10 Best of 2010

While I may not have read as much as I wanted to in 2010, I definitely read more than ten great books. Here are the top ten that I read in 2010, many of which were published prior to this year. In no particular order...

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell- My husband had been pestering me to read this ever since he finished a few years ago and I could kick myself for putting it off for so long. Amazing writing that ties several different narratives together, this book is a what it means to be "well-crafted". We also went to one of his readings this summer- Mitchell is as humble as he is brilliant.

Super Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart- I love Shteyngart, but he is definitely not for everyone. His narrators aren't always completely likable and the social commentary that he provides may be too accurate for some. Personally, I think he's amusing, a great writer, and, in this text, forces you to think about what the near future will be like.

One Best Hike: Half Dome
by Rick Deutsch- I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite with my brother this year and this guide was an outstanding resource. It provided information for pre-hike necessities and for every point along the way.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones- I really loved this novel- so much of it was about the act and importance of reading, and what literacy means to different people. For those that love Dickens' Great Expectations you will appreciate the tie in to this classic. It's set on a tropical island that has been completely cut off from the world, until the only white man there start reading to the children. It's a little explicit at times, as far as violence and sex, but the uncheesy sentimentality behind it is well done.

Solar by Ian McEwan- I agree with some critics that say this isn't his best novel, but I actually really enjoyed it. McEwan's writing is still up to par and I really appreciated his take on global warming, the environment, and the overall message that the world needs to invest in clean energy. Just make sure you go into this book accepting that you're not always supposed to like main characters.

Big Machine by Victor Luvalle- I generally stay away from science fiction, but this book was outstanding. Luvalle's narrative voice has a life of its own and his combination of philosophy, psychology, and straight up crazy is fantastic.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell- If you need a book for a plane trip or to read by the pool in a few months this is perfect. Witty and hilarious, it's a quick read about an ex-mobster turned doctor.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy- If I had to put my top ten in order, this text would be near the top. McCarthy's ability to say so much, so simply is a true art form. This book is dark, depressing, and exhausting (obviously, since it's about a man and his son trying to survive after some sort of unnamed nuclear holocaust).

Campbell Biology by various authors- I'm not suggesting you necessarily read this, but since it's my favorite books of 2010 I had to include it. I read the stupid text cover to cover (over a thousand pages) to prepare for the biology CSET, which I passed. I'm hoping this credential helps save my job next year, plus I actually love cells, ecology, and the human body.

Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie- I confess, I'm not quite done with it, but I know it would make the list. Magical realism, coming of age, and politics in India- what's not to love?

Runners Up: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Irresistible Henry House, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, By Nightfall, and The Long Run.

Don't Waste Your Time: Tell All, In the Kitchen, Fun with Problems or The Nanny Returns.

What books did you love in 2010?


I have mixed feelings about New Year's Resolutions- I think they can be good if people really stick to them, but waiting to January 1st can be an exercise in procrastination (if you weigh 350 pounds in August you may want to move your ass and eat your veggies mid-year instead of waiting). Society seems to accept not sticking to New Year's resolutions, since the whole thing is a bit gimmicky, which may not be the best thing if you're trying to give up smoking. I haven't made any for a few years, but this year I thought it might be fun to make some literary resolutions- then, if I'm still blogging, I can see how I did when 2011 is over.

Read more 2010 has been incredibly busy, and many of the things that have taken up my time have included reading for something that I wouldn't exactly call pleasure (finishing my Master's and studying to get my science credential). In 2010 I read only 26 books, compared to 39 in 2009. I'm not going to put a number out there, but I'd definitely like to go over 30 in 2011.

Try a graphic novel I'm still actually having a lot of trouble calling them "graphic novels," as I'm more inclined to just say "comic book." My husband, whose judgment I trust, has read several over the past few years and raves about both the stories and art. And I do believe Times Magazine listed The Watchman as one of their top 100 novels, so at some point in 2011 I'll give this genre a try.

Get real I generally stick to contemporary fiction/authors, but I do enjoy a good biography or piece of nonficiton occasionally. While I do learn a lot from fiction, I feel that I'm actually being educated when reading nonfiction. Unfortunately, the writing isn't as always top shelf and can be dry. No promises, but I'm sure I can squeeze in a few.

Writing Like so many of my fellow English degree holders, I'd like to one day write a novel. This year I plan to continue actively contemplating this endeavor (please note I didn't necessarily say I was going to physically do anything about it...)

Finish what you start I have been in the middle of Don DeLillo's Underworld for years now- I call it my "project" book. I read its prologue in a class in college and received it that year for Christmas. It's a beast of a book (832 pages), and, for those not familar with DeLillo, he's a wordy son of a bitch. Every year or so I pick it up and start again and put it down for whatever reason (one of the only books I've ever not finished). But, I generally finish what I start and it truly is a great piece of writing, so I'm missing out if I don't. I just hope I don't have to restart it...

Go to more readings Going to author readings is one of my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, for some crazy reason, no one wants to come to Riverside, so I'm forced to drive to LA. Most readings are on Monday or Tuesday nights, which makes it difficult to schedule in. As an English teacher, I think the district should give me a sub the day after...

