October Reads

This month was insane, and my reading was as to be expected. I was away at a work training for a few days, my grading has been insane, we've had things planned on the weekend, and now the holidays are creeping in. I have time off in both November and December, though, so I think I'll probably make my reading goals. This month! Let's take a look.

I read Ann Patchett's newest book, The Dutch House, for a blogging conversation I had with Julie, which you can read more about here. I really enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend it to others (although it wasn't her best). 

I reread Michael Ondaatje's memoir Running in the Family for the fourth time, to teach at work. I have developed a very deep appreciation for the text, which is a collection of different styles of writing that take us along on his journey back home to Sri Lanka. I really would like to do a full post on this soon, since it's been what I've been living and breathing for the past few weeks at work, and is a book that not many people read.

For book club I read Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women, which I really liked. Berlin's stories center around female characters, many of which are the same or are overlapping, that struggle so hard with relationships, making ends meet, addiction, and motherhood. They aren't uplifting, but there's a dark humor that runs through the core of her writing that makes things slightly more palatable.

The final book this month was my first real experience with Annie Dillard, with her The Writing Life. I loved her prose so much- her syntax is a masterpiece. I tabbed so many pages to use for passage analysis with my students. It's super short, but it packs quite the literary punch. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[someone is hardcore into replicating his kinder crafts at home]

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ve made some headway on my grading and, while I still have a ton to do, it’s not quite so curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-y.

I hate it when someone is talking crap about something you’re affiliated with, but you don’t know if you’re included in the umbrella in which they’re complaining. Or if you’re just being too sensitive or too defensive. I don't know if anyone's guessed, but the "you" is me. 

I scored free tickets from UCLA for the Andrew Sean Greer (I mixed up the order of his names three times… anyone else suffer from this syndrome, when people have multiple names that could be used as the first one?), the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Less, which we read for book club last year. He’s in conversation with Sloan Crosley, whom I’ve always meant to read but have not yet. I was going to take Sawyer, since I’ve been wanting to test the waters and see if he is capable of sitting through one of these yet, but I think I might just leave him with Scott and have a little solo trip out there. That’s the nice thing about free tickets- I could possibly not even go and it would be okay (it’s not a sold out event, so I don’t feel bad).

I’m reading my first Annie Dillard book, her short memoir, The Writing Life. This woman is amazing, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to experience her enormous talent. 

I’m sorry if misery loves company, but I am NO LONGER here for it. 

I think I’m experiencing a change of heart regarding my hatred of Home Depot. I know, who am I? But hear me out. One of my overwhelming sources of anxiety is house related-problems (I know 110% where this is stemming from, but I’m not going to go there here and now), to the point where it keeps me up at night and sometimes really ruins the little time I have spent relaxing in my home. But here’s the thing I realized when I was at HD last- basically everything you need to fix a house is right there, in that building. Right there. In one spot, a few miles from my house. It’s comforting (until my mind manages to not let it be). 

Two totally polarizing things come out on my birthday: The Frozen 2 movie, which my son IS DYING to see and I most definitely am not, and a new Beck album, which I’m super excited about. 

I’m not sure if I’m taking my love of to-do lists to the next level or to the crazy level, but I’ve added a master to-do list to the mix. Right now I have a to-do list at home and one at work, which works fine, but sometimes I need to just sit down and write everything that needs to get done in the next week or two, so that I can plan accordingly. All of that now goes on the master list, which I then parcel out to the daily ones. 

I finished listening to The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides and it was fine, a little slow in parts, pretty captivating in others. As far as mysteries, a B, as far as literature a D. 

Nonfiction November- Week 1

Fine, fine, it's not November quite yet, but this week kicks off the festivities hosted by lots of awesome bloggers, the first being my friend Julie! There are prompts for the week, so instead of getting too creative I'm just going to use them to get started. 

