March Reviews

I have on shorts. There are a few windows open. It's really happening!!!!

Except here in Southern California we're scheduled for rain in a few days and for the first week of April to land itself in the low 60s. This winter, man, it's been a great source of water for the state, but a bit of a buzz kill.

Now that I've given you a weather report, let's talk about books, a far more interesting subject. It's interesting that for readers every climate is conducive to reading. Cold? Snuggle up on the couch with a blanket and read. Hot? Hide out in the AC or lay out by the pool. Spring-like? Iced-coffee and a book outside. Autumn? Hot coffee and a book outside. It really is the best hobby. 

Most of my reading done in fits and starts this month. I reread Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novella, Chronicle of a Death Foretold for the fifth (?) time, since that's what I'm teaching this month. For anyone interested in magical realism it really is a great starting point; a slim volume, subtle but obvious examples, and beautiful prose. 

I tackled two heavier novels this month, Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters and Swing Time by Zadie Smith. In many ways I felt the same about both; they were [erfectly fine, but could have been better. Each had some marvelous moments of superb writing and depth, but the trajectories of the stories just left me a little underwhelmed (you have no idea how much it pains me to say that about Smith). The Winter's novel considered the idea of the Civil War never happening and slavery still existing in a few states. The main character in an African American man who is a bounty hunter, basically returning runaways to their owners. He ends up getting caught up in a complicated scheme and must really reflect on his own position (doesn't it sound amazing?). Swing Time is about two "brown girls," as the author describes them, growing up as dancers in London, each poor but families in very different positions. The trajectories of the two young women reflect this, although the identity-building that occurs with each girl may not be as different as one would expect. I don't regret reading either, and I wouldn't go as far as to not recommend them- I would just suggest lowering one's expectations a smidge. 

I talked about book FOMO and my experience reading Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid here. It was totally fun- maybe not a literary tour de force, but this one will definitely be on my beach read list in a few months. 

Yesterday I finished my month off with How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. I am in the process of writing a full post, but basically this book is a quick, solid reminder to PUT YOUR DAMN PHONE DOWN. I will be the first to admit I use my phone to much- don't we all? Or at least most of us? I have made a conscious effort to use it less around my son, though, but I still have a lot of work to do. 

2019 Yosemite Trip

For the past four years we've gone to Yosemite for a few days over spring break, and I always look forward to it very much, even if it's a bit of a weather Russian roulette (my husband came the first year, but it's been just Sawyer and I for the last three). This year my time off was a week earlier, and with the long cold winter California has been having I knew the whole thing could get called off. I watched the weather carefully and shuffled dates around three times, but we ended up going for two nights and three days, and then scooted on over to Modesto, where my mom and sisters live, for another night. It was perfect! 

The first day we left home at 5:30 and arrived at the first waterfall by 12:30. There was zero traffic, Sawyer colored the whole time, and the hours flew by. We spent the entire afternoon exploring Bridalveil Falls and Upper/Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. On our way to check into the hotel, about 75 minutes from the Valley Floor, Sawyer got car sick for the first time in his whole life. It was a bad combo of hairpin turns, just having dinner, and staring at the iPad (the first time we busted it out that day HAD TO BE JUST THEN... luckily it survived). I'll spare you the details, but I almost pushed my car off a cliff (taking my child out first, of course). But, he and I rallied, because that's what we do. 

The next day we went back to Yosemite and had a picnic lunch in the Swinging Bridge area and then hiked out to Mirror Lake. We headed to Oakhurst, the nearest town, for a quick dinner and then went back to the hotel to relax (we were both feeling it at this point; between the two days we had walked 40,000 steps and sleep was not as plentiful as normal). 

The last day at Tenaya Lodge we spent outside playing in the snow and walking around, checking out precisely one minute before the 11:00 am cutoff. We drove the two-ish hours to Modesto, where we hung out with my family the rest of the day. The fire pit at the hotel had been closed for repair, which seriously ruined our s'mores game, but my mom and her husband fixed that issue at their place. 

And then we drove home the next day! Traveling along with a kid is never easy- I read somewhere that it's just "parenting in a different place." And while Sawyer is a great traveler and is really flexible, it's still super true. It's totally exhausting making sure we remember everything, making multiple trips to the car to bring in bags, keeping track of him every second, etc... But it's also totally worth it and I am thankful we are able to have a few little adventures a year. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's been a tad quiet around these parts lately, if Idosaysomyself. Things were pretty busy towards the end of last week, and then Sawyer and I were gone from early Sunday morning to just a few hours ago in Yosemite and then for a hot second in Modesto, to see my family. But we're back and feeling better about life (nature will do that to ya). I have lots of post planned for the next few days and they're all cemented into my to-do lists, so there's a fairly good chance they will appear. 

