Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I’ve been rethinking how I include some people in my life lately- if you’re  not really present for the rough times, why would you get to be invited to share in the happy ones? Obviously there’s a hierarchy of expectations; a colleague one is friendly with doesn’t exactly need to be the same level of involved as, say a family member. I’m always so hesitant to take a stand and stick to my guns when it comes to things not involving my students, and it’s a quality I really hate about myself. I have no problem telling a kid that I won’t accept their late essay, but I let people in my personal life walk all over me. And I’m not even that nice of a person, so it’s all a bit confusing.

We surprised Sawyer with a trip to Disneyland and California Adventure last weekend, since Disney offered a really affordable three-day ticket (we still have one day left to use this spring!). It was super fun, but incredibly exhausting. We are really good at strategically timing rides and fast passes, so we went on nearly everything we wanted to, except the new Star Wars ride (we had a boarding pass, but it broke… womp womp womp). I’m really, really lucky that Sawyer is such a flexible, go-with-the-flow kind of kid, something that is partially due to his temperament, partially due the fact that he’s had a lot of practice. We clocked over 25,000 steps each day and were at the parks for a combined 23 hours and he did awesome.

Things are work are officially in a very rushed, hectic time. IB testing is in a few months and there is a mad dash to finish the curriculum, upload different assessments, and do all the normal grading on top of it all. I’ve also accepted a new, temporary, responsibility later this spring that pays well but will be an incredible amount of work, so I’m preemptively stressing (I’m contractually bound to not discuss it, but I promise, it’s super boring).

Speaking of preemptively stressing, my child already has a spot in before/after school care for next school year. I don't know what life will be like in six months and with his school starting so much later than mine I needed to know that he'd have transportation and care if we needed it. 

I am currently reading All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sacheva and it is so so so so so good. Like three lines of “so” good. Even if you’re not one for short stories I can’t recommend this one enough.

People I can always depend on to be comforting in times of distress: my plumber, tax preparer, and good friend Nani.

My brother moved from Southern California to Kansas about five or so months ago and I officially really and truly miss him. We saw each other every like six or so weeks, but he was always up to do anything and has such a carefree attitude. My son adores him and I of course do too. I really am not super gung ho about spending my limited travel budget on a trip to the midwest, though, so I'm thinking the only way I can stomach the expense is maybe a road trip out there in the next year or so, stopping in places like Zion and Denver. Damn him for not going to, like, Montana. I'd glamp the heck out of a visit there. 

Watching and Listening

I had a week off in February, so I watched much more than normal (basically this means maybe an average of five hours a week instead of two or three, haha) and feel like I listened to more podcasts and audiobooks as well, since I spent a lot of time in the car. I was going to include them in my normal Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts on Wednesday, but decided to do a stand-alone post, since my list was sort of hijacked by this content. Here are some recs!


Tommy Danger: Mistakes Were Made- My husband and I watched this Disney+ show with Sawyer and I think I may have enjoyed it the most. It’s about a kid who has a pretend detective agency and an imaginary polar bear friend, both of which help him navigate challenges he has at home and school. It’s a graphic novel series for kids, so I think I’ll get it for Sawyer eventually.

Zombieland Double Tap- I thought this one was just as hilarious and ridiculous at the first one. I always love Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone, so the fact that they’re both in this is great.

Miss Americana- As a fan of her music, I really enjoyed this Taylor Swift documentary. I watched it while running, which was totally perfect, since there’s so much singing and dancing in it. And when there’s not, I found her story about the struggles she’s experienced in the music industry interesting.

Book Smart- This quirky comedy about two high school seniors was hilarious, and something I could relate to. I feel like I could have partied way harder in college (as opposed to them in high school) and I also see the struggles students on the cusp of adulthood go through on a daily basis.

The Good Place Finale- This is probably the only show that my husband and I have stayed up-to-date watching together, so we finished the last episode. I loved how it ended and thought the story was well-done from start to finish. I love shows that end on a high note, as opposed to pushing their run too far and getting lame.


Bad on Paper Podcast- Becca and Grace have grown on me, I have to admit. At first I wasn’t sure, and while I still don’t listen to their book episodes, I like their banter and find their lives interesting. I love that they can discuss things like politics or entrepreneurship, but then also talk about skin care. In a lot of ways that’s how I operate, too; super serious sometimes but then obsessing about what sort of hyaluronic acid to buy.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson- I am listening to this and am finding it incredibly entertaining and interesting.

22 Hours- This podcast outlines the horrible twenty-two hours a family who was tortured spent a few years ago. It’s definitely not uplifting, but well-done and fascinating for discerning true-crime podcast listeners like myself.

