Thoughts on Atwood's The Testaments

[the cover, both front and back, are so good]

There aren't any spoilers, don't worry.

I was cautiously optimistic about Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, despite not being a huge fan of series and sequels. But, it's Atwood! Her Oryx and Crake books are great, and she's basically a living legend. I did have some fears, though, since her show has seen so much success, mostly that it would either follow that story line or be written way too accessibly to captivate Hulu's wide audience. The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most quintessential pieces of modern literature, and while it's not Ulysses, it's not exactly JoJo Moyes. 

Atwood's newest novel is set not quite two decades into the future after the original story left off, where we hear from three perspectives: Daisy, a young girl in Canada, Agnes,  the daughter of a Commander in Gilead, and, our favorite, Aunt Lydia (hey girl!). There is a definite sense of instability in the conservative run territory, as we now have a better glimpse of what is going on from multiple source, both inside and out. Over time, the lives of the three are merged together and the infrastructure of the regime is threatened. In true Atwood style she questions patriarchy, government, and the tradition. I appreciated her ongoing no-so-subtle commentary on the current US administration, forecasting the dangers of trusting those who want to stifle the voices of their citizens. 

The book is definitely a page turner; at over four hundred pages it moves quite quickly and the second half especially is pretty action-packed. The narrative threads of the two young girls were a tad two simplistic for me. I mentioned this to an old student of mine who was also reading it, and she had a thoughtful interpretation- that it was mirroring their limited education and experience. I definitely agree on one level, but the older, snobbier, more jaded reader in me thinks this was maybe an attempt to keep those Hulu readers. It's not a huge problem, and the fact that Aunt Lydia's portions are so true to the style of The Handmaid's Tale balanced things out considerably for me. 

The story itself was well-crafted, of course, although a bit predictable at more than one point. I felt that this element was handled well in the last portion of the book, though, so as a whole it all comes together nicely. I also had to wonder if the there was a door left open for a third book, but we'll have to just see what Atwood has up her (sadly quite geriatric) sleeve. 

All in all, this was definitely a win. You must read the first book, though, if you haven't, or so much of this just won't work (and watching the series DOES NOT COUNT). There are so many frightening parallels to the present, both in regards to reproductive freedom and government bureaucracy that it's an important warning for us all. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Pardon my absence while I recover from being hit by this (metaphorical) bus. Back soon!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I was thinking back today about a boy in fourth grade who made fun of how I walked, my allergies, and my glasses daily. There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, I had a crush on him, and it stuck around way after his teasing began. Why have I always put up with so much crap from people? Secondly, why did my teacher keep me in the same group as him, even after I left in tears for the bathroom one day and I heard her yell at him through the open window? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. He is actually married now to someone I went to high school with, so I always give a huge eye roll when I see her gush about her “hubby,” although I guess technically he could have grown out of his fourth-grade bullying ways (are she too fell into the same trap I did as a ten-year-old). It’s interesting, investigating when we started making mistakes and whether or not we ever learned.

I’ve felt lighter, like spiritually, that is, lately, more so than the last year (this sounds so new age and ridiculous, I know). I think a huge part of this is being on top of a lot of work-things, but also making an effort to get together with friends every weekend. Nothing fancy, but I think I’ve hung out with friends for the past four or five weekends, on top of seeing friends at work every day, and it’s just made me so much happier. I’m so fortunate that my friends either have kids or don’t mind mine, so it makes it easier to have a social life. Last week a friend of mine whose kids are grown hosted a little playdate for Sawyer and another one of her friend’s with a kid his age, whom I did not know. It was such a blast! I loved his mom, Sawyer loved the kid, and we all hit it off that it was sad to leave.

I’ve decided to start paying attention to my macros. I don’t want to commit and say that I’m going to count them, but for now I’m going to keep track and pay attention. I will never, ever be able to commit to a diet plan (high five to those of you doing keto, Whole 30, etc…), but this way I will be more aware of the ratio of macronutrients I’m consuming and can play around with the ratios to be healthier, lose a few pounds, but also still enjoy things I love. My diet right now is EXTREMELY carb heavy, so I know there is a little bit of work to be done. Luckily my Fitbit will do the math for me, because there’s no way I’d do this on my own.

