybe I'm just stuck in a funk.  But this book is stuck in my brain.  Even happy-go-lucky movies haven't knocked it out of me.  Tomorrow I have to lead a discussion about the book with six new students.  I'm excited because I love hearing others' perspectives on things that I have loved but it's a bit frightening at the same time.  What if I can't help them see the flaws in our memories or get them to realize that a rather slow moving book really can inform how we look at the world around us?  I can't get myself to remember either of these things on a regular basis, so am I really equipped to help others?

The answer, of course, is yes.  That's what this blog is all about.  Furthermore, that's what teaching is all about and we all know that I want to inspire great thinking and learning some day.  The best way to learn something is to teach it, and I'm ready to teach that small group even just a small lesson.

As for today, I need to get out of here.  My balcony has a beautiful breeze and the sun is shining.  But sitting here, hidden away from the world, enjoying some snuggles with Lady Loo isn't really going to shake me from these memories, now is it?  Maybe I'll go run some errands, get out for a walk in the park, or maybe I won't heed my own advice and I'll go cuddle on the couch some more.  For today, it might be enough to recognize that I need to shake this feeling of loss and stop looking back for what can never be again.  Many of the people and places I'm mourning simply don't exist anymore - either because they're truly gone from this earth or because I'm not the same person I was at that time.  And even for someone with a great imagination, maybe especially for someone like that, it's never good to sit and think about might-have-beens and used-to-bes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm am a Terrible Blogger - or - Don't Pass Judgement Too Quickly

The lack of internet at home and the crazy work days have certainly combined to equal no blogging lately.  I also haven't done a lot of reading, but I have two books I've been meaning to write about and I get frustrated every day that I don't have time to write.  Both should inspire their own thought provoking posts but instead, one quick jot on the page (er... blog) is all they're going to get.  Better late and short than never and long but only in my brain.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent
I finished John Grisham's The Innocent Man a few weeks ago and I had plans to write a big long post about how strangely awful the writing was.  For someone who excels at crime dramas, Grisham sure missed the mark in his writing style on this one.  The writing was boring and almost too fact driven... but the story was so horrifying that I plowed through and would recommend it any day.  I get that it was a non-fiction work but all of his books read like non-fiction - why he was suddenly drab, I don't understand.  The book is about a murder in a small town and the men who are accused of her murder.  Plain and simple, the cops screwed up in this case.  There was no concrete evidence tying them to the case and there was a (correct) suspect right in front of their noses the entire time.  What was more disturbing was the fact that the jury convicted him!  Grant it, this took place 20 years ago but still.  How backwards of a society are we that we can't really presume anyone innocent until proven guilty anymore?!  Are we really that cynical? 

The answer, of course, is yes we are.  The book left me disappointed in our judicial system but more so disappointed in myself.  I couldn't help but wonder if I would have judged him the same way if I were in their shoes.  We are desperate for answers when bad things happen.  I understand that.  But we judge that way regardless of the evidence in front of our face!  And we judge that way whether it is something requiring answers or not!  I know I'm not the only person who judges people on the sidewalk, at work, at the grocery store, for things that don't require judgement.  How often do we misjudge?  How often do we pass judgement without all of the evidence?  How often do we decide people are guilty - whether for something petty or for something much larger - before they have any chance to prove otherwise?!

The book made me think, obviously.  I finished it weeks ago and it's been on my mind ever since.  He may have been a bit dull in this writing, but Grisham found a perfect first true story to rehash.  It disturbed me to no end.  And yet I still find myself jumping to conclusions and passing judgement almost daily. 

I think I'll skip writing about the second book for now.  I've got myself all worked up again.  Damn books - always getting into my brain.  I need to go to the library this weekend.  I don't even have anything new to read.  And Food and Wine Magazine doesn't count.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two Years Ago Today...

I have been so incredibly busy that I haven't had time to write, or read, or watch any movies, or do much of anything other than put out little fires.  Last week was the week from you-know-where at work... super busy, lots of meetings... but so far this week has been wonderful.  Thank freaking god.

What else is new?  A bad date, a dead refrigerator, Luisa in town (yeah!), a terror cat, and this morning, a popped front tire.  This week I'm seeing the bright side of things.  Last week, not so much.

