Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's Wednesday! Link back in the comments and on your blog if you play along (also, the formatting might be weird... it won't be next week).

1. I am just finishing up The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and am loving it. So much so that I posted a defense of short stories here yesterday. For years I avoided short stories, but during the last five or so years I’ve warmed up to the them considerably. I do still balk at anything more than 400 or 450 pages, though, which is part of the reason I haven’t read A Little Life, as it clocks in over 800 pages (although when checking the pages right now I almost bought it, since it was only eleven bucks…. this is why I have so many books…)

2.     I have been with my new group of students for almost three weeks (already!) and not only do I see plenty of potential, I am also basically caught up on my grading. This has to be a good omen that the class of 2020 and I will do just fine together, right? Their essays so far haven’t been horrible to read, they say smart enough things in class, and they seem like nice kids. I am still struggling to learn all of their names (I have 128 English kids, plus the small group of seniors I have for my late afternoon TOK class), which I hate about myself, but it will happen.

3.     Today is super busy- I was up at 4:50 to run, went to work, had my late afternoon IB class, picked Sawyer up from preschool, grabbed an early dinner out and killed some time at the bookstore, went back to preschool for Open House, and then finally got home at 7:30. I generally dread anything that I have to do after work, but I tried to go into this with a good attitude and we ended up having a nice night. 

4.     I have been learning to BBQ, finally. When we bought our BBQ a few years ago I thought that my husband would be using it primarily, since I didn’t have much of an interest. Unfortunately, since he works so late and we tend to each out a night or two on the weekends, that plan hasn’t exactly came to fruition. I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring, though, and it’s so much easier than I thought.  I’ve done chicken, burgers,  foil packets with veggies and sausage, and tomorrow I'm going to try my hand at steak. 

5.     My RBG documentary arrived yesterday and I cannot wait to watch it this weekend. The Skirball Center in LA is hosting an exhibit later this year in collaboration with the authors of Notorious RGB, which should be pretty great. I have issues with the whole “having a hero” idea, but if I did she would definitely be one of mine.

6.     It’s a three-day weekend! I plan to take Sawyer to the Discovery Science Museum in Orange County, since they have dinosaur and rainforest exhibits that are both ending soon. My husband and I might sneak away to see Crazy Rich Asians if we can coordinate the babysitter’s schedule with our separate Fantasy Football drafts (ha!). Otherwise, it’s just exciting to have that extra glorious day off.

For the Love of Short Stories

For a very long time I was pretty staunchly resistant to short story collections, favoring chunkier novels instead. I argued for character development, depth of plot, and the secret-belief that they were cop-outs for authors who didn’t want to commit to doing the time to write something lengthier. I’m here today to talk about how wrong I was, though, as a reformed short-story-disliker. Here’s what I’ve realized:

When You’re Short on Time
I love short story collections when I know I’m staring down the barrel of a busy week that may not allow me larger slots of time to sit down and dive into a novel. Most short stories can be read in less than an hour, which makes tackling them in a sitting or two (or three) completely doable. If I try to plow through a denser novel during a stretch where I’m feeling stretched thin I’ll end up simply not reading, which is not how I want to live my life, thankyouverymuch.

Travels Well
I also find short stories perfect for trips when I have Sawyer with me and I know we’ll pretty busy, for many of the same reasons previously mentioned (novels are perfect when I am traveling alone and have blocks of hotel room down-time, though).  I also love short story volumes when I know I’ll get an hour by the pool or at a coffee shop alone.

Not a Word Wasted
Writing a succinct, fascinating, well-crafted short story is probably in many ways just as hard as writing a novel. With fewer pages you have less time to develop your story, so not a page, sentence, nor word can be wasted. In order to pack the necessary punch, short story writers are responsible for doing so much with so little. I think until I started fiddling around with my own short stories I really didn’t give these authors as much credit for what they’re able to do in such a small allotment.

Responsibility Released
Let’s face it, as a busy reader sometimes I want to release the responsibility of being accountable for remembering detailed back stories, following intricate character connections, or hunting for well-placed symbols. Sometimes my brain wants something that’s well-written but doesn’t require I buy the mental equivalent to an external hard drive to keep everything sorted out.

That being all well and good, how is a reader supposed to find short stories that can stand their ground? My first suggestions would be seeing if any of your favorite authors have collections. TC Boyle, Nathan Englander, Roxane Gay, Viet Thanh Nguyen. Curtis Sittenfeld, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nick Hornby, and Lauren Groff all do, just to get you started. I also like to go through and see who has won any recent literary prizes in this category or if some of the more reputable review sources have been touting any lately. 

