Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. A lot of things irritate me, but high on the list is when people get my name wrong. Not my first name- the occasional "Christina" by a stranger is understandable. But what irks me like no other is when people assume I took my husband's last name when we got married. I did not. Nor will I ever. He doesn't care, out future kids will survive, and no I'm not afraid of sounding "Mexican" (a student asked me that, since they know the scoop). I happen like my last name and feel that just because I'm a woman I shouldn't be obligated to change anything about myself because I said "I do." Plus it makes getting divorced easier (kidding, kidding).

2. My husband has carefully crafted a plan for ending our satellite service. We have to finish watching Mad Men and then Breaking Bad when it comes on again, and by the time that's over our two-year contract will be up. Adios $92 bill! We figured out we watch maybe 8 hours of TV a month, meaning we're royally ripping ourselves off. I can't wait.

3. Something else I can't wait for is Colum Mother-Effing McCann's reading in Santa Monica on June 18th. I've raved about Let the Great World Spin and I couldn't be more psyched to see him promote Transatlantic. Even better is that I'm out of work by then and can go do something fun in the area ahead of time.

4. I reread The Great Gatsby before I saw the stupid movie and have to say, I really do enjoy that book. It had been maybe 12 years since I read it last and had forgotten quite a bit.

5. Something else I haven't done in approximately 12 years? Ride a bike. And yet I decided that I wanted to start riding and bought a mountain bike this weekend. I was a little apprehensive about remembering how to ride, but the old adage is true- I was able to do five hilly miles with no problem. I'm a little cautious about riding during high traffic times right now, so I'm really looking forward to being done with school so I can go earlier in the morning. And of course there will plenty of beach rides to come!

[I definitely don't sing the Queen song when I think about my "Bicycle! Bicycle!"]
6. I really, really don't believe kids should ride on motorcycles. I don't care if they have on a helmet or it's just around the block- the risk is too much.

7. I don't remember where I saw it, but I recently heard of, a dating site for farmers. It's fantastic. I made up a fake login so that I could see if there were really just farmers on it, and, let me tell you, there are a lot of farmers in this country that are single and ready to mingle! They seem to really enjoy posing next to tractors and various animals they've shot.

8. Tonight is graduation, which I've volunteered to attend. The first class I had teaching high school, at the time sophomores, are now seniors, so it will be nice to see how far they've come. A lot of my yearbook students are also graduating and I desperately need a final good bye (my last one was "I don't want to cry, so all I'm going to say is I love you and you did a great job, now get out!"). Working in the community I work in has taught me what a big deal graduation really is. When I was in high school it was a given- it was more of a question of what GPA I'd end up with and what my orientation date for UCLA was. But for a lot of kids they barely get by, and for a lot of families it's maybe their first child to make it all the way through. I mean it's totally just the beginning of the rest of their life. They're embarking on such a journey, man. And now I will sing the Vitamin C song.

[sad but true... unless you parents beat you or you had a childhood illness]

9. One of my favorite activities is to sit with my husband and go through the bad reviews of books we love on Amazon. What, you hated Cloud Atlas but loved Tom Clancy's newest? Dumb ass, illiterate fool! And so on and so forth. We're really good people, I promise.

10.  We recently bought a new table for our great room and I've officially begun the search for a really awesome, affordable vintage typewriter and globe for it. If I didn't hate antiquing so very, very, very much I'd try to do this in person.

May Reviews

May has most definitely flown by. I was fortunate enough to visit my mom in Central California for Mother's Day (complete with a trip to Yosemite), went to two great readings, have added some extra yoga and now biking into my life, and am furiously working to finish my grading for the end of the semester. June promises a lot more fun and less stressful

May's reads:

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Pages: 512
I wrote about my disappointing experience here, but in a nutshell I was very disappointed. Her characters were flat and the storyline dull. 

Verdict: Stick to Harry Potter (you and Rowling)

Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison 
Pages: 354
I wrote about this book too, as part of my nonfiction nagging posts. As someone who practices two or so times a week but doesn't necessarily buy into the new age aspect, I really appreciated this book. Morrison goes to Bali to become a yoga teacher but also embarks on a journey of self-discovery too (corny sounding, but not).

