Top Ten Tuesday- Turn Offs

[basically, I got tired of looking for a funny someecard; source]

1. Smokers 2. Humorless personalities 3. Stupidity 4.Passive aggressiveness 5.- Oh wait, it's supposed to be about books. Visit The Broke and the Bookish for this week's Top Ten Tuesday.

1. Books that don't start on page 1- It's so misleading (and a pain when trying to assign work to students with different versions).

2. Books with incredibly long chapters- I'm talking about more than 40 pages. Chapters are important when trying to decide when to take breaks to refill my wine glass.

3. Books bought by the masses- Let's be super-duper honest right now. I consider myself to be a tad more literary than the average person, therefore if someone who threw themselves a victory party because they finished Gone Girl is recommending something I'm going to be skeptical. Exceptions exist.

4. Mass market paperbacks- Most of them look so.... cheap. And uninspired. And while in a different context, there's that word "mass" again....

5. Unrealistic dialogue- Believe me, I know that dialogue can be tough to write, but that still doesn't mean I'm forgiving of it. 

6. Books with movie covers- Tacky, tacky, tacky. 

7. Books with poorly written sex scenes- If an author can't authentically write about knockin' boots they need to either get out in the field and do some more research, or find some way other around it.

8. Historical fiction- This is pure and complete preference. I know that there are some great novels out there that are historical, they're just 80% of the time not my thing.

9. Books written by celebrities- First of all, they're generally note even actually written by the celebrity, but instead a ghost writer. Secondly, go use your fame to sell something else... like perfume.

10. Excessive blurbing- Fine, I get it, people like you're book. But 8 pages of blurbs? Inferiority complex much?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Kings of Leon's new album came out Tuesday- love.

2. I made this: 

[so many burnt fingertips....]

3. I have to confess- I'm a (temporary) Coursera drop out. Life has been way too crazy lately for me to take on extra work. Right now my priorities are handling everything for work, getting enough sleep and exercise (or at least intending to), spending time with my husband and dogs, seeing friends, and reading for fun. When I take the Coursera classes I feel pressure to finish and stay current, something I just don't need right now.

4. First period prep (for those who aren't familiar with high school scheduling this means the free period I get every day to prepare for my classes and grade) is going to kill me this year. It's the third year I've had it and it just keeps getting harder and harder to be productive. I arrive at seven no matter what, it's a just a matter of whether or not I'm going to do more than sit at my desk and stare at the mounds of things to do or actually work on them. Morning person I am not.


5. Apparently Jennifer Lawrence is going to be in the East of Eden movie, which I have not read. I pretty much love her, so I may have to pick up a copy before the movie comes out (which will be in a long time).

6. Tomorrow is our last day on Macbeth and I couldn't be happier. It's a great play, but six weeks on any one text with a group of teenagers is enough. 

7. I'm not even going to lie: I'm pretty excited that Grey's Anatomy is back tonight. It's total shit, but I'm a sucker for medical dramas. Unfortunately, since we're ditching cable in a few days I'm going to have to watch it on my computer (or maybe Hulu on the xBox? I don't know how that whole thing works yet).

8. Speaking of cutting the cord on satellite, we've waited because of this Sunday- the very end of Breaking Bad. If Jesse dies I'm going to be so pissed. That poor guys has been through so much... last episode alone! Walt, though? I hope he buuuuuuuurns (and not from the cancer).

9. Last weekend we waited for 80 minutes to go to a restaurant called Slaters 50/50 (know for their 1/2 bacon, 1/2 beef burgers, which I did not get) and it was definitely worth it. I practically had to be rolled out of the restaurant Oompa-Loompa style since I ate so much, though. I loved the fact that they work with an app that lets you check your wait time and how many parties are ahead of you as much as the food. If you don't accept reservations it's the least you can do.

 10. I'm so mad at Banana Republic. While virtual window shopping I found a jacket that I wanted for $250 (that I loved), but wasn't sure about, since it's a little outside of my winter jacket price range. And then today I get an email promotion that offers 40% off purchases of more than $200. It's a good deal, right? Plus, it's a ton less than the Burberry one I really want... I know. When your biggest problem is whether or not to spend too much money at BR you need to shut the fuck up.


