Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Spring break is approximately a day away and I cannot wait. I'm starting off Saturday with a trapeze class with my sister and then family get together. And then a whole bunch of friend time and sleeping in. And reading.

2. I am so proud that so many of my friends changed their profile pictures on Facebook this week to the red square (does it have an official name) to support marriage equality. I could write a whole rant on how outraged I am that gay couples still can't marry but I won't today. Let's just say in thirty years when this has blown over and everyone can marry it will be interesting to see who feel ridiculous and unfair. It's like people who participated in segregation fifty years ago. What does it even matter? Two lesbians getting married has jack crap to do with my marriage. And don't even throw the Bible at it- seperation of church and freakin' state, thankyouverymuch.

3. Speaking of things that are disgusting, I just learned the other the day that there is a scene in Fifty Shades of Grey in which they guy takes her tampon out for her? What the hell? Why? What? Whaaaaaaat? How is that hot? How is that sexy? How could you consider anything else between the two erotic after that happened? Excuse me while I go vomit. Be right back.

4. I keep finding old to do lists with things like "write 5,000 words," and "write 10,000 words," and "finish!" on them. Oh NaNoWriMo, I miss you a little bit.

5. I hate to brag, but I get to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (or Harry Potter World as I call it) this summer. And then on a cruise. But first we'll down some Butter Beer and go to Olivander's for some wand action. I need to watch all the movies, for the first time, before then (one down....). 

[photo by Jen Blum; source]

6. Tonight is parent teacher conference night- basically all of us teachers sit behind tables in the gym for three and a half hours and talked to parents. Last time I ended up with about 60 students attending- it was exhausting. I always complain about these nights but I usually end up leaving pretty satisfied that I was able to talk to so many families.

7. The seniors at school are getting their college acceptance letters- I mean emails. I remember back in the day it was all about the envelope size- small meant you were probably rejected and a bigger packet meant you were in. I wasn't home when mine came from UCLA, so I called my mom- all she had to say was that it was a big one and I knew that it was a done deal. 

8. Tuesday, when I couldn't find my passport (long story, but it has been located) I came home and had a spoonful of ice cream with a squirt of writing-icing on top. I feel like I need to confess- it was a stress eating at its finest. But I must say, it was really delicious.

9. My husband introduced me to The Nerdist podcasts and I can't stop listening to them while I drive home. Chris Hardwick (do you remember his from Singled Out?) is one cool dude, and he gets really great guests- I'm listening to Judd Apatow right now and just finished up Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Anna Kendrick. 

10.  If you are over twenty-one years of age please buy a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and Diet Squirt. Mix to your liking. You're welcome.

Document This- Gangs, Videogames, and Rock

I have to preface this by saying that all three of these documentaries are my husband's, and I'm not sure if I would have picked out the first and second on my own to watch. But, of course, if a documentary is well-done it should be able to make anything (even pocket lint) interesting. 

The Interrupters
125 minutes 

This movie tells the story of a group from Chicago called The Interrupters who aim to work with gang members to stop violence. They work tirelessly to help with both young and old at-risk members of the community, despite the danger
it puts them in. Many of the mediators are ex-gang members themselves, giving them an advantage in understanding the psychology of the street. Despite the frustration and resistance they absolutely make a difference.

Should You Watch It? I found it really fascinating, especially as a teacher in a challenging area (nowhere near Chicago and other more violent areas, though).

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
79 minutes 

This movie is about two men, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, who desperately want to be the all-time points leader for Donkey Kong. I'm not kidding. The
movie shows how each men are extremely different, and unless you don't have a heart, you'll root for Steve Wiebe from the beginning. Mitchell is cocky and arrogant, while Wiebe is a little disheartened but still desperate to succeed at something in life. I won't tell you who wins. 

Should You Watch It? I thought it was a well-done movie that captured the drama of the competition scene while still poking a little bit of fun at it. My students watched it this week and their opinions fluctuated, liking it in the beginning and then finally at the end (they're just mad they don't get to talk all period).

Sound City
108 minutes

I have to preface this one with a warning: don't have a few cocktails and then watch this with easy access to iTunes. I know I downloaded some Tom Petty,
Fleetwood Mac, and Alanis Morisette, but who knows what else (the email receipts are still coming in). Anyway, this documentary is done by Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and tells the story of a legendary studio in the San Fernando Valley called Sound City. It interviews countless rock musicians about their time there, as well as the people that ran it. The music was great, the people were interesting, and Dave Grohl is great.