Verdict: If you love yoga or stories of transformation you'll enjoy it

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende
Pages: 400
I am a huge fan of House of the Spirits, both because of Allende's writing and the magical realism. While Maya's Notebook was written much simpler and was void of anything magical, it still had a good story. Maya is a teenager who has battled addiction, prostitution, and some serious trouble with the law. Her grandmother sends her down to a tiny island off the coast of Chile to hide out, allowing her to come to terms with her past and plan for her future.

Verdict: I enjoyed the story and I think that this might be an adult book that YA readers could appreciate.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Pages: 596
After years and years (no exaggeration) of waiting for Pessl's new book I was thrilled to not be disappointed by her sophomore release. This literary mystery tracks the investigation into a young piano prodigy (also the daughter of a mysterious, possibly dangerous, film maker). The book incorporates "artifacts," including screen shots of websites, photos, letters, etc... The effort that went into crafting this novel is apparent from the first page.

Verdict: If you liked Special Topis in Calamity Physics or have been searching for a high-quality mystery, than this is your book. 

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Pages: 224
I think what affected me most about this novel is that it could happen to any of us- you're in a happy marriage and then your husband hits middle age and realizes that he's bored (or, on the flip side, you could be the one realizing your over your life). This happens to the main character Helen, although her husband's boredom manifests into an extremely messy office almost-romance that lands him in jail. Helen must figure out how to reenter the work force and handle her snotty teenaged daughter. It sounds like a chic lit, but I promise it's not- the structure and content is far more complex.

Verdict: Like Maya's Notebook, this might be something to graduate to, if you are a fan of chic lit. I thought it could have been better, but as a whole it was an interesting, thought-provoking read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 193
I am so glad I decided to read this before going to see the movie, since it had been so long. I'll spare everyone the synopsis, but I after reading this I was instantly compelled to pull of a collection of shorter works by Fitzgerald I have on my shelf- he's is such a great writer (I quickly put it back up and watched an episode of Arrested Development, in all honesty). 

Verdict: If you haven't, or haven't in awhile, you must.

Total: 2,279 pages

Favorite book of May?

Gatsby the Book vs. Gatsby the FIlm

Sometimes I make stupid decisions. Like, oh, telling my students if they read The Great Gatsby and saw the movie they could get extra credit if they took a quiz. This, unfortunately, meant that I had to see the train wreck of a movie. I read it the day before seeing it so that the story would be fresh in my mind, which made the movie just that much more disappointing. 

First of all, the soundtrack was an experiment gone very, very bad. I'm a fan of Jay-Z, don't get me wrong, but pairing his talents with a movie set in the roaring twenties was just plain stupid. And along with the music often came this sort of rap music video feel that's so far from Fitzgerald that it was comical. There's one scene where Gatsby and Nick are driving over a bridge, with some sort of rap song playing, and in the opposite direction comes a car full of scantily clad women drinking champagne and dancing. No! Just no! This was the Jazz Age! Come on!

Secondly was the glitz and glamor surrounding the movie, as well as within in it. Yes, Gatsby's parties were extravagant, but they were supposed to be somewhat elegant and stylized. Baz Luhrmann created a bona fide mess out of Gatsby's mansion- he took "over the top" and multiplied it by a million. Fitzgerald's message behind the novel is that too much wealth ruins lives, not that it's something to be celebrated. The overall feel of what the novel is was lost completely.

Another issue that I had was Carrie Mulligan's portrayal of Daisy. I generally like her, but I felt that she played this role as a total space cadet that was void of anything substantial. In the book she is quite silly at times, but she's not a simple character that is totally clueless about what is happening and what she's a part of. Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick were fine casting choices, but Mulligan failed to impress. 

The film starts off with Nick Caraway in a mental institution talking to his psychiatrist, a choice Lurhmann makes in order to provided the necessary back story and voice overs. This insinuates that Nick needs this, that he was so fragile and traumatized from the events of the summer that he couldn't handle himself any longer, something that Fitzgerald does not allude to in the book. Nick is supposedly writing down the story at the doctor's suggestion, in order to cope. Luhrmann also does these horrible "write overs" on some of the scenes, serving to be even more distracting from the actual story. 