I’m currently reading Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno and am enjoying it immensely. What he does is something that I always tend to appreciate with short story collections: cross-story connections. In this specific text a certain painting and its circumstances are carried over to each section, as well as a few of the characters. Each story could stand alone, but there’s also meaning within the whole. This route is probably the best one for those who gravitate towards novels but may want to dip their toes in short stories.

Happy reading!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[from Lucky Sparrow's felt grocery store in DTLA]

Happy Wednesday! Link up in the comments and link back in your post!

1. My four-year-old has homework, now that he is in his second year of preschool. He loves it and has been totally fine sitting down to trace letters, color things red, and practice his name, but DAMN this has cemented the fact that kids younger than like ten are too young for me to teach. As annoying as it realistically is, I love to see him learning and that his school is on top of it. But still. I hate it (yup, I said, it). 

2. I am read Anthony Mara's The Tsar of Love and Techno and am in love with his writing. I need to buy A Constellation of Vital Phenomena as soon as possible, since I remember the hype over that one being pretty intense. I just saw that he's a year younger than I am- womp womp womp.

3. I bought tickets to see Gary Shteyngart promote his new book, Lake Success, next month at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. I have been a fan of his since hist first novel came out and have read everything but his memoir (why? Must buy this too). His work for the New Yorker is always hysterical and the dry, witty political commentary he offers these days is spot on. I am pretty confident that it will be worth the drive on a Tuesday night.

4. I just said "political"- I won't go crazy, but seriously? S E R I O U S L Y? How is this disgusting shit-show of chaos actually real life? 

5. It's back to college time! We had several kids that have graduated from our IB Program come back to talk to the kids today it made me miss my UCLA undergrad days badly. There are so many things I'd go back and do differently. I should have partied harder. I should have gone abroad. I should have worried less. I should have dumped my high school boyfriend a year or two earlier (sorry, man). I should have gone to more sporting events. I should have take a few more fun classes. I should have read in the Sculpture Garden with iced coffee for hours at a time in the perfect SoCal weather. Isn't that always the way, though? Everything felt like survival (most of the time) when I was younger- how was I going to get through whatever stretch of life I was in while staying financially and emotionally and academically afloat? That's what your thirties are for, I guess, to play the should-woulda-coulda game and to right some of the wrongs.

6. Last weekend Sawyer and I went to the Sparrow Mart at The Standard Hotel in LA and it was as whimsical and wonderful as I thought it was. Lucy Sparrow's felt grocery store was impressive and just such a fun thing to experience- everything was completely handmade (she started with 31,000 purchasable pieces for the month-long exhibit). We grabbed some macaroons afterwards and enjoyed a traffic-free ride home.

7. This weekend we're keeping the party going with a visit to Brick Fest Live in Pasadena, which is a LEGO convention sort of thing. I'm not sure what to expect, but it's something our whole family can enjoy, so I'm excited about that. It was super cheap, too, and is really close to MotherMoo Creamery, so that will be an added bonus. I'm hoping to score some Harry Potter Minifigures, since everyone seems to have sold out. 

8. Last weekend we were also able to try out a new babysitter and things went well! I guess that means I might actually get to see Crazy Rich Asians in the theater! The sitter is local, a driver, responsible, and a total sweetheart, so I am hoping that we can use her once a month or so to go out, and if I ever have work conflicts in the evenings before my husband gets home. Fingers crossed. 

Why The Catcher in the Rye is the Perfect Book to Start With

I talk a lot of smack about Holden Caulfied and The Catcher in the Rye, I have to admit (although not in front of my students). I may tend to let a few words like "whiner," "entitled," "mediocre prose," and "excessive angst" come out of my mouth while reading, which I actually find incredibly ironic since I probably tend to bond with kids who are more like Holden than, say, Sally (read it if you don't understand that reference). More than anything, I think Holden and I have just spent way too much time together over the pas two decades- I teach this book every other year and have read it a few times prior to teaching as well (I think this is my sixth time). 

But, here's the thing: it's a great book to start our two-year IB stretch off with. Once I'm in the classroom teaching it I'm totally and completely on board with Holden and Salinger, and gone are my complaints. I will have the students who just entered my class for two years, and we will explore and analyze countless books together. The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect start. Here's why: 

1. It's a perfect jumping off point for reviewing (or for some of the kids, an initial teaching of) important concepts like symbols, themes, and narrative structure. All of these are so easily identifiable and discussible that they get the process and feel successful. 

2. The language is fun to examine and helps facilitate discussions on such concepts like syntax and diction. The style isn't archaic or too challenging, so the kids feel comfortable talking and writing about Salinger's choices.

3. The students always have strong opinions about Holden, which means they're much more likely to participate than they may be otherwise. Some kids are naturally talkative and ready to go, but I do see many that are a little more hesitant early in the year, since they don't know me (yet) or all of their peers. There's something about Holden that makes kinds want to talk.

