Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Today my students had a Scrabble and Cereal party to celebrate their senior check out day tomorrow. A lot of kids mix different types of cereal- I don't think I can get on board with that. 

2. So, I was chosen to have lunch with Gaily Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine next month. I'm mostly excited, although I am never as articulate in person, so I will probably say something stupid. But it's definitely a cool opportunity (they don't know I blog, it's unrelated to this). I am going to a Michael Chabon reading the following night, so it will be 48 hours of literary goodness.

3. Sunday we are going to Knott's Berry Farm with my mother-in-law and then Monday I am chaperoning the senior trip to Disneyland. I will be theme-parked out by Tuesday! 

4. Over the weekend I went to The Hollywood Bowl to see their Beauty and the Beast production with a friend and her friends, and it was so awesome. They had the movie showing on large screens and then had stars like Taye Diggs and Zooey Deschanel sing on stage. It was such a fun night.

5. I also took two naps this weekend, since mama stayed out way too late, which is incredibly out of character for me.

6. Chomsky is definitely starting to get lonely without Cordie, I think, as he has been more clingy lately and has had two accidents in the house, which is unheard of (and thankfully on the tile, since DAMN he has a large bladder). I am definitely on team #nopuppyrightnow, since I can barely take care of everything as is. I do feel bad for him, and am trying to walk him more. The real problem is that he has RSF (resting sad face) as is, so it's sort of hard to tell where he's at.

7. We started the new season of Arrested Development, which is... okay. I love that it's only a half hour, so I can actually watch an episode on a work night, but I don't feel as much love for the original season at this point. 

Summer Beach Reads for the Literary(ish) Crowd

While it's not quite summer yet, there's something about Memorial Day weekend that unofficially makes it so, right? Here in Southern California the temperatures are heating up and the schools start letting out in the next few weeks, so we're calling it. That means it's time to take advantage of that pool time, airplane ride, beach lounging, cabin inhabitation, or air conditioner hogging with a good book. 

Despite the heat and overwhelming urge to become a sloth (albeit a tanned one that floats around a pool), I still won't read total fluff during these months. I do often read things that are a little lighter or can be handled in snippets, since my tiny partner-in-crime feels the need to show me his LEGO creations seventy-seven times an hour (in his defense he is quite the Master Builder). Here are some that I've read in the past year or two that would make great "beach" reads (stay tuned for what I'm planning on reading soon):

You Think it, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld: I just finished this collection of short stories by the author of Prep, and while there were holes, I found the majority entertaining and often thoughtful. All female-driven stories, many dealing with issues of sex and relationships, Sittenfeld shows what's it's like to get older, but not necessarily feel old. 

Best for: Floating around a pool with the cocktail of your choice, alternating between reading twenty pages (the approximate length of one story) and napping. Just don't drop your book in the pool (guilty). 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: This one a little denser, with longer chapters, but I still think that it would be the perfect summer escape. The novel centers around four siblings who have their death dates predicted by a gypsy when they are children, and we see how this information impacts the rest of their lives. It's the classic fate versus fate conundrum that will leave you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I found myself becoming so attached to the characters that I was downright angry when their sections ended, only to quickly bond with the next one. 

Best for: A long flight where you can devote a chunk of time to the text (but don't worry, you won't get lost if the person next you is a talker or there's a crying baby). 

Make Trouble by Cecile Richards: This memoir by the current Planned Parenthood president details her journey through advocacy and union organizing, which landed her in the incredibly challenging, vital, gig she has. While I do think this is a little too polished, the message is important and Richards is incredibly inspirational. Even better- it's a good reminder of what is important as we move into an important voting season this fall.

Best for: Waiting rooms (think jury duty, OB/GYN, etc...).

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn: Dunn, a hilarious writer, discusses the difficulties her husband and she had managing their child and household in ways that will make you laugh and nod your head in agreement. While this may not change your life, I think it will make you feel less alone and also serves as a great reminder to remember to try new strategies during the hard times in life. 

Best for: Moms home with kids... dun-dun-dun.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I remember posting about this novel on social media last year saying that this was your book if you wanted "a beach read that's not pure crap" and I still stand by that. Eleanor is a socially awkward single gal that ends up really struggling with her isolation and eventual desire to make some changes in her life. The character is brisk, quirky, and honest, and Honeyman's writing reflects these sentiments perfectly. 