In all fairness, there were some positives. The set designers who created the Gatsby and Buchanan estates did a wonderful job- they're beautiful. There are also a few scenes that were relatively well-done, one with Gatsby giving Nick and Daisy a tour of his home, and then also most of the scene in which the truth comes out about the relationship at the Plaza. 

It blows me away how something so true to the original dialogue can be so far away from the intended essence of the story. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Ten Books in My Basket

This week The Broke and the Bookish are allowing us to choose whatever topic we'd like, so I'm going to go with the next ten books that are currently in my basket waiting for the infamous book buying embargo to be finished. Many of these are meant to be read on the plane and cruise I plan on taking in a month, so the selections are a little more relaxed than they may ordinarily be:

1. The 100 Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
A man escapes from his nursing home on his 100th birthday and ends up going on an adventure.

2. A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal
A man returns home to Tulsa and meets a high-school dropout who helps him rediscover his hometown.

3. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
A witty, ironic story of a young pop star.

4. The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
A Mormon with Tourette's. Need I say more?

5. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks
A travelogue  of a man's journey by train through Italy. 

6. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I am most definitely on the fence about this one; I adore the movie and have heard it's good, but am still nervous.

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I'm also a little afraid about this one- there's just so much hype...

8. The Immortal Life of Henrieta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I have heard nothing but rave reviews about this science nonfiction that supposedly reads more like a novel.

9. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
I've read only two of McCarthy's books (The Road and All the Pretty Horses) and have head that this one is nothing short of fantastic.

10. How to Get Filthy Rich in Asia by Mohsin Hamid
A new format (self help) combined with an interesting story. 

What's in your basket (as opposed to wallet... this is not Capital One...)?

Temple Grandin Event

Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to hear the amazing Temple Grandin speak at the LA Public Library (through ALOUD) as part of her tour for her newest book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. For those who aren't familiar with Grandin, she herself is autistic, nonverbal until she was three and then diagnosed when she was much older. Grandin had to deal with extensive bullying and the low expectations of others as child, motivating her to prove to the world that she was intelligent and able to achieve independence. Grandin is responsible for designing a system that allows cows a more calming experience on their way to being slaughtered, as well as many other advances in animal science. She holds a PhD and teaches in Colorado. 

One thing I loved about Grandin's talk was that there was no moderator- it was delivered more in the style of a lecture, complete with a PowerPoint presentation. She had a lot of great insights for educators, including the point that autistic students need to be pushed outside of their comfort zone and given skills that will help them get jobs. Teachers and parents should utilize the areas the children are most interested in, using them as a bridge into social interactions and skill development. She encouraged school to increase their hands-on classes and to help "normal" students (her words...) to better understand the needs of those with Asperger's and autism. She is concerned about the impact of STEM learning on some autistic students, though, since that isn't necessarily the way their brains are wired to learn.


Grandin also talked a great deal about her belief in the autism spectrum's wide range. She believes that exhibiting some traits can actually be positive- she used the "techies of the Silicon Valley" as examples, saying that their attention to detail, ability to problem solve, and perfectionism have resulted in great accomplishments. She compared the spectrum to a sound board- there are many different areas that can either be turned up or turned down. The problem becomes when the combination, or the amplitude, is just too much for a person and interferes with their quality of life. Grandin herself takes antidepressants in order to help curb anxiety, something she says has helped her enormously. 

Grandin spoke a great deal about her specific experiences with autism, showing brain scans that were recently taken of her. She compared them to the scans of someone without autism and the results were astounding. She doesn't believe in a gene for autism, though, and says that diet and exercise can help control the condition. Grandin discussed the fact that she thinks through pictures and, up until recently, assumed that everyone with autism did as well. She thinks that people are either verbal, pattern, or visual thinkers and that schools need offer courses of study for all strengths. 

Grandin was insightful, humorous, and bluntly honest (some of her responses to audience questions were hilariously brutal). If you can ever manage to see her speak I highly recommend it. 

