Let's Go Back to College

I miss college. Not necessarily for the free pass to sleep in late, drink too much, and wear shorter skirts, but for the opportunity to learn about whatever I wanted to (embrace those GEs, undergrads!). I hate to say this, but I was so dedicated to graduating in four years, supporting myself, and handling boyfriends, that the learning and academic component sometimes feel like it fell by the wayside. In recent years I've done a lot of reflecting on the career path I ended up taking- while I am very happy now with my job and the students I teach, I don't necessarily think that there's just one job for every person. There are other things I could have been good at and would have enjoyed; I've briefly considered going back to school to become a principal (that lasted 2.57 seconds), physical therapist, nurse practitioner, publisher, or, more recently, a nutritionist. Alas, there will be no career change on my horizon- I'm still paying back the bills on the first one, enjoy having a life, and am very happy at the site I'm at currently. I would, though, like to take some classes (and not just so I can buy new books). If I had an endless supply of money and time here's what I'd study (via UCLA's and UCLA extension's course catalogs): 

1. Exercise and Sports Nutrition- Obviously, this is a topic I'm fascinated with, both on a personal level, but because I think it's interesting to see how endurance athletes train. 

2. Intro to Human Nutrition- This is also probably pretty self-explanatory, but I'd really like to know more about nutrition at a molecular level. I know a lot about the individual food groups, but would like to learn more about the ratios that comprise a healthy diet (especially since it appears I'm basically a vegetarian these days). Plus, is there really such a thing as good fats?

3. Joyce's Ulysses and Homer's Odyssey: I've decided that I'm somehow a less literary person because I haven't read Ulysses (probably because a book I just finished mentioned in thirty million times). I've read The Odyssey, but a really long time ago, so taking a class that used both texts would be necessary. I'd really like to say that I plan on doing this study on my own, but I doubt the follow through. A class would ensure that both were actually finished. Book club?

4. Graphic Novels- Using Visual Texts: After reading Habibi I learned that not only can graphic novels be true literature, but that I'm not necessarily a strong reader of this genre. There are different skills necessary for reading graphic novels- ones that I lack. 

5. Introduction to the History of Religions: As someone who has struggled with organized religion, I think I'd actually really appreciate a more in-depth study of their origins. I find the spiritual mumbo jumbo the yogis during class spout out pretty interesting (and totally unbelievable... sorry Mother Earth) and would really like to learn more about religions in other cultures. Religion is all about storytelling, which I'm slightly fond of.

6. Introduction to Architectural Design: I really, truly appreciate architecture, but just happen to know jack crap about it. I know there are time periods, styles, and new ways to incorporate green technologies, but that's where my meager knowledge stops. 

7. Topics in US History- 1960s: I am fascinated with the sixties- the hippies, Woodstock, protesting, drugs, politics, music, bra burning, communes... 

Who's coming back with me?

May Reviews- FYI: I Have a Life

I'd like to take a second to address something I think some of you might be concerned about: I have a life. I know, for some reason I've been finishing a lot of books lately, but, rest assured, I'm not buried in a cave with a book light and supply of canned goods. I go out with friends, run, go to yoga, cook, play with the dogs, and hang with my husband. I probably read about 10-12 hours a week; at 50-60 pages an hour that's a book or two a week. And I really don't watch TV (we watch Mad Men on Sundays and then one or two episodes of whatever old series we're watching at the time, like Chuck right now), so that frees up quite a bit of time. Anyway, just remember that. This month:

Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
336 pages
I've already put this quirky novel on a few lists this past month because it's a really good read. The Fang family spent years causing social chaos for art, only to result in their two children growing up to be pretty screwed up adults. Various unfortunate events result in the two grown kids coming home and becoming involved in yet another Fang family scenario, one much more complicated than past ones. The book's narration alternates between the past and present for most, which I normally don't love, but for this novel it worked well. 

Verdict: Read it! Just remember it's a satire of art, the typical family, and celebrity status; don't take it too seriously. If you like Wes Anderson films you'll appreciate this.

Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
272 pages
Scott Jurek is a successful, amazing ultra runner (basically this means races that are longer than 26.2 miles, but most of his tend to be in the 50-100 mile range) who also happens to be a vegan. His book describes his journey from childhood to the present, explaining how he slowly changed his eating habits and the effects it had on his performance (read more from my Nonfiction Nagging post). 

Verdict: If you aren't interested in extreme running or a diet makeover this book may not be for you (I really liked it). I appreciated the fact that Jurek doesn't get preachy or cocky, which some runners tend to.

Habibi by Craig Thomspon
672 pages
Yes this is a pretty long book, but remember it's a graphic novel- definitely more picture heavy than word heavy. This novel is set in the Middle East and describes a relationship between a young girl who runs away from her captors with a toddler- together they live in a boat (int the desert) and grow up together. Eventually they are separated and must endure many, many struggles alone.