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
I just checked my Goodreads account and I've read 22 so far this year, of 61 (I've listened to a few, too, but I have this thing about counting audiobooks as books read... I just don't. But that's me). This is pretty high, compared to most years, where it's probably more of a once-a month sort of thing. It's so hard to choose a favorite, since the topics are pretty diverse. Some ones that stood out were Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey, Can We All Be Feminists edited by June Eric-Udorie, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat (yes, a cookbook, but I read it cover-to-cover). 

Do you have a particulate topic you've been attracted to more this year? 

I liked parenting books that promote challenging your kids (useful for my five-year-old and my high-school students), progressive causes (race, gender, etc...), and running (I am the slowest runner on ever, but I love stories about athletes. I'm also a huge sucker for anything food or restaurant-related. 

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

I have recommended Born to Run by Christopher McDougall a million times, as well as Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor. I love David Sedaris, too. 

What is one type/topic you haven't read enough of yet? 

I don't think I could ever get enough or running or food/restaurant books, but I'd like to read more science-driven texts, too. I started off at UCLA as a premed student and worked for four years for a vascular surgeon, so biology and health are of huge interest to me. 

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? 

First and foremost I hope it helps motivate me to blog a little more than I have been. I have so many ideas for posts, but not enough time. I'm such a completionist, though, that if I say I'm going to stick to this I will. And I'm hoping just getting back into the habit of posting more will catalyze even more writing. I'm also really excited to read posts from others and discover new authors. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

All I knew is that if they kill Chewie off in the new Star Wars movie I’m going need therapy. Also, I really enjoyed some very in-depth conversations I had on Instagram yesterday on the complexity of Adam Driver’s facial features.

My son is telling the absolute best horrible jokes ever- I can ask him for a joke and he makes them up on the fly (“Why did the ogre go up the mountain?” “Because he lived there!”). I’ve started writing them down and in my plethora of free time I want to eventually make a little book for him that he can illustrate and keep for when he’s older and might be amused by it.

I spent the weekend at IB training in LA and it was… a lot. Getting everything ready for a weekend away was a pain, the content was overwhelming but helpful, having time to myself for two big chunks was awesome, and STILL not being able to sleep well was disappointing. I think I need to just accept the fact that at this stage of my life I’m just going to be perpetually tired.

I found out some students have cheated on some quizzes lately, which happens, unfortunately. I’ve been around awhile and I’ve learned the best way to handle it is to quietly assign the zeroes, make some general statements to the class, and then get super creative with future assessments. Less questions, completely different versions, tougher requirements… you play, you pay!

I’m reading three books right now- hold me. They’re all different and delightful (so far)- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory.

I really love the entire of “batching” things, meaning that I’d sit down and prepare two week’s worth of blog posts, Instagram pictures, and things for work at once. That’s definitely how my mind works for these sorts of things, but it’s all about having the time to do the batch work.

These pumpkin muffins are amazing. Sawyer is obsessed and we made our second batch yesterday. Both times I've made them we end up with 36 muffins instead of 24, which is fine by me! In terms of muffins they aren't too horrible for you, either (especially when you factor in the 36 versus 24 part when looking at the oil and sugar).

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[successful completion of the corn maze!

I’m desperately trying to finish Lucia Berlin’s collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, by tomorrow’s book club meeting. I like it so much, but I’m just so unbelievably swamped this week.

I had a very confusing, somewhat heated, misunderstanding with my kindergartner about a lower-case i and an exclamation point. We figured it out, but it got pretty intense.

Do you ever just stop and say, “I just cannot sustain this level of __________ anymore”? This morning, for me, it was anxiety, but the phrase just seems so applicable to so many emotions. Exhaustion, worry, pressure, confusion, distrust, loudness, quiet, anger, intensity, sadness, anticipation, excitement, whatever. I operate at pretty constant level of stress/anxiety- it’s who I am and I’ve learned to cope with and even utilize it as a catalyst for productivity and motivation. But often lately I feel it gaining steam and inching into the not-so-helpful territory. At that point, how do you help yourself? Spoiler alert: I consume a lot of caffeine, make a lot of lists, and try to distract myself.