The big thing for today is that two weeks ago today I moved to Nashville.  In two short years I...
  • made and rediscovered some lifelong friends
  • discovered the wonderfulness of red wine
  • fell in love
  • ate way too many late night steaks
  • got my masters degree
  • found a job I adore and am good at
  • moved again 
  • tried to fall out of love
  • adopted my Lady Bug
  • traveled much more
and all around, have grown into a person that I'm pretty proud of today.  I can't help but look back just two years and realize that where I am today is nothing like what I expected.  But it's a much better place than I could have ever imagined. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday, 5:44pm, Exhausted

I tried so hard to rest of this weekend knowing that it was going to be another long week this week.  I thought I had rested up but then last night I barely slept so that threw a huge wrench in the getting ahead on my sleep plan.  Suffice it to say that I tossed and turned all night because men are frustrating (yes, I know women are worse but whatever) and every time I moved, Lady attacked my feet.  Not cool, cat.  Not cool.

I did have some time to read two wonderful books this weekend.

I happened upon a novella of sorts last week at the library called The Builders.  It was a delightfully complex but seemingly simple story by Maeve Binchy, whose work I have so enjoyed listening to through a public radio podcast I download to listen to in the car while taking long drives.  The book was published as part of an adult literacy program called Open Doors so it was short and simplistic in nature but the story was still complex enough to make you think.  All in all, it took about 30 minutes to read - if that - and I thoroughly enjoyed those 30 minutes on my balcony with my feet on a chair and a beer in my hand.  Delightful.

To combat the slimy feeling I received from the man book I tried to read last week, I went searching for some intimacy.  What I came home with was lesbian lit but it was so wonderful that I don't even care.  The story, Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg, was about a college girl who falls for her (female) graduate teaching assistant.  Take out the girl on girl aspect and it could have been a heartbreaking story about any relationship that ended much too quickly.  In short, I loved it.  I'm sure some people would be put off just by the subject matter but it wasn't pornographic in the least.  In fact, I've read many a Nora Roberts romance that made my blush many, many more times than this story.  Like I said, I was looking for intimacy, for not-mushy romance, for something to take my brain off of my own situation, and I found it.  This story was about two people in love - who gives a hoot about their gender. 

Alright friends, it's not 5:55pm and I need to go home.  Or need to run work errands and then go home and do some more work.  But the office has been too chaotic to get anything done lately and I needed a few moments of solitude to relax before I left.  I think tonight I'll go home, warm up some of the delicious soup that I made over the weekend, and put in tonight's Netflix DVD, Where the Wild Things Are, while I write letters to my fundraising prospects.  Sounds wonderful.

Oh, that reminds me.  Saw Inception last night.  Not sold... I mean, it was good.  See it.  But if anyone out there wants to discuss what they saw, let me know.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Silly Girl Likes Flowers

My quest to get in touch with my masculine side has been an epic fail.  I cannot for the life of me get through that book I’ve been trying to read.  It’s very unlike me to take well over a week to finish one novel.  Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I’m just more out of touch with my male friends that I used to be, but I’m half way through the book and all I know about this man is that he’s a middle aged pervert.  I do understand that men think about sex pretty much all the time – little secret guys… women aren’t much better if not worse – but this book talks about nothing else.  It’s terrible.

So instead of just focusing on my failure to think like a man again, I’m going to prove just how feminine and domestic I’ve become.*  

My favorite thing about living down South is the ability to have flowers almost year round.  When the rest of you Midwesterners are raking leaves and pulling up last spring's flowers, I'll be tackling pansies.  (The flower, not the girly men who play for the Vikings... ha ha.  Sorry couldn't resist.)  Last year, I did a terrible job of keeping any flowers alive for more than a month.  I got 10 hours of blistering hot, Nashville sun so it was practically impossible to stop my window boxes from drying out.  I watered them multiple teams each day and they still were too dry – plus there were plenty of days when I never made it home at night so I wouldn’t be able to water them.  Here, I get morning sun and evening sun.  Even when it’s ridiculously hot like it has been, my pretty little plants have shade and shelter during the hottest hours of the afternoon. 

My first impatien flower -
happy dance inducing.