Verdict: If you are interested in trying out a graphic novel I think this is a great one, especially if you fear a lack of substance in the genre. Thompson's words and pictures are rich with character development, symbolism, and thematic elements. 

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
224 pages
I read this novel at the end of the year with my sophomores- all the other typical tenth grade novels were tied up and I wanted something the guys would hopefully buy into. As a whole this kept the kids' interest and I got some really good feedback- apparently they're drawn to outdoor latrines, bombardments, and dismemberment. 

Verdict: If you're a history buff or like war novels go for it! I didn't love it when I read it in high school but actually really enjoyed teaching it (which is also how I feel about Julius Caesar).

The Red House by Mark Haddon
 272 pages
I wrote on how disappointing this novel was a few weeks ago- Haddon's first novel was great, the second mediocre at best, and this one an overall disappointment. The premise is decent- two different family's on a vacation together in the country, all with some pretty serious secrets. The execution just wasn't what it should have been and certain aspects should have been explored more.

Verdict: Skip. 

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
299 pages
I actually assigned this to some of my students to read over the summer for next year and wasn't planning on reading it until July (it has been assigned to this level in past years by past teachers who I trust). Then a student who started reading it earlier asked me what the word "phallic" meant and I decided I should probably read it to make sure I hadn't accidentally assigned erotica (kidding, kidding). I really didn't learn anything new from the text, as the concepts it goes over are ones I learned in high school myself (symbolism, religion in texts, irony, etc...), but I thought it was a nice little review that was enough to make me miss college, 

Verdict: If you feel the urge to brush up before book club than give it a whirl (or I can just send you my notes).

In One Person by John Irving
448 pages
This hurts my heart a little, but I really think Irving's earlier work will forever be his strongest- his last three just haven't quite been what A Prayer for Owen Meaning, The World According to Garp, and Cider House Rules were. This novel isn't bad, it's just not what it could have been. The story centers around Will, a bisexual who grows up in a small, colorful town on the East Coast (his mom's a homohobe yet his grandpa is a cross-dresser). He must learn to navigate his sexual identity during the 1950s and 60s, and then cope with so many deaths as a result of AIDS in the 80s. It has a good message behind it (tolerance for those that are LGBT), but I am definitely feeling the urge to do some research about how the gay community is receiving it (a quick Google search yielded things that weren't quite on topic...). At the end I was ready for it to be over- not necessarily a great sign. No matter what, I'm still excited to attend his reading in June.

Verdict: If you're a fan of Irving read it, if not it really just depends. It's liberal, at times sexually graphic, but still an overall good story.

Top Ten Tuesday- A Time Capsule

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us to determine the top ten books that were written in the past ten years that we still hope are being read in thirty years. I initially thought this would be easy, but then I got a little obsessed with checking publication dates, which became problematic. Once I started thinking of the assignment like a time capsule it got easier. And, once I started thinking this way I started imagining thirty years being way, way too far in the future- everyone was sitting around reading the books from my list in weird tinfoil suits while flying around on their jet packs (seriously, when the fuck are we getting jet packs?).

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I actually may think Everything is Illuminated is a better book, but I think the cultural significance regarding 9/11 is something we'll want people to remember in thirty years. 

2. Saturday by Ian McEwan: This seemingly simple story is a great representation of a book that takes place in one day, something that is hard to do. McEwan doesn't waste words- he's deliberate, measured, yet his writing still manages to possess a rhythmic quality. Something by McEwan should be read in the future, and this would be my vote.

3. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I hate the idea of calling him a modern day Marquez, but I guess in a sense he is. The people of the future should understand that the people of the early 2000s appreciated magical realism and whimsy.

4. The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen: Basically, I think everyone in the world for all of time should read this book. The end.

5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Everyone should be prepared for the apocalypse. Thirty years in the future is thirty years closer to the the destruction of life as we know it.

6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: The review I wrote after reading this said "One hundred years from now, college students around the country will be taking courses on David Mitchell..." If it's good enough for now, and good enough for the people one hundred years away (they better have jet packs then), then it's good enough for the people thirty years from now.

7. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: This story is about the decline of the newspaper industry- I think it would be interesting for people thirty years in the future to analyze the continuation of the decline in conjunction with the text.

8. Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez: Another semi- apocalyptic book, this one focusing on it from a health perspective. You can never be too prepared.

9. A Harry Potter book by JK Rowling: I definitely have a soft spot for Harry, and I have to respect Rowling for what she has done for children's literature. I think the series is a major part of our culture and is deserving of being so.

10. Fifty Shades of... by EL James: Attached I'd write a note explaining that non-examples are important in the learning process. A warning of what bad literature can do to the masses...