On that note, this weekend I am away for an IB training in LA and the district is paying for a hotel for three nights, since it’s pretty far and starts early each morning. I think the opportunity to have some time to myself, not have to run around taking care of tons of things, and some extra sleep will be so helpful. It is definitely hard to essentially lose a weekend, though, so I am scrambling around trying to get all my normal house-related tasks out of the way right now.

California’s governor passed a law saying that high schools have to start after 8:30 am, which is an hour later than our current time. I fully understand the science behind it, but I’m still vehemently opposed. Part of it is for selfish reasons; I commute and this means I will be home even later and will have less time with my son. I also have take issue on behalf of extracurricular activities, including sports, since this will now create issues there. And let’s be real: the kids will get home later, they’ll stay up later doing what they need to do, and then it will slowly become a struggle to even get to school at 8:30. I’m also mad over the fact that the governor is overstepping his boundaries; this should be a decision made at the community level, since it impacts families in different ways.

I bought a bag of assorted Hershey candy and the essence of the Twizzlers finagled its way into the chocolate somehow. Disgusting.

After I finish my book club book I am wide open- I feel like a lot of what I’ve read lately has a reason behind it (work, book club, potential social media FOMO, etc…), so I’m excited.

Parent-teacher conferences are tomorrow night, which I always feel conflicted about. It’s such a long day and sitting in the gym with a few hundred people for over three hours is always the perfect recipe for a killer headache. On the other hand, though, it’s always really nice to talk to parents and discuss challenges and victories. I’ve been in my district for fourteen years and this is my tenth year at my site, so I know a lot of the family’s well and it’s fun to catch up.

Bookish Banter- Ann Patchett's The Dutch House

We all have a few authors that automatically get bumped up to the top of the TBR pile when they release new books. For Julie (Julz Reads) and I, Ann Patchett is definitely one of those authors. We had so much fun doing out last Bookish Banter that we planned on this little collaboration several months out, Patchett’s new release The Dutch House being the obvious choice. This novel is set in a truly magnificent home, focusing on the complicated brother-sister relationship of Danny and Maeve. Here’s what we thought:

Christine S (CS): The first thing that struck me was the enormity of the symbolism behind the Dutch House- it almost takes on the position of a character, in a way, just in terms of how it impacts so many people in such diverse ways. Richard Powers said in his novel The Overstory that “places remember what people forget” and I thought the quote was so applicable here, given that it spans three generations. The house connects everyone together whether they want to be or not and is a sort of beacon for their eventual reunion. It sounded absolutely amazing from an architectural perspective, but probably not like a place I’d actually want to live in. What about you? How did you feel about the house?

Julie M (JM):  I loved the opulence Patchett portrayed since I’m such a sucker for ornate details.  I could live in a house like that. It did feel like a living, breathing character who’s only role was to witness and harbor the family drama.

I think the house conveyed a timelessness and I don’t blame Andrea for wanting to insert herself into the scene.  Although her desire to “acquire” the house seemed a little unfair to her daughters.  She never did take them into consideration, like they were an afterthought to her. 

CS: We talked a little bit about the sibling relationship the other day. It’s logical that their bonds would be intense and unique, given their upbringing, but sometimes I just wanted to scream at Danny to stand up for himself and stop letting Maeve dictate his future as much as she wanted to. Medical training is such a commitment, even for those that are passionate about the field! I was amused by her desire to drain the trust, but she was also incredibly selfish at the same time, since she using Danny to satisfy her own vengeful mission.

JM:  I wouldn’t have thought a brother and sister who were 7 years apart in age would have been as close as Danny and Maeve, except for the fact that she had to step in as a mother figure after Elna left.  Do you think Maeve’s selfishness in part had to do with her lack of control over her diabetes? Perhaps she wanted a doctor in the family because then Danny’s medical training could make her feel less helpless. 

CS: That’s interesting… she couldn’t fully relinquish the control to him, even on that issue, though… I do think that control was definitely something at the forefront of everything she did.