Should You Watch It? If you're a fan of classic rock especially then yes. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Thanks for Asking

This week The Broke and the Bookish asks us for the top ten books we recommend. I started this post and temporarily allowed it get complicated- certain readers should be steered in certain directions, after all. And then I got bored. My overall top ten:

1. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- It's a hilarious, witty, and slightly dark book about a family of performance artists. 

2. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer- I feel like so many people are always drawn into the story of climbing Mount Everest.

3. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann- A current, well-written favorite about how lives intersect in New York City during the seventies.

4. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- I love this quirky little satire for the fun sensibility and the way it manipulates language.

5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- A great look at the future, fertility, and the role of women. 

6. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt- I keep finding ways of sneaking this onto lists! It's a coming of age story focusing on how a girl copes with losing her beloved uncle to AIDS in the eighties.

7. The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen- Another one I'm constantly trying to force people to read! TS is a young cartographer and embarks on a journey to the Smithsonian for a job (although they think he's an adult). The drawings and sketches in the margins are icing on the cake.

8. Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle- As a Southern Californian the personalization of illegal immigration is incredibly poignant. I need to start buying this for the conservatives I know...  

9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides- His writing is of course amazing, but the story is also exceptional. And yes, it's about hermaphroditism (which I don't believe is a word).

10. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer- Really? Is this a surprise considering my love and devotion to the man? 

Hey! You! What would you tell me to read? Even you YAers- what would be the one book you think I should give a try?

From the Interwebs

[nothing to do with this post, everything to do with my new obsession]

Some articles and posts I've been digging lately:

1. State of the Uterus Address- Young House Love: One of my biggest peeves as of late has been people asking me when I'm going to have a baby. Do people not realize what exactly they're asking? They might as well say "Hey, I'm wondering when you and your husband are going to have unprotected sex in the hopes that you are both fertile and ready for an offspring to take over your lives for the next eighteen years old." Umm, personal, much? I mean if I bring it up with you, then game on, but otherwise, no. This article is much nicer than I, but she brings up some excellent issues.

2.  Will Everyone Please Eat Gluten? Please? Because You are Literally Killing Me, Kind of- Elissa Strauss, Jezebel: I so hate fad diets. People constantly are searching for the next big thing to temporarily lose a few pounds the supposed quick and easy way. Just because Gwyneth does it doesn't mean we all should! I think what irks me the most about the gluten-free one is that the Celiacs out there who truly can't eat it must adhere to the diet for survival. By jumping on the no-gluten train for a few weeks or months you're almost mocking them. Plus it's expensive. 

3.  Chinua Achebe, Writer Widely Seen as the Father of African Literature, Dies at 82- Daniel Politi, Slate: I honestly haven't read anything by Achebe, but I will in the near future. It's sad when authors die- they get 0.01% of the attention celebrities do. 

4. Chef Who Killed, Then Cooked Wife Sentenced to 15 Years to Life- Ashley Powers, LA Times: All I'm going to say is that part of David Viens defense was the line "I love my wife. I didn't cook my wife." If my husband ever starts boiling water I'm going to run the eff out of my house pronto.

5. Forget Bars. Hose the Perfect Game Night Instead- Brian Donovan, Thought Catalog: I was just talking about the lost art of game night the other day with someone at work when I saw this. Once upon a time my friends used to get together in high school for game night and it was such good, clean fun. There was so, so much Scattegories to be had! And then I grew up and wanted to go out all the time. And then I grew up some more and realized that sometimes I want to be a hostess and have people over to get drunk in my living room instead. It's so much cheaper, guys.

Coursera Update- We Be Learnin'

[What we don't all learn about cellular diffusion for fun?]
A few weeks ago I wrote about how excited I was to discover (via a colleague) the Coursera site, a network of esteemed colleges that let you take classes for free. You don't receive any units, but the knowledge is priceless... or something like that.

In the past three weeks I've completed the first part of my Introduction to Physiology class and it's kicking my ass a little bit! I don't know what I was thinking- that a course taught by Duke instructors would be easy? There is nothing simple about the sodium-potassium pump, graded potentials, motor neurons, tonic contractions, and everything else I've been trying to relearn and learn.