"Sponsored" Post- Necessary Errors

Reading books is like dating. Sometimes the book is really good and you click immediately; other times it's ridiculously horrible and you dread every second you spend with it. Other times it's no one's fault- there's just no connection. That's how I feel about Caleb Crain's Necessary Errors.

I requested the book with enthusiasm, based on positive blurbs from authors like Chad Harbach (there was another author in the Penguin's email that I don't remember, and strangely it's not on any of the materials they sent... interesting). Once I started reading it, there was just no connection to be found. It didn't make me feel, question, or think about anything other than when I would be finished reading it. It took me a few weeks to get through, and while I tried to blame the lengthy read on going back to work, I knew the truth was that Necessary Errors and I just weren't a good match (although the name and implications behind it are great). I can't complain about the writing, and I don't mind a character study- it just wasn't for me. 

So, what's it about? 

Jacob Putnam arrives in Prague after the 1989 as a gay English teacher from the US and must learn to immerse himself in a foreign country and juggle his social life. He must learn to combat loneliness, friends falling in love, and his future. Jacob also must deal with being a homosexual during a time and place where it wasn't exactly accepted. Basically, it's a 466 page book about his every day life in Prague- it was just too much for me (the descriptions of Prague were great, though).

Bottom line- I can't recommend it, but I can't not recommend it either; just like the dating world, while this book didn't make me very happy it might make some other reader a very luck man/woman. 

Signs You Need to Move On


1. You're calculating how many pages you have left and the rate at which you read. Only three more hours until it's done? I can handle that.

2. You opt to clean the bathroom instead of read. Even worse if it's laundry folding.

3. You decide that reading a stack of mediocre essays written by a group of newbie AP Language students might be "more fun."

4. The book acquires a thin layer of dust as it sits on your nightstand (or chair, in my case).

5. You tell yourself if it's read by a certain day you can end the two-month cupcake-free streak and get one on the way home from work.

6. You debate practicing this "speed-reading" thing you've shunned so much in the past.

7. You consider offering one of your brighter students extra credit to read it and write the "guest review" to appease the publisher who is bound to start sending the lovely "just checking in" emails any day.

8. You wonder what the dogs (especially the big brown one) would do to it if you "accidentally" left it in middle of the floor while you were at work during the day (ala Marriage Plot style from yesteryear).

9. You find yourself sitting in front of you bookshelves staring longingly at all the other books you want to start reading. There may or not be tears or head pounding on the wall.

10. You keep saying "I'll wait twenty more pages and see if it gets better." Dysfunction at it's finest.

Marisha Pessl Reading

Let's not talk about how shitty of a blogger I've been lately. Unfortunately this post is probably not going to help my cause- trust me when I say things are crazy busy right now.

Last Thursday a friend and I drove to Santa Monica to Bergamot Station to see my beloved Marisha Pessl interviewed by Jamie Lee Curtis (via Live Talks LA). First impression: Pessl is a tiny, tiny woman and oh so pretty. Because you know that kind of stuff matters, right? 

Anyway, the reading. 

Pessl started off by reading for fifteen minutes from her latest book, Night Film. I'll be honest- I appreciate what seems to be the latest trend amongst authors to actually not read. Anyway, she opted to, so there's that. Curtis then proceeded to gush about how much of a fan she is (even though she "barely graduated from high school"- something we heard a few times) and the conversation started rolling. I didn't take notes this time, but here are some of the more memorable parts (that I can remember after writing letters of recommendation for the last six hours):

- Pessl meticulously planned out her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics but didn't construct out Night Film in quite the same hyper-organized way
-  Pessl writes from 9 to 4 everyday, half of the time at home, the other half at cafes or while traveling. She says the biggest secret to conquering writer's block is making yourself stay seated, and if that doesn't work to wash your hands (seriously).
- Pessl keeps a notebook that she calls "The Bible" while she writes a novel, doing all of her brainstorming in it. 
- Pessl created all of the various media pieces in Night Film with a graphic organizer, but first created a lot of it herself scrapbooking style 
- In order to create the Manhattan she created in Night Film she roamed the city, finding hidden, lesser-known places. She talked about how this is harder and harder to be with a "Starbucks and Banana Republic on every corner."
- Jamie Lee Curtis is hilarious but did hijack the interview a few times...
- Pessl fully intends on being a "career novelist" although no one asked her if she had started working on her next book
- She talked about how most artists have an "inner child."
Full disclosure: I'm watching Breaking Bad right now.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. A student brought me this- it's a potato, on a pencil. I'm not really sure what to say about it, except that it's still there, on my desk, being a potato.