The contrast between Andrea and Elna was of course striking. One loves the house, the other doesn’t. One lives for helping those who need it, the other the opposite. Old wife, new wife. I could go on and on. Andrea of course is totally the antagonist, and I think her eventual memory loss was actually far less of a punishment than she deserved (not that dementia is a positive for anyone, but she was in a way released from her crimes by not remembering them). What did you think about her downfall? And what about Elna? I know Patchett’s holes in her plotline were intentional, but they did bother me on Danny’s behalf (like Maeve I guess I feel a little protective of him).

JM:  Elna’s sudden reappearance reminded me of that episode of the Simpsons when Mona (Homer’s mother) resurfaces. She had to leave for the greater good and spent the rest of her life focused on being charitable. 

I also wanted to see Andrea get more of the comeuppance she deserved.  Like if there had been a way for Danny and Maeve to legally (triumphantly!) wrest the house away from her.

CS: Yes! I was hoping that he was going to somehow come in and buy it out from under her or something.

 The last character I want to talk about is Celeste- another sort of foil situation Patchett uses, in comparison with Maeve. I can’t decide if she was an unlikable character or if any wife of Danny’s was doomed. She came across as a nagging, unsympathetic, impatient wife sometimes, but when I stopped and looked at things from her perspective I saw how hard it must be for her.

JM:  I think it would have been hard for any woman Danny married.  To play second fiddle to a domineering sister whom he placed on a pedestal would have been frustrating.  You call her impatient, while I have to commend Celeste for her patience during the years of their “break”, but yes, she was overbearing in her own way.  It was ironic that it was only after Maeve died and Danny was able to turn his focus onto his own family that Celeste finally got fed up with him because she no longer had Maeve as a target for her contempt.

And what did you think of Fluffy’s return?  I was pleasantly surprised with how helpful she was and how much she devoted herself to the family after so many years of absence.

CS: Yes! I definitely had a soft spot for Fluffy. She was a good woman.

Criticism? Personally, I liked it better than Commonwealth, but it’s not my favorite Patchett (still super solid and I’d recommend, it though). Like I said, I thought Elna’s character was a little under-developed; she could have rounded her out a bit more while still staying true the mystery she was conveying. I also thought there were some parts at the end that felt like they were a little slower, compared to other parts.

JM:  I thought Commonwealth had more intricate plot threads, but Bel Canto will always be my favorite Patchett.  Her characters are well-developed and realistically flawed.  Despite the horrid situation they were in after Andrea kicked them out of the Dutch House, Danny and Maeve were scrappy and self-reliant, and I appreciated that probably more than anything else about them.  And of course, how the whole house thing came full-circle with Danny’s daughter made for a satisfying conclusion.

That’s it for now! We’ll be back at it again… once we figure out the book. Ha! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I finished The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and loved it! Julie and I are going to do another joint blog conversation soon, so watch out!

The other day I finally had a conversation I was absolutely dreading regarding a work matter and it went a million times better than I thought it was going to. Huge sigh of relief. That's really my life strategy- build things up to astronomically negative proportions in my head and then be relieved when things go better than anticipated. 

The other day I stayed home to try to get on top of a lingering head cold I’ve had for a few weeks, and it was probably the stupidest thing I could have done. You can’t cure a cold in a day, but what you can do is ruminate excessively, feel frustrated about missing a day of productivity at work, and get irritated about all the time in the car schlepping your kid to and from school (my son goes to school by my work, which is about 30 minutes each way). I really thought it was going to be a magical day of couch time in the house by myself, but I must say I ended up just plain mad. I was happier today going to work (what the hell?)

When I walked into Target the other day it looked like Frozen II had thrown up all over the place. I had Sawyer with me and his Disney-musical-loving-heart basically exploded, so I caved in a let him look at everything for a solid ten minutes. I just can’t believe how MUCH STUFF comes with movies like this, and it just continues to get crazier and crazier. We don’t buy him toys outside of his birthday and Christmas often, and when we do it’s usually something he has to earn or for a special treat, so I’m thankful it wasn’t time spent listening to him beg for new toys. But still, kids are exposed to way too many material items THESE DAYS (I know, I sound like an old person).