I spend maybe three hours a week on class work- there are 5-7 videos that vary in length (usually around twenty minutes) as well as problem sets and notes. There's a test I have to take by Monday, as well as two more over the next two months. I'm guessing I should probably spend more time studying, but there are only so many hours in the day.

So far, despite it being hard and taking away from other things I could be doing, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. The videos fly by and I find the content challenging and fascinating. I am admittedly half a week behind, but the deadlines of the exams are really what I'm going by.

I've signed up for several additional classes since I first discovered Coursera. And by several I mean a ton. A lot of them are during the summer, when I'll have time, and several also don't have dates attached yet. I'm going to take a history of rock series, a graphic novel and comic book class, a poetry refresher, and a fantasy and science fiction course, just to name a few. I can always drop them if I decide I'm too busy- yet another benefit to free classes. 

I've had to defend/explain why I'm doing this to a few people, which I find amusing. I can understand not wanting to spend time on academic activities, but I do have trouble comprehending the lack of interest in learning. But that's just me. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Yes, I understand the alternate title for these posts could be "Let's see how effing weird Christine is today."

1. My husband and I watch Archer, the cartoon about the spy, and I continue to be deeply disappointed that the guy who does Archer's voice is not attractive at all. For an animated character, Archer is pretty damn hot- I mean have you seen the episode where he's stuck on the pirate island in his wife beater? Anyway, I just think the guy in real life should look a little more like him. It's misleading.

2. I filled out my March Madness bracket today and paid my $5. I'm pretty confident, you guys. I'm probably going to win. I'm excited about my impending wealth.

[And by "pay back" I mean aprx 1/300 of what I still owe]

3. Someday, when I have an over-abundance of time, I'd like to write a really long essay on the use of checkers in literature. The last two books I've read with my students have included the game and I'm sure there are a million more that I haven't noticed. I suppose I could include chess too. The symbolism is fascinating, and even more so when you take into account that it can actually sometimes be a euphemism for sex (please, please, please next time you're in a bar walk up to some hot young thing and ask him he's like to play with you. And then wink all seductively).

4. I'm one month sober into my book buying stoppage. It feels horrible. Sometimes I get shaky and find myself curled up in the fetal position crying. I can feel an ugly, expensive binge coming on. 

[end of the year fun]
5. Speaking of not buying books, here are the last five I added to my wishlist (minus the weird ones I don't want anyone to know about): Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics by Alan Sitomer, Transatlantic by Colum McCann, A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (it's YA- I'm not so sure about it), and Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer. 

6. The other night I was walking the dogs at dusk and I caught the faint smell of camping. I don't know how else to describe it- it's this combination of campfire, moisture, pine trees, and dirt. Maybe it was one of the huge houses on the other side of the development- perhaps they've paid to have a machine pump campfire smells into their backyard. Or maybe someone has one hell of a Glade. Or maybe this is my brain's way of telling me I need to go to Yosemite.

7. In the evening my asthma has been on the verge of out of control lately, and I've figured out the absolute best relief ever (besides steroids) is a few strong sneezes. I can't even describe how amazing it feels. Unfortunately, if I don't try to induce said sneezes fast enough my bronchial tubes swell up stoo much and sneezing becomes physically impossible (I have a fast-acting inhaler, don't worry). I know this sounds alarming, and I'm not trying to downplay asthma, but I've got it under control. I'm still alive, right? 

8. I've decided I really want a legitimate desk to write at. Currently, I've set up in the dining room at the end of our table. It's worked for the past year and a half because I like being down stairs and it's much cooler in the summer. And then I saw these on Pinterest and decided I needed to convert my work out room closet into a mini-office:

[source... one of many...]

9. I love that I have friends that fit into the different boxes of my life. Friends that will do random things like jump out of planes with me. Friends that will walk for miles with me. Friends to complain about work with. Friends who like to talk about books. Friends that love cupcakes. Friends that understand things that others never will. It's nice, especially now that I've lived in this area for seven years. Those first few years were particularly crappy it takes time to make grown up friends! And now I have and I'm thankful.

10. My yearbook students quickly went from "hardworking kids on a deadline" to "still endearing but really loud and annoying" kids in my face. So I've created a documentary project for them- we'll watch one documentary a week and then in groups they'll review the film and bring in outside sources on private blogs they'll start. I think I'm more excited that they are, but I'm sure they'll learn to love it.