Best for: Reading under the blasting AC at a coffee shop.

I Hear She's a Real Bitch by Jen Agg: I have a huge soft spot for food-industry memoirs, and this one is one of my favorites. Agg is a restauranteur in Canada who has struggled against the patriarchy in a major way, fighting to rise to the top of the food scene in her country. Agg is brutally honest about her successes and failures starting multiple restaurants and bars, and also gives us tidbits about the same ups and downs in her personal life. 

Best for: The period of anticipating a vacation that will at last partially involve a gluttonous amount of eating. 

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson: This novel is set on a sort of utopian commune, where parents come together to raise their children cooperatively as part of a study. The story focuses on Izzy, who is is a recent, pregnant, high school graduate with little resources and a lot of uncertainty. She joins the program and we see how this concept of "it takes a village" works in the confines of The Infinite Family Project. 

Best for: A long, glorious, day at the beach

Happy Summer! 

My Top Ten English Teacher Pet Peeves

The other day I was joking around with a friend that I was going to start next school year by handing my incoming students a list of my pet peeves along with syllabus, just to put it out on the table. And then I realized, maybe I should. Heck, maybe I should even make a poster! In the meantime, I thought I'd publish my Top Ten English Teacher Pet Peeves here*:

1. When titles aren't punctuated correctly- Hands down this is my number one complaint. It drives me absolutely crazy when students put the name of a novel in quotations marks or they underline the title of a short poem. Or, even worse, is when they do both to one title! The horror! I remind them 934792945893 times what to do during the course of a novel study, so there is no excuse. 

2. When a student says that the "author has diction"- The author definitely has word choice, good catch. One year I complained so much about this generic, obvious phrase to a sophomore AP Lang class that one hilarious kid wrote that phrase over and over again for a few pages straight (I think I still have it posted on my wall). 

3. Blatant lying about word count- Yes, I totally believe your one page of double spaced type is 1,200 words. I haven't been doing this for years, nor was I ever a student.

4. Times New Roman Font- I don't hold it against them, I just hate it. 

5. The phrase "in conclusion"- Just conclude. Seal the deal, finish up. End the darn thing, don't announce it.

6. When author or character names are misspelled- So rude, they're our friends after spending so much time with them, yes? Tsk, tsk.

7. When quotes are just plopped down as a stand-alone sentence- You have to lead in or lead out! You've gotta! (I won't even start on then proceeding to analysis...)

8. Generic or excessive author flattery- Just give me some hardcore literary analysis. We know the authors are talented/prolific/great/amazing- that's why we're studying them! 

9. A thesis that includes a list- While this isn't necessarily wrong, there are just more complex, natural ways of presenting your argument.

10. Using the pronoun "you" in a formal paper- Me? You're talking to me? Really? 

*We all know I LOVE my kids and enjoy the process of teaching and by no means think high school students should be perfect writers (I make mistakes, for pete's sake!). I also know many of these are personal preference, not necessarily errors. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts


Happy Wednesday! Link up in the comments if you play!

1. Last week I entered an Instagram video contest to have lunch with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, put on by Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine. I received a message the other day saying there wanted to chat more! I know that there are probably many more contenders, but it's nice to know that my quick little blurb was at least on their radar. How fun would that be, though, if I won? 

2. I made these Big Fat Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies yesterday and they were delicious. Go for it!

3. This weekend I am going to The Hollywood Bowl to see this with my friend's friends (does that make sense?). I can't wait!

4. Last weekend Sawyer and I went to see The Art Float in Riverside, which was all of these painted inflated balls that float around a lake at a park. It sounds strange, but it was a pretty neat sight.

5. I am on the cusp of being caught up with my grading. It's amazing. 

The Junot Diaz Situation

I’ve always considered Junot Diaz a sort of literary god, ever since I picked up and finished The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao not long after it was released. I’ve read all of his adult books, gone to one of his readings, and have read many of the various articles he’s written over the years. He’s always struck me as a remarkable writer, but admittedly with a sharp edge. After recently reading his New Yorker article in which he detailed the horrific sexual abuse he endured as a child, I appreciated his honesty and applauded his bravery.  He has alluded to it in various ways in his work, so I wasn’t really surprised, but nonetheless I was still deeply moved by his candor. I was fully and completely Team Junot- I probably would have bought a shirt that said as much.