Night FIlm by Marisha Pessl: Review

I don't normally review books by themselves, but given the fact that I've waited for Night Film by Marisha Pessl for so very, very long I feel one is warranted. Ashely Cordova, daughter of the the demented film director Stanislas Cordova, kills herself for apparently no reason. Black-listed journalist Scott McGrath decides to investigate, taking on two assistants along the way. Here's is the review that I just submitted on Amazon (I know, boo hiss, we hate big business...): 

 I'm usually a pretty patient person when it comes to authors' releases- I know that in order to write something of quality time is necessary. After reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics shortly after it came out in 2006 a follow up by Marisha Pessl was immediately on my wish list. So, I waited. And waited some more. And then for a few more years. Two or so years ago rumblings about Night Film started and I got excited- only to have to wait even more. And now, the moment has arrived and I completely understand the delay. This is not an ordinary book.

Ten Reasons to Read Night Film:

1. The verb "crafted" is probably overused a bit when it comes to writing, but there is no better one to use in regards to Night Film. The world Pessl created was obviously labored over- given the genre, mystery, everything had to add up in the end. And when there's nearly 600 pages of people, places, and clues there's a lot of i dotting and t crossing to do.

2. The multimedia aspect of the book makes it more hands-on and, to put it simply, interesting. Pessl includes screen shots from websites, pictures, notes, and transcripts in order to provide the reader with a more authentic experience. Also, allowing us an actual model for Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a demented film director who kills herself, is necessary- we have to understand her appeal.

3. She manages to sneak in a little bit of literature, ala Special Topics, with her references to TS Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

4. The setting drags you all over New York City from Park Avenue to China Town, out to the Adirondacks and even to Chile, eventually. Her attention to detail is critical, both in the sense that it makes the reader more hyper-sensitive for clues, but also serves to enrich her quality of writing.

5. Speaking of quality of writing, this really is a literary mystery. I love the idea of mysteries, but it's hard to find one that's well-written. Pessl was up for the challenge and delivered. It's not high-brow in the sense that it's pretentious, just solidly written. It stays true to the nuances of the genre- you can almost hear the main character, Scott McGrath doing voice overs, the dialogue at times sounds a bit hard-boiled, and the clues keep popping up. At first these things bothered me some, until I realized they were done intentionally- it's not a mysterious literary novel, it's a literary mystery novel.

6. I found the black magic/occult references incredibly interesting and well-researched. I'm definitely not into the paranormal or even fantasy, but Pessl was able to integrate these elements into the novel well by metering the characters' responses to the evidence they found.

7. The underground, secret world of Stanislas Cordova's film will both horrify and intrigue readers. Cordova's films are so psychologically disturbing that they are banned from theaters, resulting in bootlegged copies that are shown at secret places throughout the world. Cordovites, his diehard fans, have a secret website on the anonymous internet (I didn't even know that existed) and McGrath must figure out how to break in to aid his investigation.

8. The characters are plentiful and uniquely developed. Scott McGrath takes on two assistants of sorts, Hopper and Nora (who ends up living with him), both of which have their own depressing back stories. Throughout their investigation we meet people that are trying to assist and deter, all strategically placed by Pessl in order to lead McGrath to answers.

9. I don't normally get caught up in suspense when I read, but I was on the edge of my seat for the last 250 pages. There was even one time that I was so nervous for McGrath that I had to put the book down and do something else for a few minutes. Pessl takes characters you care about and puts them in such vivid, dangerous situations that you can't help having an almost visceral reaction on their behalf.

10. The length isn't a problem. I know there are many people that balk at long books, but this should be one they make exceptions for. It's nearly 600 pages, but the story is paced so well that there really isn't anything that could be trimmed out or sped up.

And Three Things to Stop the Gushing for a Second:

1. There is a definite over-use of italics. As a reader I know when sarcasm or emphasis is being used- I don't need these obvious clues.

2. There aren't a lot of dead ends (and when there are something else quickly shows up), which makes it slightly less realistic.

3. The last ten pages added a new twist that either wasn't necessary or needed to be expanded. It just seemed a little too rushed for me (I was more than fine with the actually ending, though).

On Sale August 20, 20123. I can't recommend it enough!  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I feel that 99% of the time people should respond to a communication in the same form that it was initiated. Example: if I email you, email me back. Don't call me. Don't come to see me. Just email me back (unless we're friends- there are exceptions).

2. I'm totally and completely invested in Marisha Pessl's Night Film. I don't want to do anything but read, which is saying a lot. I'm obviously a reader, but I'm usually pretty good at setting limits for myself. The other day I said I'd read for a half an hour, and then two hours went by. 

