Dating the Protagonist- March Reviews

Another month, another set of reviews. This month I read to three novels that just so happened to feature males as the main characters. So, I ask myself, what would these men be like to date?

C Tom McCarthy
320 pages
The Guy: Serge is a brooding, socially-stunted intellectual with an eccentric family.
The Novel: I was really disappointed in this story after reading many positive reviews. It's quirky and McCarthy's writing itself isn't bad, I just couldn't get into the poorly developed story. The areas
that were interesting, like his time growing up at the school for the deaf that his father ran, weren't given as much times as the more mundane parts were. I definitely don't recommend this.

Room Emma Donoghue
336 pages
The Guy: Jack is seriously immature, only caring about what goes on in his little world and wanting nothing to do with anyone but his mom. Nobody wants to marry a mamma's boy.
The Novel: Jack is a five-year-old who lives in a converted garden shed after his mother was kidnapped and impregnated a few years before he was born. Eventually they plan their escape and must learn to live in the real world. Definitely a quick, interesting read with a unique narration. This was our first book club selection and we all liked it, for different reasons (we also had different complaints). It's not perfect, but it's a good read. Interestingly, this novel is a serious departure from the the other books she's written. Here's the "trailer" for the book (not sure how I feel about these, but sometimes they can be informative):

The Lonely Polygamist Brady Udall
600 pages
They Guy: Golden is a total player, involved with five women and the father of twenty-eight children. Go indulge your bad boy phase with another of the ten billion fish in the sea.

The Novel: Polygamy is always interesting- it's an exclusive club that most of us aren't privy too, and the increase in books, shows, and articles give us a little insight. In this novel, Golden is married to four women and is secretly seeing a non-Mormon who is married to the owner of a Nevada brothel. There are several interesting subplots that all end up intertwining by the end. On the negative side, I am fairly confident that the author has watched an episode or two of Big Love and that he could have trimmed the fat just a smidge (maybe 500 pages instead of 600). Despite a few flaws, I definitely recommend this book.

Books and the City

The Strand

I was lucky enough to just spend a few great, freezing days in New York City with my mother-in-law, and of course I've figured out a way to turn it in to a post. A relevant post, mind you.

First of all, I actually read a lot on the trip- it was five hours over and six hours back, meaning I was able to pu
t in a chunk of time devoted towards a few magazines (Runner's World, Vanity Fair, and In Style) and the book I was reading, The Lonely Polygamist. By the way, Jet Blue really is the way to fly. More leg room, big leather seats, personal TV screens, free snacks, and a no children under the age of 12 rule. Okay, the last one's not true, but a girl can wish.

Secondly, I have to take a second to mention my love for travel guides. Whenever I'm going somewhere new I get one, proudly displaying them on my bookcase for the two people that regularly visit our apartment to see and ask about. "Oh, [insert place here], you've been?" Fodor's is my favorite brand, namely because it's in color.

While in New York we visited the Public Library in Manhattan on a whim (whim as in like we're passing by on our way to the Empire State Building. not knowing what it is until we read the sign, kind of whim). The architecture is beautiful- I love that so much care was put into a building meant for housing and sharing books. Oh, and um, Carrie and Big were almost married there in the monstrosity that is the Sex and the City movie. Yes, I'm a fan. I can't help it- I'm a twenty-something girl that appreciates designer clothes and likes to hear smart women talk about penises. Please note that I did not say the SATC "movie" or "book." Anyway, the library was beautiful and I wish I had gotten married there. Maybe next time. Just kidding.

We also went to The Strand, the bookstore that boasts "18 miles of books." Just to clarify, they mean if they were to take all the books they have and lay them out it would be 18 miles. I could have spent the better part of a weekend there, browsing their "normal" books, as well as the floor dedicated to first editions and rare books. I overheard an employee recommend some art theory books to two college students because she had actually read them, although she "generally gravitates towards historical criticism." Take that stupid Borders employee who I recently heard tell a teenager that she'd have to look up who wrote The Scarlett Letter. I didn't buy any books, but I did pick up my only real souvenirs (shirts for the husband and I). I'm really not a souvenir person- I'm not a fan of getting them, so I don't really buy them for others. Why would I want a snow glove of the Grand Canyon when I've never been there? Plus, 80% of souvenirs (at least from the tourist shops) are what my grandma would call "dust collectors." Word, Grandma. Word.