Curb the habit I really need to stop buying books. On average, I end up with maybe one or two new ones a month, which doesn't sound like too many, but for our spacing issues it is. I'm probably going using them as a running reward- a new book every 150 miles or so (hmmm, so that means a new book every six weeks... not sure if that's too much better).

We'll see how I do!

Reality Bites

Books and More Books!

Christmas break this year has been a little crazy- I made a quick trip up North for an early Christmas, came back home to get ready for our trip, celebrated the holidays early with my inlaws, and then headed to sunny Hawaii. As far as reading, I've mostly been studying an Oahu travel guide (Fodor's is my favorite), although I've been trying to get in some Rushdie (Potter #4 was too big to lug on the plane).

After a long day of hiking, beaching (I made it up, deal with it), eating, and drinking, we're back to our room a little early and I've decided to brag about the awesome books my family and husband got me for Christmas. Some girls want purses, some ask for clothes, and there are definitely those that hint around for jewelery, but I'm one that asks for books. I hate asking for things, but am generally hounded for ideas starting in November, so I eventually give in. I don't feel quite so guilty asking for books, since they are relatively inexpensive, not too difficult to find, and easily wrapped. So here's what I've got to make room on the shelves for:

Since I love cooking and try to make at least one new thing a week, I was super psyched to get How to Cook Like a Top Chef, 5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson, Spike Medelsohn's The Good Stuff Cookbook.

I've gotten the travel/adventure-within-reason bug the last year or two, so the written log of the documentary 180 Degrees South (men who climb a mountain in Patagonia) and the travel account The Lost Girls (three women who journey around the world) will probably multiply my wanderlust exponentially.

I also received a subscription to the literary/snarky commentary magazine The New Yorker. I feel that it's necessary to have a weekly reminder of how uncultured I am.


Typically my genre of choice, I'm the proud new owner of:

- Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
- The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langar
- Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
- Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham
- The Lords of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

Please note, that these are all actual books- none of that ereader nonsense for me! Happy holidays.

The Bastards at Borders

While making a quick stop into Borders tonight I allowed myself to be suckered into upgrading my free Borders rewards card into the souped up "plus" version (please note, I did say that "I allowed" myself... taking responsibility is the first step in addiction). The stupid lady saw me hesitate before saying no and went in for the kill: "Ten dollar coupon... free shipping on all orders... ten percent off everything, always... forty percent off bestseller hardbacks... coupon for free coffee..." All I heard was, "More ways to justify buying books! Do it!" So, I did it. Damn.

A few hours later I have to admit to some buyer's remorse. First of all, I primarily buy my books through Amazon, which has cheaper prices than Borders both in stores and online, so the free shipping and ten percent off isn't very helpful. Secondly, I don't really buy "bestsellers," since they're mostly [insert nice word for crap that won't offend people that read those]. Oh, and I don't generally drink things with calories, unless it's full of booze, so the fancyshmancy coffee isn't exactly relevant. And, now that I look through their coupon book full of supposed savings, I'm even more regretful. It's has coupons for kid's books, Harlequin romance novels (augh), books for Dummies, and a free "Fancy Nancy Fan Club Kit" (who the fuck is Nancy?).

Damn those Borders bastards.

Holiday Gift Giving Guide

I love giving gifts for Christmas! For those like me that habitually give the gift of words, here's some suggestions, with a 10 words or less explanation (I've read them all):

For Moms: The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa
Grunwald (project house baby grows up, works at Disney, love trouble)

The Ungrateful Teenager: Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun (life sucks when you run away from home)

The Classics Lover: The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Jane Austen and Dame Darcy (classic text with neat Gothic illustrations)

The Couch Potato: Spark by John Ratey and Eric Hagerman (move your ass to curb unhealthiness and brain cell loss)

The Fifth Grader (or adult): Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers (awesome adaptation of the children's book)

The "Deport all 'dem illegals" person: Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle ("illegals" aren't all lazy and dumb like some people insinuate) *I'd like to go off a tangent here but will not. Sigh.

The Casual R
eader You'd Like to Slightly Challenge: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (there's more to Frank Lloyd Wright than architecture)

The Person You Secretly Hate: Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk (oh dear God it's pulling teeth without Novocaine)

The Grey's Anatomy Lover: Another Day in the Frontal Lobe by Katrina Firlik (being a doctor is more than hanging out with McDreamy)

The Republican: Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevera (let's get some facts about communism and socialism, shall we?)

Fans of Smart, Witty Contemporary Lit: The Beautiful Miscellaneous by Dominic Smith (teenager awakes from coma with insane memory; bildungsroman)

Happy shopping! No sizes needed!

This Book Might/Will/Should Make Me Faster

Disclaimer: For those of you who find it incredibly annoying to listen to runners, you might want to stop here, although I promise this post does connect to a book.