 3. I taught scansion yesterday to my students. I prefaced the instruction by putting up a pictures of someone driving a nail into their skull, a group of people picking up trash on the freeway, and a person walking on hot coals. I did a fair amount of prep work, for my own benefit, so it went fine, I just hated it. Obviously I will never become a linguistics professor.

4. This week has been really rough. Tuesday was yearbook distribution day, meaning two hundred kids "lined" up outside my classroom for their book (and by "lined" I mean formed a mob). We thankfully have good security, but it was still a lot of pressure to get the kids in and out as quickly as possible. And then yesterday I had to put out more yearbook related fires than I can count. At the end of the day I remind myself that it's not that important; I didn't go through six years of higher education to care excessively about a high school yearbook. But, I like to do a good job and for things to run smoothly. I'm sure I'll quit threatening that next year will be my last in approximately eight days.

[these things are taking over my life]

5. I read an article today on CNN about the whole #prayforOklahoma controversy spearheaded by atheist Ricky Gervais yesterday and thought it was interesting. I definitely see it from his perspective- shoot out  tweet with the hashtag and all the sudden you look like some informed, sympathetic person. Yet what did you really do? Did you actually even take the time away from your computer or phone to shoot up a prayer? On the other hand, I'm sure there are a lot of people that really had the best intention and some that even donated to the Red Cross. Here I am, caught in the middle like the perfect little agnostic that I am...

6. I keep putting off chores until school gets out and saying "I can't wait until I have time to really clean." Please. Like I'm going to be chomping at the bit the day school gets out to scrub my floors and clean light fixtures. As if.

7. I hate it when people insinuate that you can't be unhappy because there are people who are less fortunate than you. What, I can't be upset because there's someone who's just lost their spouse to cancer or are wandering the favelas of Rio? There's always going to be someone in a worse position, but that doesn't take away the fact that I (or you) can't be sad or angry or in need.

8. I have to both read, and see, The Great Gatsby this weekend so that I can write up mini extra credit quizzes for my students on Tuesday. I'm happy to do one, but not the other. Guesses as to which is the one that is super sucky?

9. If it wasn't bad enough that I started a BirchBox membership, I joined Ipsy so that I can get a Glam Bag too! What is wrong with me? $20 a month or high end beauty product samples? The packaging is just so cute, and the products are so great. I'm such a sucker for getting good mail.

10. I'm officially obsessed with making popsicles. I bought cheapie molds last weekend and made Blackberry Raspberry Strawberry Mint ones that turned our delicious. This week I'll be delving into Cookies 'n Cream territory.

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

[Hawaii. Yes, I used this one last year too]

[Edited to Add: This is also doubling up as The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday list, since I covered the topic in this post. If you've already read when it was published I apologize... check out this instead. Thanks for stopping by!]
I love a lot of things. The San Francisco Giants. Toe nail polish. Dresses with pockets. Avocados. Anderson Cooper's giggle. Nilla Wafers on frozen yogurt. But above all, I love summer. Like really, really, really love. Love times infinity. Summer is pretty much the best. 

Well, at least for teachers that bust their asses all year with their darling students, colleagues, and administrators. Not so sure about the rest of you.

Anyway, I most definitely associate the summertime season with reading by some sort of water, whether a pool, the ocean, or a glass with ice since it's too hot to set foot outside. So, without further adieu, is my list for your recommended summertime reading pleasure:

Fun Factor (FF); High Interest (HI); Funny Stuff (FS); Brain Power (BP); Awesome Writing (AW); Travel Time (TT)

Maya's Notebook 
By Isabel Allende
Maya's Notebook, Allende's newest novel, is about a young girl who gets caught up in drugs, prostitution, addiction, and a highly illegal ring of thieves in Vegas. Her grandmother, who raised her, sends her to a tiny island off Chile to live with a family friend. Maya tells us the story of her past while working on healing herself for the future. 

[2012- Laguna Beach hiking]
Where'd You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple
Where'd You Go, Bernadette tells the tale of how Bernadette disappears. She agrees to take her daughter (who narrates) to Antarctica after receiving perfect grades but soon realizes that will require leaving the house (the horror!). Meanwhile, her husband has troubles where he works, Microsoft, and the neighbors are out to get her.