4. Speaking of that, there's something identifiable for most students in this text. Maybe they have family issues, are insecure, have a rebellious streak, are struggling with depression, are lonely, want to impress those of the opposite sex, etc... 

5. There are a lot of great creative projects that can be done with this text. One of my favorite that I created when I first started is called "Diagnosing Holden," where they pretend they are his psychiatrist and put together his medical file. Over the summer they had choices that included a poster map of the spots he visited, letters to Holden written in the voices of the other characters, or a scrapbook. 

So, yes, while Holden is a bit of a pain sometimes, he really is my favorite way to start off junior year. 

Fall Titles I'm Excited About

Fall in Southern California basically means everyone gets super excited about drinking PSLs in their shorts and that they might grab a lightweight sweater if they're out after dark, so I use the term pretty liberally. Nonetheless, I love the anticipation of the season, since it means there are so many fun holidays and events on the horizon. There are also a few book releases that I'm getting psyched about. Check out some titles that will surely be finding their ways onto my shelves in the coming months:

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver- I have actually only read one or two books by her before, but I know enough to know that I'll want to read this one too. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama I pre-ordered this the day it was available, long before it had a cover. I can't wait.

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart- If you haven't read any of Shteyngart's other books you must. His dry wit is hilarious and his stories are addictive. I hope to see him next month in LA!

Bibliophile by Jane Mount- Mount paints prints of book spines and I have been head-over-heels in love with her work since the first time I saw one many years ago. I have some of her prints and notecards, as well as her other book. Someday I will save my pennies and get a custom-made painting done for my little home library. 

Elevation by Stephen King- I am generally not a huge King fan, but I do appreciate his writing abilities and his personal backstory. This one sounds pretty interesting, though, and isn't his typical horror/mystery story, but instead a sort of sci-fi social commentary.  

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami- I haven't read any of Murakami's novels, just his memoir, so this one might be the one I take the plunge with (I have to confess that the references to The Great Gatsby intrigued me).

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah- I was sold when I say that Roxane Gay blurbed this collection of short stories about racial injustice. 

Family Trust by Kathy Wang- I think this one might be a little lighter, but I thought the comparison to The Nest was interesting, especially since this is set in the Silicon Valley. 

The  Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose- I know this was available in other countries, but finally Americans will be able to soon get their hands on a novel centered around a unique art instillation. 

All About Cake by Christina Tosi- More recipes from Tosi and The Milk Bar! They're opening a shop in LA and I cannot wait to not only go buy EVERYTHING but take a class once I can snag a spot.  

Am I missing anything? Do I need to add any other titles to my list?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Link up, link back!

1. There is no tired like "first full week back with students" teacher tired. Dang. But, all in all, things are going well. My class sizes are leveling off, the kids seems fine, and I'm making a dent in grading their summer work assignments. Sawyer and I have fallen right back into our weekday routines, which helps so much. It's so nice that he mostly get himself ready now- anything to save me a few minutes! Despite feeling a little beat today, I have to say that this is the first school year since having a kid that I've gone back to work in August feeling mostly refreshed. As a whole I feel more optimistic, calmer, and just more ready, than I have at work in a really long time. 

2. Last week we were not only getting back into the the groove of things, but we also had to deal with the added local panic of a fire that was less than ten miles away (The Holy Fire). I never, ever felt that my house was in danger, but some of our neighbors and my husband were very concerned, since the hills where the fire was located look much closer than they were. The fire ballooned quickly and grew to over 20,000 acres in a few days with little containment for five days. There was a lot of smoke and ash, made worse by high temperatures and wind. While I definitely have things that panic me, this was not one of them, and I refused to do anything more than the officials told us to do (so when our fire chief listed our area as one to pack go-bags just in case, I did throw together important documents). They have over 70% containment at this point, with very few structures damaged, which is a huge testament to the dedication and ability of the firefighters. 

3. I started reading Sawyer a few pages every day of Charlotte's Web and I found an old book label I had made myself when I was in elementary school. It had my name, of course, but also the Babysitter's Club logo, which my dad had helped me scan in. I was a BSC fiend and even wanted to start one with my friend at one point. Unfortunately, her dad was a CPA and told us that unless we got a tax ID and went about it "the right way" he wouldn't let us. Eye rolls for days- he totally ruined my chance to channel my inner Stacy (when in reality I was probably more of a Mary Anne). 

4. I saw that Instagram is rolling out some updates that will introduce some productivity features that allow you to keep tabs of your time in the app and even set timers for allotted time a day. I live for this kind of data. I know Apple plans on incorporating even more advanced options similar to these in an upcoming IOS and I cannot wait. 