"Sponsored" Review- The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

"If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & grouse publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience."

I finished The Unchangeable Spots of Leopard by Kristopher Jansma on Saturday and had to let it percolate a bit- did I like it? What did I think of the ending? Oh, and what the hell is it even about?

After a few days of ruminating, I have to say that yes, I did like it, the ending was fine (maybe one aspect was a tiny bit predictable, though), and am still not a hundred percent sure what it was about. And that's okay. 

The novel is hard to describe- it's about writing, not writing, adventures, identity, and love. There are books within book within books. There's a note at the beginning searching for the author of the story. It's definitely not ordinary. The incredibly unreliable unnamed narrator, takes us us from the East Coast to Dubai to Sri Lanka to Iceland. The story begins with the narrator's childhood, one spent in an airport terminal while his flight attendant mother worked. The  narrator wrote his first story while under the care of the kiosk workers and gift shop attendants, although it was soon thrown away. Fast-forward to his adolescence where he continued to craft his art of storytelling while creating an identity when escorting his crush to a debutante ball. He then goes off to college where he becomes both friends and rivals with Julian, also a gifted writer. He is introduced to Julian's friend Evelyn, who he promptly falls in love with. The narrator and Julian end up rooming together after college, while they are both trying to make it as writers- eventually their friendship is changed forever when Julian tells the narrator (should we give him a name? Bob? Steve? What's one more made-up name in a book of many?) that he is making his entire life up, even fooling himself.

And then things change with the narration. At least I think. Maybe. The remaining portion of the book is called "What Was Found," which I interpreted as the manuscript that his publisher ends up getting her hands on. Possibly. The character names change, but the story stays the same. The global adventures start and there is yet another story within a story. 

I fight with this idea that it's okay to not completely understand what I just spent several hours reading. I'm sure there are other interpretations, and I'm sure mine will continue to change as I think about it (or even read it again someday). And yet I still enjoyed it. The writing was a bit tongue-in-cheek, and parts reminded me of maybe a super-nerdy writer version of Indiana Jones (running around Africa, looking for a missing friend, getting all dusty- definitely). At the end of the day, what is true? What is fiction? 

And that's the point.  

Penguin was kind enough to send me a free copy of the book. All thoughts, opinions, and possibly jacked-up interpretations are my own.

Top Ten Tuesday- The Collecting Dust Club

[crappy cropping job brought to you by.... me]

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us what books we bought but then neglected to read. I have over 60 books in my TBR "pile," so obviously there are quite a few that I "had" to have and then proceeded to ignore. I think we've established the fact, on multiple occasions, that I have some issues. 

By the way, I sometimes do this with food, although all that remains on the shelf is usually the last quarter cup of cereal, spoonful of ice cream, or swallow of wine. 
1. Pride and Prejudice Zombies- I bought this, I'm guessing, about three years ago, before the world had given itself over to the walking dead (no, I'm not referring to the show I don't watch, just the dead people that walk). At the time it was actually a slightly innovative genre, but now it's overdone and cliche, hence the reason I haven't gotten off my high horse to give it a go.

2. Tree of Codes- I was over-the-moon excited when my husband and I found this first edition book by Jonathan Safran Foer at the LA Times Festival of Books almost two years ago. I blogged about it, admired it lovingly in my living room, and carefully packed it when we moved. 

3. The Problem of Pain- I bought this CS Lewis book just over a year ago when I was having a slightly hard time coming to terms with some now trivial things (ain't that always the way?). I just didn't understand why God, if there is one, can be so difficult sometimes (I actually typed "such an asshole" and then realized that if I want the dude to throw me a bone once in awhile I should probably stay away from the blasphemy). Anyway, the problem resolved itself, my questions temporarily subsided, and the book has stayed shut.

4. Heyday- I believe I received this book for Christmas about three years ago. When I asked for it I had no idea that it was well over 600 pages, probably the only reason why I haven't read it already.

5. Running with Scissors- This may sound ridiculous, but the only reason why I haven't read this crazy memoir is because I don't want it to influence my own writing. There's a tiny area of overlap, from what I've heard, and I don't want Burroughs' style or content to take up residence in my own brain. 