I’m reading the new Atwood, guys, and I have some thoughts. It’s definitely good and I’m relieved it’s not a print version of the show, but I am feeling like it’s a bit more accessible than the first book (not necessarily a good thing…). I’m only about 1/3 of the way in, so I’ll post when my opinions have been solidified.

We're entering the September-November tussle of summer vs fall here in Southern California. The nights are getting much cooler and the days have entered the eighties, so.... whoa. Scarves? Too soon?

On that note, we're going to the beach this weekend. 

Those Books You Should Read

There are a lot of books out there. Like a lot. A billion trillion cajillion, if we’re getting technical. So, of course, we can’t read them all, whether we want to or not. In my head I divide potential unread titles into categories: will read, definitely will never read, don’t always feel like reading but at least sort of want to. Let’s talk about that last category.

There are a lot of books I know I don’t want to even touch, for example Moby Dick or anything by James Patterson. Then there are of course I’m champing at the bit to get my eyes on, both new and old. That grey area, though, is filled with lots of books I feel obligated as a bibliophile to read but have hesitated on for whatever reason.

There are some books that are intimidating because of length, like Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace or War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I hate that this is an excuse- I like reading, shouldn’t I have a “more is better” mentality? I also like macaroni and cheese, though, and I could never eat that for every meal, so I guess it makes sense. I have a beautifully illustrated version of Don Quixote that Visual Editions put out several years ago that I’ve never taken the dive into, I’ve hemmed and hawed about beginning The Crimson Petal in the White by Michael Faber, Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, and Heyday by Kurt Anderson, all of the same reason.

There are also popular literary books that I’ve completely neglected, as well. Here’s one that I always cringe when admitting: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. How is that even possible? I’ve read a few of her others, but not her claim to fame. I’ve had Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami on my shelf for probably a decade, even after I read and loved his Norwegian Wood this summer. I need to get to both of Jesmyn Ward’s books, and someday I’ll read something in completion by Joan Didion. I have a boatload of TC Boyle books, whom I love, and also a few by Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What is my problem?

There are also a few series that I’ve started and haven’t finished. I read the first two of the Millenium Series (I’m not counting the fourth), the first two of the Oryx and Crake books, and, you guess it, the first two of the Crazy Rich Asian books. And then. I. Stop. I’m really not a fan of series in general, but I am such a completionist I can’t believe I haven’t sealed the deal.

Several of the books I read when I was much younger, like in college, I’d also like to reread. Crime and Punishment was one of my favorites, but it’s been so long that I owe it another go. I’d also like to reread Lord of the Flies by William Golding, as well as Jane Eyre and maybe something by Austen (Emma?). I generally live by the “life is too short to reread” philosophy, minus what I do for work, but these titles call to me.

The other day I did the heartbreaking math: let’s say on average I am able to read 80 books a year for the next fifty-five years (plan to live to 100, but I have a feeling I might slow down a bit around ninety). That’s only 4,400 more books that I’m going to be able to read!

It’s double time.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I used a personal day today to chaperone Sawyer's kindergarten field trip the the LA Country Fair and it was one part fun, one part tiring. His best friend was in out little group, so it was nice that I already know her and she me. We saw a ton of livestock, fed goats, walked around some awesome exhibits, and ate junk (fried cookie dough is pretty great). I'm over 15,000 steps already, so I can only imagine how well those little kids are going to sleep tonight and how tough it will be to wake them up in the morning!

2. Speaking of sleep, Sawyer has been incredibly tired since starting kinder (they napped/rested for nearly two hours in preschool), do we've moved his bedtime up fifteen or so minutes every night. I'm not going to lie- the extra time for me has been awesome. That's over an hour of "found" time cumulatively during the week now! 

3. Atwood's new book arrived yesterday and I hope to start it tonight! Yay!

4. I'm almost done with the audiobook My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams and it is absolutely fascinating. I wasn't familiar with the story of the fake heiress ahead of time, so everything is totally new to me. Totally appalling. 