Needless to say, this year my attempt at growing flowers this year has gone much better than in the past.  I sit on my balcony and putz with my plants almost every day.  I love how they smell, I love the pop of color I see through my sliding glass doors, and I especially love the fact that I have successfully kept them alive for more than a month.  In fact, I have nursed more than one plant back from the brink of death.  My biggest success story are two pots of what-were-supposed-to-be-impatiens.  I bought them specifically to sit outside of my front door.  It’s completely covered so I thought impatiens would do wonderfully there since they (usually) thrive in complete shade.  Yeah, not so much.  They started shriveling up and never bloomed again after the initial flowers I bought them with.  So I started moving them to a sunnier spot on the weekends - still dying.  Finally, I bought some more plants of the same variety hoping that would help, thinking maybe I just had faulty plants.  When those started dying too I decided to forget all plant logic and just move them out onto the balcony where the rest of my plants were thriving.  Imagine my surprise when they started exploding.  Now they are huge and for the first time, they have flowers again!  And flowers in completely different colors than I started with.  One pot still only has one flower but hundreds of buds, but the second pot bloomed earlier this week and now has no less than a dozen flowers.  You have no idea how excited I was.  I think I did a happy dance.

So now that I’m effectively bored you to death with my plant ramblings and proved I’m the biggest nerd alive…

It’s beautiful outside.  I think I’ll spend the afternoon outside with Lady Bug and my flowers.  I have some other, more girly, books to read.  Forget the rest of the responsibilities I should probably be thinking about.

*Well besides the dishes that have been stacking up all week.  I had company last weekend and I have yet to unload the dishwasher following their visit.  Without unloading the dishwasher, it’s hard to load it again so there are about two dozen drinking glasses littering my kitchen counter right now.  Be thankful that I ate off of paper plates most of the week.  As of last weekend my house was spotless but this has been too long a week to care much about some dirty glasses.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Books Today... But a Curiously Good Movie

I had a very bad day on Monday.  I mean, I didn't feel at the time like it was that bad and nothing really happened to make it bad, but my boss called me after work to make sure I was ok because I apparently seemed off at work and suddenly I realized that no, I wasn't ok.  I don't know what was wrong but I just didn't want to be in my life at that moment.  So I took the night off.

By about 8:00pm I had closed all the curtains (mostly so I couldn't exactly see that it was still light out), popped a big bowl of popcorn covered in melted butter (it makes me hungry just thinking about it), and put a DVD in my tiny little computer that only sort of works.  I could have watched it on the old television set I have in my living room but Lady Bug was curled up on the bed and kept begging me (or something like that) to come and cuddle.  So I curled up in my bed in some comfy pjs, devoured that popcorn, and watching a surprisingly delightful movie.

I had yet to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because a) I don't really like Brad Pitt and b) it just looked kind of lame.  But the great thing about Netflix is that you can see all of these movies that you "should" see without having to spend a fortune at Blockbuster.  I really am glad that I saw it.  Somehow they made a movie about a person aging backwards seem not only plausible, but also likeable.  It wasn't nearly as ridiculous as I thought it would be (ok, except maybe the part at the end where he's a baby again).  Rather I fell in love with this man who was struggling to find his place through life.  I haven't read the story yet but it's been added to my list.  And the movie comes highly recommended - not to mention that Brad Pitt, who as I mentioned is by far not my favorite actor, looks really, really good.

Monday, August 2, 2010

July Has Been a Busy Month

I don't feel like I've given this blog justice lately.  Too often, I get to the end of the day and would rather get home to cuddle the cat, enjoy a beer, and putz with some flowers than sit at work for an extra few minutes to write about something I read last night.  I was afraid of that when I started this blog because I tend to do that.  And I'm afraid I'm boring, but whatever.

The last week has been busy at work.  I've been here for a few months and there are still some things I'm figuring out.  But for some reason, I feel like I'm suddenly expected to know what's going on.  Keeps me on my toes - which I like, for the record.

Last week, my little sis moved to North Carolina.  The family stayed with me on their way through - Abby, Mom & Dad, Abby's boyfriends' parents and two siblings, and Abby's cat Schmoe.  That's a lot of people for a two bedroom apartment but it was wonderful to see everyone.  I've been lonely lately, mostly because I don't have anything better to do at night than go home and do the aforementioned cat-cuddling, beer-drinking, and flower-putzing.  But that being said, it's more wonderful to be able to share the life I'm building here with other people and I certainly don't want to leave anytime soon.

I haven't even been reading all that often.  Too tired at night.  I was trying to get through a book last week about the woman who was the Paraguay-an version of Eva Peron.  Her story was wonderfully scandalous but it should have been a movie.  There were way too many people with the same name and I couldn't keep it straight.  Plus the author is Irish (what is it with me an Irish writers lately?!) but the book was written in such a way that you would never imagine her first language was English.  Had it been a foreign film with subtitles, I would have thoroughly enjoyed myself.  But it's not so fun when an English-language book needs subtitles so you know what the heck was going on.  The title is not even worth mentioning.  If it comes out as a movie, I'll pass along the recommendation!