I think, other than the UCLA campus, I've never seen so many people out and about reading (and running). The girl in the hotel business center was studying Metamorpheses for an art history class (yes, I asked her how she was liking it), people of all ages in Central Park sat on benches reading, and I spotted several people on the subway mulling over books and newspapers. Not to mention the fact that the city is home to pretty much every major publishing house, the New York Times, and Conde Naste.

There's nothing like a visit away to make you love where you currently live just a tad bit less.

Earth Hour/Yay For Me!

I can tie anything in to a book. Just watch.

A year or two ago I had the pleasure of attending a reading by Al Gore while he was promoting his then new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

Al Gore? The guy who "invented" the internet and has been the subject of controversy regarding some of this claims?

Yup, that Al Gore. Fine, there may be some issues here or there, but at the heart of the book is the message I firmly believe- the earth is getting warmer and if we don't do anything about it the temperature increase and it will become so hot that we will all start boiling, sizzling, and will eventually explode. Ohmygawd, we're all going to die. Or something like that.

Anyway there's a point. I went to an Al Gore reading, I bought his book- I obviously care about the environment, therefore, I am encouraging everyone to participate in The World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour on Saturday, March 26 at 8:30 pm. It's really simple- stop using electricity, for one hour. It really should go further than an hour, though; Earth Hour should serve as a reminder to everyone that poor Old Mother Earth is getting the shit kicked out of her and we, as a population, should cut her a break. Recycle, conserve energy, buy more fuel efficient cars, and for crap's sake, BUY YOURSELF A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE AND BRITA FILTER! Geez.

But what if you really, truly can't turn off your lights for an hour? Personally, I'll be in the midst of traveling to New York (that's the "yay for me" part of the post title), so logistically it really isn't possible. Or maybe your grandma is on an oxygen tank or you live in freezing Alaska and you'll die of hypothermia and be eaten by wild dogs if you turn off the furnace. In that case, reschedule your Earth Hour (not for three in the morning, during a time when you'll actually notice) and just make the commitment to show the environment some damn respect. We can't be perfect, but if we all made a few changes it would really add up!

The video below sums everything up well, plus the Temper Trap's Sweet Disposition is in it (I love this song, really, but now it's everywhere and is apparently the anthem for this whole "young, hippie-ish, yet still professional and modern" movement that I suppose I have to at least partly identify with. Thank you for that 500 Days of Summe):

Double (or Triple or Quadruple) the Pleasure, Double (or Triple or Quadruple) the Fun!

Good books make you think, and as I read The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall I am definitely thinking. About polygamy. I'll review the book at the end of the month, but for now, I'm just focusing on what this book is making me think about- men shacking up with lots of women and making a buttload of babies. Yeah, we keep it classy here at Bookishly Boisterous.

I don't know a ton on the subject, other than what I have learned from watching two or so seasons of Big Love, a few magazine articles, and the beginning of this book. So of course, I Googled. Combined with my prior knowledge and my quick research, I learned that polygamy itself means marriage with more than two partners; polygyny is one man with lots of wives (what we're "used to" seeing), while polyandry is one wife, lots of husbands. Polygamy is generally practiced for cultural and religious purposes, and different countries have different legal standpoints (the US government isn't a fan). Commonly, here in America, we see polygamy in direct connection with the old-school Mormons.