 2. I'm not into boxing as a sport, but man I'd like to go to a huge fight at, say, Mandalay Bay.  And maybe I would see Julia Roberta, Brad Pitt,  and Matt Damon there

3. Add writing slump to my reading slump- since school started I have written approximately ZERO effing pages. The last month of vacation I was up to 75. I'm trying to accept that fact that NaNoWriMo might be called for to finish things up.

4. There are days where I actually consider moving back down to teaching elementary again, something I never thought I'd say. I love my students- I most definitely prefer teenagers to children, but the work load is insane. The bureaucracy at the high school level is also much more intense, which is something I could do without some days. I'm fine with where I'm at for now, and possibly forever, but it is a card that I'm keeping in my back pocket. I know elementary would be a total breeze compared to life now, although taking the easy way out is sort of a pussy way to handle life.

5. Speaking of teaching at a high school, it's homecoming week, meaning yearbook is hosting it's second annual lemonade stand at the carnival Friday after school. I'm bluntly honest to my kids- I really hate carnival. It's a massive pain in the ass and we make very little money, but I feel obligated since everyone else participates and I'd have to sit out there and supervise anyway. All I know is that if a kid pays to have me put in the "jail" that the wrestlers put on they have another thing coming. 

6. I haven't had anything big or exciting planned the last few weeks and am starting to develop a mild case of cabin fever. I'm a firm believer in having things to look forward to lined up- if not, there's really no point... to life. Luckily I'm going to the Marisha Pessl reading tonight, have to take tickets at the homecoming game with another friend tomorow, and then am going to Orange County for the afternoon with a pal Saturday. Aaaaaand then Sunday we're back to normal- writing like twelve letters of recommendation for students and napping.

7. I just read an article about the Navy Yard gunman's mother's apology and just can't fathom what it would be like to see your child turn into such a monster. I don't know their particular history, but to do your best providing a loving, stable home for your child and then for something in their brain click the other way? Nature vs. nurture, people.

8. I had two people post these hilarious articles (Whole Foods and bad first lines) on my Facebook wall yesterday. 

9. I might make this, if I can get over harming an innocent book:

10. I'm holding out on the iOS 7 for as long as possible. I don't like change, what can I say (although the ability to opt out of an annoying group text would be nice).

Top Ten Tuesday- Setting Myself Up to Fail

I'm pretty sure that every time I create a list dictating what I'm "supposed" to read my inner-teenager wakes up and goes into rebellion mode. I suddenly feel obligated, which hence makes me want to do the exact opposite ("What? You want me to read Kingsolver? No! I want to read Nabokov!"). Nonetheless, I do like having a plan, or at lest the option to have one, so, brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish, are the top ten books I plan on reading this fall:

1. The Women by TC Boyle

2. Home by Toni Morrison

3. Interventions by Richard Russo

4. Solo by Rana Dasgupta

5. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

6. The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

7. Light Boxes by Shane Jones

8. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

9. White Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse

10. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley 

What's in your fall TBR pile?  

Take Note

There's something about beautiful notebooks, whether you're a writer or not. A few that I've had my eye on: 

[customizable from May Designs, $17]

[from The Magic Notebook; $5]
[Sweet Briar from Anthropologie; $12.95]
[Darth Vader and Son from Urban Outfitters; $9.95]
[Special Edition LEGO Moleskin; $16.95]
[Obvious State via Etsy; $12]
[Mulk via Etsy; $5.70]

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I really, really wish I/we were handy. We can do the basics, like painting, light bulb changing, picture, shelf-mounting, etc... I mean legitimate handy things, like installing dishwasher disposals, fixing seals on toilets, and replacing sprinklers. We don't need those things done right now, but I know it's going to happen one of these days. And then we'll be screwed.