It's been almost a year since I ran my first "race" (I find it odd to say I'm racing when I never have any hope whatsoever of winning), a 5k (3.1 miles) at a local park. Since then I have done two 10 ks and now 3 half marathons (13.1 miles), and have come to what I think is a pivotal point in this hobby I love to hate so much- I either need to get faster and start "training for a purpose," or I need to move on before I go crazy. At first I was running to stay fit and burn more calories. I entered races so I had something to motivate me, and you can't beat a free shirt, the medal, and all those bananas at the finish line! It has worked extremely well this year- since I started using the Nike+ Sensor five months ago I have logged over 400 miles and I average 4-5 runs a week. Unfortunately, I've gotten very accepting of an unsatisfactory pace that has plateaued, as demonstrated by coming in about 4 minutes under my half marathon PR yesterday at Rock and Roll Las Vegas. Not okay.

A day later I'm opting to be proactive rather than pissed, as my next half is in early February (Surf City in Huntington). I pulled Run Less, Run Faster, by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss, off the shelf and read through it today while recuperating from muscles that are very unimpressed by Vegas' cold and my inability to pace myself adequately (first 4 miles at 1.5 minutes faster than what they should have been... oops). I bought this book a few months ago on a book buying binge since it had very positive reviews and was affiliated with the sport's monthly bible, Runner's World. Basically, what this book promotes is three structured runs a week, combined with two or three cross training workouts. This is a hard pill for me to swallow; anything less than four runs a week makes me feel like a lazy oompaloompa. But, while reading, the old Christine who used to work in research came out and started salivating at the data the authors dangled- the people that followed this plan improved anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes on their marathon times (granted their scientific plan hasn't you know, gone through an IRB or been replicated by an outside researcher). It all makes a lot of sense on a biological level- I'm just struggling with the idea of changing what I normally do!

I doubt I'll follow their prescribed plan exactly, but I after reading I've taken away some really helpful strategies. I do need a plan- I need to run fartleks, I need to tempo, and I need to stretch (I've got the long runs down already). I also must start pushing myself more, cross training, and at least consider doing more strength training that just my abs. No more running "junk miles" (okay, maybe once a week).

So, we'll see what ends up happening at Surf City (then Big Sur in May, and then possibly Seattle June). I do think it's entirely fitting that when I need help with something I of course rely on a book.
Me after the Disneyland Half in September- I was happy that I finished. That's not working for me anymore!

Potter Update

I love chocolate. Sometimes I like a lot of chocolate. Eventually, though, I step away from the peanut better cups (or ice cream, cookies, or Cocoa Puffs) and find something somewhat nutritious to snack on instead.

This is what's happening the Harry Potter books. I've had a lot of a good thing and I'm ready to take a break. In fact, I've reached a bit of a plateau- I haven't read since Sunday (gasp).

The natural step would be to finish the book I'm on (still the fourth) and take a break. A Potter Hiatus. Unfortunately, for those that don't know me, I generally finish what I start.

Potter it is.

Damn You, Potter! Part I

Once in awhile I publicly proclaim that I'm going to start something that I end up at least partially/temporarily regretting later (running Half Marathons, climbing Half Dome, being the yearbook adviser, cleaning behind the stove, etc...). Recently, one of these pseudo-mistakes has been reading all the Harry Potter books, back-to-back (except the first one). I guess I just got swept up in the whole Harry-mania that is currently taking over the world. I have no idea why- I easily ignored the hype during the other six movies! Okay, maybe I do know why. I read this article about Daniel Radcliffe being all sad to "leave Hogwarts" and I decided I wanted to see the movie. I won't watch a movie before reading the book, so I was stuck (I've seen none of the movies).

I've read the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, twice. The first time was before it was popular- a friend and I chose a book for each other to read in high school, and he chose that one for me (yes, we were very cool, us IB kids). I thought it was good, and read the second and third
ones right after they came out, but that was it. I decided to read the first one to my students a few years ago, which they loved. So, last week I started off with the second, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, since it had been so long since the first read, quickly followed that up with the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and am now plugging away through the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I'm not a HP fanatic by any means. The kids (and Hagrid) have definitely grown on me, and I am curious to see what they're like as they grow older (cough, bottom right, cough). I think, above all, I just love the imaginative elements of the story and the fact that they have gotten so many kids to willingly read hundreds of pages. Yes, J.K. Rowling may have borrowed a few things here and there (the chess scene in the firs
t book, for example), but as a whole, the series is quite unique. And, honestly, what author hasn't been influenced by someone else? The HP books are well-written, have good messages, and are just plain fun (you know, in that way that corrupts children and teaches them that magic, witches, and wizards are evil AND awesome- oh God, don't get me started... see my post on book banning).

Reading all of them back-to-back is coming at a cost, though. Last night I actually had a HP dream- Dumbledore was performing a rock opera, singing about Lord Voldemort (I'm dead serious). I am also missing the books I read, especially since I had just started Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children when I put it on hold for these. I'm going to a Rushdie reading in early December and am hoping I can get it done by then. I just have to finish these damn Potter books first...

Keep Out or Else!