I struggle to completely condemn or condone polygamy. I am quite liberal, including in my opinions about marriage. My general is belief is, if he or she is of legal age, is a human being, and is consenting, go for it. A marriage between a twenty-five year old man and an eighty-five year old woman (both mentally sound) in no way changes my marriage, nor does a union between two people of the same sex. Your marriage, your problem; my marriage, my problem! This liberal outlook should therefore accept polygamy, and does, but only with some serious limitations. So, thanks to Brady Udall's thought- provoking book, here's the constraints I hereby put on polygyny:

1. Everyone must be of age. Not fourteen-year-old girls marrying sixty-year-old men. People under eighteen should not be married (and be eighteen I mean twenty-five).

2. All parties must understand what they are entering into on a contractual level. If they sign off on capping the wife count at four, then dammit, four it is.

3. A financial document should be drawn up before marriage clearly indicating the percentage each party will receive upon separation, divorce, death, or dismemberment.

4. No kids. Say what? So, in this hypothetical situation where I get to be queen and decide the rules for polygamy, I also get to dictate the reproductive rights of others. I know,
Way to go, Super-Liberal Girl! Being a kid these days is hard enough without trying to cram five mommies, one daddy, and twenty-eight brothers and sisters into the family portrait during art (Super-Liberal Girl is happy to report that two mommies or two daddies is totally acceptable, though, in her opinion). In many of these families with plural wives birth control isn't used, resulting in a multitude of children. Although currently childless, I have a hard time believing that having more than five or six kids is financially, physically, or emotionally the easiest for anyone.

So, there you have it. Go ahead, enjoy plural marriages as long as you're over eighteen, happy, aware of your rights, and leave kids out of it.

Good books make you think. These are my thoughts, which I am entitled to.

Opinions, dare I ask? What books make you think?
(I don't bite... hard)

Easier Said Than Done

I've had the itch to buy books again (hey, it's been over a month), so I've just been doing a lot of "wish list" adding on Amazon. And I mean a lot- another day, another post. Anyway, I ran across a book called Howard's End Is On the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home, a piece of non-fiction with a great premise. The author, Susan Hill, was searching for her copy of Howard's End and realized how many shelved, unread books she had in her home. She decided to only read from what she had for a year, simultaneously compiling a list of the top forty books she would keep, if she had to choose (not sure why forty, or why the hypothetical book collection whittling down). Obviously, this synopsis spoke to me. A collection of unread books? Check. A collection that keeps growing, taking over living space? Check. A love for creating random lists of favorites? Check. Oh, Susan, you get me!

At first I thought the idea of creating a list of just forty books was silly/anxiety producing. But, then I got to thinking- what if I was in the midst of a nuclear holocaust and someone had room in their bunker for me and just forty books? Or, what if an evil book thief dressed in all black came to my house and said he was going to chop of my head unless I chose just forty books while he took the rest? The list wasn't so silly now. I completely get it.

So, in the next few weeks I am going to come up with my list of forty books. My biggest concern is knowing that there are thousands of books in existence that I haven't read and probably deserve a spot of my list. I'm thinking yearly revisions.
Oh, and please note that I'm not participating in only reading from what I have. There's no way I'm going to completely stop buying books!

Oh, and for the record, I haven't bought the book... yet!

Who You Gonna Call?

Americans love celebrities and often obsess about their lives, work, and screw-ups. We buy magazines proclaiming to divulge how "Katie and Tom Keep the Romance Alive," visit TMZ to see how skanky Lindsey Lohan dressed for her recent court hearing, and buy perfume endorsed by Sarah Jessica Parker (um, in my defense, I like how it smells). The fact that there's such a market for books attached to celebrities should be of no surprise.

Today I read an article on the Huffington Post website that discussed the rise in celebrity cookbooks, including one due out soon by Gwyneth Paltrow. Whil
e Gwynnie and I aren't exactly BFFs that tell each other everything, I'm in agreement with the columnist, Denise Vivaldo, that she probably didn't exactly plop herself down at the MacBook and write the entire book herself. Vivaldo points out that many celebrities "work with" more established, reliable ghost writers to create their cookbooks, who may be given credit with the phrase "by celebrity x with writer y" on the cover or on the title page. Sometimes, according to Joanne Kaufman's article in the Wall Street Journal, ghost writers are paid extra to not have their name mentioned, or may actually request this themselves if they don't support the celebrity or the actual project.