2. I have found myself in a bit of a reading slump. I started Necessary Errors, an ARC by Caleb Crain, and am finding it a little tough to sink my teeth into. Meanwhile, I started Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and while interesting it's not exactly a page turner ("oh my God, what's going to happen with GMO corn next?!?!?"). After I wrap up Necessary Errors (which is over 400 pages) I need to finish Catch-22. And then I'm going to just go with my gut and read from my actual shelf, ignring any pseudo-obligations that I have.

3. Next a super trivial pet peeve: if you are on Instagram and you're commenting on someone's picture it is not necessary to include their user name. They'll get the notification that you've commented anyway! C'mon. Such a rookie mistake.

4. I've recently decided that I'm insurance retarded impaired, so I sat down and made myself learn all the terms and what my coverage is. I worked in a doctor's office for four years in college, but given the fact we were involved in a research study, insurance wasn't really an issue, since the company backer picked up most of the tab for the patients (no, it wasn't for some crazy drug, just a really amazing, semi-boring stent for aortic and carotid aneurysm). 

5. I'm currently obsessed with making these and these. Until I get to a grocery store I'll just keep shoveling away my current favorites, Wheat Thins and whipped cream cheese. Fancy.

6. My husband sent me this link the other day for a genius writing plan- you write 350 words, 5 days a week, and in a year you'll basically have a novel. NaNoWriMo is such a crazy blur, but this seems so damn manageable. Shit, what if I had done this a year ago? Or two years ago? 

 7. Today was one of those days where my three classes of IB seniors were all pretty enjoyable and focused that I found myself dreading the end of the school year when they leave me. 

8. Something I've recently learned and am trying to digest: some people need to learn that asking someone to do something because they will be good at it is definitely better than asking someone to do something because you know they will say yes. And that's as passive aggressive as we'll get for today.

9. 9/11 earlier this week was a day for both remembering those that were lost and the lessons our country should have learned. One of those is tolerance in terms of religion- many people that I know are careful to be sensitive to those that are Jewish or Islamic, but are super quick to make fun of Mormons, Born Again Christians, or even Scientologists. Insulting an Islamic for their belief system is just as effed up as doing so to a Mormon because you think their special underwear policy is crazy, or to a Born Again who speaks in tongues. When their belief system starts affecting the public there's a problem, but there's still a proper way to deal with things, as opposed to being ignorant and obnoxious.

10. We started watching Orange in the New Black and, for the record, I would do horribly in prison. There's the food, close quarters, lack of bathroom stall doors, fights, and inability to blow dry or straighten hair, just to name a few. I would spend a lot of time working out, though, so I'm sure I'd get totally ripped.

Top Ten Tuesday- Please Don't

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish asks us for ten books we'd like to see turned into a movie or TV show. My list is super short:

[crickets... in case you couldn't tell source]

No need to readjust your dial- there's nothing on it. I really, truly don't have any books that I'd like to be seen turned into a live-action production. 

First of all, let me just say that I'm not considering sub-par works, or even children's literature (take a deep breath Harry Potter fans) in my thought-process. In fact, my belief is that the shittier the book the better the movie. Anyway, when I look at what I read and what I love there's nothing I want to see potentially botched, as has happened time and time again (Cloud Atlas and The Great Gatsby just in the last year).

So what's the problem? There's multiple dimensions, one of which is myself. After reading a book and deciding it is in fact something I can put in the "like" pile, I become quite defensive on its behalf. The idea of someone coming in and reinterpreting it bothers me, as does the whole splicing and dicing aspect, which is often necessary for time constraints. 

I also prefer my rendering of what the novel "looks" like- I don't want a director or cinematographer to step in and try to tell me that the character looks this way, not that, or that the setting is ten times more picturesque than it really is. Part of the beauty of reading a book is the license it gives the reader to create images in his/her head- a movie or TV show can either tarnish what has been previously established or will influence future readers. 

