Top Ten Tuesday- Clubbin'

Personally, I love my book club, despite that there are only three of us and we talk about the book for ten minutes, tops. We meet a few times a month for happy hour anyway and decided a book every month or two would just be icing on the cake. We take turns making choosing a book, so I decided that my Top Ten Tuesday (from The Broke and Bookish) would be books that I'd consider choosing when my turn comes around next. Be warned, I haven't read any of them, but I do own them all:

1. When the Killing's Done by TC Boyle- I have a weird, twisted crush on freaky TC, made worse when he wrote this environmental novel about the Channel Islands.

2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann- I have no doubt this will be a wonderful book and I'd love to have people to talk to about it.

3. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- Quirky and humorous texts make great conversation over cocktails.

4. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Kazuo Ishiguro- I'm not sure if this would go over well, but I know I'm going to fall in love with Ishiguro's running and writing rhetoric.

5. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- This one could possibly be well received; a little history, some South American flare, and magical realism.

6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov- I'm always a little ashamed that I haven't read this, but there it stands on my shelf. Underage sex is another great cocktail conversation.

7. Composition No 1 by Marc Saporta- This is the infamous "book in a box," which equates to the grown up choose your own adventure story (it's a box full of individual sheets of paper that could be read in any order, supposedly). Either genius or a mess- the juries still out.

8. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith- This collection of essay would be great to discuss with a group, I think. Smith is challenging and demands thought- done in a group would be very reminiscent of college (new Top Ten Tuesday meme- "Things You Do in a Group in College"- kidding, kidding).

9. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvone Chouinard- This nonfiction text would hopefully be an inspiring piece- Chouinard is one cool guy. He is a huge nature enthusiast and was also one of the founders of Patagonia, the clothing company.

10. Underworld by Don Delillo- First off, the obligatory "fuck Don Delillo!" Next, given the fact it's taken my something like 7 years to get through this, having the pressure of book club would make me finish it. Unfortunately, I don't think my counterparts would be on board with the nearly 1,000 door stop.

January Reviews- Good for Me

I read five books this month. Good for me. Yay. Woohoo. Fantastically awesome.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank- Nathan Englander
224 pages
I was lucky enough to snatch up Englander's collection of short stories on Vine and thoroughly enjoyed them. I've said it before, and I'll say it a million more times- writing effective short stories is no joke. Englander develops characters and plot lines precisely, his style oozing out of every nook and cranny. He's smart, but he understands how people feel. What I really appreciate about his writing is that while he's obviously coming at you from the Jewish perspective, as a non-Jew I don't feel left out. I must also recommend one of his novels, The Ministry of Lost Cases, about the Dirty War in Argentina.

Into Thin Air- John Krakauer
416 pages
I already wrote about this book during a Non-Fiction Nagging post, but I must reiterate (again, with the repetition... I feel like I'm at work) how fantastic it is. It makes me want to want to climb Mount Everest (not a typo; I don't want to, because I know I can't, but I want to... want to). Unfortunately, my lack of funding and asthmatic lungs raise some serious objections to this endeavor, so alas, I'll settle for more domestic mountains. I think this book touched me in the same way 180 Degree South did- the idea of a natural quest that someone refuses to give up on is inspiring. Man against nature. Man against self. Man against nature again. Only one can win.

The Time of the Doves- Merce Rodereda
208 pages
This was a book club selection chosen by the more international, novel-resistant member of the group. I liked it- I had some serious, serious doubts about the translation, though. Set in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, the main character marries the wrong man and ends up raising kids in poverty with a roof (and sometimes apartment) full of doves. There are some extremely random scenes, like when the husband saves his tapeworm in a jar and the toddler ends up taking it out and throwing it on the baby, that actually added to the appeal for me.