And it's not just cookbooks. Walk into your local bookstore and you're bombarded with memoirs, advice books, or guides that are written, supposedly, by celebrities. On the current New York Times bestseller's list for nonfiction there are several, including books by George Bush (obviously ghost written), Keith Richards, Meredith Baxter, and Mike Huckabee. Over the years we've seen autism guides from Jennie McCarthy, marriage advice by Julia Rancic, and math assistance from Danica McKellar. Pick a celebrity, and chances are if they're slightly washed-up and have been an alcoholic, experimented with drugs, were cheated on, cheated on somebody else, or enjoy the company of prostitutes, they've written a book. Or, if they've ever had any diversity or trauma in their lives they're suddenly an expert and can tell us normal folks how to get through the ordeal. Currently, Charlie Sheen, sitcom star turned crazy raving lunatic, is trying to find someone to pay him $10 million for his story (I think I'd rather read his book than be forced to watch his stupid show, though). Sometimes, they even try to write novels, like "stars" Nichole Ritchie and Lauren Conrad (exception: Steve Martin). Ghost writers can also find work in social media, maintaining Facebook pages, blogs, and Twitter feeds for celebrities.

I imagine some of them play more of a role than others in turning their ideas and lives into an actual text. Hillary Clinton wrote her entire biography and then had her editor condense and polish it. Often, though, the ghost writer will conduct many interviews with the celebrity in order to collect raw data and will then create the book, giving the celebrity authorship credit (the movie The Ghost Writer, which was really interesting, is about this). In an article CNN ran last year, a ghost writer points out that when celebrities attempt to write their own stories they tend to end up writing hundreds of pages on their childhood before they even start discussing their careers, or struggle to have the skills necessary to write coherently.

Personally, I think celebrity ghost writing is misleading, but not surprising. The rich and famous have help with every aspect of their lives (nannies, assistants, bodyguards, chefs, trainers, drivers, etc...), so it's really not surprising they wouldn't write their own books. I see these books as more expensive, heavier People Magazines, so from a literary standpoint there's no point in chastising them because it just isn't relevant. I do wonder about the ghost writers, though, as those who are hoping to actually have literary careers would be seen as selling out. I suppose it's acceptable for those that want to make a career out of just ghost writing, though, and understand the lack of credit they'll receive. I would find it frustrating, but I can also see how it may be attractive to some- you don't have to come up with any major ideas yourself, get to travel, meet new people, and are a part of the publishing world. The most important thing, though, is that people realize what they're reading and who is actually writing it. Buyer beware- that "autobiography" you're reading "by" Snookie, is probably written be a tall 40-year-old white guy who lives in Omaha with his parakeet and thinks The Situation is what happens when his toilet backs up.

Note: There is another type of ghost writing, as well, and that is when an author, such as Tom Clancy or James Patterson, hires on writers to help publish more frequently. That calls for a post of its own!

Mishmash of Words

Part of teaching is pretending you love things you don't.

Enter poetry.

Last week I started teaching my sophomores the "wonders of poetry" and have been working very, very hard to give them the appreciation I seem to lack. So far we've done a few Neruda poems, (who I don't mind) which they seem to like, especially after they found out he was a commie that liked to write about the ladies. Today we compared his feelings over a lost love to a teenage romance. They loved it. My favorite part was when a kid said, "Pure? You mean like he's calling her a slut? I mean a- I mean, she sleeps around?" Times like these I kinda sorta love teenagers.

This has definitely made me reflect on my own issues regarding poetry. In college, I did everything I could to avoid poems and sonnets; as an English major this was sometimes challenging. I'm a novel girl, come on! To me, poems have always been like abstract art (oh yea, I totally understand the subtext of that huge black dot on the white canvas, god, the textures...) in the sense that people appreciate different aspects and find different meanings, but also because they can get with throwing down a mishmash of words and claiming it's a poem. For example:

The water
on the lake blows.

The balloon drifts
into the sky.