Speaking of to-do lists, the only bad part about taking trips during a week long break is that it eats up so much of the time (I know, so sad, boohoo). After unpacking THE INSTANT I got home (yes, I am one of those people- I refuse to sit down until every last bag is packed and laundry is started), I sat down and made a master to-do list so that I can divide up the tasks between the four full days I have left. I know there's a special spot in hell for people like me, but putting things down on paper makes me feel like I have control when I don't feel like I do. It's a coping strategy, I guess, but it's also super productive, fun, and comes with cute pads of paper.

I mostly listen to things like memoirs, self-helpish kind of books, or super fluffy fiction with my audible credits, and this month is no exception. I started More Than Words by Jill Santopolo on our trip, and while I find it interesting it drives me crazy how so many of the girls in these types of books are so privileged. They don't struggle for money, to cope with the logistics of life, or with other huge issues that plague so many. And I get it, escapism can be nice, and these authors aren't really out there winning Pulitzers, but still, cultural responsibility can nice.

You know how some people get super intense baby fever? I have puppy fever. I miss Cordie and Chomsky so much, but now that it's been a little over four months I feel like I'd be okay getting a new dog. Unfortunately, my husband and I have agreed the timing isn't right, so there won't be a fuzzy four-legged bundle of joy joining our home any time soon, but a girl can dream.

I consider myself a decent parent- not perfect, but I make an effort to be a good mom on every level. But sometimes I worry that I'm not being deliberate or thoughtful enough, with the things I say or the lessons I should be covertly teaching. I do a lot of reflecting, but I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I need to be more proactive rather than reactive. Sawyer is a good kid, for the most part, but, for example, instead of scolding him for dancing around while we're waiting in line at the store I need to remember to give positive reinforcement during the times when he's waiting quietly. Stuff like that. I need to go back to my elementary classroom management classes and remember how I used to handle all those crazy little kids. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

One of our school groups is having a toiletries drive for a local homeless shelter and my students were in charge of bringing shampoo and conditioner. They decided it was too much trouble to bring the supplies themselves and just collected money for me to do it. I have no problem at all doing it, especially since I have to stop off at the store for something during the week anyway, but I just found the whole things amusing.

Sawyer and I are going to Yosemite next week for three nights, as we always do during spring break, but the weather has been really unpredictable. I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and changed our reservations but a few days, but then back to the original ones. All of this changing ended up in some huge changes price wise, which I really debated about paying, but since this might be our last trip out of the area for awhile I decided to just do it. On a whim last night I decided to write their customer service department, explain the issues and they kindly reverted all the charges back to the original ones, saving me a few hundred dollars. It was a good lesson- sometimes you just need to very nicely ask. The Tenaya Lodge is fantastic if anyone ever visits the area.

Sawyer has a performance at his school on Friday and has been practicing the songs for weeks and weeks. He is so excited and his classroom looks amazing, yet I am terrified that my little mischievous social butterfly will go rogue and, like start moshing with his friends to “In the Jungle.” I’ve already planted the seed of ice cream afterwards if it all goes well, so hopefully my subtle bribing (which will probably become less subtle as we get closer) will work.

I’m reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time right now and it’s so different from everything else I’ve read by her. It’s just so… accessible. She’s usually an author I really have to concentrate on, but not this novel. I don’t dislike it, but it’s just such a departure from On Beauty and other essays I’ve read by her.

I tend to listen to more audiobooks than Podcasts, but I’m waiting on my Audible Credit right now (I need to go get a library card so that I can actually just use the library for more audiobooks…), so I finished listening to the Elizabeth Holmes one, The Drop Out (crazy!) and have been listening to the episode of The Armchair Expert with Gwyneth Paltrow. I know people love to hate her, but she’s really intelligent, articulate, and she’s said a lot about things like control, fear, and parenting that have really resonated with me. Sorrynotsorry.

Long ranty story short, I have paid on my federal student loans for twelve years without ever missing a payment, but because of how I consolidated I will not be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. I have no issues with loans or taking them out; I borrowed responsibly, I knew this was part of the process, and I have about 25% of the original balance left. I’m upset by how ridiculous the government is being and how loans that would be eligible under one condition aren’t in a slightly different one.