5. I've started a new little program for a few things I worry about incessantly (and can't do anything about)- I fine myself. Every time I feel myself spiraling I add a tally to a note in my phone that translates towards an extra collar towards my student loan payments each month. I really, really don't want extra expenditures right now, so this has proven pretty motivating. It's clearly just a bandaid for my MAJOR PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES, but right now it's helping to break a challenging, distracting habit. 

6. I'm too lazy to link it (see number one), but if you are a fan of Snickerdoodles, look up the recipe on Sally's Baking Addiction. It is so, so, so good.


5 Things I Want to Watch
The Downton Abbey movie- We finally finished watching the series after speeding through all but the last season.

The Goldfinch movie- I thoroughly enjoyed the book and while I’m not usually a huge fan of most book-to-film adaptations, this one looks good.

The British Baking Show- They’re baaaaaaack! Only one episode at a time, but I’ll take it.

Workin’ Moms- I know there are some major issues with this show, but it’s entertaining and it makes me laugh. I sped through the first season and am working on the second now

This is Us- I fully admit this is such a guilty pleasure, and I’m always several shows behind, but it makes me happy the new season starts in a few weeks.

4 Goals I’m Working Hard on This Week
Yoga- I’ve completely fallen off the wagon and my body has been hurting lately after running more than usual

Less Phone Time- It could be better, it could be worse

Grading- The semester is off and running, which means that the kids are starting to write essays and turn in plenty of work for me to grade. This is my fourteenth year of teaching and I know better than to get behind this early in the game.

Etsy shop- I’m finishing up one project and need to start a special order!

3 Events I’m Looking Forward To
Jurassic Park Kid’s Run- It’s not until November, but I just paid for the registration for Sawyer’s 1k at Universal Studios, so I can’t wait

Cooler Weather- I hate exercise of any sort in the heat, so I can’t wait for it to cool down so I can get in longer runs and start doing more local hikes.

Halloween-y Stuff- I have never been a huge fan of Halloween, but now that Sawyer is in it to win it I have a lot of fun taking him to Pumpkin Patches, working on his costume, and trick-or-treating.

2 Books I’ve Preordered for September
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (9/10)- I’m excited and scared for this follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (9/24)- I hate the cover and I’m not won over by the synopsis, but I love Patchett and she’s won my trust over the years.

1 Major Unrealistic Want

An Airstream. All of the sudden being able to attach a mini-house to my car and drive wherever is really attractive.


Over the summer I saw the book Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss in a post on a bookstagrammer’s account and after seeing that it promised an exploration of popular teenage books from the seventies and eighties I was totally there for it. If you too grew up on The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Lurlene McDaniel, and RL Stine you’ll probably want to pick it up too. Not sold? Let me convince you:

It’s visually appealing- The pages are full of hundreds of glossy, colorful covers that will totally take you back to a simpler, more awkward time. 

It’s well-organized- The book is categorized in sections, dealing with subjects like family, school, illness, and friendships, as opposed to by series or author. There are also a few interviews and special features, which were neat. 

It’s thoughtful without taking itself too seriously- This isn’t all fluff; there is actual literary-esque analysis in here, as well as a sort of sociological approach that examines why these books were so appealing to a certain demographic. There is definitely a tongue-in-cheek feel, but I never felt that Moss was making fun of the authors, books, or readers.

It’s got something for everyone- Series, stand-alone titles, drama, friendship, illness, horror… she hits on all the popular titles of our time.

It’s unique- There are so many nostalgic nods to music, movies, TV shows, and clothing lines that it’s about dang time that books are included in the bunch.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[my new friend at the Safari Park]

My leftover happiness from the long weekend came up against some resistance today when I received the estimate for some car repairs. Ugh. A necessary evil and why I make sure to have savings, but disappointing, inconvenient, and annoying.

Thanks for the Sleep Score, Fitbit. Now I can really have a better understanding of how exhausted I am.

My husband is reading the Harry Potter series for the first time and it’s making me want to go back and reread them. I’m probably going to wait, though, since Sawyer has been expressing a lot of interest and I’ll probably get him the illustrated version maybe for Christmas. I think he might be a little too young to really understand them, but I’m not going to squash that interest!