I get excited when I hear of new ways authors and publishing companies (like Visual Editions) are working to make print more innovative, especially in a time where everyone is busy reading stupid Fifty Shades of Gray on their effing Kindles. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo (have we ever talked about how much I love Empire Falls?) and his daughter, illustrator Kate Russo, have teamed up to create a neatly packaged box called Interventions, which includes a set of four pieces of writing and an accompanying print. Russo says that the stories, including one unpublished novella, focus on human obsession and "marry" print and writing.

Check out a short video interview of the two from WLBZ Bangor (so random):


yearBookin' It

Another year, another yearbook finished. For those that don't have the pleasure of hearing my bitch/moan/brag in person, this is the second year I've been the yearbook adviser at the high school where I teach. I took the job with zero experience, but under the guidance of a fantastic rep from Jostens have started to get the gist. As a whole, this school was year has probably been my best yet (of six)- I had some fantastic kids, taught courses I enjoyed, and started to get settled in at the high school level (including making some new friends). Yearbook was definitely part of it- the 25 teenagers I worked with daily were not only dedicated, but a crap-ton of fun. Plus, this may be the closest I ever get to publishing a book. Some highlights:

The Book
The book itself turned out really well. It's not perfect and is probably nowhere near the caliber of the books from the surrounding high schools, but given our inexperience, and the lack of resources, I think it turned out well. It's like I told my students- it's better than last year's, which is all that we can hope for. The art work turned out pretty cool- a student in the class designed it and then the graphic designers at the plant did some touch up work. Everyone seems to really love the black matte, too. 

Covering the name of our school so you can't stalk me (yes, "Go to dentist!" is written on my hand)
One of my goals is to make sure we the yearbook staff understands that we need to get as many of the 2,400 (or however many) students as possible into the book each year. We do photo bars of candids up the sides of most pages, try to interview kids from the different groups on campus, and remind ourselves that it's not just about sports. I'm really, really lax in my criteria for letting kids join yearbook- this allows me to get a great sample of the student body. We have athletes, scholars, skaters, artists, shy folk, and fashionistas on staff (we are lacking males, though), all bringing something original. 
Two traditions we've started involve the last page and the page numbers. The last page is a farewell picture from the seniors, but never their faces ("it could be any of us"). Last year they wrote out "c/o 2011" on the backs of their shirts and sat on the school sign. This year it was this:

The ending page
We also try to do something original with page numbers. For the previous book we had a felt board with the page numbers and had students hold it up- at least one (or six) kids on each of the 200 pages allowed for a lot more students to be involved. This year we had students design the page numbers- we gave them a piece of card stock with the number painted on and they got to design it however they wanted, as long as it was appropriate. I was worried no one would want to participate, but I literally had hundreds of kids request a number (and about 20 who didn't turn them in, but that's okay). We had some fantastic art work that represented individuals, groups, and organizations.

200 student-created page numbers
I had 25 kids in the class, divided into seven groups. That means each group was responsible for about 8 pages throughout the year. This doesn't sound like a lot, but it really is quite a bit, considering they're responsible for taking the photos, interviewing, laying out, and editing (to the best of their ability). The kids, for the most part, did a really great job making deadlines, trying to be innovative, and communicating with me and the students editor. I was incredibly impressed that when I'd express concern and they'd say "I got this," they really did. We made our deadlines, didn't have too many glaring errors, and met our meager sales goal. 

A Damn Good Time
We had a lot of fun this year- at times I worried maybe a little too much. A lot of the kids I had had before, either in English or from the previous staff. We were constantly laughing and playing games- I often had to remind myself I was in charge. For the last month we literally had nothing to do; the book was done, we had finished as much as we dared to plan for next year, and testing was continuously changing around AP and IB kids' schedules. So, we played games. We played Silent Giraffe with my stuffed animal since I didn't have a ball, they taught me to play Four Corners (so lame), I taught them how to play Scattergories, and there were many rounds of BS (these were all done with EDI lessons, by the way; if you don't know what that is I suggest you keep it that way). We had an end of the year pizza party and this last week they all signed my book telling me how much they loved the class. It was definitely mutual.  

Trying to protect names!
The Future
I am on board for the class next year, but I've made no promises for the years after- scheduling with the other classes I teach has proven to be difficult. You never know, though, I could be doing this for the next twenty years. I am very excited for our upcoming book- we're dong it chronologically, which has more of a timeline feel, rather than specific sections. 

I am extremely sad to have lost a few seniors that I had grown rather fond of and already get a little teary when I think of graduation next year when I lose a bulk of my group. I find myself getting seriously attached to the older kids. The younger ones were always so obnoxious the last week of school I was happy to watch them leave; these guys are a bit wound up too, but I guess I just connect with them more. 

I am, though, definitely looking forward to a deadline-free summer!