Over the weekend Sawyer and I went to UCLA to see their last home gymnastics meet of the season and it was EPIC (and I’m not one to overuse that word). There were two girls who received scored of ten on floor exercise, including their viral sensation Kayla Ohashi. The head coach, “Miss Val,” was also celebrating her last home meet as she prepares to retire, so there was a huge celebration in her honor, complete with a dance routine performed by dozens of alumni gymnasts from the school. It was amazing, and, even better, only $12 per ticket! Afterwards we walked into Westwood so I could relive my glory days, getting cheap pizza from Lamonico’s and cookies from Diddy Riese. I can’t wait to go back next year!

When Book FOMO Strikes- Daisy Jones & The Six

Disclaimer: I am not a Taylor Jenkins Reid fan, nor to I dislike her. I have listened to one of two of her books and while entertained while driving around, I wasn't blown away by her writing chops, in terms of the construction of her prose, the development of her characters, or the plot lines. That being said, I think that we're all on the same page that she's not exactly striving for a Pulitzer or Nobel. She has a style and a genre, and she does well for herself. And again, as I said, I was entertained, but not impressed. So, when I first heard of Daisy Jones & The Six several months ago, I figured I'd probably listen to it as well, especially since the subject matter was intriguing. 

And then everyone started reading ARCs and I kept seeing it EVERYWHERE. 

Book FOMO is a real thing, and with the convenience of the Amazon app, badda-bing-badda-boom, that sucker was delivered to my house on release day. Raise your hand if your a big fat sucker.

So, I read it. And I have thoughts. 

First of all, I loved the Behind the Music feel- I adored the series back on VH1 back when I was in high school. They covered all the bands I grew up listening to with my mom- it was an hour of sex, drugs, rock and roll. The book is told in an interview format and has the same confessional tone, which I was a nice approach for Reid to take and I appreciated her originality. I do think this was slightly problematic, though, as it prevented a level of depth to some of the characters that I think could have been achieved with a more complex narrative line. I know, she just can't win. I'm sorry, this is just who I am. 

Something else that I liked was the clear Fleetwood Mac homage- Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are clearly Billy and Daisy. There's enough originality, though, where it definitely didn't feel like a rip-off or an attempt at a biographic novel or anything. I do think that Reid could have done a better job making it feel more authentic to that time period, though. I just didn't feel a true commitment to dating her story (the format admittedly has something to do with this, though). 

Without giving anything away, I do think there were certain plot points that were pretty predictable and the end "twist" was a little anticlimactic (but still a little endearing). 

I am excited about the series Reese Witherspoon's production company is going to develop eventually for this book. It is definitely one of those stories that I think would translate really well to the big screen or the small screen. 

If you love music from the seventies, the sort of confessional/interview format, or need a break in between heavier books, this is certainly the novel for you. It will probably make everyone's summer reads lists, for good reason. It's not going to be taught in college classes, but it's definitely fun read. 

The Most Awkward Author Event Ever- Ottessa Moshfegh

Last week I went to LA to see Ottessa Moshfegh in conversation with author Amanda Stern through the ALOUD program at the Central Library. I have read two of Moshfegh's novels, My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen, both fascinating. It's always, always, always a treat to be able to sneak away for an evening, especially to see writers speak! 

Typically, I'd recount tidbits of wisdom from the author and how I was inspired, but you guys. This was the weirdest interaction I've ever seen between a writer and interviewer, and I've probably been to like 35 (or more) of these things. It was like watching a bad first date that makes you feel simultaneously uncomfortable and just totally sucks you in. The chemistry was just completely wrong and it felt like Stern didn't know how to compensate and Moshfegh was consciously refusing to do so. Stern would ask a long-winded question and Moshfegh would either answer shortly or bluntly say, "what did you say?" At first I thought it was a microphone issue, but it was just... her. The questions weren't fabulous and the answers were terse and brief. A few times the pauses were so awkward and long that I thought one of them (money on Moshfegh) would walk off stage. The audience Q & A was so much better- the author was much more kind, elaborated, and seemed more relaxed. 