Fast forward. Not long after his widely-read article was published a handful of women came out of the woodwork accusing him of various offensive infractions, one woman claiming he forcefully kissed her, another maintaining she felt violated by his demand their relationship be kept a secret, and others saying that he engaged in intense, insulting public discussion that was blatantly misogynistic. The media instantly attacked, social media blew up, and readers, like myself, were left at a loss. Diaz almost instantly claimed responsibility for his unsavory behavior and left the door open for further discussion (albeit the statement read generically and felt a bit sterile).  Just as quickly were also swift and intense blows to his academic and professional reputations, with statements from MIT and the Pulitzer committee stating their intentions to investigate the writer. Some of his peers have come to this defense, though, a group of respected academics recently issuing an open letter urging a reevaluation of how things had been handled. At the end of the day, though, this is a major blow that he may never fully recover from. And if does maintain his contracts, how will this event cloud  the reading of his future texts?

I’ve personally spent a lot of time thinking about the situation and have tried to approach the whole thing from all perspectives. 

As a fan? I’m sad and worried there may never again be a great Junot Diaz novel or collection to enjoy.

As a feminist? I’m angry that he has clearly taken advantage of women, using his clout as an author and professor to do so. 

As someone who fully supports racial equality? I am heartbroken that women of color seem to have been particularly victimized. Indian poet Shreerekha, whom he was once involved with, wrote in her post on The Rumpus that, “…the problematics of how black and brown women function as collateral damage in his journey to recovery… but the hidden costs of his cleansing are borne by women of color…” 

As a devil’s advocate? Does this constitute sexual assault? As a woman I don't want my body to ever be taken advantage of, but there's  a huge difference between a forced kiss and something like rape. We also haven't heard the detailed sides of both stories.

More than anything, this whole situations has just provoked so many questions for me as a consumer of art and literature. At what point do we separate a person and what they produce? Where are the lines drawn?

You just forced a kiss? Okay, I’ll read your books still.

You sexually assaulted young girls? Nope, not watching your movies.

You support a candidate who actively stands against my values? Sorry, can’t follow your show.

You have multiple criminal charges but can run a ball like no other? Okay, I’ll wear your jersey.

The grey area is the hardest part to navigate. There are certain instances where I will firmly cut ties with someone and quit supporting them in anyway, but Junot Diaz falls into this middle that I’m having trouble making sense of.  I’d never want my sister to date him, but I’d still probably want to take his class if I was a student. I don’t approve of how he’s treated women, but I can still be empathetic to his past and enjoy what he’s writing. Is it because his transgressions were limited to, mostly, outside of the body and not within? Yet if he was widely known as a cruel bully could I support his work? I also can’t help pondering the women’s side of this. At what point do you come forth publicly and call attention to someone’s actions? What should stay private? Who decides?

The only way I can make peace with situations like these is the fact that they elicit so much. Dialogue. Soul-searching. Reflection. Remorse. Empathy. 

A Sad Goodbye

Last night my husband and I made the decision to put down our thirteen-year-old Golden Cordie. She was diagnosed with leukemia three months ago and we didn't pursue chemo because of her age, so this day was inevitable. Over the weekend she couldn't keep down food or liquid, so by Sunday night we knew that she needed to get in to see a vet. I waited for several hours at the emergency clinic so she could be rehydrated and get some meds for a crazy high fever she had. Everything worked for a few hours and allowed her some sleep and a little pep in her step, but soon she was right back where she had been. When we went to her regular vet last night we anticipated the worst and our fears were confirmed. 

She was such a good dog. Anxious, neurotic, and stubborn, for sure, but she was sweet and trustworthy around our son and belongings. She loved banana muffins, hot dogs, swimming, and her family. She was a trooper until the very last second. 

She was loved immensely and will be missed terribly.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hi friends! Link up in the comments if you play along!

1. Is it like totally lazy and ridiculous to really, really want to pay someone to come redo the shelving paper in my pantry and cupboards. I've never done it before but it seems incredibly annoying.

2. Monday when I got to work I noticed that Sawyer had put several of his coloring pages from the weekend in my bag for me to put up in my classroom. He has come a few times lately on Friday nights while I get some things done and he was really, really proud that his art was on my walls. 

3. Passive aggressive rant warning: I hate it when people take credit on social media for doing something (like buy a house, car, pay off student loans, etc...) when I know damn well that their parents helped them. It shouldn't bother me, but as someone who as paved her own way, proudly and with so much exhaustion and stress, it does. 