6. The Crimson Petal and the White- Here comes a fun confession: I think I've owned this book for about five years. The second fun confession: I bought it because they mentioned it on Gilmore Girls and when I looked it up it sounded interesting, so I bought it. I'm such a sucker for prostitutes. 

7. Nocturnes- I think I've only had this Ishiguro book for maybe a year or two, but my rationale was that I was buying it for a trip (maybe Chicago?) to read during the flight... and never did.

8. The Girl Who...- I have only read the first book of The Millennium Trilogy, despite having owned all three for a few years now. I just wasn't all that impressed with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Parts of the story were good, and the writing was okay, there just wasn't anything convincing enough to pull me back in. It'll happen.
9.  Light Boxes- I ordered this short little piece of semi-experimental fiction a month after it came out... in June 2010. And it's only 150 pages! Ridiculous! I feel so guilty I almost feel compelled to read it tonight. 

10. The Mercury Vision of Louis Daguerre- This one is at least a couple of years old too. I bought it not long after reading the The Beautiful Miscellaneous by Dominic Smith, since that novel was so good.  

If I was a good kid this list would also be my spring TBR list. But it's not, because I'm not. 

Any books collecting dust or food acquiring mold on your shelves? Do share.

By the Book- Piece of Cake

[by Melissa Gray]
My supposed plan to start using my actual cookbooks has been sort of a bust, but I did manage to use All Cakes Considered this week. My yearbook class decided to throw a potluck and I offered to bring a cake, partially because I'd had the urge lately to make one. I decided on a simple Devil's Food chocolate with raspberry filling and a white frosting from my Better Homes and Garden book. It turned out pretty tasty, except maybe a tiny, tiny bit drier than I would have liked (the recipe called for thirty minutes; I think twenty-seven minutes would have been better).

A few things to note:
- Always use cake flour when you make a cake. It has a lower protein count and ends up producing a softer, finer crumb because of less gluten being formed.
- Baking a cake from scratch is barely more trouble than making one from a box- don't be scared. If you have everything to make cookies, you probably have everything to make a cake.
- This recipe called for a cup of strong coffee, but you can barely taste it when the cake is done baking. Combined with the cocoa, the cake wasn't quite as sweet as standard ones. 

[coffee and unsweetened cocoa]

- I actually followed a recipe for the frosting this time; generally I just throw together some butter, milk, and powdered sugar. This recipe used shortening instead of butter, and also vanilla and almond extract. The nice thing about actually going by the script is that you don't end up with twice as much, a result of over-adding and then compensating. 
 - If making a layer cake, make sure to take then extra two minutes and cut out pieces of parchment paper for the bottom of the pans. Then, spray the bottom and the sides. When the cake is done let it cool for ten minutes, run a knife along the sides and it'll slip out easily (that's what she said)
[it looks like my cake is bleeding and clotting]

- Beautiful white cakes are easily messed up by novice decorators with a heavy hand and store bought tubes of frosting... 

[90% of the students at our school have no clue our book is called The Serrano]

Lucky Charms > Guinness

[Guinness is gross]

I'm not really into Saint Patrick's day- I don't generally wear a lot of green, I'm not a beer drinker, and I don't believe in leprechauns (although I have nothing against any of those things). I do, however, enjoy Irish writers (and Lucky Charms). There's something about the accent struggle so many of the Irish must endure that makes their writing so interesting. Irish novels are often seemingly depressing, but at least at the end you can tell yourself "you know, at least I didn't spend my childhood starving, by adolescence being beat by my alcoholic father, and my twenties dodging car bombs while walking down the street."

A few that I've read in recent years:

Roddy Doyle
I was officially first introduced to Doyle in college, when I was assigned to read the book The Temptations, but on second thought I think I may have attempted Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha sophomore year of high school. Recently I read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and definitely plan on reading more of his works in the future. Doyle writes about a working class Ireland- about struggles, alcoholism, and the need to find a better life. His writing is definitely accessible, but it's also pretty deep. 

Oscar Wilde
Despite the fact I haven't read anything by him in years, Wilde is definitely an old favorite. I read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school, and again in college, a favorite to this day. I took an entire seminar on him at UCLA, reading something like ten of his plays. I love his flamboyance and wit, and how this carries over into his writing. 

Colum McCann
This is most definitely a new writer on the list, since I just finished Let the Great World Spin this week. Nonetheless, I'm sold, and can guarantee I'll be picking up a few more of his books once the book-buying embargo has ended.