It was a really interesting experience, but, frankly, I was disappointed in Moshfegh. She's done these before! Could she not just take control and offer some anecdotes or just extend her answers by a few sentences? I know that there is likely more to the story- she was having a bad day personally, she was really nervous, she has issues with Stern, she wasn't feeling well, she hates book tours, etc... But, man. I drove over 90 minutes to get there, on a work night, had to battle downtown LA rush hour traffic, and paid to park. I had a hunch she was going to be quirky and intellectual, but cold, quiet and borderline rude I was not prepared for. 

I ran into a man as I was leaving in the parking garage who had also gone, and he said the same thing! It wasn't just me! I don't regret going and am still a fan of her writing, I just wasn't super impressed. I would actually really like to attend another event with her, just to see if the outcome was the same. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. So, I read Daisy Jones and the Six and have some thoughts. I am hoping to get a post up on Friday about it. Spoiler alert: all I want to listen to is Fleetwood Mac now.

2. I try not to go to Starbucks often, but we stopped by the other day and Sawyer was appalled that they didn't write my name correctly on the cup. They actually did, but it was "Christine" not "M-O-M" like he expected. 

3. Speaking of cute kid things, he now calls hugs "llama squeezes" which is basically the most adorable phrase ever. I'm sure it will be short-lived, the term, not the hugs, so I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

4. I'm a big Strumbellas fan, so I was super psyched to get tickets for a small venue they'll be at in May, for only $25 a pop. I haven't paid that little for concert tickets since seeing Blink-182 when they did the MTV $1 tour in like 2002. 

5. I also picked up panel passes for the LA Times Festival of Books and my friends and I are going to see Tommy Orange, Susan Orlean, Tayari Jones, and a panel with some authors like Janet Fitch. It will be one packed day of bouncing from lecture hall to lecture hall, but it will be totally worth it.

6. Last night I went to the Ottessa Moshfegh event at the LA Public Library and it was.... weird. A post on that soon.

7. Last weekend my mom, brother, Sawyer, and I went to a new-to-us nature preserve for a 5 mile hike. It's only about thirty minute away from my house, so I was pretty mad at myself for not knowing it existed until recently. It was so beautiful, the trails were totally manageable difficulty-wise, and there was plenty of trailhead parking. We also went to an awesome donut place, called Donut Bar, which I have been fantasizing about since then. 

8. This weekend we are off to a UCLA gymnastics meet, a first for me, despite attending the school for four years. Tickets are crazy cheap (I almost feel bad) and the weather is supposed to be amazing, so we'll be able to roam around campus beforehand (this is strategic on my part, it's always nice to see my old-stomping grounds, but it will also be nice to get some of Sawyer's energy out before sitting). 

Super Bloom!

The other day, on a whim, after an incredibly long day, I decided that Sawyer and I would detour twenty minutes south to see the Super Bloom of poppies that certain areas of Southern California are experiencing right now because of all the rain we've gotten this season. I had on my dress clothes for work, plus a pair of very flimsy flats, but we hiked up a pretty big hill and back down to see the amazing little pocket of nature that could disappear within the next few weeks. I wanted to avoid the weekend crowds, since I hear weekends are crazy with thousands of visitors. 

[Walker Canyon, Lake Elsinore, CA]

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Three things about food. The first is that I am really considering the hassle that these donut recipes are. I have been pretty steadfast in my desire to NEVER make donuts, but these might change my mind.

My coworker made the famous NY Times chocolate chip cookies that have to chill for 24-hours and they were delicious. I have resisted these because of having to plan a day in advance, but I now know they’re worth it.

I have been in a dinner rut, constantly feeling like I’m just assembling meals, rather than truly cooking. I made pasta from scratch on Sunday night, something I haven’t done in probably six years, since it’s a huge hassle. It was totally worth it, though, since it ended up close to perfect, and was clearly a great workout since my arms were killing me the next day after so much kneading.

Next week I get to go to the Ottessa Moshfegh reading at the LA Public Library, which I’m really excited about. Her books are so quirky- I can’t wait to see what she is like.

I started Daisy Jones & The Six today and am about 60 pages in. Basically, it’s like reading a novel version of vH-1’s Behind the Music, which I am enjoying. I don’t think that Taylor Jenkin Reid is an amazing writer in terms of her prose, but I am enjoying the style and format so far. It will definitely make everyone’ beach read lists for the summer, I’m sure.

Please don’t tell my husband, but I desperately want to put wallpaper up in my house. Not everywhere, just in like one room, and only like one wall. Wallpaper is so different than it used to be- the modern designs are more like art, as opposed to the floral borders of a few decades ago.