Over the weekend, my husband and I landed on the topic of published posthumous diaries, and it really made me think (that either makes us sound really smart... or really boring). As a 20 year journal-keeping veteran, the idea of the whole world gaining access to my most personal thoughts does not sound appealing in the slightest. While I highly doubt there would be much of a market for my musings, there is definitely one for celebrities, politicians, and other famous figures. Take Kurt Cobain's, for example- who knows how much money Courtney Love made from selling his diary!

By nature, humans are curious, and for some this crosses the line into just plain nosiness. Most of us have been tempted at one point or another to snoop into the belongings of someone else, whether it be a journal, an email account, or a cell phone. When it's someone close, our conscience usually takes hold, reminding us of the consequences attached to invading someone else's privacy. But what happens when it's an actual published work? And the person is dead? Does that justify reading what they hadn't intended for others?

I admit to moments of nosiness (or, shall we say "extreme curiosity"), but I don't think I could ever get myself to read what someone else has written, for entertainment purposes, without their consent. As I said, I'd be mortified if anyone ever read mine, and I have a problem with someone making money off another person's thoughts. I do believe that there are exceptions, though, mostly those falling into the academic realm. Often people mix business and pleasure in their journals- a scholarly investigation of a great scientist's diaries might divulge more than just his affair with the secretary, but also the beginning formulas for a new medication.

Lesson of the day: if you keep a journal, burn them before you die.


Cordie is thinking:
a. "I wish she'd hurry reading so we could discuss this book."
b. "She needs to get off her ass and take me for a walk."
c. "Does she not realize the big box with the all noise and the light will say the words for her?"
d. "I like bacon."

Redo, Please!

So, back in college I decided to exert my independence and get myself a tramp stamp. Yup, a smallish purple butterfly on the small of my back- easily concealed but sending a message that I wasn't as nice as I looked. Or, something like that... I don't regret it at all, but I do wish I could trade the butterfly in for a smaller version of this awesome tat (no, I don't know this lady, I just saw it online):

Too Much of a Good Thing...

When Mae West proclaimed that, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful" I'm not really sure if she had books in mind, but that's the mantra I'm officially adopting. Every so often I count how many unread books I have, just for curiosity's sake. Usually the number is in the high twenties, inflicting guilt, as if these inanimate objects are capable of feeling neglected.

Today I counted and the number has climbed to forty-six. Oops.

I'll sheepishly admit that my first reaction was visceral- my internal organs simultaneously tensed and shuddered, and I swear my heart rate jumped for a second. Some of the forty-six had been sitting for well over a year (or two... I'm so sorry The Crimson Petal and the White), not because they're bad, but because others have simply bumped them (for those who have a Netflix queue I'm sure you understand). My involvement in Amazon's Vine Program has also been a factor, although I have definitely slowed my participation down with them considerably. Not to mention how much money these forty-six books represent, although, in my defense, some have been gifts. And the space! Another reason to feel ashamed. We have three massive bookcases that are basically filled- with my birthday and Christmas coming some intense rearranging must be done pronto. Panic. Stress. Anxiety. Eye-rolling over-dramatization.

But then I realized it doesn't really matter. I'm a self-sufficient woman who is fiscally responsible, so if I want to have forty-six unread books on my shelves than that's my prerogative. In fact, maybe I'll go buy some more right now (okay, so I probably won't, but I could)!

A Confession

I hate Shakespeare. I have a BA in English, am an English teacher, and a have no problem admitting to literary snobbery, and yet I totally despise The Bard. Romeo and Juliet were idealistic and stupid, Lady Macbeth needed some Xanax, and seriously, how many goddamn Henrys do we need to read about? The reason why this comes up now is because I have to teach Julius Caesar starting next week and am struggling to muster up any enthusiasm whatsoever. Yes, I know, there are "so many fun things you can do with plays." And I don't care.

I can't pinpoint one specific reason why Shakespeare irks me so much. I'm not a huge fan of reading plays in general, so I know that's definitely one factor. Drama doesn't allow me to become as invested in the characters or as connected to the plot and setting as I can with prose. I also hate poetry for the same reason, so that applies to his sonnets as well. My literary tastes also veer towards the contemporary, which Shakespeare definitely is not (I don't mind Chaucer, though, who is about 200 years Will's senior).

As a seventh or eighth grader I really wanted to like Shakespeare- I even requested, and received, his complete works for Christmas one year (cough, cough, dork, cough). I muddled through some sonnets and tried to get through Antony and Cleopatra, if I remember right. Then, freshman year in high school we read Romeo and Juliet and I decided the man was an idiot. Were you kidding me? They were that stupid? Really? Being dumb, naive, and suicidal is not romantic. And from that moment on I was over him. I've read many plays since then and still have not become a fan.

Don't misunderstand me- I hate reading Shakespeare, but I appreciate what he has done for literature as a whole, similar to how I feel about what Michael Jackson has done for music, Kobe Bryant for basketball, and Louboutin for heels. There's a difference between disliking an author because he's a talentless hack, and hating an author because the two of you just aren't on the same wavelength. And, I guess that's the message I'll have to hopefully convey to my students these next few weeks, since I know they'll probably hate Julius Caesar more than I do (pessimistic but realistic): you can hate the game, but don't hate the player (or, I guess, for my students, "playa.")