I thought of an excellent title for a book, but I have basically no idea for an actual premise. But, maybe that’s the way to go?

There’s an alpaca farm that gives tours less than an hour from my house. How have I never gone? When shall I go? How will inconspicuously stash one in my purse when I leave?

We are fall-ing the crap out of the next few weeks. A big pumpkin patch last weekend, a corn maze and trick-or-treating at Knott's Berry Farm in a few days, a trunk-or-treat at Sawyer's school, regular trick-or-treating,  and busting out some Libby's Pumpkin Puree for some baked goodness. 

Have a great week!

Bookish Embroidery Hoops on Etsy (Plus Discount Code)

Hey there, book lovers! I have four literary embroidery hoops available in my Etsy shop, all $15, free shipping (also, use SAVE25 for 25% off). 

I just really love stitching- I was trying to explain to someone criticizing my poor business model the other day that this isn't really about making money. It's about covering costs, giving me a reason to create fun designs, and preventing massive build up in my extra bedroom. 

I do custom work, too, so if there's a quote or design you're interested in send me a message on Etsy! THe holidays are right around the corner!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[maybe if we ignored Waldo's passive aggressive hiding he'd stop doing it]

This is long because I wasn’t able to post last week and have just been sort of adding to this list for awhile. Brace yourself, you’ve been warned!

Sawyer and I have started listening to a Halloween song playlist in the car and one of the songs in “Thriller.” I decided to show him the video, completely not considering how scary his might find it… let’s just say he absolutely lost it, was up with nightmares, and has talked nonstop about it. I think I’ve gotten things under control with an elaborate story about how the Star Wars character could totally take on a werewolf in two seconds flat, but if I could go back in time and undo that misguided attempt at showing it to him I would. I feel really bad.

Bill Bryson’s newest book, out later this month, called the Body: A Guide for Occupants, looks totally fascinating. I’ve listened to a few of his more outdoorsy books and I adore him.

The other day my students were having a class discussion to culminate our study of Macbeth and within the course of the day different periods managed to make comparisons to The Office, Britney Spears, and Mean Girls. This is why I love my job.

Because we’re at the end of a unit of study, I am DROWNING in papers to grade. I have done a really good job of staying on top of everything this semester but after being sick for nearly a week and everything being due, I’m totally screwed. Luckily I have a few chunk of available time this week because of some scheduling changes for Homecoming, but I hate feeling so behind when I’ve been doing so well.

I’ve started Ann Patchett’s newest novel, The Dutch House, and I’m really not sure what to expect. I despise the cover and I tend to balk at anything that might possibly fall under the historical fiction umbrella. But… it’s Ann! I’d read a book about moth balls if she wrote it.

I did a bad thing… but it felt so good. I received an email from UCLA’s CAP program notifying me that my beloved Samin Nosrat was going to be giving a talk there later this month, but I was totally horrified at the ticket price. Usually I’ll pay up to maybe $30 for a book-related talk, since I understand organizations have to pay for venues, security, insurance, the author’s fees, etc… These tickets definitely surpassed my limit and I’ve been really, really mindful of my budget lately. But it’s Samin! Star of one of my favorite Netflix series, the chef behind the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made, and the author of one of the few cookbooks I’ve ever read cover-to-cover. Not to mention that the date she’s in LA is the Sunday night before an insanely crazy week. After accepting it wasn’t going to work for a full twenty-four hours I pulled the plug (or more the like pulled the Visa out of my wallet).

I really wish that Instagram wouldn’t put that stupid green ring around stories that you mark for “close friends” only. It makes it weird if you include someone that maybe really isn’t a close friend but- anyway, social media whining aside, you get the picture. Green ring dumb.