5. I am reading the Book of Tess right now and I am a little torn on how I feel about it. The story is interesting right now, but I'm concerned it might end predictably. I am also not blown away by the writing, either, but I do love the fact that the author is a doctor- it's more forgivable knowing she's a smart lady. I might also go as far as to say that it feels like sophisticated YA, but I don't think I'll take that plunge quite yet. It's probably the perfect thing for me right now, since I can't commit huge stretches to reading right now. 

6. I am listening to  Heather Harpham's The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness, which is about coping with her daughter's blood disease and complicated relationship with her father. So far I'm pretty interested, but I do think that maybe it's moving a tiny bit too slow, although that might just be because I am listening in super small increments right now. 

7. Over the past week or so I have had three or four different friends contact me, completely unsolicited, and offer some really kind comments. It's hard for me to accept compliments, but I tried to be as gracious as I am capable of being. More than anything I was just left with this feeling of "DAMN, I have good, kind people in my life that understand me and my intentions." 

8. We watched The Quiet Place last weekend and it was terrifying. I am not a fan of suspense/horror movies and while this was was well-done, it scared the crap out of me. 

9. It just occurred to me the other day how bizarre it is that I am not in close contact with either of my college roommates, from the two years I dormed at UCLA. We aren't on bad terms, but neither girls are super active on social media, so contact sort of just fizzled out. It's just so strange to me! We lived in the same room, ate countless meals together, cried on each others' shoulders, and were kind to each others' families. And now, nothing. Weird, yes, but also... totally fine. 

The 2018-2019 School Year: Looking Ahead

The 2018-2019 school year is off and running! I have a soft spot for goal-setting, so every year I try to make a few in August. It's like New Year's Resolutions, but for teachers, I suppose. Here's what I plan to work on this year: 

1. Grade ten essays a day: I collect other assignments besides essays, but essays are ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL are the ones that pile up. If I grade at least ten a day I will be able to stay relatively on top of things. I think I am going to go as far as to add this to my grading calendar (see below).

2. Keep using a grading calendar: I've used this consistently for probably a year and a half now and it has really helped me stay organized and accountable with my grading. I'm not perfect and I screw it up ALL the time, but assigning myself grading tasks really helps. I am really motivated by lists and charts, so this is perfect for me. (For those who are teachers and are wondering, I just print out a blank monthly calendar and write in what I am going to grade on what day, taking into account busy weekends, my late TOK-class day, etc... I also keep a running list of what assignments I have, so that I can cross them off as well as I input them into the grade book).

3. Apply to be an IB-Scorer: GAH! I have had this on my to-do list for about a year now, and the biggest roadblock has been the fact that I haven't done a resume. I've done so many things since I've started teaching that I haven't kept good track of, so the task of trying to think back has been daunting. I don't even know if I want to become a long-term exam scorer, I just think knowing the process would help my teaching.

4. Have my students journal four days a week: I've done this here and there throughout the years, but I really, really want to hit it hard. My plan is to have the students silently write for 5-10 minutes most days and then finish up at home if necessary (each prompt will require one full written composition notebook page). The prompts will be a combination of personal responses and then also more in line with what we are reading, so that they are practicing personal narrative writing for college essays but also having time to reflect on our classroom content. 

5. Quit caring (as much) about what others think: I am a solid teacher who knows my  content area well and forms strong connections  with my students. I am proud of the growth my students show, demonstrated by the improvement in their writing, the depth of their discussion participation, and, ultimately, their IB test scores. Nonetheless, a part of my brain still thinks that there are certain people who doubt my capabilities. Like they think I'm an IB teacher because I fool people by dressing professionally or talking a good game or am friends with the right people or something. Hell, this might not even be true (anymore). I need to let it go. 

6. Revamp my outside reading accountability assignments: I am so incredibly tired of trying to cram quick little conversations with students into a few days at the end of the semester! Last semester I had the students choose a novel with a social issue, research the issue, write a short paper, and do a quick presentation. They weren't exactly thrilled, but I really enjoyed seeing them combine fiction and expository text in different ways. I don't think I'm ready for a new crop of juniors to do this, so for now I am requiring them to pick at least one book that is set internationally and do a paper that discusses the country in relation to the content. I'm also going to have them do some explications and a "Pop Question Presentation" at the end that will minimize the process. 

It's definitely going to be a busy year, and there are a lot of changes at our school site and district. We have a new-ish principal, a brand new superintendent, and our union is in the thick of messy negotiations. I really can't control any of that, though. What I can do is make sure I am teaching to the best of my capabilities, that I am having fun outside of school, that my students are learning, and that I don't go crazy. Fingers crossed. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Picked up Sawyer's mild stomach bug/fever: CHECK
Fire close enough to raise eyebrows, but not worry much (at least me) CHECK
First day back to school with students tomorrow: CHECK

I'll be back soon when things settle down a leeeeetttttle more! 