I think another huge is issue is that so often movies miss the point in order to sell tickets and impress audiences. It becomes less about thematic components, hidden nuances, foreshadowing, or symbolism and more about two big name actors looking hot and hooking up. 

But the ultimate issue I personally have is that I really don't like watching movies and when I do it's for a much different purpose than the one I have when I read. For me, I prefer more light-hearted, whimsical, comedic movies, while when I read I tend to stick to the more literary, challenging texts (generally). My husband is a huge fan of the Criterion Collection, which I despise, given the fact that these art-house films are generally super serious, in black and white, or are foreign. I always say, thought, if there were a Criterion Collection of books I'd be all over them. Bottom line- I like to keep my watching and reading interests seperate.

Thoughts? Opinions? Comments? Concerns? 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I wonder who lives in our old apartment. Don't get me wrong; I was ecstatic to move into something four times the size and to stop paying rent, but we did live there for five years. I guess I'm just a little protective of the place.

2. I keep checking the 10-day forecast to see if our horrid heat wave is going to end, but it basically reads, "Hot. Really hot. Fucking hotter than hell. Hot. Hotter. Hot." 

[note the time and temperature right now...]

3. Have you heard about the ultra-conservative mom who wrote the blog post to the teenage girls her sons follow on various social media sites? She gives them an ultimatum- either stop posting scantily clad selfies or her sons are going to defriend the skanks. Listen, lady, your sons are going to jerk off daily whether Brittney from second period posts pictures of herself wearing see-through wife beaters or not. Plus, the fact that the pictures you ORIGINALLY used in the post of your kids are all taken topless the beach is a hilarious act of hypocrisy. Why don't you worry about teaching your sons how to respect women, rather than forcing them to cover up what the God you write about so often gave them?

4. Now that I've sufficiently bashed a blogger, let me restore my karma points with a rave about how awesome Cup of Jo's Motherhood Around the World series. She has chronicled several women in places like Dubai, Mexico, Japan, and Northern Ireland, discussing their experiences of moving their families from the US abroad.

5. I've started planning the dogs' Halloween costumes, something I haven't done in years (I think the last time I dressed Cordie up was maybe six or seven years ago). This year is different- I have a sewing machine. They're going to be so excited. 

6. There are so many great books coming out this fall by Jhumpa Lahiri, TC Boyle, Margaret Atwood, and even my soft-spot Helen Fielding. 

7. You should follow Things Cut in Half on Twitter.  

8. My husband and I plowed through Orphan Black and I was shocked that I liked it so much (the main star better make a ton; she has to play multiple characters since she's a clone). We started the second season of Girls last weekend and are almost done- so great, but I'm so happy I didn't spend my twenties broke and desperate in New York. Next up on our list (we seriously have a written out list- we watch one show at a time) is Orange is the New Black (I keep meaning to pick up the memoir too).

9. I'm borderline obsessed with Syria and it's infuriating me that they're taking so long to decide what to do. I'm not going to get into my views (at least not today...), but say Congress does decide to strike- shouldn't it be done while it's still relevant? I feel like it's the equivalent to punishing a toddler a week after they wrote on the wall in permanent marker. And if not, the issue should be dropped and we should focus our attention on other issues. Let's get this shit over with already.

10. I want this book- you write down something regarding what you cooked each day: 

Books on Your Back- Getting Wild

I love Where the Wild Things Are- the children's book, Dave Eggar's version (complete with furry cover), and the movie. 

[Red Bubble $47.40]
 Or, for smaller fans:

[Breezy Prints via Etsy $13.95]

The Last Bookstore

Over the weekend my husband and I drove to LA to try a few dessert places (The Pie Hole and Bottega Louie) and visit The Last Bookstore. It's a combination new and used bookstore with an art cooperative, record selection, and open mic events. Let's just say it beats the hell out of Barnes and Noble.

Top Ten Tuesday- Required Reading

The Broke and the Bookish provided two possible topics, one of which was what we think should be taught in schools. Given the fact that I'm a high school English teacher I decided this one was up my alley. I think "required reading" gets a lot of unfair shit from people ("I read in Catcher in the Rye in high school and hated it so much"). There are a lot of different possible explanations, one being that the whiner involved was an unmotivated, procrastinating teen and left all the reading and paper writing until the end of the novel study. Of course they'd hate it! The teen may not have understood the complex themes or the teacher could have taught it poorly. My point is, required reading is essential in order to expose kids to a variety of literature, whether they're receptive or not. What else would we do in English classes all day? Read articles and diagram sentences? I digress. 