4. If you have kiddos, or know kiddos, the Dan Santat books are so good. We just read After the Fall and The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend at dinner and I was reminded how great the stories and illustrations are.

5. I just finished listening to How to Party with and Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings and was pretty underwhelmed. I just downloaded The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, though, and I have pretty high hopes considering all of the buzz (no pun intended).

6. I have been working on making things more manageable in my life, and this week already feels better. I have been running 25 minutes a day, instead of longer chunks on just a few days. I try to do one chore a day to make the weekends easier. I grade a few papers whenever I have spare time, since a little is always better than nothing. I just constantly have to remind myself that forward movement is better than stagnancy and that as long as I'm making progress in whatever the area is things are better than before. 

7. I have many, many thoughts on the Junot Diaz scandal that I will hopefully get out on here tomorrow. 

8. I watched the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale last week and it was really, really good. It's obviously completely strayed from the book, but I still hear Atwood's voice and feel like her vision is being respected. 

Out and About: Disneyland, LA Times Festival of Books, and The King Tut Exhibit

In a perfect world I'd have time to write separate reviews on our trip to Disneyland, my time at the LA Times Festival of Books, and the California Science Center's King Tut Exhibit, but we're going to go ahead and smoooooosh them all together here instead!

Two weeks ago my husband and I took Sawyer on a surprise early visit to Disneyland and California Adventure for his fourth birthday. We live less than an hour away but have purposefully waited until now to take him, since we wanted him to be able to spend the day without napping, remember the trip, and have a good idea who the characters were. He was totally surprised and so excited! We were able to do a ton of rides the first day, and since we had park-hopper tickets we stayed the night in a hotel around the corner and went back the next morning. It was pretty crowded, especially since the new Pixar Celebration has started, but we had a great time. I am not in any hurry to go back, so we're thinking maybe every two or so years (I personally am going back in a few weeks, but as a chaperone).

I was also fortunate enough to go to the LA Times Festival of Books, as well, and saw Patton Oswald, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Dave Eggars. I went with two friends from work, also English teachers, so this was right up our alley! I am still bitter about the fact that they moved it to USC from UCLA (Go Bruins!) a few years ago, but it wasn't terribly crowded and the weather wasn't as hot as it has been in the past. As always, it's just such a treat to be around literary people and to hear writers speak. 

Yesterday Sawyer and I went to the California Science Center in LA to see the Imax Panda movie but to also see the King Tut Exhibit, which had 150 items from Tut's tomb. This is the last time Egypt is going to let these items travel, since their permanent museum is ready for them, so it was neat seeing something so old and special when it really will be the last time. It was really crowded, but we still had a great time. We popped into visit the space shuttle and walked around a few of the exhibits in between all of our ticket times. 

May Intentions

[college acceptance letters! I am so proud and excited]

Only six days into the month... not bad... or good... Anyway, if you're new around here, every month I (try to) write out a list of intentions for the month and revisit if I followed through with the previous ones.


1. Grade like a crazy person- Yes I really, really did. Sadly, I am not caught up and my students have been turning in things faster than I can grade them. #Englishteacherproblems

2. Celebrate Sawyer's birthday- Yup! We had a great time and really made it special. 

3. Stop dwelling on the opinions of others- Nope! What was I thinking? This is just a character flaw.

4. See friends- Yup! I have seen lots of friends lately and have plans for even more outings.


1. Enjoy the last month with my seniors: I have all these kids for two school years, some three, and some I even had when they were in fourth grade. They are a really special group and I am so proud of what they've done and what they will do.

2. Start planning for summer: Of course I have things in the works, but I want to be a bit more organized about it. There are some things set in stone, but I want to generate a list of local fun things for Sawyer and I that we haven't done yet.

3. Yoga: While no where near lofty, I want to make sure to get in at least one yoga session a week. It's good for my joints, muscles, and sanity.

April Reviews

This month brought quite the variety of reads. Let's hop to it:

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
343 pages
Four siblings visit a gypsy and learn the dates of their deaths when they are children, each choosing whether or not to believe their supposed fates. The book is divided into four parts, one for each, in which the reader sees them live their lives, some long and some very short. The siblings all undertake incredibly different paths that are still connected, in various ways at various times (it's hard to talk about this book without risking spoilers).  