Girl, I Use a Clarisonic Nightly

A few people recently have mentioned they thought I'd like Rachel Hollis' self-help book Girl, Wash Your Face, their thinking being that Hollis and I both share the Can'tSitDownAndDoNothingForLongPeriodsOfTime-Itis with an occasional bout of INeedToDoItAllRightNowOrElseIAmAnEpicFailure Syndrome (these are legit diseases, I swear). I was sort of hesitant, though, since I know Hollis is pretty vocally religious and I am... not. At all. I'm also pretty picky about what sort of self-help books I'll spend time with, since a lot of them are crap (but not all). I was curious, though, especially after a few other people I knew read and loved it. I checked in with them and asked about the God thing, and based on their answers, decided to give it a listen. Here's what I liked and did not:

The Good:
- I listened to this during the past week and it was perfect timing, as I'm headed back to work and know I will be half-assing pretty much all areas of my life until next June. Hollis' words gave me permission to feel a little better about myself and to ease up a bit. 
- She has stories and advice focused on so many areas of life, including work, kids, marriage, sex, personal growth, the past, goal setting, weight, etc... that I think most women will be able to identify in at least some areas. I have to admit to nodding vigorously and even saying "yes!" out loud, in my car, several times. She said a lot of things that I needed to hear that I've been trying to tell myself for years. Will this be life-changing? Probably not in the long run, but I can say that after listening to a chapter I completely changed how I handled something at home and the results were so much better than normal. 
- Her stories are interesting and she really seems like she's being honest, as often she portrays herself in a less-than-flattering light.
- I went into this thinking I'd hate her at least a little bit, but I really could probably be friends with the lady (as long as she promised to not judge my for my Diet Coke habit and maybe left the scriptures in the car). She's pretty endearing.
- She's right. So much of she says is the advice we'd give our friends, sisters, or even daughters, but she's giving it straight to us. And by listening it felt even more personal. 
- I really, really appreciated her stories about foster parenting, adoption, and her struggle with her brother who killed himself. Coincidentally, she grew up in the Central Valley a few hours away from where I did, and my dad took his own life as well, so I felt a little connection there (this may also be why people have recommended it to me, they just didn't want to actually say this to me...?). 

The Less-Than-Good
- While the religious factors weren't enough to make me quit listening or even dislike it, I could have done without the references. I think she does it well, though, and I didn't feel like she was trying convert me or shove the Bible down my throat. She offered multiple perspectives on issues, and her faith just happened to be one, and that's okay. I can respect her ability to acknowledge different ways of doing things! I have a complicated relationship with faith and I just don't want to listen or read about it at this stage of my life.
- I didn't love the multiple "girl," "sister," or "dear friend" addresses that ran rampant throughout. I've never been a "you go, girl!" kind of person, though, so that's just my cynical side coming out.
- She is a little bit repetitive at times; she shares similar versions of a few stories that made it apparent she wrote the chapters out of order and her editor didn't clean things up enough before publishing.
- I LOATHE the title and I HATE the cover. This is me being nit-picky, but it's true. 
- I felt that the part about embracing diversity at the end, when she mentions her African American best friend who is also gay, and searching for a less-white church was maybe just a last-minute appeal to those who were going to start finding ways to bring up her privilege. This of course could be the result of bad editing, like I mentioned before, but it was definitely a thought that entered my mind. 

So, really, I think if you're a woman between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five (or whatever), I think there's something in here for you. It's not perfect, but I still respect her approach, willingness to share, and her positivity. 

Summer 2018 Recap and Looking to August

[Sawyer got used to flying this summer]
Without a doubt, this has been the best summer I've ever had. I had a hard end personally to the school year, so I needed this to be an awesome summer. And it really, really was. Sawyer is at a great age (four!) and we were able to do a lot. I also took him to preschool a few days a week, so that he could be around little kids and so that I'd have some time to myself (or to get boring things done, like dentist appointments, car maintenance, cleaning, etc...). I think some people are surprised by this, which instantly makes me defensive, but it's good for him to see his friends and to stay familiar with the teachers' routines. And, I am on duty for pretty much every waking second he has, unless I am not at home, so I need an occasional breather- it makes me a better mom (see, SO DEFENSIVE). 

Anyway, our trip to Banff was absolutely the highlight of my time off- Sawyer proved to be a great little traveler and Banff is just absolutely stunning. I also feel like I was able to do a variety of things during my eight-week break, which was important to me when considering our options. I did a lot with my son, both at home and other places, I saw my husband alone more, I hung out with friends often, and also had time to myself. I worked out almost every day, I read a lot, and I finally felt on top of domestic matters. We spent time in nature, at museums, at fun places likes theme parks and zoos, and also hung out at home. I'd love to have more time, but I can't complain! I am fortunate my profession allows the schedule it does and that I was able to plan financially to have fun. Fingers crossed we have a repeat in 2019! I've already started thinking about travel plans! 