I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of getting one of those desk cycles for my desk at work, for when I’m grading during my prep. Obviously it would be great to burn a few calories while I’m sitting there, but my room is FREEZING and I’ve read that people in cold offices warm up this way.

I have jury duty summons for this week and have had to call in every day to see if I have to go in and it’s been a huge pain, since I have to prep sub plans before leaving work each day in case I have to go in the following day. I swear, 50% of the people who I have talked to about this just toss their summons! I’m too scared to!

This weekend starts a series of busy a few busy weekends for Sawyer and I. Saturday morning I have a hair appointment (I love going to see my stylist- two hours where I get to chat with an old friend, with a short break in the middle where I get to read while my color is setting under the dryer), then I’m having lunch with my cousin, and then my mom comes into town. If the weather holds up on Sunday we will hopefully go hiking. Always working for the weekend….

When Reading and Embroidery Collide

If you’ve been around for the past few months you’ll have noticed that I’ve taken up embroidery with gusto. Recently, I started a new bookish embroidery project that will span the entire year, thanks to some inspiration from a fellow stitcher, Amanda, whom you can find on Insta at @americanroseemrboidery. She stitches a symbol from whatever book she’s just finished on one big hoop, which I thought was a simple, visual way to track what has been read, all the while combining two hobbies at once. I’ll probably post my updates once a month, but I had to play catch up in February, since was a little late to the party. I can’t wait to see where this goes (and whether or not I can space and size things so that it looks full, but not too full, by the end of 2019!

[follow along on Instagram! @daily_floss_]

zzz: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
trees: The Overstory by Richard Powers
bug: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
city/thermometer: Severance by Ming La
happy face: Watchman by Alan Moore
bench: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
?: Motherhood by Sheila Heti
South African flag: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
scales: The Truth We Hold by Kamala Harris
stick figures: The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
record: The Leavers by Lisa Ko
rock climber: Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold
pregnant mom: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

(I love that the pregnant lady kind of looks like she’s wearing a body-con dress- one hot mama!)

Tell me! Have you done any cool projects with your books before? Julie has, that’s for sure!

February Reviews

Good riddance February! Please take your cold, your rain, your home repair issues, your bad moods, and your sickness and GET THE EFF OUT OF MY LIFE. 

But this is supposed to be about books. 

One bright spot was getting five books out off my TBR stack, two nonfiction, and three novels. The first was a total beast, The Overstory by Richard Powers. I have a definite thing for trees, but had been holding onto this one for the right time to start a 500 page book- apparently I decided for some reason February would be the month. I wrote about the book more here, but I will repeat the fact that I absolutely loved it. The whole package was there- amazing writing, a profound message, and a depth to the characters that many contemporary writers struggle with. 

The two nonfiction texts I read were Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and Alone onf the Wall by Alex Honnold (with David Roberts). Several of my students had read the Noah book for outside reading and I had been meaning to for a long time, so the timing was perfect. I loved his combination of South African/Apartheid history, family anecdotes, and emotion. Honnold's book was definitely my sort of thing- he chronicled his rock climbing feats all over the world, which led him to free solo (as in no ropes) El Capitan in my beloved Yosemite. Free Solo, the Oscar-winning documentary was awesome too. 

While maybe not completely autobiographical, Sheila Heti's Motherhood definitely felt more like a memoir than fiction. I really, really want to do a follow-up post on this book while it's still fresh in my mind, but we'll see. Basically the story is about her obsessing whether or not to have a child, constantly weighting the pros and cons, while battling her monthly reproductive cycle and dealing with her boyfriend. It's definitely not a book for everyone; I can see many being quite annoyed by her, while others struggling with the narrative structure. I definitely appreciate and respect this book, but I can't simply say if I like or dislike it (yup, I've talked myself into a post).

Finally, I ended the month with Ling Ma's Severance, which ended up being a slight disappointment, but I think that was more a problem with my expectations. I can definitely label it "good," but just not "great" (it's 100% perfect for beach reads or airplane terminal waiting). The novel takes place after the Shen Fever has basically wiped out everyone, although not Candace and her small group of travelers that are making their way from NYC to Chicago. The story tells of the present, the recent past, and also the very distant path. I think the narrative structure was definitely the most sophisticated aspect of the text, the depth of characters and the development of the plot had some issues that bothered me a tad. I did appreciate the books examination of materialism, as well as group dynamics. If you're a fan of dystopian literature you'll really enjoy it.

That's it!

1,653 pages