The Interestings 
By Meg Wolitzer
The Interestings was a truly fascinating book about what happens to friends who meet at summer camp when they are teenagers. With the exception of one, they remain constant forces within each other's lives, even as they become very different adults. I was blown away by the intricate web Wolitzer weaves. 

[2012- Lake Tahoe]

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar
By Kelly Oxford 
Kelly Oxford is sort of a nobody that got famous... through her tweets. Sure, she's written some TV show pilots, but I'm still a little befuddled about why she's written a book. That being said, the book is pretty damn hilarious. She talks about her adventures as a kid, teenager, and adult, providing honest anecdotes. A few margaritas and you'll pee your bikini bottoms laughing.

Let the Great World Spin
By Colum McCann
This has become one of my favorite books- I can't recommend it enough. McCann devotes sections to different characters, showing their perspectives on events both big and small. He then expertly connects the characters, creating this amazing "it's a small world" type feel. 

[2013- first swim of the season]

By Greg Olear
Fathermucker is the witty story of a stay-at-home father who must simultaneously cope with his young autistic son and the threat of his wife possibly having an affair while she is out of town. A definite quick read that will make you think about parenthood and marriage. 

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles
Ron Currie Jr
Currie writes about a man, who may or may not be himself, who is spending some time in self-exile on a tropical island. He is supposed to be writing, but is also trying to get over losing the woman he loved. 

[can't stop. won't stop.]
Me Before You 
By JoJo Moyes
Set in England, this is the story of a woman who loses her job and ends up taking care of an angry quadriplegic. She learns that he is planning on terminating his life at a center in Switzerland and is determined to show him that he can still enjoy life in a wheelchair. 

Tell the Wolves I'm Home
By Carol Rifka Brunt
Set in the eighties, this story is about a teenaged girl who must cope with the loss of her beloved uncle to AIDS. Without telling her family, she befriends his surviving lover and beings to process her feelings and learn more about herself. 

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving 
By Johnathan Evison
Similar to Me Before You, this is another story about a caregiver working to teach their charge that life isn't over just because you've got physical limitations. This one also involves a road trip and an impromptu childbirth in Yosemite. 

I'll be back in a couple weeks with the titles I plan to read by the water. Anything on your list? 

Top Ten Tuesday- We've Covered This

This week the Broke and the Bookish ask us to once again look at books with great covers. I have to confess- I have read half of these, but I own them and can still appreciate the covers!

[Building Stories; The Lover's Dictionary; Where Children Sleep; Petropolis]

[Solo; Beautiful Ruins]

[Idiopathy; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; The Book of Other People; Where'd You Go, Bernadette?]
 Do you judge a book by it's cover (I'm definitely occasionally guilty!)? Any weaknesses? What made your list?

Isabel Allende Reading

Last night a friend and I went to hear Isabel Allende speak at the beautiful All Saints Catholic church in Beverly Hills [insert joke about me not catching fire here]. I saw her a few years ago when she was promoting a different book and appreciated her wit and candor. Once again she did not fail to disappoint (although the sound system did).

A few highlights: 
  •  Allende says that magical realism is definitely embedded in American writing, it’s just often referred to as either
    “religion or psychology.”
  • Allende says that her writing style has evolved; she no longer enjoys writing like she did for House of the Spirits and "feels bad for kids in schools that have to read it." Sorry, ma'am, but I'm going to have to disagree... 
  • She starts writing projects on January 8, a superstitious habit that started when she first experienced success.
  • She writes for herself; she isn’t writing to give advice. 
  • That being said, her favorite books are the ones she writes. The woman is as straightforward as they come.
  • People wanting to write need to look at novel writing as a sport; you have to do an enormous amount of behind the scenes training before the big game.
  • The one type of novel that she is “afraid” to write is an erotic one, and
    [All Saint's]
    that’s just because her mother is still alive. Allende also brought giggles to the audience when she said you should never have to try to force writing- it should come naturally, "like an orgasm."
  • She spoke about the struggles her family has faced- the idea of addiction, prevalent in her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook, came from losing her two step-children, one just a month ago.
  • She also spoke about the memoir she wrote, Paula, after daughter’s death. She spoke of the emotional toll it took on her, and how her son-in-law made her promise that if she were to publish the book she had to make sure to portray Paula accurately and more than “just a daughter.” This one is definitely on my list now.
And, for the record, Allende looks fantastic for 70.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'm pretty sure I just offered to paint all the baseboards in our house this summer while I'm off. I'm really excited at the prospect of bright new white borders (this is one thing we opted to not do when we moved in a year and a half ago), but I know that this is going to be the project from hell. 