Document This- Inter-City Kids, Superheroes, and Nutrition

Pressure Cooker
99 Minutes
This documentary told the story of a group of inter-city high school students from Philadelphia hoping to win scholarships in a culinary competition. I really, really enjoyed this movie, since the kids and their struggles reminded me of many of my own students. The teacher, Mrs. Stephenson, was my favorite part of the movie- she was part teacher, part parent, and part friend to these kids. She was definitely not a softy- the woman is a hardass when need be. She bought a few of them prom dresses, drove them around when they needed it, and defended them against those that chastised them (and you could tell it wasn’t just in this movie). The documentary really isn’t about the cooking competition; it’s about a group of teenagers fighting for opportunities and the person that really believes in them. At the end, when they graduate, I found myself getting teary… until they kids started singing “Feel the Rain on Your Skin.” It would have been corny if the kids took it seriously, but they were screwing around so much I was cracking up.

Should You Watch It? Definitely! Don’t expect an intense Top Chef cooking competition, though.

Confessions of a Superhero
93 minutes
This documentary chronicled the lives of the men and women who play Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and The Hulk outside of Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was interesting to see what their lives are like in reality; I hadn’t really thought much about it and wrongly assumed that they were a bunch of winos trying to make some cash (much like the hilarious drunken Disney characters in Vegas). The four were aspiring actors with some really interesting personal lives (anger problems, failing marriages, extreme celebrity worship, and occasional homelessness). While I’m definitely not an expert and don’t have the vocabulary to really discuss this, I have to say the look of the film was interesting- the shots and all that camera stuff.

Should You Watch It? It was a little slow occasionally (or maybe it was the fact I was sick of running/biking), but it definitely offered a different perspective.

Food Matters
77 minutes
I have really mixed feelings about this film- it pushes things like vitamins, raw foods, and nutritional therapy for illnesses, which are all really great things, but not necessarily the only way to go. By the end I felt a little frustrated because nothing ever seems good enough when it comes to eating in terms of nutrition and environment- I’ve stopped eating meat, which is apparently not good enough because my produce is probably covered in pesticides (even the "organic" ones). I’m trying to eat more vegetables, but that’s not good enough because I probably cook more than the recommended 49%. Their discussion on the diet's impact on illness made up the last half hour or so. I'm a little skeptical that you can treat serious diseases like cancer with just food, although I am seriously intrigued. I do agree with the idea that we truly are what we eat, and that a lot of illnesses could be prevented with better diets and more education. I think all the food documentaries and  books are getting to me- after I watched this I went online and started researching nutrition courses at the local university extension courses (anyone have an extra $1000 they’d like to give me?). I seriously wish I could go back to school and get a degree in diet and nutrition- even if it was just for fun.

Should You Watch It? I think it has some really great information and did inspire me to continue being mindful of my diet, but just be cautious of believing everything they say. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Non-Book Sites

The Broke and the Bookish are out of ideas and are asking us what our top ten favorite non-book related blogs/sites are today. I think I've done this before, but here's a slightly updated/different version:

1. HealthyTippingPoint.com - I read a lot of health and fitness blogs and I find most of the girls have gotten super repetitive, self-righteous and boring ("ohmygod I am soooooo awesome because I remembered to make my overnight oats last night and now have the perfect breakfast before I go run eight miles and then sit on my butt in my sweats and blog all day"). Caitlyn is actually very hard working, unapologetically dorky, and about to give birth. 

2. Modcloth.com- I really, really, really love dresses and they put out new ones everyday. I have never bought one from them, but it's still fun to look at the new ones. 

3. getoffmyinternets.com- This is more of a confession than anything, and it makes me feel like a very, very bad person. That being said, it's hilarious and makes fun of all the health and fitness/mommy bloggers out there (which many of I read for some reason). I never comment, just lurk, which makes me even worse. I guess it's just nice to see people called out on their crap. I don't agree with how hateful they can be sometimes, but once in awhile it's nice to see someone (who needs it) get virtually bitch-slapped.

4. cnn.com- How very, very basic and normal of me. I check this a few times a day to see how the stock market it doing (one of my weird obsessions), if anyone has blown something important up, and who the president has pissed off.

5. runeatrepeat.com-  This is another health and fitness blog, but Monica seems pretty cool. She not super skinny and is honest about her own fitness goals. She's pretty funny and has some little quirks that makes me feel better about my own....

6. HowSeetEats.com- How Sweet It Is is amazing- I have made countless recipes from this site and they've all turned out fantastic (including her awesome garlic pizza dough and homemade Funfetti cake). Jessica does a decent mix of desserts versus savory, and is really helpful via comments or twitter if you have any questions. 

7. HelloGiggles.com- This in a way reminds me of Jezebel (see the next one), but maybe a little more artsy. I don't visit near enough, but when I do there's always plenty of editorials and other fun tidbits to keep me there awhile. Oh, and Zooey Deschanal is a co-founder. 

8. Jezebel.com- I'll spare everyone the summary, because I'm sure everyone reading knows... I always have mixed feelings about the site, but I think it's worth mentioning because I do read it, and does have some interesting content (like the recent cupcake article). I could do without all the celebrity mumbojumbo, but what can you do?