I've been trying to get into the minds of men lately (mostly because I miss having male friends like I did back in college) so I've been shaking up the movie watching and book reading lately.  I started in on the series Entourage last week and so far have been impressed.  I was told it was the male version of Sex and the City and at first I agreed - which wasn't necessarily a good thing.  The first episode left me shaking my head and wondering why they thought men talked that way.  But after that initial warming up period, it grew on me.  I also started reading a book called Next last week as well about a man who is going through a life crisis but I haven't gotten very far.  I want to give it an honest chance so I just renewed it at the library (like literally just renewed it... It was due today and as I was writing I realized that I really did want to read it) but we'll see.  While in the past, I've found myself drawn more toward men as friends than toward women, I think I'm so jaded lately that I don't care how their minds are working.  Maybe because I'm not convinced that they know how their minds are working. 

If I ever finish that book I'll pass along my recommendation.  Until then, it's home to cuddle with Lady.  Happy Monday!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not Much Worth Saying...

Wow, was last week a busy week.  And a long week.  And trying to say the least.

I had some down time this weekend and I finished a few books - both chick lit - that weren't half bad.  One wasn't even so memorable that I can remember its name right now, but the second, The Divorce Party by Laura Dave, was a wonderful beach / patio / curled up on the couch read.  It went quickly and didn't make you think.  Perfect for a summer read.  It's being turned into a movie which will be a perfect summer movie as well.

What's sad is that's all I can think of to say about it.  It was vapid to say the least but I liked it.

I think my brain is frazzled from last week.  And right now, I'm too tired to say much of anything else.

Monday, July 19, 2010

That Irish Lady Again...

Tana French's new book came out last week.  I finished it Saturday and if it weren't for the surprisingly wonderful read from Saturday night*, you would have heard about it already.  I finished both of her first books in (close to) one day, but I made this one drag out a bit.  Her first book was such a surprisingly good read that I couldn't help myself.  When I read the second book, I already knew the third one was coming out in a few weeks.  But this one just came out.  Which means it had to be savored.

The new book, Faithful Place, once again centers on a character we were introduced to in the last book.  I'm a bit nervous because I have no idea what character might be featured in the next one.  Plus this one didn't have anything to do with the last story other than that it had a shared character, but nevertheless, the story was fantastic.  I love that her stories usually bring up crimes that happened in the past - very Cold Case, which not surprisingly is one of my favorite shows - but make the fact that they've surfaced right now seem so plausible.  This one involves young love, family issues, and police drama, all of the best ingredients for a truly wonderful book.  Oh, and the ending isn't totally satisfying again, in the best possible way.  We don't ever really know what happens.  She knows when to stop giving us details, which in my opinion is one of the best things about her books.  They leave us haunted.

The only bad thing about Faithful Place, like I already mentioned, is the fact that I don't know when her next book is coming out.  The story went quickly, the characters felt real, and the love and hate expressed in her words were both so real.  If you weren't convinced by my earlier post about her other stories, I hope you'll take the time to read them now.

*It's worth mentioning it again.  Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.  Read it.  I finished it yesterday afternoon and pretty much had only put it down to get some sleep.  It's not the quickest read, which for someone like me is a good thing, but I enjoyed every single minute of it.  Perfect for Saturday afternoons by the pool, a long road trip, or just kicking your feet up after a long day at work.  A lot of the story focuses on the music from whatever decade they are living in - all of the songs we grew up loving are featured.  Ok I'll stop... but seriously, I'll probably buy it just to keep it on my bookshelf.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Post in Which I Get a Little Vulnerable

I had planned to write about the book I finished this morning when I got a chance to get on the internet, but I can’t right now.  It’s 12:06 on a Saturday night and I’m reading a book that has brought me to tears more than once.  It hits close to home and late night on a weekend when you haven’t spoken to a soul other than your cat and your mother is not the time you want to be reminded of your shortcomings.

The book, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, is about two girls who become best friends when they are fourteen. The book follows their lives thereafter.  Their friendship might not be the most realistic if you ask me, but the outright love that is portrayed through the book is.  And the  other central story of the book is more realistic than I care to admit.  One of the woman falls in love with a man who has fallen in love with the other woman.  Not to give anything away, because it’s pretty easy to see early on anyway, but the first woman ends up getting the man, marrying him and having his children.  Even so, she always feels like she was his second choice.