My Thoughts on American Dirt- It's a Problem

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins hadn't been on my radar much at all, but then I noticed a few mentions here or there and my ears perked up. I did some research (this was a few days before the pub date) and quickly ascertained that there were many Latinx readers and writers who were ranged from celebratory to skeptical to downright furious. There were accusations of cultural appropriation, underlying problems in the publishing world, and the issue of whether this woman, who had only apparently only recently started noting her like 1/4ish Latin roots, had any right to write about Mexicans trying to make it over the border. Twitter was becoming unhinged, as were the comments on various other platforms. The media quickly intervened after Oprah decided it was her selection for her book club and basically everything blew up once Cummins was quoted gushing about her book party that was complete with flower arrangements wrapped in barbed wire. 

My gut told me that there was a problem immediately. I am a middle class, educated, liberal white woman- I have not experienced the struggles of race and immigration and I try to really pause and listen to those who have more knowledge on the topic (many of my students have, though, and they have taught me a lot). I wrote a few years ago about how I learned about white privilege and was initially a little defensive when I first heard the term- since then I have worked to stop, listen, empathize, and learn as much as possible. And this was one of those occasions, for me. If people who had more of a connection to the story's circumstances than I did I had to listen to their concerns. And so I did. I read a lot of articles, I fell down the rabbit holes of Twitter threads, and I reached out to a few people for their input. 

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the angrily questioning side is that they're saying Jeanine Cummins shouldn't write this because she's not Mexican, undocumented, or even an immigrant. Sure, there are people who are saying this, but the majority are angry about the fact that publishers haven't given this sort of attention to writers more apt to identify with the situation better. They haven't gotten these sorts of acceptance, advances, or press. There really are few people, in my research, who are explicitly saying "a white woman can't write a Mexican's story, a man can't write a woman's story, a young person can't write an on old person's story, etc..." Sure, if you do decide to go this route you, to paraphrase Colson Whitehead, better do a damn good job. I do think that a lot of times a story will me more authentic if it's coming from someone with more experience, though, which makes sense. You can research the hell out of something, but without that inherent, strong bond to what you're writing, it can be tough. I would never write from the perspective a trans person or from someone from the Middle East who has lived under incredible misogynistic control. Those stories would seem forced and fake coming from me. Again, this isn't to say it can't be done well, because it most definitely has, it just gets... complicated. 

There's also been a lot of criticism over cultural appropriation, some mistakes in some of the details she includes, and her casual "I totally get this fight because my husband was undocumented too," failing to mention her husband is Irish (my friend who is Mexican and lives near the border confirmed that there is a huge difference between being an undocumented white person and an undocumented person of color). 

Then, there are the people who love this book. And not just anyone, people like Ann Patchett, Sandra Cisneros, and even Lauren Groff was very complimentary. People have been moved by the story, riveted by the suspense, and, importantly, feel like they understand what it means to want to protect your family and flee for the United States, even if that means being in incredible danger. We live in a time where there is a serious lack of empathy and the fact that this book might show some people what it's like to want to desperately protect one's child, a universal motivator, is something that must be noted.

So, after all of this, I decided that the only way I could really judge this book and discuss it was to read it. I wasn't super psyched to add to the American Dirt coffers, but sometimes we have to bite the bullet. I went into the book trying to be as objective as possible; I admittedly had some bias considering where I stand politically, but I really did try to look at both sides. Here are some of my thoughts:

It's not exceptionally written
One of my complaints about her prose was that she seems to arbitrarily write some of the words in Spanish and doesn't just stop there- she puts them in italics. It's very much so overwritten; her descriptions are too wordy, she reuses types of comparisons, and her dialogue doesn't always flow. 

It does feed on the "Mexico bad, America good" mentality
This seems a bit self-explanatory, but basically no one in Mexico can be trusted, everything may be shot up, and everything will be amazing in the United States. 

Problematic plot components 
There are many. The main character, Lydia, is very smart, but she really seems to not think beyond the present much. There are also way too many positive "coincidental" occurrences that help Lydia and her son's journey proceed so quickly (like they meet two girls who have already had an in with a border coyote who will take them too, no problem). The fact that Lydia is in love, but not in love, with a huge cartel leader that her husband just happens to be writing about too, is just so easy. And I guess that's my biggest problem- it just feels like basic, easy story writing. There was a quick little answer for everything. 

It seems to be written to connect with middle class white-ish people
Lydia is an educated wife and mother who owns a bookshop that must flee with her son after her whole family is killed, meanwhile having plenty of financial resources to do so (she has cash, she finds cash, she takes and ATM card from her dead mom, which she conveniently had helped set up the pin for). She makes comments about her lengthy skin care routines, weekend getaways with her husband, and going to restaurants. And of course Mexican, German, Guatemalan, Japanese, and Iranian woman all partake in these habits. But there's something about how Cummins wrote this that made her want to badly to appeal to a book club of stay-at-home moms in Nebraska who probably sell R&F. Which is annoying, but, if I am trying to stay at least a tad objective, is also good, if it helps bring empathy towards people who don't normally have it. 