My heart soars
like a bird
floating to the heavens.
Lake. Bird. Heart.

I made this up in five seconds and it's crap, but let's say Frost or Whitman busted out something like this, everyone would be drooling. Christ, throw in a few similes, a metaphor, use some natural imagery and boom you've got yourself a poem.

"Why do we have to learn about poems?"


"To make you more well-rounded individuals who have a better appreciation for literature and the ways people can craft meaning through words." This clip sums that response up:

There are some really, really great poets out there, and I appreciate the ones who truly attempt to say so much with so little. Maybe it's because I'm not a sentimental romantic, but instead a wordy realist. Oh poetry, it's not you, it's me.

I Am So Hardcore

Disclaimer Number One: I don't have kids, therefore these may be old news
Disclaimer Number Two: I'm about to talk about kid's products

Besides being a total book lover while growing up, I also had an extremely soft spot for stuffed animals (my mom has sweetly stored them all for me, so she says), so when I saw these little creatures I of course got excited.

I guess the company, Zoobies, makes several different animals with zippered pouches that contain fleece blankets (while slightly off topic, I really hate the word "blankie"). Cute enough, although a slight rip-off of the Pillow Pet (I most definitely did not buy my dog the full-size hippopotamus one two years ago). I got a little excited when I saw they offered eight "Storytime Pals," including the caterpillar from The Hungry Caterpillar, Spot from those little cardboard books, Olivia from her series, Paddington Bear, a bunny from Goodnight Moon, some of those round little smiley characters like Little Miss Sunshine, and my personal favorite Curious George (I most definitely am not considering purchasing it for myself).

My next post will be much more adult, I promise.

I Don't Read Movies, Thanks

I'm not really a movie person- they're long, I like to move around, I frequent the facilities often, and sometimes I get sleepy. Movies with subtitles are even worse (minus ten more points if they're in back and white... I can hear the peanut gallery now), and dubbing is incredibly annoying.

What? But you love reading!

Reading subtitles is not the same as reading books. When watching a movie with subtitles the viewer must pay attention the whole time, meaning I can't grade papers, play Angry Birds, fold laundry, or flip through a magazine. It's really hard for me to justify spending two hours of my time in front of my least-favorite dust collector, so multi-tasking eases some of the guilt (nowadays I watch less than five hours of TV a week; it's just not for me, although I totally understand the appeal).

Another problem I have with subtitles is missing out on what's actually happening in the movie from a visual perspective- I feel like I'm spending all my time reading the dialogue, rather than focusing on what the characters are doing and what the setting looks like. I know I'm missing subtle nuances that provide additional information about relationships, schemes, and personalities. That longing look he gave her as she boarded the train? Oh, I missed it because I was reading the damn subtitles. The antagonist switching the babies so that her child would grow up wealthy? No clue, reading the stupid-ass subtitles. I know that some sort of visual perception phenomena is supposed to occur, where reading and watching can be done simultaneously, but it just doesn't happen for me. Perhaps I should schedule an appointment with the developmental specialist.

And, let's face
it- movies with subtitles (Japanese monster movies excluded) are often such cerebral films (at least the ones my husband buys and tries to get me to watch), adding a whole other layer of inconvenience. While I don't like "hahaha he got kicked in the balls" movies (i.e. Grown Ups), there are times where I'm watching a movie to relax and don't want several road blocks preventing me from doing so. Subtitles and two and a half hours of thought-provoking dialogue (that I have to read)? Umm, how about we watch Garden State for the ten billionth time instead?

There ar
e a few subtitled movies, though, that I do like. Che Guevara's biopic was great (really long), but mostly because he's my historical-figure crush, and because I know some Spanish. I love Amelie, the whimsical French romantic comedy. I'm sure there are others, since I used to keep my preference to not watch subtitles more of secret from my film buff of a husband (who, I guess, thankfully doesn't regularly read my blog, since I'm sure this post would lose me a few of my carefully stocked bonus points). I don't have a problem with subtitles- I don't think they're stupid or that the people who enjoy movies with them are weird, I just can't sit still and focus on a TV or screen that long.