I bought Jenga a week ago and I’ve already played more games of it in ten days than in my entire life combined. Sawyer is actually pretty good, which shouldn’t surprise me since his manual dexterity is pretty decent (thanks to his hardcore LEGO ways since he was about fourteen months old). I love that we can start getting into more fun board games now and I’m counting the years until we can play Scrabble and Yahtzee.

My husband recently told me about Mark Danielewski’s newest book, The Little Blue Kite, and it sounds really fascinating (I’ve never read any of his books, but House of Leaves is on my “someday” list and I definitely appreciate experimental fiction). Basically, there are three ways you can read this novella; by two different color patterns, and then in its entirety. There are so many books coming out in the next two months… I don’t know how I’m going to cope.

Because I want to read all of the books, that leaves me with few options for listening on Audible. I’ve been really stumped for this month’s selection; everything I consider I decide I’d rather read the print version instead. I thought about Demi Moore’s newest book, but I’ve never been terribly invested in her career. I tend to listen to memoirs, essays, self-help, or mysteries, so if you have a suggestion I’m open!

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are doing an event in November in LA to publicize their new book that focuses on notable women, and I really considered going but at the end of the day I don’t want to hear either of them talk about others. I want the dirt on their own lives! And for $42, on a school night, in LA, I had to make the hard, hard choice to pass. At least for now…. Because you never know when I’ll change my mind. [ETA- I’ve been sitting with this for like five hours now and am more so conflicted… will I ever get to see the first woman who really committed to running for president? She’s an important historical figure…. And it is my birthday month…)

We finally finished watching the new installment of Veronica Mars and I was pretty underwhelmed with most of the episodes and totally pissed at the ending.

September Reviews

September was this weird blur and crawl at the same time. School in full swing for Sawyer and I, my brother moved out-of-state, I caught a nasty cold, I saw lots of friends (not when sick), plus lots of other things to deal with at home and at work. If I'm being honest, I've been really preoccupied with some things that are making me very anxious lately, some thing warranted and some not. 'Tis the life of a worrier! Luckily I've spent my entire life working on how to wrangle these sorts of feelings, so I've got things under control, it just feels like it's taking more effort than normal... Anywayyyy, October is looking pretttttty busy, but with mostly fun things, so I can't complain. Here's what I read in September:

First up, the big buzz of the literary world was The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Everyone, their mothers, their cousins, their neighbors, and their pet dogs read this one, or at least pre-ordered it, I think. I posted about it here last week.

I started off the month reading Peter Bognani's Things I'm Seeing Without You, a story about a teenage girl who comes to terms with the suicide of a boy she felt she loved, but whom she had never met. The dialogue felt forced, the plot disjointed, the premise weak, and just as whole not my favorite. It wasn't YA, but it felt like it to me. 

Clearly my month for fiction was a little stunted, minus the Atwood, because I also read Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems, the third in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, and I didn't think it was anything amazing. I think the biggest problem is that after the other two the whole poking fun at the over-the-top lavish lifestyles is just overplayed. The first one was delightful, the second one fine, but by this one I was over it. It had it's moments and was entertaining at times, but if there was a fourth I probably wouldn't read it.

I read two parenting books this month, for whatever reason, one I thought wasn't very good, Permission to Parent by Robin Berman, and one quite insightful, The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey. Permission to Parent gave contradictory advice and really didn't offer any new information. The other one made me feel validated in how I parent. I am really into making my son self-sufficient and I think sometimes others might think I'm callous because I'm okay watching him get frustrated when trying to, say, put on a difficult item of clothing or struggle to tackle a problem. I never expect him to do anything he can't truly do,  but I am all for challenging to help him build that critical problem-solving stamina he'll need in the real world, even if tears are shed. I hope to do a more extensive post on it soon.

I also FINALLY read Can We All Be Feminists, a collection of essays edited by June Eric-Udorie about intersectional feminism. It was really, really good, and it was really eye-opening for me, since this concept is still something I'm exploring and learning about.