9. Threadless.com- Some of the best t-shirts known to man live at Threadless. I've bought several and love how often then bring in new products. They're smart shirts, people!

10.  Sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com- I check once a day to get the low-down on how my team is doing. So far, all right this season- the Dodgers are kicking some ass (which I much prefer than the Angels doing well, despite the fact that they're not in our division... anyway...) but we're holding strong in second place and about .500. 

Sunday is My Bitch

Now that the school year is winding down (and I'm still doing an awesome job being in denial about my summer school assignment) my Sundays are little more enjoyable. Instead of frantically grading nine bajillion essays and trying to figure out what I was going to teach during the forthcoming week, I can now relax a little (fine, fine- I didn't do that anyway; I generally put it off until Sunday night, became cranky that I was unproductive, and then ended up busting my ass Monday morning). Today was perfect:

My straw is very straight.
- two new patio chairs + a little table
- some Trader Joe's Sparking French Berry Lemonade (what the hell are French berries?) + a generous amount of vodka
- the pool + my white legs (not pictured; you're welcome)
- John Irving's newest book, In One Person

I mean perfect after I did laundry, cleaned the house, worked out, and got groceries (I actually truly love grocery shopping). 

Lesson: make Sunday your bitch. 

Applebee's Again?

I'm a sucker for first time novelists, but I'm also an admittedly harsh critic of their follow up works. If the first novel is descent, I'll read the second; if it's not as good as the first I give the author one last try. If I had ever actually dated, instead of being a serial monogamist, this would probably have been the system I used to determine whether or not to keep a guy around. It's  fair, I think. I've used it before on Curtis Sittenfeld (she ended up passing), Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (they failed miserably), and am still waiting for Janet Fitch's third (White Oleander was good; Paint it Black was painfully horrible). It works for me.

Recently I acquired the ARC for The Red House, by Mark Haddon, his third novel. His first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was quite successful, and I enjoyed the quirky story about an autistic teen's mystery. This would be the equivalent to a guy maybe taking you to a great concert in the park or an eclectic art exhibit, followed up with a dinner at a fantastic hole-in-the-wall bistro and some quality second-ish base action (I'm trying to think what this would have said ten years ago...). Haddon's follow-up attempt, A Spot of Bother, the story of a hypochondriac father, did not end up being nearly as enjoyable. The charming guy from the first date decided to take you to a Transformers movie, Applebee's and then passed out on his couch after an hour of sports highlights (as if the folding, talking cars weren't bad enough). The score was tied- his third would decide his fate.

Applebee's again? What the hell

The Red House definitely fell short of the expectations Haddon set forth with his first novel. It's not that The Curious Incident was an extraordinary piece of literature, but it offered a unique perspective and tried to be a little different. I don't feel like Haddon has achieved either since his debut. The Red House was boring at times, denied its characters of any depth, and failed to adequately handle some of the issues it brought forth (bullying, adultery, and teenage homosexuality). I also take issue with the fact that the publisher gave the novel a disgusting amount of praise on the back cover, claiming it to be a "literary tour de force," that the novel will "entrance" readers" and is "brilliant." The Applebee's boy is claiming that he'll keep you out and up all night long when in fact he's snoring before nine with leftover chicken wings on the coffee table.

And, for the record, I worked at Applebee's one summer in college, therefore giving me full right to use it negatively. This is not an "impress your date" kind of restaurant, boys. It's one you go to when you're married and have three kids whp will probably spill their french fries on the floor and cry when they let their balloons go (again). 

Off to read John Irving- he's definitely not an Applebee's man. 

Books on Your Back: A Sea of Words

I love this Threadless shirt- of course it's reminds me a Moby Dick (which I admittedly haven't read).

[Insert something profoundly metaphorical about books, words, oceans, and whale tails).

Craig Thompson "Reading"

Thursday night I made the 75 mile, 90 minute drive drive to the Skirball Center in West LA to meet my husband (who had to sit in traffic for two whole hours to drive the 58 miles from his office- seriously, Southern California, get your transportation shit together) for the Craig Thompson “reading.” I use the term loosely, given the fact he actually read nothing but instead provided a visual lecture of sorts.
First off, I just have to say that despite the Skirball Center being so far away, I still really love it. This Jewish cultural center is set on lush green grounds (you can hear the bull frogs at night!), has a great architectural design and staffs some great people. They put on a Nick Hornby reading awhile back, as well as many other events, for both the Jews and the non-Jews (they have an awesome looking Noah’s Ark interactive exhibit that I’d love to go to… if I had kids/had some to borrow).
Thompson started off with a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of his process- it was fascinating to hear how he goes about planning his books and the stages the illustrations go through (check out his site). He showed us everything from the primitive sketches, to how he lays it out on a page, to the final result. Thompson admittedly finds the artistic side of the graphic novel easier; he struggles a bit more with the writing.
Source: Alicia J. Rose via author's site
Writer’s block (which he compared to the “drought” theme in the novel) was discussed several times in his lecture and during the question and answer portion of the night. Thompson’s description of it made it seem like a disease of sorts- almost crippling at times, and lasting for months. His advice for others that suffer is a heaping dose of Just Keep Working- hopefully it will do the trick. Speaking of the Q&A, Thompson was extremely generous in how many questions he took and the depth and sincerity behind his answers. He was extremely thankful that people attended and supported his work.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending the event, and, as always, I left wishing that one, I’d actually try to become a writer and that two, I didn’t have to drive so far for readings…