I do feel a little guilty- I appreciate culture, I enjoy art, I like to surround myself with things with meaning. Aren't intelligent people supposed to like subtitled movies? Okay, it passed, back to being a subtitle-hater.

"Book Club"

Tonight was the inaugural meeting of the new "book club" I'm in- I put quotes around it because we talked about the book for about 15 minutes of the 3ish hours we met, and it's only the first meeting (I can't let myself get too attached to the book component of our happy hours yet). The club was created a month or so ago when my two friends and I were out for drinks. Friend A and I figured out we had both bought the same book, Room by Emma Donoghue, and decided that we'd read it at the same time. Reluctant Friend B was then forced to get a copy too (I'm 99.9% sure his hesitancy is just an act). And voila- a book club was born.

Tonight we met to discuss the book and have some food and drinks. The text was by no means a tough read, but it was still engaging and creative (I'll review it at the end of the month). We each seemed to like it as a whole, although there were some individual issues with parts here or there. Bottom line- it was just so nice to talk to intelligent people about a decent book again. Sure, it was only fifteen minutes, but we managed to get through what we needed to. I'm excited for the next one.

Oh, and there were Long Island Iced Teas. And a chocolate chip calzone with ice cream. Books, booze, and baked goods- I can end the work week happy.

Left Brain/Right Brain Harmony: It Can Be Done

I'm kind of offended by this shirt (God, she's so sensitive). At first I thought it was funny, which I still in a way do, but I hate the left brain/right brain stereotypes surrounding it. Back when I was at UCLA, South Campus majors (math, sciences, engineering, etc...) saw the North Campus majors (humanities) as touchy-feely, impractical, time-wasting hippies, while we saw them as nerdy virgins who holed themselves up in labs refusing to shower, breathe fresh air, or have fun of any type. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but there definitely tends to be a divide in academics. It's annoying.

People are always shocked to learn that I have both biology and English teaching credentials, or that I switched majors from biology to English after my first year in college. It is possible to be fascinated by the human body and books; my head hasn't exploded yet! Reading and writing definitely come easier, as many sleepless nights trying to figure out organic chemistry proved. But who cares? Just because something is easier doesn't mean it's better (umm
, if for some strange reason my boss is somehow reading this, I really don't want to teach biology... I love it, but I'd like to stay in the English Department, thankyouverymuch).

Somewhere during our educational careers we learn that some things aren't as hard as others; some people gravitate towards math, some language arts, others PE, and a few smoking weed in the bathroom. Then it seems as if we're placed on a track, whether by our parents, teachers or ourselves, and we go from there. I constantly hear "I've always failed English, I hate reading, I'm not good at writing." There are people who break away from these expectations, but some people end up missing out on interesting things, whether modern fiction, mitosis, or yoga because they think they fit a certain mold. Live a little, calculate a tip without your phone, read a novel, watch the history channel, lift some weights. Variety is the spice of life (see below).

The Equation for Greatness

Many people would venture to say that math and literature don't mix- I'd have to agree with them most of the time. Interestingly, though, when I try to determine if the book I have just read is "great" my head instantly goes to a formula I've used for years:

quality writing + dynamic characters + engaging plot = great book

It's not really that simple, though, as this little piece of literary math is really just a starting point. Some novels are truly characters studies, therefore the plot isn't as important. In that case, the "dynamic characters" section would get extra credit, therefore making up for the loss of points over a slightly less "engaging plot." Writing that goes above and beyond the normal requirements for greatness can balance out, say, a plot slow to get started, or one or two flat characters. Mediocre, or even poor, writing is a deal breaker, though- so many points are lost that even the best plot or characters in the world couldn't help.

The problem arises when an author starts lacking in two areas. For example, the book I recently read, which I'll discuss at the end of the month, really struggled with the characters and plot; his writing has a lot of potential, but you can't necessarily hang your hat on that alone. Things become even more dire when the novel lacks in all three areas, like Paint it Black, my least favorite book of all time (remember, if you get it for Christmas, you'll know I hate you).