The author's note is irritating
She knows she wasn't the right person to write this book and even says she wished "someone more brown" would have. She also talks about how she "has a dog in the fight" in terms of immigration, since her husband was undocumented (Irish!) and she was always fearful when they were pulled over. Was her intent from a good place? I want to say yes, and that it was the intent of her publisher to go all publicity and money crazy. But was the impact positive? It seems as if she hurt the people she was trying, presumably, to help. 

It is entertaining, if you can get past the larger implications (I can't)
It's incredibly suspenseful from start to finish, there's a large group of characters introduced, many of which are endearing, and you do really root for basically everyone the entire time. What I would love is for a female LatinX director and screenwriter to do their version. 

So, that's where I'm at on this controversial book. I wouldn't recommend it to people- there will be no one receiving it from me this Christmas and I would 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's Thursday! Ooops! I'm off this week, and Sawyer is in school, so the days have seriously blended together. 

Speaking of being off, it has been the week of practicality. Dentist appointments for me and Sawyer, our annual tax-athon with our CPA, and lots of grading. I've managed to have a lot of fun, too, with lots of friend dates, a painting class for Sawyer and I, a massage (my friend told me about a place that our insurance covers, meaning I can get an hour for TEN DOLLARS PLUS TIP OMG), and an impending trip to Knott's tomorrow. Phew. 

I am hoping to post my thoughts on American Dirt either tomorrow or Saturday. I have really tried to be thoughtful in my discussion of it with others and on social media, so I want to do the same here. 

I am currently reading Ruth Reichl's memoir Save Me the Plums and it's amazing! I want to binge read everything else she's ever written. 

Does anyone have an air fryer? Yay or nay? My friend got one recently and she raves about it, but it seems like a magical machine that's too good to be true. 

The three of us watched the cutest movie on Disney+ the other day, Timmy Failure. If you have little people, or just live quirky kid movies (a little boy who is a detective and has an imaginary polar bear friend) give it a try! I saw that it's a comic book series for kids, so once we get through the first Harry Potter we'll probably pick one up (which, by the way, if you only read a few pages of HP a night it takes awhiiiiiiiiile to get through). 

Recent Acquisitions

Alternate title: A Tale of Christmas Amazon Gift Cards Spent 

The Power by Naomi Alderman- This made a lot of buzz a year or so ago, but it's our next book club book that I think I may have had a hand in selecting (it was a long time ago). It's a sort of feminist sci-fi novel that seems like something a bit different than what we usually tackle. 

Weather by Jenny Offill- I read her Department of Speculation, also for book club, a few years ago and was really fascinated by her prose. 

Save me the Plums by Ruth Reichl- I knew the moment I heard about this memoir of Gourmet magazine's editor that it would be something I loved. I just started it today and am hooked. 

Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk- This is also a memoir, by an author whose career fascinated me. Palahniuk has had so many ups and downs, personally and professionally, so I'm ready to hear what's happened. 

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens- I saw another blogger post about this and said it was one of the best baseball novels since The Art of Fielding. I'm intrigued that it's a *gasp* sports novel written by a woman, too!  

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva- I'm always a sucker for an intriguing   collection of short stories!

Quiet by Susan Cain- I've seen this in a few places lately, and I feel like it might be a good insight into myself. I'm an extrovert in the sense that I love having time with friends and hanging out with family, but I also CRAVE alone time. 

Bookish Banter- Zadie Smith's White Teeth

It' that time again! Julie, from Julz Reads, and I both read Zadie Smith's White Teeth, a book I've had on my shelf for probably close to eight years. It's the perfect way to virtually "hang out" until I get my butt to her neck of the woods some day and get through some of our backlog. Here's our conversation on the novel: 

(Spoilers ahead!) 

Julz: I have to start with the separation of the twins.  Did Samad send the wrong son away? Would Millat have benefited more from going to Bangladesh? Or conversely, should the ever have been separated in the first place?  Do you think Magid would have been a good influence on Millat?  

Christine: Twins are such a great experiment in the classic nature/nurture conundrum. Did Millat turn out the way he did because he was left in England, or would he always have been a rebel, even if sent back to Bangladesh? There’s no way to know, and clearly they were already quite different before he left. I really hated the fact that Samad sent Magid away; he didn’t ask for his wife’s input (I know, I know, cultural differences, but still, it made me so mad), didn’t warn his sons, and did everything in such a secretive manner.

Julz: Yes, Samad’s behavior and secrecy was a little frustrating, but I also found it to be a bit of a comic foil.