Fun Home 
Alison Bechdel
Why: A graphic novel (I think kids should be taught one a year), themes dealing with homosexuality and nontraditional homes

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
Why: A great example of an accessible nonfiction text (our advanced biology class had the kids read it this year, which was great), raises important questions about ethics

Colum McCann
Why: fantastic writing, historical tie-ins (can I get a what, what for cross-curricular opportunities?)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver
Why: another example of a well-written nonfiction text, vehicle for teaching students about sustainability and responsible eating/agriculture 

Tortilla Curtain
TC Boyle
Why: for some it will teach tolerance; for others it will be an opportunity to see themselves and their family in characters (for once)

Family Fang
Kevin Wilson
Why: students need to see that there is such a thing as quality contemporary humor in literature, and it also provides a lesson on why readers don't always have to like characters 

Ella Minnow Pea
Mark Dunn
Why: so many fun, challenging spin-off activities that can be done with this novella

The Road
Cormac McCarthy
Why: a lot of students enjoy post-apocalyptic YA novels- this is just the literary, adult version (my students actually did a literary analysis on the first to pages the other day- I can't wait to read them)

Bel Canto
Ann Patchett
Why: so many great discussions on perspective could be had with this book, not to mention the writing is superb 

Mister Pip
Lloyd Jones
Why: I think this would a great companion piece to Great Expectations 

August Reviews- Let's Get Critical, Critical

[please tell me you get it]

Maybe it's just me, but August flew by. I finished up summer break and then headed back to school for a few days of professional development only to start back with the kids on the fourteenth. While things got busy in a hurry, I did manage to read four books, with only one knocking my socks off.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
496 pages
I cannot possibly rave about this book enough- it was just that good. Ifemelu manages to earn a scholarship so that she can leave Nigeria to study in America, leaving behind her parents and boyfriend. She must adapt to life in the United States, learning how hard it can be to find a job, maintain relationships back home, and hold on to one's true identity while still assimilating enough to survive. Ifemelu starts an anonymous blog that provides a colorful social commentary on what it's like to be an African living in America (not not being an African American). Eventually she decides to return to Nigeria, which brings it's own challenges and changes. Adichie's writing, plot development, characters, and message are all equally powerful.

Verdict: While I obviously loved this book it's not for everyone. It's definitely a beast at almost 500 very dense pages. I think it may also make some white Americans a bit defensive; even I at times wanted to remind the author that it's not my fault I'm white. Nonetheless, for those that appreciate contemporary, African, or controversial fiction, this book is right up your alley.

Italian Ways by Tim Parks
288 pages
I already wrote a much longer review, but basically this is a travelogue of sorts about a man who travels the rails in Italy. He intermixes personal anecdotes with historical facts, showing what a force the railroad has been in Italy (Amtrak is nothing compared to the train systems over there, folks).

Verdict: I thought this was a bit of a slog, albeit a wonderfully nostalgic, romantic one. I love Italy and this definitely made me want to return, but, just like train travel itself, this book was a bit slow at times.

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
384 pages
I reviewed this one more extensively as well, somewhat disappointed after enjoying You Before Me several months ago. Moyes delivers for the first third of the book, which is set during the German occupation of France during WWI, but then becomes way too flat both in plot, characters, and writing for the duration of the text.

Verdict: It was at times entertaining, but I was quite underwhelmed. 

9 Inches by Tom Perrotta
256 pages
This collection of short stories details the troubled lives of suburbanites. The ten stories bring us tales of divorce, death, affairs, college rejections, paid SAT test-takers, and drug sellers. Perrotta's standard easy wit is present in each story, highlighting both the best and worst in his characters. My biggest issue with this collection was I thought it was a bit uneven; some of the stories were obviously better than others.

Verdict: Personally, I think Perrotta's novels are better, but there are a few gems in this bunch.