At the beginning of the summer I made a list of things I wanted to do, so now is the time to see how I did: 

[Banff, Alberta, Canada]

Go to... 
1. Modesto (Y)
2. Canada (Y)
3. The San Diego Zoo (we have passes) (Y)
4. The Wild Animal Park (included in the above pass) (N)
5. Knott Berry Farm a few times (we have passes) (Y)
6. Big Bear (hopefully overnight with a friend, but if not just a day) (N)
7. The Broad (Sawyer has never been and I think he'd love it) (N, but we did two other art museums, so good enough)
8. A friend's wedding (it's a coworker and all the fun colleagues are going) (Y)
9. See the crazy umbrella alley in Redlands  (N)
10. The Hollywood Bowl with friends for the Grease Sing-A-Long  (Y)
11. Griffith Park (Sawyer has never been and I haven't been in a decade) (N)
12. Vegas (we are going for two nights and leaving Sawyer with my in-laws so we can go spend one night on the strip) (Y)
13. The beach (Sawyer has been asking almost daily) (Y)
14. A baseball game (Y)
15. See some movies (The Incredibles with Sawyer, Jurassic Park with Scott, and then maybe one or two on my own) (Y)
16. The Gail Honeyman event though Hello Sunshine (Y)
17. The Muppet's Exhibit at the Skirball Center (Y)
18. The Michael Chabon reading (Y)

[an author event, time to myself, and a anew bookstore!]

Around the House:
1. Put up a gallery wall behind the staircase (Y)
2. Clean the ever-living-shit out of my house (Y)
3. Completely reorganize and clean out Sawyer's toys (Y)
4. Completely reorganize the treadmill/toy room (Y)
5. Paint an accent wall in the guest bedroom (yellow?) (Y)
6. Clean out the garage and break down ALL boxes (Y; until my husband added more)
7. Redo the shelving paper in the kitchen (hold me- I am scared) (N)
8. Have people over at least once (I love entertaining, but it just doesn't happen a lot) (Y; a few times)
9. Shampoo all the carpets (so glamorous, but it needs to get done) at the beginning of the summer and at the end (Y)
10. Look into having our travertine floor in the kitchen resealed and patched in a few areas (N)

[Wonderspaces in San Diego; one of four museums we went to]

Self Goals:
1. Read 18 books (Y)
2. Tackle some tough/new recipes (Baked Alaska, Gnocchi, fondant) (Y)
3. Learn to BBQ! (and master the art of the BBQed pizza) (Y)
4. Update some things here on the ol' blog (Y)
5. Have at least 4 ALONE days (this is where those preschool days will really help) (Y)
6. Yoga an average of twice a week  (N)
7. Make more of an effort to hang out with my husband (weeknights are so hard during the school year between my schedule and his)  (Y)
8. See friends on average of once a week (luckily most of my friends are teachers) (Y)
9. Watch TV (seriously) (Y... sort of...)
10. Finish a cross-stitching project or two  (Y)
11. Work on writing project (I'm not going to set a specific goal, I just want to feel good about the progress) (N)
12. Catch up on my yearly family photo book (N)
13. Go to a new bookstore (Y)
14. Get rid of clothes (N)
15. Finally apply to be an IB scorer (N)
16. Finally try out Orangetheory (N)

[the LACMA]

1. Help Sawyer make progress with letter recognition (Y)
2. Appointments: dentist and physical (Y)
3. Work on bike-riding skills (the kid has weak legs- he needs to do squats) (N- too hot!)
4. Try to eliminate the swimming fear (N; we went backwards and then back to where we were, though)
5. Practice penmanship (Y)
6. Do some more science experiments (Y) 

[it's me! In Vegas!]

I go back to work on Monday and while I was set to make a whole new list of goals for August like I usually do each month, I've decided to just let myself ease back into things and do the best I can. So many of the things I truly care about happen no matter what- I have no issues working out, I always want to spend time with the people important to me, and I read like crazy. That isn't to say there aren't areas that I need to work on (eating habits, grading every day consistently, getting more sleep, etc...), because I definitely have many, but for a few weeks we'll see what happens (that may mean things are predictably slow around here, as well, unless I schedule a whole bunch of posts in the next few days). It's usually quite the transition getting back into the routine that forces me out of bed at 5:30 (I still get up early during the summer, but DAMN is lying out the couch much easier than looking professional and getting Sawyer and myself out the door). One day at a time, right? 

Have a great weekend! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Link up in the comments and link back in your post! 