Now, I’m only half way through the book but it has cut me to the core.  Forgive me for getting too personal, too involved in a freaking paperback novel.  I’ve never fallen in love with a man who loves my best friend but I do know what it feels like to feel like the second choice.  What kills me is that men are so damn closed off that half the time we don’t know whether we really are the second choice or whether we just think that.  I don’t know that it matters.  Because what a woman feels and thinks are more powerful than what is real most of the time.  And just like the story in this book, where the man really truly does love his wife but is still half looking for what could have been with the other woman, men do that to us all the time without even realizing it.

Like I said, it’s after midnight on a Saturday night and I’m feeling lonely.  And this book isn’t helping.  It’s beautifully written and makes me long to be the other girl.  She’s free spirited, beautiful, even if she’s more vulnerable in the inside than she looks.  But at least she can hide it.  Instead of pretending I’m fine, I’m checking my phone obsessively for a text message that I know will never come, from a man who’s a lifetime (and time zone) away, writing about it in my blog.  But I couldn’t just let the night pass without mentioning this book.  Read it.  I dare you to open yourself up the possibility that friendship and love can both be this real.

Friday, July 16, 2010

John Grisham for Women

Ok, I promised a post about the great book I was reading last week.  House Rules, the newest book by Jodi Picoult - an author I discovered years before her My Sister's Keeper fame - was one of those books that I literally couldn't put down.  It was fantastic.  Truly remarkable.  Like all of her books, I felt myself truly feeling for the characters.  I cannot tell you how many times I've read one of her books on an airplane and had the lady next to me hand me a tissue or ask if I'm going to be ok.  She writes these stories that everyone can relate to but we all hope never to deal with... terminally ill family, school shootings, rapes and murders, general family issues.  All of her books have the added bonus of being very character-in-a-courtroom driven.  I've always called her John Grisham for woman and I'll stand by that.

I mean I love a good John Grisham, or John Grisham-like, novel but sometimes I can't bring myself to care for another boardroom executive who steals the companies money or murders someone in cold blood.  But a mother who is trying to protect her family?  That I can drawn into time and time again.

The thing with her novels is that she writes from so many different perspectives.  The very first book of hers I remember reading, Perfect Match, is about a woman who prosecutes sex offenders - until her young son gets molested himself.  The terrifying ordeal that follows tears apart her family, challenges her faith, and gives everyone new perspective on the court system in our country.  Never mind that Picoult writes multiple chapters from the perspective of the young boy as he sits on some man's lap.  We all know what is going on but she writes from the point of view of the child, who is much more oblivious than the enlightened adults who follow his story.  Her description of the boy sitting on a man's lap, petting the man's cat as the molester gives reason for the boy to trust him still haunts me today.  *shutters*

I could point out moments in almost every story of hers that stick with me.  Moments that made me look at my life a little differently and know that I would react exactly the same way, no matter how irrational the character seems.  Regardless of if a woman gets in trouble for shooting the man who hurt her family... wouldn't you do the same thing if you had the opportunity?  Wouldn't you want to protect the people you love no matter what?  I know that I would.

I remember when I was a young girl and someone beat me up in the 5th grade.  My little sister, a tough 2nd grade tomboy, stormed into the office out for blood.  She was prepared to beat the hell out of whoever had hurt me, no matter how much bigger or stronger he was.  I look at her now as she's preparing to move across the country with her boyfriend and someday soon build a family of her own and know that she would still do the same thing today.  We all would.  Because that's what families do.

Bottom line, read anything you can get your hands on by this wonderful woman.  Plus, look at her.  I want to be her friend... I want to sit down for coffee and pick her brain.  Her stories are those that I could only dream to write someday.  They are so involved and the authors intelligence is evident as each and every story unfolds.  But so is her compassion, her ability to empathize with a family's suffering.  I would love to see her interact with her own children on Christmas morning.  Because someone who writes this well must live a life we can only dream to build for ourselves some day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In the Middle of a Good Book... But a Bad Week

I have had a truly horrendous week.  I've been too exhausted at night to do much reading and my cat is driving me nuts so I can't even take comfort in cuddling with her.  I'm definitely a Debby Downer this week.

That being said, my life is going really well. 

I've been busy at work which means that I'm needed here.  And I really love the work I do.  Even during shitty weeks like this, I don't wake up in the morning dreading going to work.