So many authors bust out novel after novel, yet so many fail to reach true literary greatness because they don't focus on these three areas. You hear people gush over the plot and characters of a certain vampire series, but the writing itself is nowhere near that of quality status (I stole a peak at a few pages- the owner of the copy was offended when I started laughing). And for all you Twihards out there who are wishing that Edward (I think he's a vampire...) would come suck my blood, can you really argue that these books are truly great? Recognizing them as entertaining or guilty pleasures is one thing, but saying they stand up with the greats is another.

Before I start bashing Nicholas Sparks and ranting about what great books aren't, a few last words on what great books are. A great book is something that has been crafted. A great book is something that is cohesive. A great book is something that makes you think and feel, even after returning it to the shelf. A great book isn't about mass production or becoming wealthy. A great book is about establishing an alternate universe with complex characters through carefully created prose.

It's an art form. Some authors have it, and some don't.

Burn Baby, Burn

It's Monday, meaning the chances of me babbling on about something I read in The New York Times Sunday Book Review are pretty high. This week's essay, Dan Kois' Why Do Writer's Abandon Novels? takes an interesting look at authors who have literally trashed texts they've spent years of their lives on. Hundreds of pages in, authors like Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, and Jennifer Egan have terminated projects out of frustration, disgust, or distraction. Sometimes the unfinished manuscripts are burned (Evelyn Waugh and Nikolai Gogal), recycled later for characters or plot (Steven King), or just avoided all together.

I guess it's meant to be reassuring- even the greats screw up.

Sidebar: Kois definitely depreciates the value of his article by referencing Stephanie Meyers. Lumping her pasty white vampire stories (sidebar to the sidebar: I heard, but am not sure if I believe, that in one of the books a vampire performs a c-section with his teeth and then falls in love with the baby) in with the likes of Waugh, Diaz, Chabon, Lee, and Capote is criminal.

The most important lesson that I took away from the article is that I need to get my ass in gear, one of these days, and do more writing than just this. I don't have an excuse for starting, stopping, and starting over. I definitely don't have fame distracting me, I don't feel my ideas are completely shitty, and I'm not frustrated with the act of writing. I have a plethora of excuses- busy/tired after working all day, training for all these races I sign up for (speaking of, rumor has it that Rock and Roll Vegas may be at night this year- announcement tomorrow!), don't want to start when I can only commit a half hour or hour, papers to grade (oh wait, I don't do that at home), etc...

Oh, and if you ask me in person about this mysterious, non-existent novel that I need to write so I can do book tours and wear cute dresses from Anthropologie on a daily basis, I will pretend I have no clue what you're talking about. We're not in the real world stage yet. Until then, I will continue to seriously consider making time to start thinking about it some more (cough, cough, commitment-phone, cough, cough).

Kiss My Apostrophe

Happy National Grammar Day everyone!

As a high school English teacher, and an ex-elementary teacher, I am an expert on crappy grammar. I really wish I would have heard about this holiday before the end of the school day so I could have thrown a party (you know, to up my street cred). Nonetheless, I think we should all take a second and remind ourselves that despite the fact that society is doing its best to destroy it, grammar is still important. Moment of silence, please.

I'm not grammar freak, but I think there is a definite need to match your writing to your audience and purpose. There's academic writing, there's creative/media (articles, blogs, ads, etc...), and then there's casual crap (texting). Academic writing needs to adhere to grammatical standards, no exceptions. Creative and media
writing can take some liberty and artistic license, starting sentences with conjunctions, adding a little slang here or there, or saying things like "aint" for satirical purposes. Texting, well, texting is making our kids lazy (I had students at the beginning of the year who write "idk" and "btw" on assignments. Umm, WTF).

I must admit to some serious grammar pet peeves. I need to share, I've got to get them off my chest, and today is the perfect day. It's cleansing, it's cathartic, it's crucial.