2. I was able to snag an ARC today of Marisha Pessl's Night Film. Words cannot describe how excited I am  to be incredibly disappointed for her anticipated sophomore novel. 

[oh, and she's really pretty still]

3. My undying love for Vitatops is back. What? You've never heard of the magic that  is Vitatops? It's basically a denser muffin top packed full of vitamins, fiber, and even a little protein (for 100 calories). There's a bit too much sugar for my liking (9 grams), but still less than a lot of breakfast cereals (at least the good ones).

[add a banana and you've got breakfast]

4. Do you ever sign up to do less-than-appealing tasks in the future thinking "oh, it will be fine, I'll be so happy because _______ it won't matter?" For example "of, it's fine that I'm signing up to sell tickets at the Powder Puff Game on a weekend in May, I'll just be so happy because it'll basically be the end of the school year." Let me tell you, it's not fine, and we still have three long weeks left.

5. I'm going to the Isabel Allende reading tonight in Bel Air or somewhere that direction tonight. I've seen her before a few years ago and thought she was fantastic, so I'm  more than willing to make the drive. I'm currently 60 or so pages through her newest book, Maya's Notebook and while it's not as good as House of the Spirits, it's still enjoyable so far.

6. I'm currently planning out a week of lessons on an introductory end-of-the-year poetry unit and it blows. It blows hard. I understand the terms and can bullshit my way through understanding the content, but what really does me in is the stressed/non-stressed syllable nonsense. In order to understand iambic pentameter, troches, feet, and all those other related concepts you have to be able to hear what is and isn't stressed. It's starting to come back to me, but it's going to be a total pain in the ass to teach that part (thank goodness my super-smart husband has an ear and eye for poetry and is willing to answer my random texts during the day).

[poetry I can get behind]

7. I've been working on my epic "laying by the pool" playlist like it's actually truly important. Only in my backyard can you go from Rage Against the Machine to Ke$ha to Simon and Garfunkel to Tupac. I'd be worried about the neighbors if they used their fire pit less (people behind us, not the people to the side of us that I'm still on a creepy mission to befriend). BYOT (bring your own towel... or tequila... whichever...).

8. I'm hooked on FitSugar's workout videos right now. So many of them are just 10 minutes or less, which is perfect if you only have thirty minutes and want to target, say, arms, glutes, and abs.

9. The book buying embargo is officially null and void in three weeks. My cart on Amazon is already filling up in preparation.

10. I gave out summer work to my juniors the other day (I'll be taking all of them up to senior year, which will be great- three classes of kids I had, and loved, this year). They have to start writing their personal statements for college applications, choose a poet and read ten of their poems (annotating each and creating an analysis poster), and then read either Othello, King Lear, or Julius Caesar and write a paper. This now means that not only will I be reading Macbeth and Hamlet (to decide which to teach) but also those three. At least I won't be bard (get it? get it?). 

Top Ten Tuesday- The Hard Stuff

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us to list our top ten books dealing with personally  difficult subjects, something I found disturbingly easy. I think it's fascinating that while we often use reading as means to escape, it's also reassuring when we can find something uncomfortable to relate to. My picks:

[Edited to add: have fun psychoanalyzing me...]

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Issue: Bipolar Disorder
My father suffered from this mental illness until it was too much to handle- he took his own life when I was in high school. I'm so happy that people are more vocal about the condition and that there are so many more treatment options available now. 

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Issue: Fertility, women's health, living forever
I think this is a sensitive topic for most women- how long will our bodies last? 

Fathermucker by Greg Olear
Issue: Autism
As a teacher I've seen what autism can do to students and parents, and the toll it can take on families. 

Marley and Me by John Grogan
Issue: Pet's death
My dogs are both in good health, but I know that one day they won't be. It's a proactive cathartic read.

Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas
Issue: Unemployment 
The fear of job loss has always been a monkey on my back- I was terrified growing up that my parents would lose their jobs. As an adult I was pink-slipped when I taught elementary school, although I was lucky enough to never actually be without a employment.