The Best Worst Class Ever

While studying English at UCLA I had the privilege of participating in some amazing classes that exposed me to a plethora of authors, professors, and genres. Detective Fiction was not a member of this elite group. It sounded awesome on the registrar's website- in reality, not so much. The poor professor was battling some sort of illness that induced massive amounts of cough-syrup chugging during lecture, memory loss, and just general boringness (I saw him hooked up to an IV in the hospital, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt). The syllabus was horrendous, among the worst: Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers, and, the worst of the worst, Michael Connely's Trunk Music (shame on you, professor). Needless to say, between the other three lit classes I was taking, working thirty hours a week, and commuting to Brea, I didn't do much reading.

Meanwhile, I had met this insanely smart, sarcastic, opposite of frat boy guy in my discussion class- we'll call him Future Husband. At first I thought he was sort of a nonchalant bad-ass, not that it mattered, since I was unhappily unavailable. Over time, though, I realized that this guy in the leather jacket with the longish hair did all the reading and was actually pretty cool- AND he was willing to meet to review for the final. Score! It was during our epic study session that I realized TLC replayed Trading Spaces on a 3 hour loop, I got horrible cell phone reception in Riverside, a
nd that this guy might not suck.

Fast forward a month later, I was down a high school boyfriend and up a Fut
ure Husband (no overlap, thankyouverymuch). While slightly scarring me for life (so ashamed to know who Harry Bosch is), Detective Fiction ended up being the best class ever, for obvious reasons. Fast forward even further into the future, and today I can say we've been married for two whole years now and I still have absolutely no clue what the hell The Erasers is about.

It's a Book

Check out It's a Book on the right hand side of the screen- those of us who are anti-ereader will appreciate it. An old friend shared it with me awhile ago but I had forgotten about it until today when I saw the actual print copy on Amazon.

The Word "Notebook" Does Not Guarantee Academic

I'm of course very supportive of high school students reading full novels in class, as opposed to excerpts in anthologies, but while reading Vanity Fair today I discovered something very unsettling: students are being taught Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook. In fact, the novel has become so commonly taught that Cliff's Notes has created a teacher's edition and one of their infamous "read this so you can skip the novel" guides. Nicholas Sparks? As scholarly literature? What the hell is the world coming to?

I'm fine (well, as fine as I possibly could be about anyone reading Sparks) with students reading him on their own time; one of my students had a Chelsea Handler book she was reading the other day, and I was just psyched she was actually reading. And, for the record, I have read a book by Sparks- Message in a Bottle, and it was absolute crap (dear God of All Things Literary, please forgive me, I was in eighth or ninth grade). How can an actual English teacher encourage students to read him when there are thousands of other more substantial texts available? "You know, kids, forget that Fitzgerald and his stupid Gatsby, today we're going to analyze the devices Nicholas Sparks uses to nauseate his readers." The only time I can see this as appropriate is maybe for an advanced class where they're contrasting junk and quality, and even that's a stretch.

You know what, kids? Go ahead and get the Cliff's Notes version. And see the movie. Just please don't buy the book.

Why I Need to Go to New York City

I am prone to frequent bouts of massive cabin fever- due to the fact that this isn't a psychoanalysis blog I'll spare you my opinions regarding why. It is in fact a blog about books, which permits me to share why New York City seems like a great place for readers.

First up, obviously, is the famous bookstore, The Strand. Known for being emphatically independent, this huge bookstore supposedly houses more than
8 miles of books inside, both new, used, and rare. Interesting side note: interior decorators and set designers can rent "books by the foot" from this store, which will even customize the selection in case someone is looking closely.

Another stop, just to see what the place looks like up close is a coffee shop named D'Espresso, a place I recently saw featured in the style section of the New York Times
. The "books" are actually hand-painted tiles, the entire decor budget topping $500,000. The owner hopes to open more- maybe he'll put one in Riverside. I currently hate coffee, but I'm sure they have hot chocolate.

I'm enamored with Central Park in a way that I'm sure only tourists are (do locals love it? I don't know). To be honest, if I could only do one thing w
hile visiting it would be running- I'm tired of all these East Coasters raving about their Central Park runs in Runner's World. Anyway, reading would be a close second.

Saving the best for last, I would most definitely stay at t
he disgustingly expensive, but insanely awesome, The Library Hotel. Each floor and room is genre inspired, both with decor and books to peruse (biographies, new age, business, fairy tales, encyclopedias, classics, etc...).

Maybe next year.

Either Good Taste or Good Ass-Kissing

Today, in both of my sophomore English classes, we finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird (yes, I'm ignoring the anthology for now and teaching novels... in conjunction with the standards, of course) and some of my students actually clapped. When they came in most asked me if we were going to finish the book today because they wanted to "know how it ends." Yes, my students who think "hella sic" is an adjective, draw marijuana leaves on their folders, have odd piercings in their faces, and ask me every weekend if I'm "going to party," wanted to know if Scout and Jem survived their attack alive. I even heard a few "awwws" from the girls when Scout escorts Boo home. Either they have a shred of good taste or they're just good at ass-kissing.