Graphic Novels: New to Me

Reading a graphic novel is something I’ve been intending on doing for a few years, but haven’t until this week in preparation for seeing Craig Thompson at the Skirball Center last night (more on that in another post).  It’s been a bit of a process.
Previous Inclinations
When I first heard about this whole “graphic novel” concept a few years ago (I know they’ve been around longer, they had just never been on my horizon) I initially associated them with comic books, which I’ve never gotten in to (except Archie for like a month  back in like third grade).  Incorrectly, I also believed that they were directed more towards men. I was always concerned with the story, thinking they were basically just "picture books." Once my husband started buying them I figured that I perhaps was wrong, given that he's just as judgmental about books as I am. Around the same time they began entering our home they seemed to start popping into the mainstream, especially after the success of The Watchman. Eventually my negative attitude morphed more into uncertainty and perhaps some sort of literary fear. I don’t naturally pick up on visual intricacies and have always preferred words to pictures. Graphic novels were definitely outside of my comfort zone.

Biting the Bullet
After signing up to attend Thompson’s lecture at the Skirball with my husband, who is a huge fan, I decided that this would be a great time to bite the bullet and read Habibi, which was the focus on the presentation. My initial reaction was that shock- I read the first fifty pages in barely a half an hour. But, on the other hand, I didn’t feel quite comfortable with the process. I frequently felt like I was missing something, given the fact that I was focusing more on the words and less on the pictures, when are equally important.
I will say that I was incredibly impressed with the drawings- this is definitely no Archie and Jughead! I was probably most impressed with the patterns, which he said he created with the help of per-made patterns, computers, and a light boxing technique.
Final Thoughts
I really, truly appreciated the experience of reading a graphic novel, even more so that I had the opportunity to hear the creator talk the same day in which I finished the book. My past assumptions as far as the simplicity, masculinity, and lighthearted nature were absolutely incorrect. Habibi was thematically and symbolically complex, extremely feminine, and quite serious.
Despite my newfound admiration, I do still prefer “regular” novels, though.  I would like to one day read Thompson’s other graphic novel, Blankets, as well as Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home (I hear her new one is great too).  
I do think that graphic novels aren’t simple a fad; they’re appearing on the syllabi of prestigious universities (Go Bruins!) and constantly finding spots on “best of” lists.
And now I can cross something off my New Year's Resolutions list- the 2011 one. Oops. 

Document This: Doctors, Photography, and Coal Mining

While I've been doing more reading (of essays, mostly) lately, I have watched a few good documentaries in the past few weeks:

Doctor Diaries
104 minutes
I, of course, loved this film- it followed several doctors from their time in medical school at Harvard in the eighties to their residencies and then through their professional careers. Becoming a doctor isn't as glamorous as Grey's Anatomy makes it seem (believe me, no one was as hot as McSteamy on this film); the doctors are exhausted, take poor care of themselves, and many experience failed marriages. In the end all except one are still practicing and have some very insightful things to say about their profession.

Should You Watch It? If you like medical dramas or have a soft spot for the field, definitely. It's not sugar coated, or gory (except during a few dissection scenes).

Bill Cunningham New York
84 minutes
This documentary focuses on Bill Cunningham, the famous 80-year-old fashion photographer for The New York Times. His focus on fashion, rather that celebrity or even physical beauty, is refreshing as his unadulterated love for his job. He rides a bike (wearing reflector vest) around the city and stops to photograph outfits that inspire him. The film also discusses how he, and many other elderly artists, were forced out of their studios in Carnegie Hall- Cunningham ended up with a pretty sweet pad overlooking Central Park, but it was still a bit insensitive of the management. 

Should You Watch It? At times it was a little slow, so if you're looking for something fast or provocative probably not. I did definitely appreciate the spirit of the movie.

The Last Mountain
95 minutes
I seriously debated on whether or not to write an entire post on this documentary, but then I decided that perhaps not everyone is as interested in how coal mining is destroying the Appalachian Mountains as it turns out I am... I felt a bit naive going into the movie; yes, I know coal mining is bad and that coal power is extremely dirty. I quickly learned that the common technique used, including on the mountain featured in this movie, Coal River Mountain, is to basically chop off the mountain top, take out the coal, chop of some more, take the coal- you get the picture. Then, when they're finished raping the mountain they pile the dirt back up and pretend that somehow grass and forests will grow back over completely contaminated topsoil. The environmental effects carry over, though, polluting the air and the water. People in turn end up sick as a result from breathing in the heavy metals (interesting studies were cited in regards to the IQ levels of children, autism rates, and cancer). And, of course this ecological nightmare is allowed to continue because coal mining is a multi-billion dollar industry with lobbyists that basically bribe politicians through campaign donations (for example, George W. Bush). Bobby Kennedy works with the environmentalists and has made some headway with the Obama administration, but not enough. It's a really serious situation: coal mining and coal power are presumed to be the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn is leading to global warning. Apparently I feel very passionately about coal mining and the Appalachian Mountains (were are pretty effing beautiful, by the way). 

Should You Watch It? Yes! It's our duty to be aware. I think the biggest thing we can do is to lobby for clean air initiatives and for green power- like wind turbines!

The Second Annual "So You're Going to Be Reading By the Water, Eh?" List

Hawaii- so long ago...

I know it's a little early to be thinking about summer, but I can't stop- the weather is warming up, the students are getting restless, and I'm fantasizing about our plans to lay by a pool in Vegas with a cocktail (this daydream also includes me being fifteen pounds thinner, wearing a chic floppy hat, heels, pearls, and snapping at a cocktail server named Pablo for another round. Weird).

Back to reality.

People tend to bring reading material when they're sitting by the water (hence the title), their intents varying. No matter what, I've got you covered.

The Distracted Reader 
The Distracted Reader may have kids in the pool, three margaritas in the belly, or a hot life guide nearby (who just so happens to look a lot like Pablo..). They aren't able to expend a high-level of attention and won't be apt to reread confusing sections, look up big words, or analyze characters. It's okay. I forgive you! I mean I obviously think a little less of you and your dedication to all that is literary, but I'm sure you're still a good person. It's summer, after all. Consider:

Mildred Pierce by James Cain- Set in the fifties, a house wife ends up leaving her husband and becoming quite the bitchy entrepreneur. Plus, worse comes to worse, there's a miniseries (which I haven't seen but have heard good things about).

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld: Off topic, but I read an article the other day that referred to Sittenfeld as a man, when she is in fact a woman. Shoddy journalism, if you ask me. Anyway, this book is long, but it's pretty straightforward and quite interesting. Sittenfeld, the author of Prep, focuses on a fictional family that is quite similar to that of the Bush's (yes, as in the Texas-living, beer-drinking, war-starting, gibberish speaking, Republican Bushes).  

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn: While this book should absolutely be read at the satirical level, it's separated into 1-2 page letters, so it's easy to read it in sections and to put it down to rescue little Jimmy from the deep end or do shots with the fun college kids who make you feel old. The novella is about what happens to a small island when their government stops letting them use certain letters of the alphabet. 

The On Vacation Literati
The On Vacation Literati generally read pretty high-brow fiction, but sometimes they want a break (just not too much of one). These readers want something light enough to lug on the plane (don't you ereader me, dammit!), but also something that they won't be embarrassed to admit to reading in case a professor or Times Reviewer happens to be sitting next to them. 

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
This novel is the hilarious, smart tale of the Fang family, who creates social chaos as art. Their two kids move away and start their own troubled lives and end up back home for what ends up being part mystery part self-discovery. Ann Patchett suggested that it should have been at least a Pulitzer finalist. I'm not sure if I agree 100%, but it's still definitely worth it.

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognani
This is a great coming-of-age story about two very different teenagers that end up being each others' only friend. One has a heart condition and an over-protective ultra-religious mom, while the other live in a glass dome with his hippie grandmother who has become ill. Oh, and they form a band. Everyone likes music. 

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
The premise for this novel is incredibly interesting- Henry is brought up at a "home-ec practice" house at a university, therefore essentially have many, many mothers. He ends up growing up and working for Disney and the Beatles (he animates) but must endure the attachment issues that come with never truly feeling connected to a mother. Sentimental without being cliche, this novel delves into the classic "nature versus nurture" question. 

The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer
This book about the publishing world is a face-paced mystery that pokes fun at the business while not taking itself too seriously. The main characters are well-written and the plot is perfectly paced.

The Stuck At Home Reader
Some summers don't end up in vacations in terms of time off or traveling. In that case, the Stuck At Home Reader must definitely live vicariously through their reading.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A big chunk of this book is set in Italy, as well as LA, and a bit in the Midwest. The story itself is decent, it's about an Italian man trying to find a woman he had fallen in love with many years before, but the setting was really my favorite part. 

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Speaking of Patchett, her latest novel about finding the fountain of youth (at least as far as fertility goes) in the Amazon is a fantastic read, both in terms of plot and writing. You'll love the characters, the setting, and the final resolution.

 The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World by Jennifer Baggett
I know I've mentioned this a few times before, but in terms of setting it's great. The women leave their corporate jobs and visit places like Thailand, Peru, Kenya, Vietnam, and Australia. The writing isn't exactly amazing, but the places they visit are.

Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones
The tropical island setting of this charming (short) book is a big part of it's charm. The island people must face violence frequently but learn the power of escape from hearing the schoolmaster read Dickens.

The Seasonal Reading Changes are Bullshit Reader
Some people feel that just because the sun is shining, the girls are wearing less and the drinks are served with umbrellas their reading tendencies should not change. I can understand that- summer is no excuse to get lazy.

Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoevski 
Just do it, you won't regret reading only the best book that has ever been written. Murder! Guilt! Russia! I read this my junior year in high school and it will forever by one of my favorites (if for some reason you went to MHS and had Baker you'd vividly remember the interactive notebook, which I loved doing. Seriously). 

Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas
This book is definitely not my favorite, but it challenged me as a reader. The main character is an out of work New Yorker that is trying to figure out how he can allow his family maintain a lifestyle that he can't afford. The narration is stream of conscience, the prose if well-done, but it is quite long.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This book is one to be appreciated on many levels: the actual writing itself, the characters, and then the actual organization of the book. Mitchell creates connections and challenges you as a reader to do the same. Plus, you'll want to read it before the movie comes out and they fuck it up. 

So, last summer this is what I predicted I would read:

What is with that goddam Underworld book? Why can't I get myself to finish it? As for the rest, I read them all except Naked Lunch. I'm not going to even try to predict what I'll read this summer. Why set myself up for failure? I know that I will for sure be reading John Irving's new one- it's going to be on my doorstep Tuesday!

Edited to Add: Using this for Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish.

Nonfiction Nagging: The Runner in Me Needed This

Sometimes we read something that ends up being perfect for where we're at and what we need. Scott Jurek's Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, due out next month, was exactly what the doctor ordered for me. It made me feel.... better.

One of the focuses of this book is about Jurek's gradual conversion to veganism. He discusses the process in which he went through and the impact it had on his body and running. Cutting out all animal products was a huge factor in making him healthier (rarely sick at all), allowing him a quicker recovery time, and fueling his body for runs that often exceed 100 miles. Personally, I haven't had meat since I gave it up for lent, although I haven't labeled myself a vegetarian yet (I have trouble committing, apparently). While Jurek didn't really talk much about the ethical treatment of animals, one of my concerns, he did provide some concrete evidence as to what a plant-based diet can do for your health. While I don't plan on becoming vegan, I definitely see the long-term benefits of not eating meat. The connection made to exercise performance was powerful. I also appreciated that Jurek didn't preach- he simply discussed what worked for him. I don't really like discussing my current dietary changes because I feel when people ask why, and you tell them, they feel like you're lecturing them.

Running through Pain
Source; at Badwater
When you run ultras (this means anything over 26.2 miles, although Jurek seemed to mostly do races between 50 and 100) you hurt: your feet, stomach, knees, and head all feel the stress of exertion. Ultramarathoners keep going; they learn to live with the pain and they don't stop unless they truly have to. While I could definitely get all philosophical on this being a metaphor for life, I won't. I do, though, need to learn to live with physical pain right now- my foot with the mutant extra bone is bothering me terribly right now. I know it's because I'm overdoing it- two tough yoga sessions a week on flat fee, plus three or four additional cardio days, one of which is dedicated towards walking serious inclines to prepare for Yosemite and another to try to maintain some sort of decent running base. If it was anyone else I'd say rest, but I can't- it keeps me in control, and it keeps me sane. Plus, the pain isn't going to go away. I'm not going to have surgery and I have the best shoes for my issues. I need to channel my inner Scott Jurek and power through the pain. It's just pain. Really, it's simply chemical reactions. Mind over matter. And plenty of ice. And vodka.

Highs and Lows
There are highs and lows in life, but in the end everything flattens out. It's the same in racing; you have times where you're PRing and times where you're doing worse that when you started. It's cyclical and you have to want it. No one can expect to do well if they aren't going to push themselves. I definitely needed to hear that lesson; I've become way to comfortable with my running routine ever since I decided to cut back in February. While I don't necessarily have any major race plans right now, I do want to be half-marathon ready (you know, in case I'm driving down the road and want to jump in a race spur of the moment). If you treat your body right (see the food section above...) and are dedicated you will get better. 

Most Motivating Quote
"Altogether, our modern inclination toward sloth, the easy availability of processed food, and the prevalence life-saving medical treatments have made us a long-lived, unhealthy people" (Jurek, 149). It's all about quality of life.

I really loved this book; it was a super quick read, had some interesting vegan recipes and training tips interspersed, and Jurek was both inspiring and humble (unlike Dean Karnazes).