I have been fighting our insurance company for months on getting some reimbursements for Sawyer’s speech therapy and they’ve FINALLY started sending checks (thank goodness, see item one above, gah). I feel so victorious. They were so horrible, rejecting paperwork that clearly followed directions, locking me out of my online account, giving me contrary information, etc… Persistence has paid off. Literally.

I’ve been reading Things I’m Seeing Without You by Peter Bognani and it’s quite mediocre, especially coming off such a stellar reading month in August. The narrator is a teenaged girl, and as someone who spends her days with that age group I just don’t find the dialogue very natural, which is a huge buzzkill for me.

Sawyer is ALL ABOUT helping in the kitchen lately and it’s one part awesome and one part annoying as hell. He tried to commandeer barbequing duties from my husband over the weekend and we had to put the kibosh on that. I try to always find a task for him to do, but you know how it is with a five-year-old… everything takes soooooo much longer.

It’s time for football! Fantasy, that is. I’ve played in leagues on off for several years and, honestly, I’m just in it because I love data and numbers. I don’t know teams or players in the slightest! I won last year, so clearly being a fan isn’t exactly a requirement for a FF victory (my team name is “Books Over Balls,” very fitting).

I’ve been reading a collection of essay called Can We All Be Feminists for like eight months or something like that. It sits on my desk at work and I just read a few pages here and there, which is fine, but not my style. I made a silly little chart so that I can force myself to finish it this month.  Its message is so important that I don’t want the fact that it’s lurking on my to-do list to tarnish anything.

Play Time

Not quite a year ago I started doing something very simple at home with my son that has helped us in many  ways: I designate 20-30 minutes a day as dedicated playtime with him. I set a timer on my phone, put it out of reach, and let my five-year-old son choose an activity for us. A lot of times it’s LEGOs or Magnet Blocks, but sometimes it’s coloring or a board game. He knows that for that chunk of time I’m totally his. We talk about our days, his imaginary friend, plans for the weekend, and whatever it is we’re actually doing. It isn’t a ton of time, but it satisfies his desire for me to play with him and it helps us connect.

I know for some people, probably ones without kids, truth be told, this seems crazy. You have to set a timer to play uninterrupted with your kid? You don’t play longer than 25 minutes a day? I get it. But I found a stat once that said working parents spend less than 35 a week reading to their kids and less than an hour playing- it’s a widespread struggle!  Let me tell ya, when you are gone at work and commuting anywhere from nine and a half to eleven hours a day  and still have to do the “take care of the house/cook dinner/help with homework/get kid ready for bed” shuffle every day anything extra can be a stretch. I have a tendency to multitask and gogogogoGO to knock things off my to-do list, so setting a play timer forces me to stop, breathe, and focus on my son, doing something he loves. (Playing doesn’t count towards the time I already spend talking to him in the car, helping him on homework, stopping to look at all the things he makes with his toys, reading to him at night, etc…)

Another advantage to doing this is that he is a lot more understanding of me telling him he needs to hold off on interrupting my paper-grading, housecleaning, bill paying, etc… After we have our play time I usually try to take a break for myself, reading or whatever, and if he tries to interrupt I don’t feel guilty gently reminding him that he and I already had our time and it’s now my turn to do something I like to do. He doesn’t have siblings, so learning to consider others and their wants is something I have to deliberately teach.

A lot of times I find this is super fun. The inner-child in me actually really enjoys building with LEGOs and blocks and it’s nice to just talk to hang out and not, you know, like empty the dishwasher. And, honestly, sometimes it is literally the last thing I want to do after a long day at work and I cheat a little and set the timer for seventeen minutes instead of twenty.

I know it might not seem like a big deal, but it’s become part of our routine and it helps with the mom-guilt. My own mom (sorry mom) didn’t play with us much; she had four kids and my dad wasn’t super involved (and then dead, which is super not helpful), so she had her hands full. She was more likely to coach our softball teams or allow us to have friends spend the night than to play Barbies. The idea of Sawyer looking back and never remembering us playing bothers me, so I make sure to carve out some regular time to do so.