Paul Murray
I've only read one book by Murray, Skippy Dies, but I thought he did an excellent job capturing the essence of a modern Ireland, while still including the old-school charm we Americans tourists make the long flight for. The parallels between the traditional Catholic boarding school with the issues of real estate and global influence were fascinating. Being an outsider, from "newer is better" Southern California, this idea of trying to preserve the past while still progressing is something I can appreciate. 

Frank McCourt
I first read the memoir Angela's Ashes in high school and remember being fascinated by the struggle McCourt and his family went through. His family was extremely poor and his father was a raging alcoholic that never worked, but he survived and was able to find catharsis in his story. I later read 'Tis, the story of how he became a teacher and a writer. 

Emma Donoghue
The only novel I've read by Irish author Donogue is Room, which I thought was entertaining and different. It does not take place in Ireland, but I figured I needed to include at least one woman on this list.

Don't drink and drive. Don't pinch people unless you're okay being punched. And don't force yourself to eat any of that nasty corned beef and cabbage. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Last week I bitched that it was too cold; this week at 91 degrees it's too hot. It really is, though, for mid-March. I'm not okay making the jump straight from sweaters to tank tops and (shudder) shorts. I need some time in-between to lose a few pounds acclimate.

[Bows! Source]
2. Speaking of losing a few pounds, there is nothing  more motivating than browsing online for bathing suits. Seriously. Feel like eating a cupcake? Look at bathing suits. Want a glass of wine? Look at bathing suits. Now that we have a pool, I'm outside almost every day during the summer. I mostly stick to the cheap ones at Old Navy and Target, but I think a splurge on one good suit (for when it's not just the dogs in the backyard with  me) is acceptable.

3. Everyone knows how much I hate eReaders, but I really appreciated the pro-gay marriage message in this Amazon Kindle commercial:

4. Everything tastes better from Mason jars. Even water. Add a straw and you're golden.

5. The yearbook is done! Finally! These past few weeks have been pretty crazy and stressful- a combination of the procrastinating tendencies of some of my staff members and the switch to a chronological format. Strangely, though, there was no climatic surge of  joy when I pushed the final "submit" button on the last page, but nonetheless my life is easier now. Unfortunately, I now have 22 kids with nothing to do (except plan potlucks and ping-pong tournaments, apparently).

6. Remember how I said I was going to stop buying books? I have. I also found a loophole and am now agreeing to ARCs like a mo'fo- I think five in the past month? Of course this is completely counterproductive as this wasn't a budgetary move, but one based on the need to widdle down my TBR pile.

7. It occurred to me the other day when I was at the salon that I use hair appointments (every 3 months), as well as dentist ones (every six), to take stock of my life. The dentist's office is particularly nosy- they seem to seriously take notes on whatever I say each visit and then ask me about it when I return. My husband and his family go there as well, upping the "things they know" factor. It's weird and I'm not sure if I appreciate the reality checks that come along with the cleanings. Yes, I know they're trying to be nice. 

8. I am beyond excited that the Veronica Mars movie is going to be made, thanks to everyone who donated on Kickstarter. Good job guys! I decided to wait it out and see if my money was really needed, which it is definitely not, given the fact that they've surpassed three million dollars on day two. What? You don't know what I'm talking about? You don't like Veronica Mars? That's cool, that's fine. It's okay to be lame.

[All they needed was two million; source]

 9. I have to go back on my declaration that the LA Times Festival of Books was looking pretty pathetic this year. They've since added Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Maria Semple, Hector Tobar, and Allison Bechdel. I guess I'll have to don my blue and yellow and head into Trojan territory next month.

10. It's no secret that I love to torture my dogs (within reason), so I couldn't resist snagging a few of the balloons they were giving out to kids who scored proficient on last year's CAHSEE. It was a good time for all. 

[I'm not a complete bitch; we went on a walk right after]

The Trifecta Achieved

I don't usually dedicate full posts to reviews unless the book is nonfiction, an ARC I feel obligated to discuss, or is just really, really good. Today I'm writing under the premise of option three- I just finished Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, and it was definitely one of the best books I've read in awhile. And so it gets a full post.