Mildred Pierce- James M. Cain
304 pages
I loved this book- it was amusing, thoughtful, and reminded me of something a hard-boiled author like Daschiell Hammett would have written (albeit not a mystery). Set in Burbank right after the Great Depression, Mildred kicks her husband out and must make a life for herself and two daughters. Mildred spends the entire novel growing up- learning how to put aside her snobbish instincts, choosing the right man, failing as a mother, and establishing a business of her own. Writing from this era can be a treat; life was modern, but not too much so. An easy read, but one that involves the reader.

The Wonder Spot- Melissa Bank
324 pages
I have a soft spot for Melissa Bank- she was the Mother of Chic Lit, before it became the awful God-forsaken shit that it is today. Her first novel, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, put the genre on the map and brought her much success. Unfortunately, I don't think her sophomore novel (which I've had on my shelf for four or so years) quite measured up. The main character, Sophie, was witty and had my same dry-humor, but the over-arching plot line just fell through. If it was meant to be a character study I'd have no problem with it, but the problem was that it was supposed to be an episodic type of bildungsroman, and it just fell short. It wasn't horrible by any means, but I just felt that Bank, like Sophie, just didn't really know where she was going.

Books on You Back- Watch Out!

Literacy is obviously scary- why else would politicians be continuously cutting public education budgets? So kids can't read and grow up to be idiots that believe everything the government tells them to. I'm pretty sure Bush included that in No Child Left Behind and Schwarzenegger in pretty much every budget package.

Man, I'm cranky today. Maybe I'll watch this non-reading video for the millionth time to laugh. Then when I go to yoga tonight I can laugh at the instructor in my head.

Never gets old. Namaste, motherfuckers.

The Digital Textbook "Revolution"

I'm going to start this post off by sighing. A huge long, defeated, "what the fuck are we going to do?" kind of sigh. If you know me you can hear it.

At the high school I teach at, the English department has been using the same text books for a really, really long time- I'm thinking probably somewhere around 7 or more years. Because of budget cuts we've been told a new adoption is still a few years off, meaning the books will be continued to be lost and damage (no one likes opening a book and seeing a gigantic cock drawn on the title page). I'm not necessarily a huge proponent of text books to begin with, but I think they definitely have their necesary place. This "no new book" policy is across the board, including new novels and the text books for the other subjects. It's a huge inconvenience and is a detriment to these kids' education (it makes me most angriest, to be honest, that the science ones aren't being updated- that area probably has the most advances).

Enter digital textbooks. Return to me sighing.

As we all know, I have taken a firm stance against eBooks. I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but let's just say I have a very special place in my heart for print- the smell, the feel, the weight, the ability to collect. But, I have to confess I'm starting to ease up a little bit on the idea of using digital textbooks in the classroom. Here's my take:

- The textbook industry is a little like the pharmaceutical companies of education; they come out with new versions of a product and then convince everyone they need to spend a ton of money upgrading. They sell a lot of extra materials that don't get used, no matter how attractive and helpful they sound, therefore wasting more money. It's a shady industry (is this a bad time to mention that this is actually a career path I wouldn't necessarily turn down? Writing text books, that is).

- The public school system is broke; shelling out anywhere form $40 to $100+ on a student text book is ridiculous. I just pulled up the same Pearson Biology on iTunes (they just launched a huge textbook initiative) and Amazon, and it was $75 in print and just $15 digitally. That's a ridiculous amount of saved money (which may be deceiving if you take into account the hardware to play it on; we'll get there). I do not believe novels should be replaced, as they are small and still affordable.

- At the collegiate level, this shift would be incredibly cost effective. Many students have ereaders, iPads, and tablets making this a more reasonable transition. Personally, it wouldn't have worked for me because I like highlighting and constantly referring to other pages, but I know for some it would. There were semesters I spent $500 or more on books; buying an iPad and the digital copies would have barely been more.

- Students need to learn how to comprehend and utilize digital information. It's here to stay.

- Less trees to cut down (although the jury's out on just how damaging eReaders are to the environment).