I took a long weekend last weekend to visit my Nashville friends and while my life there is confusing - let's put it in book terms and say that I closed the book because I thought I was done with it only to discover that I wasn't and now I can't figure out what chapter I'm supposed to be on - I truly love some of the people I have met there. 

This weekend I'm heading up to Minnesota to visit those friends, many whom I haven't seen in quite some time.  I'm tired and grumpy but there's no way I'll stay that way when I get to see my favorite people!

Plus, I'm in the middle of the newest book by my favorite author and it's FANTASTIC.  I could devote entire weeks of blog posts to her and her wonderful novels but I won't.  Today I won't review anything.  Instead, I'll take some time to think about the things going on around me, finish the book I'm in the middle of, and start over next week.  Because next week has to be better than last week, right?  Hopefully this book is a sign that the next few weeks of books will be better too - I'm really sick of reading books that I don't really care for.  And I'm sure those of you who do read my blog are sick of hearing about them!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Was Lost and Found in a Place Called Here

I feel like I've been writing about a lot of negative things lately.  I don't mean to be a Debby Downer.  Not in the least.  I've just read some not-so-hot books lately.

I just finished What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn last weekend.  I really have been on an Irish crime drama kick lately and this one sounded like it fit the bill.  It was about a girl who disappeared and focuses on the main suspects sister.  The plot wasn't awful but it was disjointed (to say the least) and just didn't give me what I wanted.  Funny, because it reminded me a bit of a book I read last winter called There's No Place Like Here.  This book was written by the woman who wrote P.S. I Love You - she's also an Irish writer - and was said to be pretty decent.  Yeah, no.

Both books had great characters, great story lines, and authors who were interesting.  Both left enough to the imagination on the book jacket that they made me actually want to burrow in and read them.  Both left enough to the imagination after I was done reading that I was severely disappointed.

It's never a good thing when you finish a book and think "I need 100 more pages to actually understand what the heck is going on with ANY of these characters."  Authors should leave you thinking "I want 100 more pages because I love these characters" not "... because I don't know these people at all!"

Both books looked at things that were lost and where to find them.  Maybe that's my problem.  Books, like life, can't give you all the answers.  They can't always fulfill you with their characters, just as people can't always fulfill your needs no matter how much you want them to.  Sometimes characters simply don't develop the way the author thought they would - maybe they just aren't as alive as they should be or their story line stopped flat so the book just had to end earlier than the reader wants.  That's the same as any real relationship though.  People sometimes just fall flat.  And really, I've learned in my life that it's worse to keep dragging the narrative out when it has reached its natural end than to just let it go away.  It's not always easy to do this but it's (usually) better in the end.

Instead of complaining about these authors, maybe I should applaud them.  They knew when enough was enough - or did they?  I guess I don't really know.  But considering that I would probably read another book by either author, and I actually would recommend both books if you're looking for a mindless read, I guess it doesn't matter either way.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Revolutionary Boring

Ok, let me take a minute to remind you that I'll read anything.  Well, almost anything.  I especially love books that get good reviews or who have stood the test of time, even if they sound terribly boring.  I think I need to start following my gut and stop reading them just because someone else said they were worth my time.  I guess if I have to listen to someone else to convince my something is wroth my energy, I should know better than to think they are right.

I recently read Revolutionary Road, the "critically acclaimed" book that was made into a movie not long ago.  The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and considering I've been crushing on him since middle school, I figured I'd read the book and then get the movie through Netflix. 

Now, I'm sure there are people out there who disagree but I found that book incredibly boring.  Maybe I just don't get it but I thought it was pretty rotten.  It had its moments but I had no trouble putting it down for long stretches of time and only finished it because I have a hard time not finishing books once I've started them.  I got the Netflix dvd earlier this week and unfortunately I feel the same way about the movie.  Actually, I think the movie might be worse.  At least the book was well written even if the characters were pretty flat.  I turned the movie off half way through.  I'll finish it eventually, but considering that it's Netflix so its not due back any time soon, I'll get to it when I get to it.

I'm taking a long weekend this week and I don't want to muck it up with boring movies or books.  I'm in the middle of another boring but praised book, Still Alice, and I refuse to even bring it with me.  Still Alice has an interesting plot - it's about a world-renowned psychologist who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's - but again, I just knew before I started it that I wouldn't be interested.  I understand why I should read it and like I said, the topic is interesting, but the book is just a pile of mud waiting for me to get through and I'm afraid my emotional and psychological waders just can't hold up.