Michael Cunningham, the LA Central Library, and Skid Row

Last week I made yet another trek out to LA to see an author read, this time for Michael Cunningham's newest novel By Nightfall. It's definitely quite a drive for a 60-90 minute presentation, but I enjoy hearing about different writers' writing processes, how they create characters, who they are currently are reading, etc... I love being around people that are interested in the same types of books as I am and actually give a damn about literature. It's inspiring, and these days, I sure as hell need it.

This particular reading was at the Los Angeles Central Library in the downtown area, which was a delightful treat at 6:30 on a weeknight. Once I was parked
and my sanity somewhat restored, I realized how awesome the location was- absolutely huge, with large windows running through the middle of the library allowing you to see rows and rows of books, as well as beautiful mosaics and light fixtures. Outside, the nighttime view was great; the library is tucked between several skyscrapers- a nice change from my current location.

Anyway, Cunningham did a terrible job reading his own novel- someone needs to teach the man to pause at punctuation, rather than in middle of sentences. Some actual inflection might be nice too. He redeemed himself, though, during the interview portion with a candid discussion of his sexuality and it's impact on his writing ("Admit it, there are some heterosexuals in the audience! Come out of the closet!"), Mad Men references, and an artful ability to be simultaneously both self-deprecating and snobbish.

What I loved most was his discussion, and appreciation, of how "no two readers read the exact same novel." It brought me back to my days as in college, listening to people debate symbolism or the significance of a minor character. The significance of every novel differs depending on the reader and their feelings, past experiences, and perceptions of the world. It takes an author that is secure in his craft, and his readers, to embrace this.

Then I left and got lost in Skid Row. I decided the juxtaposition between that and the Banana Republic Boys at the reading was extremely fitting.

No Books Were Harmed in the Making of These Ads

Actually, they probably were; I don't know much about them. Nonetheless, these promotional ads were done by the agency Kaspen to promote the Russian bookshop Anagram a few years ago- enjoy!

Getting My Pretentious Snob On

I don't make it a habit to usually review books on this blog, since I do that on Amazon, but I couldn't resist this one. Beware- there's a good chance I'm going to come off as a pretentious snob. Oh well.

Awhile ago I bought Stieg Larsson's The Girl who/with Blablablabla trilogy on a curious whim, accepting the fact it may be pulpy but desperately hoping that just maybe modern literature could welcome a quality mystery writer (they're so hard to come by these days). Unfortunately, after 465 pages, I wasn't terribly impressed.

It was definitely entertaining, and I even found myself slightly attached to feisty Lizbeth (you know, the girl with the dragon tattoo). It was a very quick read, straightforward, and set in Sweden, which was interesting setting. It made me want to keep reading in the same way Gossip Girl made my buy yet another season (and there goes my credibility).

Now I'm through being nice. The plot was incredibly predictable, the characters were flat, and the writing was barely mediocre. When I read a mystery novel I want to be tricked and teased- I figured out the major "ah ha" moment very early on, despite hoping to be wrong. The dialogue was forced, the exposition was sloppy, and the sex scenes were disappointingly awkward. The writing as a whole was barely mediocre, and while I'd like to blame the translator, I'm thinking that would be probably be unfair.

I should have known that after it hung out at the top of the bestseller lists for months, and when a billion people reviewed and loved it on Amazon, that I probably should have stayed away.
I know Larsson is dead, and while I sincerely hope he's frolicking in green fields with naked maidens, I think he could have done this story better. And that is why, as soon as I want a break from the types of books I usually read, I will read the others (mostly because I already bought them, thanks to Amazon's enticingly cheap bundle pack).

You've been warned.

Coffee Tables are for Books

I really want a coffee table. Sure, it would be nice for drinks (under coasters, of course), to centralize the remote situation, and store blankets underneath, but the real reason I want one is for coffee table books. They come in neat sizes, are beautifully photographed, and detail every topic known to man. I'd like to sit down on any give day and be able to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's homes, relive my adventures in Venice, or view Wassily Kandinsky's art. Coffee table books don't have to be read all at once, or from cover-to-cover; they're perfect for during commercials (no DVR for us), while waiting for friends to stop by, or when you're on the phone with someone that won't shut the hell up. There's no sense of urgency to get through a coffee table book- they're informative, visually stimulating, and patient.

I love the idea of someone sitting down at our coffee table and being able to get a better perspective of what we are interested in- yes, please, judge me by my coffee tables books! Alas, I refuse to get one due to the fact we live in an apartment just barely bigger than a box- but, someday soon, when we do have a house, I will most definitely go on a coffee table book binge.

Where I Like to Do It

Top ten places I like to do it:

10. While waiting (for the doctor, dentist, stylist, etc...)
9. In church (reason 563 why I'm going to hell- this got me through years there as a child, though)
8. At the beach (what else are you going to do there?)
7. On the train
6. By a fire (preferably one that's controlled)
5. Under the trees in my mom's front yard
4. My grandparents' gazebo
3. While getting a pedicure
2. UCLA (the Sculpture Garden, Janss Steps, Powell Library)
1. In bed

Relax- it's a reading blog.