Readacide by Kelly Gallagher
Issue: Kids hating reading
I know this may seem a bit trivial amongst mental health and unemployment, but I believe that the lack of interest in literacy amongst kids and teens is a grave problem.

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton
Issue: Feeling responsible for the death of your child
As someone who hopes to one day have children the idea of losing one is incredibly sad and disturbing. There are so many risks that come with parenthood.

My Abandonment by Peter Rock
Issue: Homelessness
When I was little I was also very, very worried about being homeless (as well as about my house burning down, and armed robbery... I was an anxious little thing). I think people take shelter for granted- living on the streets without the security a home offers is painful to even think about.

Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle
Issue: Illegal immigration
I rave about this book all the time, but I think Boyle does an amazing job offering a different perspective on immigration in Southern California. 

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Issue: Foster children 
I haven't read this book since it came out in 2000, but I remember being deeply moved by the main character's experience in the foster care system. I've seen my students have both positive and negative experiences in homes and know that the right foster parent can make all the difference. 

My Weekend: Books- 0 Waterfalls- 4

"The mountains are calling and I must go"- John Muir

[View of Yosemite Valley. Pink arrow shows Half Dome, which I've hiked twice in the past]
[Fun to see up close, but sad they're not scared]
[Bridalveil Falls]

[Half Dome's face. Hikers go up the back side, later in the season when the cables are up]
[Vernal Falls, along the Mist Trail steps]
[More of Vernal Falls]

Nonfiction Nagging- Yoga, Pee Drinking, and Getting Defensive

[Showing off... because I can, and because it's taken a long time to get this]
I love yoga. Like really, really, really love it. Unfortunately, I hate getting in my car to drive there and paying the fees every month. But whatever. I still love yoga. 

Before I start talking about Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison (still hate the name), I have to unload a little pet peeve of mine: I hate it when people imply that yoga is easy. I work harder and sweat more in ninety minutes of vinyasa yoga than I ever did running. I work more muscle groups and focus harder than I ever did pounding the pavement. My flexibility, strength, and balance has improved more in the last sixteen months than in the last sixteen years. Also important is the fact that it is one of the few things in my life that is a true distraction. My mind doesn't turn off- ever. Not even when I sleep (my dreams are exhausting). There's a little hamster in my head that is constantly running on a wheel that churns out thoughts, but during yoga the little thing falls asleep as I'm concentrating every ounce of energy on not falling over or bending just a little bit more. 

[does this look easy? source]

[how about this? source]
[piece of cake! source]

And now that I've confirmed everyone's suspicions that I'm crazy (and slightly more flexible than I look) I'll talk about the book.

Yoga Bitch is Suzanne Morrison's memoir of the time she spent at a yoga retreat in Bali at the age of twenty five. She's at a huge transitional point in her life, getting ready to move cross country from Seattle to New York with her boyfriend, who she obviously has some doubts about. She goes to Bali to earn her yoga teaching certificate and some perspective. When she arrives she has a lot to get used to- the weather is different, the people drink their own urine
(supposedly it prevents parasites), and they are supposed to abstain from sugar, alcohol, and sex of any sort. As the two months pass she makes friends, becomes more comfortable in her own skin, and learns to love the country. 

At first I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more yoga talk than there was. I wanted to hear more about mastering the moves and how to better embrace the physicality of the sport. But Morrison started growing on me- her skepticism regarding the spirituality component mirrors my own and her sarcasm juxtaposed the serenity of the retreat nicely. I could relate to her having to fight for calm and her need to question the intent of others. Her honesty about her need for affection and material goods was refreshing, and I loved that she managed to corrupt the rest of the group into sneaking into town for milkshakes, brownies and cocktails (my kind of girl!). 

I also appreciated the fact she wasn't preachy or so devout that she became intimidating. In fact, she took time away from her practice after her time in Bali and had to refall in love with it. Her discussion of the commercialization of the industry was interesting, as it has been something I have spent a lot of time thinking about (like when I'm looking at Lululeomon's website...). 

If you practice yoga, want to practice, or like the idea of going away to escape life and gain some perspective this book is for you. And, just so everyone knows, I don't drink my own pee.