Maybe I should start trusting my gut before I pick up a book.  I'm sick of getting muck in my boots.  Actually, I'm sick of dealing with muck in my life.  Maybe I should trust me gut when it comes to more than boring books.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

Today, a little review of something I read quite a while ago.  I actually borrowed the book to a friend and am waiting for it to be returned but whatever.  It's worth the read and I thought I'd share it since the book has been on my mind for a while.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress looks at Susan Gilman's quirky childhood - she grew up as the "uncool white kid" (as her website says) much like the rest of us did.  Of course, in order to have a best-selling memoir, her life was certainly more eventful than mine was but still.  Most of us can relate to being the odd one out, and boy oh boy was she an odd one.  The title comes from her meltdown surrounding her wedding - what's a feminist to do when she's gotten to the point in a relationship when it's time to try on wedding dresses?  While I haven't had to try on wedding dresses yet - thank god - I can see myself in the same position.  I've said for quite a while that I don't know if I'll ever get married.  It's not necessarily that I don't want to get married, more that I don't think I'm the kind of person that needs to.  I don't want to need anything (besides of course food, water, and all of the basic things that you can't deny in life like a great pair of shoes).  But if I get to that point, I can guarantee that I'll have a meltdown, much like the one which serves as the title of this book.  Same thing with children.  The idea of children isn't so bad but if I actually get to the point that I'm prego, I can bet it'll be an issue no matter what stage in my life I'm at.  It's comforting to know that a not-so-average yet all around ordinary life can serve as a best-selling reminder to the rest of us that we aren't alone in our insecurities, our idicincricies, or our all around strange-ness.

Susan Gilman's books are good for a decent laugh, cry, or general all around feeling of "God, at least my life doesn't suck that badly."  I also recently read her book Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, which details a trip to China she took soon after the country opened for American travel.  While it wasn't my favorite book by any means, it left me wondering how so many strange things can happen to one person.  And it made me want to travel to completely different cultures, but since I work a real job there will be no traveling all that soon.  

Her writing is genuine and has a quality to it that makes you realize that all of these improbable things really did happen.  If they didn't, she's a wonderful liar.  Better than the rest of us, at least.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tana French: The Intriguing Irish-woman

Ok, it's been far too long since I blogged and I haven't even actually launched the damn blog yet.  Already failing.

I knew when I started writing this that I wanted to talk about Tana French's books so I figure why not today.  A few years ago I was strolling through the airport, flying from Nashville to Minneapolis, when I realized I had nothing to read.  I ended up buying her first book, In the Woods, and it's memorable both because it's a good book and also because some annoying guy chatted me up at the airport that day for hours before asking me out (who does that at an airport?!) and I didn't even get around to reading it for quite some time.  Once I did, I knew I had found a new favorite author. The book is a murder-type mystery but packs a punch.  An unsolved crime from the main character's childhood serves as a psycological backbone for the story.  An it's a doosy.  When he was playing in the woods as a young child, something happened.  No one really knows what and he can't remember.  But he came home alone with blood in his shoes and his friends have never been seen again.  I won't give away the ending, but I was disappointed.  Until I read it again and realized it's better this way.  Anywho...

Since then, she's released a second book, The Likeness, which I would probably put on my top five or six favorite books list.  Both books delve into characters who you fall in love with, in part because of their utter imperfection.  Her books are linked together through the characters but each book features someone new - someone you were introduced to in the last book but who you didn't really get to know yet.  It's a wonderful idea and leaves you wanting more.  This book is also murder mystery-esque but features a woman who's previous undercover character is found murdered.  Or something like that.  Suffice it to say that it's a great read.  And way at the end of the book there's a little gem of wisdom that goes something along the lines of, "you can't love someone who's not ready to be loved."  Nothing to do with the book (really) but come on.  Brilliantly simple.

Her third book comes out soon and is already on request from the library.  Can't wait.

The thing about Tana French is that she's goofy looking.  She's Irish - which is very evident if you've ever been to Ireland and seen the Irish people - and she looks like she writes the weird books that she does.  I want to be her friend.  I want to sit down at the pub, pull up a stool, and chat about her books over a pint of Guinness.  Maybe someday I will.  Doubt it but whatever.  Don't judge.