There are definitely drawbacks, though, which keep me on the fence:

- Students would have to have an eReader or tablet; if they were utilizing Apple's products they would have to have access to an iPad, which runs a disgusting $499. Cheaper readers, like Kindles, are a few hundred dollars less but don't offer the same titles (and they don't seem as inexpensive, either). Schools would then have to calculate how cost effective it really was to purchase the electronic equipment and the texts.

- Kids ruin everything, meaning that these pricey little tools would eventually feel the impact. I am a firm believer that elementary students shouldn't have any sort of tablet, period. They need to learn how to care for books, use their imaginations, participate in hands-on activities, and earn the right to be trusted with something so valuable. Middle school and high school students would have to take a workshop in using them and their parents would need to sign some sort of responsibility contract (which is another can of worms). Damaged and lost equipment would then add to the cost of implementing such a system. According to the Williams Act, students must have the necessary materials to learn at all times- a hurdle, no doubt.

- This goes along with the previous item, but theft is also a concern. If we implemented tablets schools would stop buying textbooks, meaning no longer giving students a home set, implying they would be allowed to take the ereader home. It's a sad world- many would get stolen or even sold.

- Books are pretty reliable- 90% of the time page 100 is after 99 (the other 10% of the time a kid has already ripped it out or has written "fuck you bitch ass Mrs. So and So" and it's been removed). Technology invites malfunction and charging needs, which could lead to learning disruption.

- It's pretty easy to monitor a student activity when using a text book, but a bit harder on an ereader. I've been in many meetings with my laptop cruising the interwebs while the presenter thought I was taking notes (I know, I know), so I know that students may not really be as on task as they appear to be.

- There seems to be such a traditional connection between education and books; it's a little sad to see that diminish.

Who knows what the future will bring, but I'm fairly confident in the next few decades the transitions will be made. And, rest assured, I am not developing a soft spot for Kindles, iPads or any other reading gadget, nor will I ever buy one.

A Different Kind of Ink

Every once in awhile I decide I really want another tattoo. Like today. While most likely it would be a small book on the inside of my foot with the word "bibliophile" (by the ankle bone) or the back of the neck, these are pretty awesome too (click on the picture for the source link):

Top Ten Tuesday- One for the Haters

I think assigned reading in high school tends to ruin the act of reading for many kids. Teenagers are "required" to read certain texts and they end up a) doing it with a bad attitude, b) reading the summary online, or c) ignoring the assignment. After high school they declare they hate reading because of the novels and plays they didn't really read. So my list for Top Ten Tuesday is a list of "required" reading for those that say they hate the literary texts that were assigned to them in high school. Try them again, folks.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Civil rights, a child's perspective, Atticus (such a great name...)

2. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Survival of the fittest, island setting, Poor Piggy

3. Night by Eli Wiesel: Having a broken cell phone is easy shit compared to being in a concentration camp

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: There's a wife locked in the attic- need I say more?

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Book burning, robot dogs, quirky Clarisse

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Bonus points if you read the newest, uncensored version

7. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: So you can make an adult decision about Woolf

8. Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dosteyvsky: Murder, guilt, Russia (my favorite book ever)

9. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen: Play, hilarious, Norway

10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Men, monster, misunderstandings

Stay away from: Faulkner (annoyingly wordy), Ernest Hemingway (not enough words), and Charles Dickens (overrated words)

Books on Your Back- Twofer

I saw this and had to do another post today. It's just that awesome. And true.

[Picture from L'armadio del delitto, available for sale from Vagima Cloth]

Books on Your Back- Librarian

Sometimes I wish I would have gotten my master's in Library Science. I could have worked at a university around people whose research was actually important to the world (not that there's anything wrong with finding a book published in 1968 about George Washington). Surrounded by books all day in a quiet environment? Sign me the eff up.

Marathon Fueled by Books- Update

So, last month I publicly declared my goal of running a marathon based on Hal Higdon's guide Marathon, and I figured you were all just dying to learn about my progress (don't you just love pretend self-deprecation? Like I give a shit if you people want to know, I'm bored waiting for my husband to get home and want to yammer on about it). Here we are:

- I have been consistently planning out my mileage and writing it on a board in my workout room. This is actually pretty motivating because if I flake out I have to erase it. So shameful. Right now I'm hovering around 30 miles a week. I need to throw in one or tw
o 40 miler weeks in, but I need to plan it around the half I'm scheduled for next month.