Verdict: I really, really enjoyed this book. I read the bulk of it in Yosemite while Sawyer was napping and it was the perfect semi-serious mountain read (is that a thing? No? Now it is). Every time one character's section would end I'd be temporarily angry and wish there was more time with him or her, but was quickly equally captivated with the next sibling. I loved the question of fate versus free will, as well as the exploration of family bonds. 

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
260 pages
Eileen is a young woman in the nineteen-fifties who works at a boy's prison by day and takes care of her alcoholic father by night. She's incredibly insecure, a prude, angry, smart, and a little mean, too. More than anything she wants to be ignored while still getting attention and to finally leave her town and live in the big city. The book takes place over the span of just a few days, while Eileen's anger reaches a boiling point at home. At work she becomes a little obsessed with a new female employee, who ends up involving her in quite the side plot that unexpectedly becomes a major focus (you gotta read it!).

Verdict: This book was sad, hilarious, smart, and quirky. Eileen was fairly unlikable, but I was sympathetic, considering her upbringing. I really think that Moshfegh is going to really break out this year, considering her summer release is already getting some buzz.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
77 pages
I just taught this book for the third time and read it for the fourth. I really don't like it at all, and am so glad that we're done I'm not going to waste time recounting it here. 

Make Trouble by Cecile Richards
260 pages
Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, details her childhood with liberal, activist/political parents and her rise to leadership in this memoir. She discusses what it was like being the daughter of the famous Texan Governor Ann Richards and how going to college on the East Coast was at first a tough transition. We learn about her involvement in union organizing, life as a busy mother, and how she came to be the head of one of the most important organizations in our country.

Verdict: I am a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood and have carefully watched what the group has gone through over the last few years. I new Richards was a strong, positive leader, and I was excited to read this as soon as it came out- it did not disappoint. I do feel like she did hold back a bit- it was very, very polished. Maybe we'll get a new one when she retires one day. 

940 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[just making the dog with cancer banana muffins from scratch]

Hey there! If you play along link up in the comments!

1. It's been awhile! Sheesh! The last two weeks have been insane: two days at Disneyland, Sawyer's birthday, the LA Times Books Festivals, a RAGING cold that haunted me for a solid eight or nine days, grading like a fiend, IB Celebration Night, Sawyer's spring performance at school, prepping my seniors for their IB test review, and trying to stay afloat at home. To be honest, I have been really overwhelmed and frustrated (when not loving all the fun things, that is), and I mostly blame being sick for that (and the fact that every single cold medicine I tried, even the daytime ones, made me extra tired). I've been less productive than normal and I haven't been able to work out, two important pieces of the "stay sane" puzzle. Thankfully, though, things are better. I mostly laid low this weekend, got in a quick hill walk yesterday, have graded a ton (not caught up, but progress!), feel like I've given my students a good review for their test, and have started taking a tiny bit of melatonin at night to get better rest. Fingers crossed the rest of the school year is great!

2. So, all of that being said, I have approximately four posts written in my head to get out on the screen in the next few days.

3. In true Christine fashion, when I get overwhelmed and anxious, I make plans. On one had this is counterproductive, since it adds to my plate, but it really does help because it gives me something to look forward to. This next weekend I have plans with a friend on Saturday and then Sunday Sawyer and I are going to the Science in Museum in LA to see the King Tut Exhibit and see the Imax Panda movie. The rest of the month is also filling up fast.

4. I am SO EXCITED that I am going to get to go to the Grease Sing-a-Long at the Hollywood Bowl in June with some friends. I had wanted to go, but then they stopped doing it for a few years and I was worried it was never coming back. But it is! And I get to go! I am also going to the Beauty and the Beast Orchestra/Concert/Movie event in a few weeks too, which I am very excited about too.

5. Sawyer and I are growing butterflies! I ordered one of the caterpillar kits on Amazon and we are a little in love with our ten little guys crawling around a few well-sealed cups on our kitchen table right now.

6. I just finished Make Trouble by Cecile Richards, the president of one of my favorite organizations, Planned Parenthood, and am starting I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, about the Golden State Killer. I actually the late author's husband, Patton Oswalt, speak at the LA Times Festival of Books last week and then they caught the guy two days later! The timing of everything was very crazy and I can't wait to read the book to find out even more.

7. It's breaking my heart big time that I don't have time to watch the new season of Handmaid's Tale. Sigh.