1. This is sort of a downer, but a recent thread popped up on our Neighborhood Watch/HOA Facebook page about a deceased infant that was found not too terribly far from where we live. Clearly this is absolutely tragic and devastating. My fellow neighbors ATTACKED the parents of this infant, without knowing anything, though. My first thought was that the death may have been accidental and a parent panicked and left the body. Or, maybe post-partum depression came into to play. Of course none of this excuses a dead baby, but I just hate it when people don't slow down, find out the facts, assess the situation, and then pass judgement. There is totally more to this story than was put out in the initial press release that caused so much outrage. 

2. It's a double post kind of day! I put up my reviews for the ten books (!!!!) that I read early this month here, in case you missed it.'

3. Tomorrow a group of friends from work are coming over to my house for lunch and to discuss So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. It should be interesting.

4. My school year starts on Monday- already! I am going to miss these free days very much, but we had such am amazing summer that I can't complain. I couldn't have asked for a better eight weeks off (recap coming soon!). We have teacher meeting and work days for three days and the students start Thursday, so we definitely ease back into things. We have one more thing planned for Friday, a visit to the OC Fair in Costa Mesa, but this weekend I plan on doing a whole lot of STAYING HOME. 

5. Luckily Sawyer's field trip today to the park was canceled (I had volunteered to chaperone), because after a routine check up at the dentist this morning they found a cavity and had an opening to fill it this afternoon (as opposed to waiting once school starts). I'm so used to my teeth having problems at this point it always end up being more about the inconvenience of scheduling appointments, rather than the procedures themselves. For the record, I take incredible care of my teeth- the hygienists always compliment me on my brushing and flossing skills. Unfortunately, from what I have been told, some people, like yours truly, just naturally have weak teeth and end up with lots of fillings, root canals, and crowns. Luckily the field of dentistry has come far and my teeth are still pearly white. *BORING TEETH RANT OVER*

6. I've finally watched a few things this summer! A miracle! I might do a post soon, since it's such a rare occurrence, but I will say that I really didn't like Ready Player One. I thought the book was far quirkier and that the characters came together so much in print, as opposed to the screen. Also, they made so many changes! Too many, as far as I'm concerned. I understand that alterations are necessary when converting text to screen, but to completely alter all the tasks that led to the keys and the egg? No! 

7. I finished listening to Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour, and it was really fabulous. Khakpour suffers from late-stage Lyme Disease and she discusses her battle with diagnosis, handling medical professionals who wanted to write off her disease and purely psychological, and still trying to have a writing career. I think, as a collective society, we are not always the most empathetic when it comes to handling diseases that can't clearly be seen by the eye or with conclusive medical testing. I highly recommend reading or listening to it.

8. I'm debating about what to listen to next; I tend to mostly stick to memoirs or nonfiction/self-help. I know a few people who loved Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, claiming that it was super motivating to make sure your life was headed where you want it to go. I know she's religious, though, so if it's heavy in that area I'm going to pass. Has anyone read it? What did you think?

9. I am still wading my way through the curing/preventing Alzheimer's book, but I am starting the highly-anticipated The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon, which was released this week. The literary world has been abuzz with anticipation for it all summer, so I'm eager to get started. 

10. The last week has been incredibly full (and awesome). Last Thursday Sawyer and I went to the Petersen Automotive Museum and LACMA in LA with my sister-in-law and nephew, this past weekend the three of us (plus Chomsky) went to Vegas so the kid and dog could stay with my in-laws while Scott and I enjoyed a night on the strip, Monday I caught up with a friend for lunch, and yesterday Sawyer and I went to Knott's Berry Farm for a few hours. At the same time, though, I have no papers to grade, am on top of cleaning/laundry, and still have had several hours at home every day to hang out. It's been such a strange, and lovely, combination of crazy busy and relaxation. Summer life, right? 

July Reviews

July is the epitome of summer break- it's the only month of the year where I don't have to teach at all. That being said, our July was PACKED between traveling to Canada, a quick Vegas trip, lots of local activities, and time with friends. I did manage to read quite a bit though, and here are some quick thoughts on what I got through: 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
238 pages
I wrote about this book here

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
218 pages
After listening to Jamison's memoir Addicted, I was curious to learn more. This collection of essays is about her time developing as a writer, struggling with addiction, moving in and out of relationships, and just generally trying to get a handle on her life. 

Verdict: I found these essays emotional, honest, and well-written (I love her voice and syntactical structure). At times she frustrated me, with the choices she made, but that was the realistic part: people mess up. Badly. And then they have to decide what path to take afterwards. 

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard 
267 pages
This is the story about a group of people in Atlanta in the early 1960s who are all connected to a plane full of people who are killed in a crash. Most of the characters are rich, white, and attached to the art world, and we see how they act out in times of grief. There is also a young African American boy named Peidmont who ends up embroiled in the drama, with a tiny slice of racial commentary thrown in. 