- Last Sunday I ran my PDR (personal distance record) of 14 miles. I find this hilarious; I've run 10 half marathons but have never done anything about 13.1 miles. It's like the kids that are perfectly happy getting a D-. It's passing! It wasn't horrible and I managed to get through a couple of Gossip Girl episodes, so that was great (I listen and watch complete crap when I run- my brain cannot run and watch Breaking Bad at the same time).

- I went to yoga 8-ish times over my three week break- not too shabby. Then, during Wednesday's harder-than-hell class I somehow tweaked my ankle (I realized this the next morning when a lump the size of half a golf ball was protruding from my arch). I made each of my TAs during the four periods I have them go to the nurse's office to get me ice and then forced myself to keep it in the pool for awhile when I got home. Presto, chango, today it's 95% better. I'll take it. Especially since...

- I'm supposed to run 15 miles tomorrow, but if the foot's not 100% I'll push it back to Sunday or Monday. It's hard for me to change my training plan, but I know if it's not ready I'll hurt it more and set everything back longer. I was worried that it was a torn ligament at first, but considering the improvement I'm writing it off as a fluke (perhaps punishment for not dancing around that night in class trying to find my shakra.. or something like that).

- I did an awesome interval workout the other day that made me runner faster than I've ever moved my poor little legs (and by "little" I mean "upper end of average") before. I think years of suffering from asthma has programmed me to not try to get too out of breath. Well I did, and I lived. And I proved my legs can actually run sub-8 minute miles for spurts of time.

- I generally fuel with Shot Bloks on my long runs, but they're not exactly cheap and I rarely have any in the house (unless I have an actual real run coming up). So, I decided to use Starbursts- 1 per mile after mileage over 8. If anything, opening the wrapper while running is distracting, as is the stomachache I eventually end up with. They were my husband's; I don't even like Starbursts.

- The Olympic Marathon Trials are this weekend! I'm actually pretty psyched about the summer Olympics, since it has beach volleyball (I got really obsessed about watching it during the last one) and track. I think I'm going to actually try to find the trials on TV; I'm hoping Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan and Deena Kastor make the team, but I have a feeling the only sure thing is Flanagan. I know, I know. No one cares.

- I've actively started counting calories with an ap called "Calorie Count" that actually lets me scan in bar codes. I know, I know, this sounds crazy during marathon training, when I'm burning more calories than ever. I'm doing it for two reasons: first, I would like to drop a few pounds; I'd go faster if I had less weight to haul around. It's physics, folks. Second reason is because it gives me an in-depth nutritional breakdown of what I'm eating, which has been extremely informative. For starters, I am getting nowhere near enough protein- generally less than 30 grams a day, which is ridiculous for the amount of physical activity I'm currently subjecting myself to (I'm aware that it's because of the lack of meat, thanks). I am, though, getting a ton of iron from the excessive amounts of cereal I eat, and I consume a lot less fat than I thought. It's been eye opening and I've stuck with it for five days. I usually put in everything I plan to eat from breakfast to dinner in the morning and am too lazy to change it. Isn't this fascinating? What, you don't want to know about my calcium intake?

So, until next time, I run.


I'll be the first to admit- I love communicating through technology. Texting, emails, Facebook, whatever the situation calls for. But after teaching my students how to write business letters this week I became a little nostalgic for actual written correspondence. You know, the kind that involves stationary. And pens.