Ban My Ass

I adore Banned Book Week- it amuses me to no end that people still attempt to ban books in our country (I supposed you're going to start telling me wear a burka, too). Last year, some of the most commonly nominated books to be banned included And Tango Makes Three (damn those homosexual penguins), To Kill a Mockingbird (yeah, because high schoolers have no idea what rape is and have never heard the "n" word), My Sister's Keeper (supposedly for a whole list of reasons, but I think people are just scared of growing human donors), and Twilight (very difficult for me to defend this one). My internal liberal democrat is starting to surface, as I've had to delete several sentences about conservatives making people stupider, so I'll move on.

I've always been insistent about reading what I've w
anted. As a first grader I convinced the cranky school librarian to let me check out novels instead of picture books (hello Boxcar Children), in second grade I was loading up on The Babysitter's Club, and by third grade I was reading Sweet Valley High under my desk so my teacher wouldn't see. By sixth grade I was knee deep into Steven King and remember falling asleep that Christmas Eve reading A Time to Kill. Not long after, I picked up a trashy book called Shank and learned way to early about things that go on between desperate men in prison. Oh, and not to mention Danielle Steel in seventh grade- so that's what boys are for!

I know most of you are wondering where my parents were in all this (the rest of you either finally "get" why I am the way I am or have similar stories). My mom had four kids and left the literary supervision to my dad, who was a reader himself. Back in those days he was a total softy and was just psyched his kid shared an interest with him
, so off I went to take advantage!

Luckily, this freedom to read did not scar me for life. I read a lot of crap, which I think in the end helped me become an extremely discriminatory, critical reader. While this may not be the right route for all families, I greatly appreciate what I assume to be my parents' intentional ignorance about my early literary endeavors. Now we'll see what tune I'll be singing when my future nine year old wants to read Valley of the Dolls...

And the Rivalry Continues

Today's news that the LA Times Festival of Books is moving from the UCLA to the USC campus did not make my gloomy Wednesday any brighter. As a proud Bruin, I look to the Festival as an excuse to make a weekend trek back to the alma mater to immerse myself in what I love most. Unfortunately, event programmers have decided to make the change based on ridiculous claims such as "more bathrooms," "additional space," "diversity opportunities," and "freeway access." Had they had put, "this private institution has agreed to pony of the cash," I would have at least retained some respect for them.

As I perused the Facebook discussions regarding the change I saw a lot of USC bashing, some being true (parking will be horrible, as will the traffic), while some not (the Bloods and Crypts are not going to choose a literary festival as the site of their next turf war, people). What depresses me most is this death of a tradition; in my mind the Festival has always been a partnership between the University and the LA Times (I usually refer to it as "The UCLA Festival of Books"). Having the event at a public institution adds to the idea of literacy, and higher education, being attainable to everyone. Several UCLA professors make invaluable contributions to the panels and interview sessions, while some authors, such as Carolyn See and her daughter Lisa, are closely affiliated with the University.

I'm really on the fence about attending next year, and know I will definitely not be volunteering, as I had planned to. I love books and the opportunity to attend great discussions and readings, but I am very disappointed in this obvious decision that was based purely on money and the need to be viewed as "multicultural."

Oprah, Shut the Hell Up (Part 1)

I hate Oprah. I wish I could put it eloquently, but I think she's a fake, obnoxious, greedy person and I think she needs to shut her mouth. Especially about books.

I received an email today from Borders, telling me to "save now" on her newest pick. Curious about what she's telling her sheep to read, I clicked on the link, only to find that she hasn't even revealed the next pick! What? People are supposed to blindly trust Oprah and click "add to cart?" Seriously? Oprah Winfrey? Really? And what irks my more than anything is that people will. I'd bet that as soon as she releases the title on Friday it will jump to the number one selling position on Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

I'm not saying the book will necessarily be bad- she's had plenty of quality reads on her list, such as The Road, Middlesex, and Anna Karenina. What irritates me is that people blindly follow her recommendations, forgetting the fact that the decision is really based on whatever author is willing to cater to Oprah's show schedule, whore himself/herself out to Harpo, and agree to allow that god-awful "O" sticker on future reprints. Granted I'm happy for legitimate, talented, authors who are able to reap financial rewards, but must wonder if the price is worth selling out. Interestingly, a lot of the more talented authors on her list are dead- after hearing the news that his book was a selection, Tolstoy concluded he'd gone to hell. On that note, Jeffrey Eugenides, we need to talk.

I went through a period where I almost approved of her club- it got people to read things other than the paperback crap at the supermarket checkout. That was short lived as I had to seriously ask myself if the demographic that watches her show are going to understand Tolstoy, McCullers, and Faulkner. The answer- probably not (I cracked up at the "Faulkner 101" section on her website... it's going to take a lot more than a few helpful hints to help Harriet Housewife from Ohio understand William "I like to ramble" Faulkner's prose).

Hey, Oprah, by the way, how's your buddy James Frey doing?

Stay tuned- part 2 of my rant will surely continue this weekend after we see what Oprah tells her flock to go buy.