Verdict: This is one of those books that a lot of people seem to like but I borderline hated. I found the characters boring and under-developed, the storyline dull, and the writing nothing terribly special. I understand that Pittard was trying to comment on class and social standing, but I thought the way in which she chose to propel her message just fell flat. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang
211 pages
The unnamed narrator of this coming-of-age novel is a bright chemistry student who is working on her PhD, only to sort of self-sabotage, in a variety of ways. She finds herself at a dead-end academically, confused romantically, and lost personally. We watch her try to fix things, only to come up short, and end up needing a new plan. 

Verdict: I have to preface my next statement with the fact that I found this a quick, compelling read that I think mirrors what a lot of smart kids feel as they try to approach life after college, whether just undergrad or beyond. Nonetheless, I often found myself yelling at the narrator (in my head, of course) that she was frustrating me and then instantly feeling bad, since not only was what she was feeling natural, but there was clearly some mental health concerns sprinkled in. Anyway, I appreciated the writing, the connection the science, and the ambiguity of the ending as well.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawling by Hannah Tinti
372 pages
Loo and her father move around the country constantly for much of her childhood, always ready to pack a bag in a matter of minutes, when he gives the word. Eventually he decided to settle down, and they buy a home in the town where her dead mother grew up. Loo and her father have a hard time adjusting to a permanent residence, but there are bright spots as well, as they start to develop some roots. The narrative flips back and forth between their present situation, but also the past, where the origin of each of the bullet hole scars on Samuel's body are revealed. 

Verdict: I loved this novel even more than I thought I would, becoming attached to the characters and appreciating Tinti's melancholy, insightful prose. The pacing was nearly perfect, except at the end, and I equally enjoyed the past and present stories consistently. It was an absolute pleasure and was probably my favorite from the month.

Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann
163 pages
I picked up this quick little guide that McCann puts together for developing authors that always as him for advice. He give tidbits of advice on things like tackling the blank page, finding an editor, not being "a dick," reading aloud, embracing failure, developing characters, and many other topics.

Verdict: I'm a big McCann fan, even more so after seeing him on a book tour many years ago, so I loved that his humorous, honest, witty voice really shined on these pages. I found it useful on two fronts: as a sometimes-aspiring writer, but also as a teacher. I plan on using it in the classroom with my students this year!

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
224 pages
(This book is represented by the blank spine in the above picture, since I recently lent out my copy to an old student). This short story collection focuses on refugees to America and what it means to adjust, whether it's in the beginning of someone's journey or many years later. The stories show what a struggle starting over can be, and stay, and also what connections back home sometimes look like.

Verdict: It's safe to say that I will read whatever Nguyen writes, at this point (The Sympathizer was amazing). While the stories and characters are fascinating, his writing is the quintessential example of what "crafted" looks like. I also appreciate reading this in an era where it seems so many don't possess sympathy for those trying to restart their lives- it's something all people should read.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
472 pages
This sci-fi mystery thriller was something that was somehow selected for our English department book club... definitely not something I'd choose in real life. Crouch tells the story of Jason Desson who, basically, end up entering this complicated world of parallel universes where he has to figure out a way to get his old life, with his wife and son, back. 

Verdict: Sigh.  *Literary Snobbery Forthcoming* This book just isn't for me; it's a mass market paper book that you'd see in a display box at the airport with the author's name written in huge print and quotes raving about it from US News. The characters were mostly weak, the plot contrived and at times silly, and the writing lacking severely. This is not my thing. 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
289 pages
The narrator of this novel decides she's going to take a year off from life, primarily through combinations of different sleep and psychiatric medications that she doses herself with. Her parents are recently dead, she quits her job as an art gallery receptionist, and she is constantly trying to avoid her supposed needy best friend- things just aren't going well. As the novel progresses we see the character become more and more addicted to drugs and obsessed with the idea of sleeping her year away.

Verdict: I would say I found about 2/3 of this novel fascinating and felt empathy for the character's obvious depression. The other 1/3 was full of a slight boredom at hearing, once again, the character go over her plans for inducing as much sleep as possible. I will say that Moshfegh is a very talented writer (I've read her novel Eileen as well), and I think she's going to outlast her "hot up-and-comer" status and be around for awhile. 

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
333 pages
Hazel's surrogate grandfather, a celebrated mathematician, has mysteriously died and has left her with an important clue regarding his death. She begins investigating, other findings leading her on a wild good chase around LA, all the while she must attempt to get her personal life under control. There are twists and turns, revelations from the past, and a surprise ending.

Verdict: Despite this novel sounding captivating through it's synopsis, it actually ended up lacking a bit in complexity, depth, and development. It has so much potential and is a neat idea, but it just fall short.

2,787 pages