When I was little I was a big letter and card sender. My family moved from Fullerton to Modesto when I was four and I missed my grandparents and one of my aunts quite a bit, so I'd write them long letters filled with God knows what. My mom was a str
ict thank-you card enforcer; after every holiday or birthday we'd sit down at the kitchen table for an afternoon with the construction paper, glue, and markers to make kick-ass, handmade cards (a tradition I'll institute with my future youngins). And we loved it. When I got married a few years ago one of my favorite parts on planning was selecting the invitations (and saving every single card I got from engagement to wedding). I went through an awesome company called My Gatsby that let me control everything from the type of paper, to what it was backed on to the font. Heaven (heaven is pricey, unfortunately, which meant smaller bridesmaid's bouquets... sorry girls). Sorry, I can't help but to share, even though the blurry Instagram picture doesn't really do it justice:

I used to love to receive mail as well (I think that's part of the reason why I liked to send it out). I still enjoy getting cards from my family or the occasional note from a student at the end of the year. It seems so personal and sincere. Actually taking the time to write something out by hand and find a stamp takes a bit longer than plopping your butt down
in front of the computer. Effort. How novel. I keep every little card or letter I receive in boxes in my closet- I always have. I know, surprising- there is a little sentimentality under all the snarkiness.

Unfortunately, I don't exactly practice what I preach. I
send cards to my Northern California family only at birthdays, didn't send out anything at Christmas (my husband and I do spend a great deal of time making up lies for annual letters, some of which include the dogs winning Nobel Peace Prizes and me joining a motorcycle gang), and have no patience for busting out the craft supplies to make cards now (I'd end up making a mess of it, plus Michael's scares me). But if I did ever take up letter writing again, here's what I'd use:

Top Ten Tuesday-Get on With It!

Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish- Authors we'd like to see another book.

I have a yearbook to edit, so this is going to be quick and picture-less. I will leave you with an awesome video to redeem my brevity, though.

1. Marisha Pessl- I complain about this all the time; nothing since Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Supposedly next year. Sure.

2. Jonathan Safran Foer- He's come out with a few special collections and works, but not just a straight up novel. I'd like to see one.

3. Reif Larsen- Author of The Selected Works of TS Spivet (I fell madly in love with that book last year).

4. Sunshine O'Donnell- She wrote a novel about professional weepers called Open Me, which was phenomenal, and, unfortunately, not successful. Girl needs her big break.

5. Junot Diaz- I need some more Junot in my life. Everyone needs some Junot. I just like saying his name. Junot. Junot. Junot.

6. Rodes Fishburne- Wrote another under the radar novel a few years ago called Going to See the Elephant about controlling the weather- magical realism in San Francisco.

7. Steve Tolz- A Fraction of the Whole left by begging for more.

8. Nick Hornby- Yes, I understand that it hasn't been long, and no, I don't want him to turn start running a book sweatshop, but I can't help it. I love that funny little bald man.

9. Nancy Horan- I really liked Loving Frank and would be interested in something new.

10. Nicholas Sparks- Oh wait, he had a book come out last month? Oh, and next week too? And the week after? My bad.

And, the moment you've been waiting for, via Nathan Englander's twitter (by the way, did I mention he has responded to my tweets has actually interacted with me? Or at least his assistant has...)

Watch it. Love it. Watch it again. Love it some more. Share it.