I guess this is where I'm supposed to give my review and say how this relates to whatever else is going on in my life.  Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Ok, here goes.  I love them both and I couldn't put them down.  The end.  Don't get caught up in the overtly Irishness of the writing - both books are police procedure driven with a little intrique, romance, and real life drama thrown into the mix but carry what I call a cloudy day effect.  They remind me of the windy, rainy, sleety, cold days I spent in Ireland last year.  There's something about them that makes me want to stand on a street corner under and awning, smoking a cigarette while I wait for the rain to let up.  They aren't easy reads exactly, but I don't always want things to come easily.  Some days the greyness is exactly what I need.  And Ms. French delivers.  Neither story ends up the way I really want them to.  Neither story gives me everything I'm looking for and in some areas gives me way too much.  But that's fricking life.

God, I'm a rambler.  This blogging idea isn't going to go anywhere, is it?  Maybe... doubt it... but maybe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Didn't Change My Life But Did Inspire Me to Write

Ok, here I go.  First crack at this blogging thing in a while.  I haven't blogged in ages, mostly because it turns out I'm a rather boring person when I try to talk about myself.  And people can only read so much about my cat before they get a bit bored.  But books - I could talk about books all day and people usually appreciate my recommendations.  So here it is world.  My first book recommendation.

First some background.  I am an avid reader, which is probably obvious.  I'll read almost anything.  I moved to Lexington a few short months ago and the only people I've really gotten to know are the librarians at my local library - which is fine by me, in case anyone was wondering.  Like I said, I'll read almost anything. Mysteries, romance, sci-fi or fantasy, non-fiction (I have this weird love for biographies about relatively obscure people), popular fiction, chick-lit, books with good cover art, books with attractive authors, books translated from other languages, those written 100 years ago, those published last week, academic fiction... Just about anything.  I'll give most authors at least one chance, and usually 4 or 5 chances if I can't make up my mind the first time around.

Last week, a book jumped off the shelf at me while I was browsing the library* about a small-town library cat that I vaguely remember hearing about on the news or something some time back.  Knowing that I was probably going to go home that evening, make dinner, and lay on the couch reading a book with my kitty curled up next to me, I figured bringing home a story about a cat wasn't the end of the world.  I live alone.  No one would have to know - unless of course I decide to start a blog to tell the world about the books, but that's another story.

The short story about how Dewey became famous (for a cat) goes like this.  The librarian lady lived in Iowa and found a cute kitten one morning in the book drop.  They named the cat Dewey Readmore Books - cheesy but my cat's named Lady Bug so I can't really say anything about stupid cat names - and it turned out to be a friendly cat that everyone loved.  The town was falling apart and Dewey made their days a bit happier and ultimately better.  Then he got old and died.  The end.

Of course there's more to the story - there always is.  Honestly, I loved the book.  Trying to tell about it sounds pretty stupid, but really, it's a rather charming tale about a woman and her pet.  And those of us who have pets know the impact they can have not just on one life, but on an entire community of people.  The story is also about the library in a small town.  Basically it combined my two favorite things on the planet (books and a wonderful cat) and wrapped them together in a big, old, sappy story.  I confess, I cried and then hugged my baby and realized that I'm not crazy and pets really can have that big of an effect on people's lived.

So here's where the blogging gets tough for me.  What do you all want?  I give it 3 out of 4 stars... 1 and a half thumbs up... It's good enough to waste some time reading?  I don't want to be one of those book reviewers, because I don't see books that way.  They become a part of my life.  Every book I read, I can relate back to something going on in the rest of my world.  Like this middle school girls who glean advice from the most benign love song on the radio, I always think I can take away great insight from whatever it is I've just read.  So maybe I'll share that.  Dewey was a silly story, yes, and I probably should find more of a social life so I don't spend Tuesday nights on the couch reading books about cats with my cat laying on my lap.  I'm only 25 for pete's sake!  But it was heartwarming.  It made me happy that small-towns still exist (even though I'd never want to live in one).  It made me thankful that my dad taught me the love of reading when I was merely 3 years old.  It made me smile at the thought of the many libraries I've visited in every city I've lived in.  And most of all, it gave me a reason to hug my little Lady, sniff in the smell of sunshine (long story... I'll tell it someday), and tell her I love her.  Which of course prompted her to kiss my nose and snuggle up against my shoulder.  That is love.  And ultimately, that's what Dewey's story was about.  Love.

And couldn't we all use a little more love in our lives?  There's way too much oil spilling, family shooting, and war fighting going on in this world.

*Ok, I was browsing in the cat section and yes, I know that makes me a crazy-cat lady.  But so does the 3 other books I got about cat personalities.  The Dewey book was at least a story.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
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