1. Learn how to use fucking apostrophes. Sorry, but if I'm using the "f-word" on my blog it's important. If you're pluralizing you don't need one! Example: We are going to spend time with the Smith
s later. No apostrophe needed. If they own something, fine: We are going to Smiths' house. Or, if we're talking about just one person that possesses we can do this: The family's house is lovely. If contracting, add an apostrophe: Sally Smith's going to the party. Lesson: just because you add a damn s doesn't mean you need to use an apostrophe. Yes, "its" and "it's" are special. I could go on and on, but I'll stop. Deep breath.

Yes, I'd like to hire you to screw up my sign, please! [source]

2. Just because you want to sound educated doesn't mean you should use "whom" instead of "who." Grammar Girl has an excellent explanation on her site. Basically, if you turn the statement into a sentence and it can be answered with "him" you use "whom." If "he," then "who."

3. I taught the difference between "there," "their," and "they're," as well as "too" and "to," to fourth graders. Unless you're nine, get it right.

I'm going to stop now because I can actually feel my blood pressure increasing. Okay, not really, but I'm a firm believer in the fact that using proper grammar (at least the basics) is essential if you want to sound educated. Yes, even on Facebook (confession: sometimes if I catch a mistake in a status I delete, correct, and repost).

And yes, I do make mistakes, but if you point them out I will point out every single mistake you make until I die and possibly punch you if we ever meet. I would be scared- I've added lifting five pound weights to my fitness repertoire. I joke, I joke.

Now, time to celebrate! Go have a drink! Or, even better, write something with lots of appropriately placed apostrophes!

Reading is Fun Today, but Tomorrow, Well...

So, today is Theodore Seuss Geisel's birthday. Everyone and their mothers (literally) know Theo, or Dr. Seuss, author of a billion rhyming book about topics ranging from eating green food, to numbered fish, to Christmas-time heart expansions (seriously, what was the Grinch's issue, a birth defect? Parasite?). Adored by children and adults, today students across the country celebrate his commitment to literacy being fun by partaking in Read Across America festivities (if only the bars would get on board and do happy hour specials).

Read Across America was created with a positive spirit catalyzed by only the best intentions. Anything that promotes reading is great and should be given time in our schools. Participation varies from site to site, some elementary schools inviting guests to come read, while others throwing all day pajama reading parties. Seuss books rhyme, are whimsical, and often have good messages (like the environment in The Lorax). Unlike Hannah Montana (or whoever is cool right now), Seuss books bridge generational gaps, allowing parents to bond with their kids over something they remember from their youth (cue stock footage of multi-cultural families laughing and reading on Ethan Allen couches).

Alas, there are very few things I can look at without cynicism, and RAA is of course no exception (frozen 100 calorie Hostess cupcakes: exception). I guess in a way it's like the perspective some view Valentine's Day with- really, we're going to set just one day aside for this? What frustrates me, though, is that after March 2nd has come and gone, it's back to our regularly scheduled programming, which so happens to be strict, structured language arts programs that do their best to eliminate novels and creativity from the curriculum. It's fun to wear read and white hats and read five billion rhyming books today, but sticking a brightly colored bandaid on a really boring, tedious program for teaching reading is unacceptable. Every day should invoke the spirit of March 2- reading needs to be taught in a fun, high-interest environment, minus the crazy hat/pajama/excuse to have snacks in the classroom hoopla. The NEA website says this is their ultimate goal, but let's be realistic- in the world of pacing guides, excerpted novels (ehhh, kids, don't worry about the rest of the book), workbooks, and extreme testing it can be hard for both teachers and students to muster up enthusiasm for language arts. Unfortunately, when school boards and book publishers go to bed together their love child ends up being really mundane, not to mention expensive to deliver.

Everyone who's been in the education business awhile says programs and philosophies are cyclical. Hopefully, a new era for how public schools teach reading and literature is approaching. I think I can see it coming- oh wait, sorry, that's just another budget cut. The answer isn't private school or giving up- the system needs to be challenged and parents need to help foster a love for reading in their own homes. Until then we can at least look forward to March 2.