Nonfiction Nagging- Everest: Adventure, Commercialization, and Risk

I think I may have been the last person alive to have read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer- if not, than you are, and that problem needs to be rectified immediately. This was an amazing book, controversy and the author's afterward aside. For those not familiar (so one whole person), this book is about the Mount Everest Tragedy of 1996, in which 8 people died when a sudden storm hit. Jon Krakauer, the author, was commissioned by Outside Magazine to climb the summit and write a piece on the over-commercialization of the area. He, along with a team of other climbers and and three expert guides (and several experienced Sherpas) traveled to the base camp and began the process of acclimating to the altitude (a dangerous process in and of itself; most of the climbers would eventually use bottled oxygen for the final accent. On May 10, 1996 the group, along with several other ones made their final climb from camp 3 to the top, an ultimate peak of 29,029 feet (perspective- I hiked Half Dome, a mere 8,836 feet, and it kicked my ass). When the storm hit many of the climbers (some of which inexperienced, just wealthy enough to pay the $50,000+ price tag) were behind the prescribed pace. Already exhausted from even getting that far, they were left freezing and without adequate oxygen supplies (and not tired as in "this is was a long week tired," but tired as in "I have lost 15 pounds of muscle mass, I'm perpetually freezing, and my brain cells are dying from lack of oxygen" tired). While many managed to make it back to camp, 8 ended up dying, including Rob Hall.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story, besides the pure adventure and the devestation, was the issue of the mountain being commercialized. If you have the money to pay a guide you can go, resulting it various guide companies popping up to take advantage. This is obviously a safety issue, but the Chinese and Nepalese governments, who charge a fortune for Everest permits, aren't about to stop them. Another huge issue is the trash that has accumulated on the mountain; until the last few decades air canisters, human waste, and non-biodegradable trash has just sat there (see picture). In recent years legitimate guide companies have worked to clean up the mountain and even some corporations, such as Nike, have sponsored efforts with the Sherpas (Nike paid the Sherpas for each air canister they removed). I've been bitching and moaning lately about how hard it is to get a Half Dome permit (I really want to hike it again this summer), but know that national parks in the US and around the world must take precautions to preserve the environment and our impact on in.

The idea of risk is also extremely relevant to this book- how far is too far and should anyone step in to prevent adrenaline junkies from getting their jollies? Into Thin Air does touch on the im
pact that risky climbing has on families- marriages are often destroyed, finances are jeopardized (not a cheap hobby), and then the psychological trauma when a death occurs. But, on the other hand, there are some risks worth taking, and to some, climbing to the highest peak in the world may be one of them. You can't live life sitting on the couch or staying close to home. Who am I to tell someone they shouldn't do something? For many of the climbers and guides climbing Mount Everest has been a lifelong dream. Personally, I'd love to say I'd like to climb Everest, but I know my physical limitations; my asthma would definitely not appreciate the altitude and I seriously doubt my ability to successfully maneuver and ice pick (not to mention the lack of funds). So, instead I'll sky dive. Maybe.

The one issue I had was the ending; an afterward was added from the author to later versions rebutting guide Anatoli Boukreev's published version of the events, refuting some of the things that Krakauer wrote about. Apparently there was quite the controversy after Into Thin Air and and Boukreev's The Climb came out; the media got involved, as did the translator for Boukreev's text, and it got nasty. Not really knowing that this was going to be addressed, I started reading and must say I really preferred the ending of the adventure story, rather than the "he said/I said" crap at the end. I understand Krakauer's need to set the record straight, but I could have done without.

Definitely read it- it's very quick and incredibly interesting. It's actually very well-written, which isn't always the case with non-fiction. And apparently the IMAX movie (their crew was up there the same time, but hadn't started the final accent when the storm it) is great, too.

Books on Your Back- If You're Laying Down

I'm going to whine about something. I try not to be a complainer, let alone a whiner, but sometimes you just have to give in to the urge.

It's tooooo hoooooottttt outside.

It's supposed to be 75 out today and it was over 80 the past few days. It's effing January. I want to wear my goddam sweaters and my silly brown boots. And scarves. And drink hot chocolate.

So, today's Books on Your Back is a quilt- because I'd really like to be snuggled up on the couch reading it (instead, I'm going to go running; even if I was laying on the couch no blanket would be needed). Unfortunately I couldn't find much informatio
n on it, just the link.

Who wants to make it for me?

PS- My recent posts haven't been updating to the Blogger Dashboard. It may because I've been lazy and have been copy and pasting pictures so the files are too big- Blogger is confused. Maybe. I hope. Anyway, check out the side archive bar for what you've missed.

The Cookbook Challenge

I finally found a loophole for posting about cooking on my blog- cookbooks. I get a little jealous reading everyone's food and fitness blogs- I've worked in running, and now I figured out a way to bring in some food. Since I was off this week and had the time to put in effort every night, I decided that each of the five meals I made would be from a book. The results: