Bookish (and no so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I have been sitting through what we call Individual Oral Presentations (IOPs) for my IB classes this week on The Catcher in the Rye and have seen some pretty interesting things. I've had a few kids try to convince the class that Holden is gay, had a student juggle, a girl show a 1940s ad for douche, and listened to a guy sing. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and a lot are in the middle. Thank goodness we're wrapping up in the next few days, though. I'm not sure how much more I can take...

2. While watching The Oscars last weekend the first thing I thought when I saw Paul Rudd come out to present was "Man, I bet he smokes a lot of pot." Not that I mind, he just seems like he likes to get high. Maybe it's the long hair. By the way, speaking of The Oscars, I'm totally fine with my seat on the Jennifer Lawrence train- love her!
3. I can't stop listening to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, "Sacrilege." 

4. I started wearing a pedometer for shits and giggles and am deeply disappointed by how little I walk at school. I figured I had to hit at least 6,000 steps while at school, but instead it's barely 4,000. It's definitely motivating me to park the car a little bit farther, walk the dogs a little bit longer, and make extra trips upstairs.

5. I think I'd like to write a book one day that is set in just one day. It would most definitely be a challenge, and I should probably focus on the book I'm currently working on, but it's nice to have extra ideas lined up. Ever since reading Saturday by Ian McEwan my appreciation for this sort of mono-day narrative has intrigued me. 

6. I started following Kristen Bell on Twitter and now have the urge to watch Veronica Mars all the time.


7. I just spent a ridiculous amount of money on Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake tickets for July at the Rose Bowl. I'm justifying it (ha, get it?) with the fact that it's really two concerts in one. So, basically, I'm getting a deal.

8. Bear with me, I think I have a new plan for buying books. For every book I read I get a dollar towards the next book. Therefore for every 12-20 books I read I get a new one. Obviously, when I read all of my books and I only have three left we'll have to reevaluate this plan; I'm just having trouble coping with not being able to buy any new ones at all. In fact, my wish list has grown exponentially since placing the "no buying" restriction on myself. 

9. I've been toying with the idea with expanding what I write about here, just a tiny bit. I feel like I have to justify non-book related posts, which is completely not true. So many times I've considered posting on things outside of the literary scope but have hesitated. We'll see. And now that I've started thinking about it I'm sure nothing besides bookish posts will come to mind.

10. I really, really love expensive cosmetics. Once upon a time I spent far more at Sephora, indulging in the occasional whatever from my personal favorites Nars, Urban Decay, and Smashbox. Since then I've managed to control myself and focus on the cheaper versions at good ol' Target, but let's face it- you get what you pay for. I've been really, really good for several years, but after receiving a sample of Urban Decay Lip Junkie in my Naked 2 Palette (a gift) all I want to do is spend $19 on tubes of lip gloss (tastes amazing, by the way). Oh, and I just signed up for Birchbox and there's a wait list! Bullshit. 

[smart girls can like makeup too]

February Reviews

[I don't whine... I eat cupcakes!]

Sometimes the smallest things pack the biggest punches- like February. It's been a long four weeks and I'm ready for some fun next month. I feel like this has been the party line since December... Anyway, four books:

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
672 pages
I suppose part of the reason why my reading seemed to drag this month was because of this book- not because it's bad, just because it's really long. The version I had is separated into three books, which I thought was a nice way of breaking it up. The novel is about a Irish prep schooler named Skippy, who dies during a doughut eating contest within the first few pages. We then go back in time and read about the events both in his, and one of his teachers,' lives. There are a lot of twists and turns, but also highs and lows. Personally, I don't think it needed to be quite this long- perhaps a solid 500 instead. Nonetheless, Murray's writing is enjoyable, both smart and sensitive.

Verdict: If you have trouble getting through long books stay away, obviously. For those who enjoy boarding school stories or want a bit of a commentary on the Catholic church this may be a good book for you.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
224 pages
I wrote a post on this YA novel last week, but long story short, I thought it was a bit of a The Catcher in the Rye rip off. The movie, though, was decent. It seems so often that mediocre books make the best movies (Nicholas Sparks excluded).

Verdict: It's a short book, and if you're not overly sensitive to literary integrity than I say go for it. It is sweet and entertaining, and Chbosky writes from the teenage perspective well. It is definitely overrated, though.

Fathermucker by Greg Olear
320 pages
This book was fantastic- and I'm not even a parent. Josh is a stay-at-home dad on the East Coast (technically a screenwriter) and must care for his  four-year-old son who has Aspergers and his two-year-old daughter, who does not, while his wife is away on a business trip. While on a playdate a local mom tells him that she thinks his wife is having an affair, but the two aren't able to finish their conversation. The rest of the story details his day struggling to analyze his marriage and deal with the challenges of parenthood.

I have to say this book definitely made me think about being a parent in the sense that sometimes your kids aren't born healthy or developmentally on track, and no matter what you have to be there for them. Could I handle that? Does anyone think they can pre-parenthood? You go into it thinking you'll have a couple of sweet, smart kids that can run around the playground and socialize with the other kids, but that's not always the case. Food for thought.

Verdict: I loved this book- it was witty, thought-provoking, and I appreciated the end.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
193 pages
I just finished this book tonight after grdugingly slogging through it for the last two weeks. It's completely ridiculous- the book is awesome from the writing to the plot. Janie is an African American woman who ends up marrying an older man she isn't in love with at the insistence of her grandmother. She then runs off with another man, desperate for an out. That doesn't work out in the end, but he dies, freeing her up for the next man, Tea Cake. She and Tea Cake move down to the Everglades and must endure a hurricane. I had forgotten the ending, which I can't wait for my students to read because they'll love it (hint: it involves a dog sitting on a cow and rabies). 

Verdict: This is one of those "required reading" books that truly is quite good.         

Top Ten Tuesday- Loyalty

I'm a pretty loyal person- to a fault, perhaps. I get upset when sports teams trade players all willy-nilly, stand by shows when they start declining (here's looking at you, Grey's), and would cut someone if they talked shit about my family or husband. The same goes for a select group of authors. This week The Broke and Bookish ask us for the ten we'd automatically pre-order.

1. Nick Hornby- He's had a few flops, but they're book-ended with some really great ones.

2. Ian McEwan- I've never read one of his book that I didn't like.

3. TC Boyle- I love how he takes social issues and turns the into such great novels.

4. Jonathan Safran Foer- My life will only be complete when I get to go to one of his readings.

5. Ann Patchett- I need to get the rest of her books- I'm absolutely in love with the ones that I have read (Bel Canto, State of Wonder, Patron Saint of Liars).

6. JK Rowling- This may change after I read The Casual Vacancy

7. Jeffrey Eugenides- Three books, three successes.

8. Isabel Allende- I think we've talked about my love of the Mother of Magical Realism before...

9. Carlos Ruiz Zafon- His writing is this wonderful mixture of fun, intellect, mystery, and beautiful imagery.

10. Reif Larsen- He's only written one book, The Selected Works of TS Spivet, but that's all it took to win me over.

Foster the People

[admittedly misleading blog post title and picture, although it's a great album]
Some of us are born and raised readers. Some of us took our books out to recess and some of us were told they couldn't read while their eyes were bloodshot from long hours spent in a chlorinated pool. Some of us had no problem spending long hours in the car on trips because it meant more time to read. And some of us actually got excited when the teacher passed out paperwork for book projects.

And some idiots of us couldn't give a rat's ass.

How do you make people read? Better yet, how do foster a love for reading (get it now?)?

During the last week or so I've been slowly reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston for work. The book is fantastic, for those who haven't read it, both in terms of the story and the language. And yet for some reason I've had to force myself to continue on. I glare at the paperback and accompanying pad of paper for question writing and note-taking, resenting the fact that finishing the book has become yet another item on my to-do list. 

And then that familiar feeling returns- this is exactly what we do to our students. I always feel a tinge of guilt when I enforce outside reading requirements and class reading assignments (that soon leaves when the power trip of dictating what they can and cannot read returns). As soon as something becomes an obligation at least half the fun is sucked out of if it, no matter how much you're going to learn or even enjoy it. Frequently at the end we can admit that the task was worthwhile, but the process often turns into a burdensome chore.

So what's the solution? How do we, as a society, promote reading? Personally, and many experts will agree, I believe that the love of reading usually has to begin during childhood and that parents are really responsible for cultivating this. I think this is something many want to pass the buck on to teachers over, but there is research that proves the need for families to embrace reading. It's essentially a good habit you're developing- if your child isn't expected to clean their room growing up expecting them to do it as teenagers is going to be a struggle. Parents need to cultivate a literary environment in their home starting as early as possible- read to your baby (not in the womb, though, that's just a tad creepy), take your toddler to story time, and never associate reading with punishment. Parents and teachers need to serve as positive role models, going out of their way to show kids that reading is interesting and not a "nerdy" activity. For leisure, kids should be allowed to choose their own books, but gently steered in the direction towards ones they might be legitimately interested in. 

Teenagers are tougher. Many supposedly hate reading because they haven't found books they actually enjoy, struggle with comprehension, or fear the social stigma attached to being a reader. I think helping them find time, or providing it for them, to read is also important. Giving them tools to understand what they read and the freedom to ask questions is also important. I've worked with several students this year on ways to find books that are similar to ones that they already like (other than just asking me or reading the same author over and over again). I think this is one area in which YA has actually been helpful- it's gotten many teens reading and will hopefully serve as sort of a bridge into actual literature. 

But what about what I'm going through with Eyes? My love of reading was definitely fostered by the people, but I still hate the feeling that it's mandatory. This is the really hard part as a teacher. I've tried offering extra credit to students that are ahead of schedule, giving ample time, and trying to positively promote the assigned books as much as possible. I must add, though, that reading for school doesn't seem to be an issue for some students- I'd say about half of my students don't complain or get behind.

As futile as it sounds, I think this will always be a problem. Some of us, myself included, just hate obligations, even if it's something we love. I was talking about this with a friend this morning, about how sometimes we make plans and as the date approaches we lose the desire to participate. Part of it's laziness, but personally, I start resenting the fact that something or someone is dictating how I spend my time. Again, there's no easy answer, except that sometimes we just have to suck it up for our own good and do things that might actually benefit us in the end. 

Like reading Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Hilary Clinton is planning on writing a new memoir about her time as Secretary of State. Can you say "pre-order?"

2. I think bananas are one of the few fruits that no one puts in green salads. Apples, cranberries, strawberries, pears, pineapple... no bananas. As it should be.

3. The LA Times Festival of Books lineup is seriously disappointing. I mean obviously this isn't surprising, considering the venue, but there was maybe only one name on the tentative list that I'd be interested in (Hector Tobar). I guess now they have something in common with Coachella- none of the big boys want to come out and play.

4. I know this sounds selfish, but I think hours spent volunteering should be tax-deductible. I think it would persuade a lot more people to do good (yes I know, is it still "good" if people are being rewarded?) and if you can claim you bag of worthless shit that you drop off a Good-Will why not the time you spend spooning soup or picking up litter on beaches? And on that note, I think gym/yoga/cross-fit dues should also be, considering is basically preventative health-care. Dear Local Representative...

5. Speaking of taxes, and extra money, I firmly believe in the rule of thirds: 1/3 goes into savings, 1/3 goes towards paying off bills earlier, and the remaining 1/3 goes for fun/house purchases. This is just for me, though, my husband and I keep all money except household expenses separate (it's basically the best marriage strategy ever).  

6. I'm really, really, really behind at life work. I've made some headway in the last day, but it's still not clear to me how things piled up the way they did. I wake up at night thinking about everything I need to do. And then I fall asleep and dream about being wanted by the police and needing to go on the run. My dreams have been even more insane than normal.  I should probably add in an extra yoga day or drink more.

7. I hope this Kickstarter project, a book light called Lumio, gets off the ground. 


8. My husband and I started watching House of Cards on Netflix and it's pretty dang good. I like politics and he likes David Fincher- it's a win, win.

9. I've decided that I'm not buying books until either the end of the school year or I drop down in the thirties (I currently have 58). I'm sure this will result in a massive book buying binge that will negate the dent I'll have made in my progress.

10. I've started listening to The Happiness Project on Audible while I walk. I'm not a self-help kind of girl, but I am a fan of happiness and getting more of it. So far I've learned that I need to go to bed earlier, organize my house, and stop expecting my husband to thank me for sweeping the floor.

Top Ten Tuesday- Kickin' it Old School

This week The Broke and the Bookish asks us to name our "ten favorite characters in x genre." I decided to focus loosely on late elementary to pre-teen books, for whatever reason. 

1. Charlotte from Charlotte's Web- I know this is technically an early elementary book, but I can't talk about kids' books without somehow including my old favorite.

2. Laura Ingalls from the Little House Series- Spunky, kind-hearted, and tenacious. 

3. Hermione from Harry Potter- Annoying at times, but she definitely reminds be of what I used to be like when I was younger- always wanted to please my teachers, needed to learn how to use a hair straightener, and a little sensitive.

4. Esperanza from Esperanza Rising- I really loved reading this to my students- for once they had someone to relate to (her family are migrant farmers).

5. Leigh Botts from Dear Mr. Henshaw- I don't think we've talked about my absolute adoration for this book. Everyone, no matter how old they are, needs someone to talk to sometimes... Not to mention the lunch box alarm system (genius!).

6. Max from Where the Wild Things Are (Dave Eggers edition)- I really appreciate the Eggers novel version of the story, tied to the movie. I read it to my fifth grade class and we enjoyed listening to the soundtrack while working on math.

7. Hugo Cabret from The Invention of Hugo Cabret- I love the fact that he manages to have a nice side despite the need to survive on his own.

8. Stacey McGill from The Baby Sitters Club- I loved all the BSCers for different reasons, but for some reason I thought Stacey was the coolest. She was grown up enough to manage her diabetes, was from New York, and was a math whiz.

9. Nancy Drew- Who didn't go through their house looking for secret passages after reading the books? Nancy was smart, brave, and had a hunky boyfriend. 

10. Catherine from Rules- I read this story to my fifth graders, appreciating how it dealt with autism. Catherine, the protagonist, struggles to cope with being the older sister to an autistic brother, but manages to do so despite the obstacles. 

Three Funny Ladies

I'm a little ashamed to admit the fact that I can't walk my dogs without being entertained. Music used to do the trick, but my wandering mind needs more. In my defense I spend a fair amount of time walking, 25-45 minutes, 5-6 times a week. I joined Audible several months with the intention of only listening to books I've read before, a plan that came to an abrupt halt with the absolutely horrible narration of Cloud Atlas. It was narcolepsy-inducing, which is not a great thing when you are walking two large animals. So, I revised my plan, deciding that it would be okay to download nonfiction that I'd probably never buy to actually read. This way I don't feel guilty but can prevent my mind from wandering.

Over the past few months I've listened to three memoirs by Tina Fey, Kristin Chenoweth, and Ellen Degeneres. I've always been big fans of Fey and Degeneres, and Chenoweth won me over on Pushing Daisies, so I figured what the heck. My thoughts, in order of preference:

Bossypants by Tina Fey

[still hate the cover]
This was definitely my favorite, probably because I appreciate Tina Fey's dry, sarcastic wit. I love that she's smart and has worked hard, and has still been able to stay grounded throughout her rise to fame. She progresses chronologically, starting us off when she was a kid going to summer drama programs with her gay friends, describing her times as as struggling comedian working at a YMCA, and as she started finding success on SNL and then on 30 Rock. She includes personal information too, providing the hilarious story of her and her husband's disasterous honeymoon, as well as the struggles she's faced being a working mom. My favorite part was when she talked about her return to SNL to play Sarah Palin, and how she was very hesitant to go back (why isn't her SNL DVD out yet?). Balance is obviously a big deal to Fey, and she made sure to carry it over into her book.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth

I really knew very little about Kristin Chenoweth besides the fact that I loved her as Olive and that she was in Wicked. And, honestly, she has a cute voice so the monotone factor wouldn't be an issue. Like Fey, Chenoweth takes us through the story of her life, from growing up as a church singer to going to being trained as a opera singer to struggling in New York. She tells the tales of failed romances, and even provides readers/listeners with some information regarding her on-again-off-again relationship with writer Aaron Sorkin (he even reads a very sweet chapter that's a letter to her). There's also a section on a stalker that was pretty entertaining. The only parts that got on my nerves was her squeaky clean "Southernisms" (my term, not her's)- she refuses to swear but instead says corny things in their place. And while she is never monotone, the narrative did sound a bit too forced occasionally. Overall, though, I found it really interesting and timely since I get to see Wicked in a few weeks (although she of course is no longer a part of the cast).

Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres 

[nice mime outfit, Ellen]
I really, really thought I'd love this one, since her show is so funny and she's so likable. After listening to it, though, I realized that she really needs to be directly interacting with other people in order to entertaining. It's her personality I like; I don't necessarily find her humor hilarious, I guess. Plus, the book wasn't really about anything. At all. It was just a random hodge-podge of whatever seemed to pop in her mind. Fine for a few minutes, but not a few hours. I did appreciate a few parts, liker her honesty about why she and Portia will never have children and the importance of women to have preventative health screenings. But other than that, I simply wasn't impressed... with the book. I still like her, though!

And, for the record, I don't consider this reading, at all. I will never claim to have read these books. Audio"book"s are just a bit over TV watching in my book.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Social media has made Valentine's Day even more annoying- I'm fine that the holiday exists and I'm cool that people celebrate it. Yay for love! What I find so incredibly irritating is that a) women feel the need to take pictures of everything they "get" and post them on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook b) people who post passive aggressive comments about their significant others every other day of the year all the sudden feel the need to profess the adoration they've apparently been keeping bottled up to everyone and their mother (literally) c) shouting your love digitally doesn't make it any more real or sincere. As I said on Facebook, I prefer to keep it low key- we don't need to go all Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch about it.

2. I get to go back to UCLA to visit an old friend tomorrow and cannot wait to go to Diddy Reise since it was closed last time I was there. These cookies are pretty much the best ever, and I can completely guarantee you that nostalgia isn't a factor whatsoever. I'm sure it will be great to see her too.

3. I want these:

[Red Tile Studio via Etsy; $250]

 4. I am  signed up to go to three events through the LA Public Library's ALOUD this spring- Nathan Englander, Cheryl Strayed, and Temple Grandin. Three very different people, but all should be fascinating in their own right. 

5. I had the absolute best cupcake of my life yesterday- snickerdoodle flavored cake, chocolate ganache frosting, and half a cookie on top. I'm already trying to figure out how to recreate it.

[My Delight CupCakery > Sprinkles]

6. Speaking of cookies and cupcakes, I bought Jillian Michael's 6 Week 6-Pack Abs DVD last weekend. I did the first level, with weights, and woke up with sore legs rather than sore abs. What the hell? I'm thinking I should move up to level 2 and ditch the weights. Or something like that. It's five million times better than I thought it was going to be and the half hour flies by.

7. I'm reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Thurston for work and had forgotten what a fantastic book it was. I'm fairly confident my kids are going to really struggle with it, but I hope I can get them past the whining and on to the appreciation. 

8. I'm also reading Fathermucker by Greg Olear, which is hilarious. He reminds me a little of Tom Perrotta, but not with the dark undercurrent (at least not yet, I'm only 50 pages in). 

9. I've had this week off from work (thanks to the dead presidents) and have once again completely over-extended myself. I love going places, doing things, and seeing my friends, but I need to make more of an effort to stick around more during spring break. I have baseboards that need to be cleaned and closets to be organized.

10. Never go the DIY section of Pinterest. There is some super ugly shit up in there.

The Catcher in the Wallflower

I just finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and found it strangely familiar. Hmmm, what other book ends with the protagonist being in a mental hospital partly due to being unable to cope with a family member's death? And struggles with making friends, sex, and all those general coming-of-age issues? Oh! Yes! That's right, I remember!

And so I decided to make this fun chart:

[Just off the top of my head]

It's not a bad book, by any means, nor is it a total rip off of The Catcher in the Rye, it just borrows heavily. It's like when a young girl goes into her older sister's closet and "borrows" her dress, sweater, earrings, jacket, and purse, stopping short at taking her underwear. Chbosky definitely borrowed from his big brother Salinger, but did throw in his own belt, cufflinks and whatever else men wear. There are differences, but there's just so much that they have in common! I was willing to give Perks a chance since I see it as one of the original YA books- it was published in 1999, far before the current genre craze. And if I had never read Catcher I probably would have liked it just fine, I just can't experience the same level of appreciation reading the two almost back-to-back, seeing the glaring similarities.

Oddly, I have high hopes for the movie (I haven't seen it yet). 

Mr. Global Warming Himself, Al Gore

[White blob on the left]
Last night I drove to the beautiful Saban Theater in Beverly Hills with two friends in order to see Vice President Al Gore (presented by Writer's Bloc). I had seen him a few years ago when he wrote his last book and though he was interesting enough to see again. His new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Local Change, talks about labor/work, communication, power, demographics, biotechnology, and climate change. 

Gore spent about an hour talking with Madeline Brand, covering the six aspects of his book. And let's just say the man can talk. And talk. And talk. Obviously this is what he was supposed to do, it was just a lot of information at once! Unlike the last time I saw him speak, he didn't just cover climate change last night. Some highlights:

- We need better security in terms of the internet so that other countries and groups don't continue to breach secure sites.
- "Robosourcing" is going to become an increasing issue and will obviously result in global economic changes. Countries like China and India will decrease hiring people in exchange for more precise robots. Great way to cut costs, but this will mean thousands and thousands of people facing unemployment.
 - There's such as thing as Spider Goats. Seriously- the silk spiders produce is incredibly strong, but nearly impossible to farm from arachnids. Scientists have spliced genes and have created goats to produce the silk in their milk.
- Speaking of farm animals, there are cows in Europe that are chipped with devices that can notify farmers when they are in heat via text message. The point- technology is infiltrating animal husbandry.
- Temperature bands in the United States (and world) are shifting, meaning that the country is slowly getting warmer. This of course has a huge effect on agriculture, creating even more obstacles for struggling farmers.
- Gore compared climate change to other controversial issues our country (and world) has faced- slavery, same-sex marriage, etc... It's something that needs support, conversation, and action.
- He credited Obama with some progress but believes that much, much more needs to be done.
- Our government has been "hacked." Special interest groups are ruling our country, which is something we all know. It is scary to think about how much they impact the votes of our politicians, who really represent these corporations, rather than their constituents. 

They then opened it up to audience questions, one in particular being interesting to me. Recently, Al Gore and the rest of his investor group sold their liberal news network to Al Jazeera English. This of course raised some serious eyebrows (including my own), since Al Jazeera is owned by emir of Qatar. I'm not going to pretend to know all about it, nor will I put in the time to read tons of articles right now, but I do know that emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and his government don't exactly love America, are huge players in the oil industry, and have some pretty vocal opinions about homosexuals and the whole Israel/Palestine conflict. So, basically, the audience member wanted to know why Gore would find this an acceptable deal when on the surface it seems to contradict what he stands for. Gore answered the question politely, pointing out that it is Al Jazeera English, not the regular Al Jazeera network, which is a big difference. This network actually reports international news all day, everyday, and is going to be hiring many American journalists. Gore was undoubtedly prepared for the question and while I appreciated his answer (by the way, my girl Hilary Clinton supports this network), I do know that the man once was a politician and he still is a businessman. 

Gore is definitely passionate about his cause and I wholeheartedly hope that his efforts to improve our environment and improve our society are successful.