An Exception

I hate corny things- baby showers, Hallmark cards, tearful wedding toasts, and Delilah's evening dedication show make me want to vomit. The "inspirational genre" of books is no exception. I'm sorry, you've had to get through some shit in your life, but, as shocking as it is, most of have (we've just haven't opted to capitalize on it). When life hands you lemons, write a book and find a publisher, I guess.

There are always exceptions, though, as I found while reading Matt Long's The Long Run. I started it last week while gearing up for the Disneyland Half Marathon, figuring the story of a man who runs a marathon after being nearly destroyed by a bus would be a nice kick in the ass. While I was too busy training and working to finish it before the race, I still found Long's picture on the cover enough to remind me that if he could run 26.2 miles (and later complete an Iron Man competition) after weeks in a coma and 40 operations, I could finish 13.1. After finishing the book last night I felt like an absolute wimp, but, more than ever, was dedicated to the idea that being healthy and in shape should always be a priority (stop making excuses, people). Doctors attributed Long's ability to make it through his accident to the fact that he was very active prior to it- his heart and the rest of his body were strong enough to survive what would have killed most people.

Long's story isn't corny- he's a NYC fire fighter, marathon veteran, bar owner, triathlete, and Iron Man, for Christ's sake. Sentimental occasionally, yeah, but not in a way that makes you want to reach for the bucket. More than anything, it's honest, reflective, and motivational. Shit happens- you either decide to make the best out of it and keep living, or you curl up in the fetal position and drink whiskey.

Am I a convert? Am I going to rush out and buy every renewed person's book? Definitely not. But, every once in awhile there is someone, like Matt Long, who actually earns the right to tell their story (and make money off it).

Amazon Vine aka People Who Won't Shut Up

As soon as I'm done reading a book I want to talk about it- unfortunately, I can rarely find another person who has read what I've finished. A few years ago I started reviewing my reads on amazon.com, unabashedly enjoying the fact that I was gracing the public with my opinions and conclusions. A year or so ago, Amazon sent me an email inviting me to join Amazon Vine, a select group that are given free books to review. Twice a month I receive a list of books to choose from, many of which are newer authors, although I have gotten books from more well-known writers as well. Usually the books haven't been released yet, so sometimes the copies are just the semi-corrected galleys, which is actually pretty neat. So, for those interested in my reviews (I'm up to 101 now), check out:


My reviews consist of those from Vine and those that I've purchased; the more obscure ones are probably from Vine (sometimes I get a little overzealous with the free book idea).

The True Danger

In a world where zombies and vampires are all the rage, people forget about a more domestic danger: lawn gnomes. They're sneaky little creatures that lurk around holding pick-axes, for Christ's sake.

All joking aside, Amazon's Vine Program sent me (okay, after I requested it to review... for free) Chuck Sambuchino's How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack the other day and I just spent the last twenty minutes flipping through it and am really reconsidering my adoration of these mischievous little creatures. At first I was concerned about spending the time away from grading papers, but I feel so much more informed now. Sambuchino lays it all out for the reader- the gnomes are determined to take over and we have to stop them. He provides several chapters on defending your property, protecting yourself, and the best ways to destroy and dispose of these supposed "statues." For example, did you know that the best defense is creating holes in your yard and then pouring cement over the gnomes once they fall in? Having a dog is also extremely helpful, as is constructing a moat (as long as you don't live somewhere too cold). As far as weapons go, avoid guns and flame throwers, sticking to shovels, rakes, and hockey sticks.

You can never be too careful- make sure to watch for sawdust, rearranged items on shelves, and circular dents in your lawn. Don't be scared. You can get through this.

Moment of Weakness

I think I've clearly established the fact that the last thing I currently need is more books, especially since my reading has slowed down since work has started again. I must confess, last week, there was a moment of weakness.

I have a lot going on right now and am a bit stressed. A nice quick distraction is this awesome website- you may have heard of it - Amazon.com. Nowhere else can I find my very own personalized recommendations, the lists of all award winners, bestseller's lists, and editor's monthly picks. Usually I can get by with window shopping and adding things to my wish list on the site, but, as I mentioned, it wasn't a happy day.

Here were my picks:

1-3: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest- Stieg Larsson So, I'm slightly on the fence about this purchase. I'm interested but a little concerned it might be too "pulpy" for my liking. Plus, the three have spent way too much time on the top of the bestseller's lists, which makes me very suspicious. But, all three were bundled for a good price, and I'm sure I'll end up seeing the movies, so I figured I'd go for it now. I love a good mystery- we'll see if they're done well.

4: The House of Tomorrow- Peter Bognanni Supposed to be a witty, intellectually humorous book about young love, music, and the whole notion of home.

5: Cook This, Not That- David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding I love cookbooks and frequently leave restaurants trying to "health-ify" meals I've just eaten to make at home. I've glanced through it and it seems pretty good.

When they arrived yesterday I felt absolutely no guilt, as it was an equally, if not more so, shitty day than one the books were bought on. Today, as I try to make room I'm feeling a little buyer's remorse. Just a little.