When I judge a book I hold it against the great Trifecta of Literary Merit- characters, story, and writing (by the way, don't look up the word "trifecta" in the Urban Dictionary). So many books have one, or even two, but fail to successfully accomplish quality in all three areas. McCann does it, though- his characters all have depth, the story is deceptively onward-moving, and the writing is this complicatedly simple (I know, I know). 

So what is it about? People, life, desperation, choice, belief, fear, death, and tightrope walking. 

Let me try again. 

The story is set in 1974 when Phillipe Petit (who is not actually named in the story) sets up a tightrope between the Twin Towers and walks across. The story isn't about him, though, it's about the people who see the spectacle, and those that are connected to them. The tightrope walking is a distraction, a metaphor for taking risks and moving forward- not the main event. The novel actually begins in Ireland, with two brothers who end up losing their mother to cancer. Corrigan, the younger, religious, monk-ish, brother, leaves for America, and his older brother, Ciaran, soon follows. He finds Corrigan living in the projects, opening his apartment up to the neighborhood hookers so that they have a place to use the bathroom (including Tillie and her daughter Jazlyn). Their section ends in an accident that kills both Jazlyn and Corrigan (not a spoiler, don't panic).

As soon as you are sufficiently attached to the brothers, McCann changes to the next character- a mother who has lost her only son in Vietnam. She lives on Park Avenue with her husband, Solomon, a judge. Claire is preparing her apartment for a support group full of other women who have lost their sons, including Gloria, an African American lady who Claire is especially fond of. 

Again, ripped away! Then the story moves to Lara, the wife of the man who hits Corrigan's car. They're artists who are also recovering drug addicts- supposedly. Lara can't shake the guilt she feels as being part of a hit and run, so she returns to the projects and ends up meeting up with Ciaran, and Tillie (who is now in jail).

Then the novel shifts again. And again. And again. Each time McCann takes a smaller character from a prior chapter (Gloria, Solomon, Tillie, the tightrope walker) and brings him or her into the forefront. I'm always the type of reader, and watcher, who wonders about the back story of the minor characters, so finding a book that does it so expertly pleases me to no end. In the end the characters are all linked to one another, some in major ways, some in minor. It's how the world works- we form connections and break connections, and all the while the world keeps spinning, not stopping when we humans screw up. 

After finishing the book I watched Man on Wire, the documentary about Petit. I have to admit, the idea of walking between the Twin Towers seemed like a silly, dangerous stunt when I first heard about it. And it still does, a little bit, but I when push comes to shove it's important to remember that we all do different things to make us happy. Some people read excessively. Some people collect cat figurines. Some of people like to dress up Civil War costumes and pretend to shoot each other. And some people walk on wires thousands and thousands of feet in the air without a safety net or harness. Petit loved the beauty of balance and air. He loved the challenge of a new height and was willing to do whatever it took to make the walk. I watched it while on my treadmill- Petit would probably not have approved. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Spring has (Almost) Sprung

Here in Southern California the weather has definitely turned springish- our highs are in the mid-seventies and the sun is out all day. This is quite the turn from early last week, when it was cold, windy, and raining. Now if only we hadn't lost that damn hour....

This week, The Broke and the Bookish us ask us what books are in our spring TBR pile:

1. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards  by Kristopher Jansma- The nice publicists at Penguin must have somehow known I wanted this book, since a copy showed up the other day (it was really a coincidence, but I'll take it). This debut is on everyone's radar and I'm excited to see if it lives up to the hype.

2. Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende- I received an ARC for this book too, which is great, since I would have eventually bought it. Rumor has it she'll be in town in May, which will be a great treat.

3. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple- The cover alone is such a draw for me. I'm a definite sucker for stories that write about people that drop everything and run away from their lives.

4. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer- Another ARC... 

5. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan- It seems like a nice, quick read that I'll undoubtedly need as we're finishing up the school year.

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- I read this in high school but never had my own copy until I got it for Christmas. Such a fantastic story.

7. The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis- I've had this by my bed for almost a year and haven't taken the plunge. Honestly, I just don't get God. Supposedly this book might help clear things up.

8. Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison- A quick, nonfiction read about a woman who becomes devoted to yoga through trial and error. My own adherence is waning a bit right now due to my hectic schedule, so I'm hoping this will motivate me to attend more than just one or two classes each week.

9. Lolita by Vladmir Nabakov- I've had this book for a really, really long time...

10. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling- Might as well get it over with!