When we were first introduced to the Chalfins, I absolutely adored them.  And the shock of Irie's realization that there was such a thing as a normal, happy family was too funny.  But the more I got to know the family and their Chalfinisms, the more I realized how flawed they were.  Before Irie and Millat enter their insular home, they were perfectly content, but the outside influence of such dysfunction turned Joyce into an interfering annoyance.  What did you think of the Chalfins?

Christine: Same! I thought they were so intellectual and quirky, but Joyce quickly started irking me. The way she latched on to Millat so quickly was borderline disturbing- her obsession was constantly at risk from turning from insanely maternal to sexual. Joshua’s separation from his family reminded me so much of Millat’s; Smith seems to be commenting on the risk overbearing parents play in the upbringing of teenagers. I wanted to like Marcus, since he was a man of science and whatnot. But he too ended up being problematic and sort of boundary-challenged, when it came to his correspondence and involvement with Magid (or did he just mean well? I don’t know…).

Julz: My favorite scene in the book was when Archie and Samad take Magid to O'Connell's and the following things happen:
-Magid calls out Mickey's skin condition
-He orders a bacon sandwich
-He says to his father, "I thought you were here because Amma beat you in the wrestling."
-And Archie's miraculous coinflip into the pinball machine

Are there any stand-out scenes for you?

Christine: I loved when Irie told everyone off on the bus as a result of those new pregnancy hormonal urges (that whole development was a bit of a last minute plot twist). She was probably one of my favorite characters and I had been wanting to yell at them all to be quiet for the last four hundred pages, so I was glad someone finally did!

I also loved that super quick scene where Neena and her girlfriend go to dinner at the Chalfins and it becomes so awkward, so fast. I was literally laughing out loud (which is pretty rare for me when reading).

Julz: Ah yes, curiosity about lesbian dynamics.  That was pretty funny.

I agree, Irie was my favorite character as well.  And I KNEW she was going to get pregnant after sleeping with the twins.  I had literally written it down in my journal notes just before the “reveal.”  Quite the conundrum…

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[At the race expo]

This week in politics… man. There’s just so much happening, so much nonsense, and so much disappointment as a whole.

I ran my half marathon last weekend! My main goal was that I’d finish feeling like the hours and hours and miles and miles of training that I’d put in hadn’t been a waste, and that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t PR and my time was slow, but I ran the entire 13.1 miles (even the hills) and didn’t feel like dying when I crossed the finish line. I am so excited to not have to do looooooong runs on the weekends now and to get to vary my workouts more. I will still run 12-15 miles a week, but I’ll start integrating more yoga and hill walking too, which makes me super happy. I think the long runs were making me a little depressed the day after, as they took away so much free time and zapped me of energy I don’t have to spare. We’ll see.

I’m reading The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn right now, which I am totally loving. If you love memoirs or running books this one is definitely for you (and no, I will never run an ultra… I’d trip and fall within the first mile).

I’ve talked about how January was a rough month for me personally, so I think I’m probably over-compensating in February. I have plans with friends, plans with family, plans alone… so many great things to look forward to. Last weekend was the half and this weekend Sawyer and I are taking a kid’s painting class that will guide us through the process of making a sloth (insert laughing emojii, haha). He is super artistic but is a little apprehensive about taking a class where he’s told what to do, so this will be interesting! I think it’ll end up being really fun and a great challenge for him.

I have next week off for President’s Week (our district found several years ago that attendance went way down this week, so they gave us the time off and took the days away during the summer, so it’s not a freebie by any means) and Sawyer only has a four day weekend! I have a lot of boring things to take care of, like dentists appointments and getting our taxes done, but I have blocked out one day on the calendar to do whatever the heck I want.

January Reviews

Thank goodness January is over. Fun February, am I right or AM I RIGHT? I better be right, goddammit. 

I read four books this month, two of which were quite dense (Smith and Russell), one was a reread for work (Achebe), and the essay collection was by a nonfiction writer who has quickly become one of my favorites (Jamison). A quick run down:

Like I said before, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, was a reread for work (I think this is my fifth time reading it). If you haven't read it before you really should; it's one of the first novels from Africa that was published and studied worldwide. It's a great look at modernity vs tradition, European colonialism, and identity. It's one of my favorite books we read senior year!

I started Karen Russell's Swamplandia! last November, but I put it on hold not because I didn't like it, but because I had to read faster books to meet my 2019 goal. I finished it up this past month and really, really enjoyed it. I gave my students a passage to analyze and write on last week and when I explained the premise they were like "WHAT?" But seriously, if "alligator wrestling theme park that dries up and leaves the main character searching for her ghost-loving sister, meanwhile her brother is working at a rival hell-centered theme park to earn money" doesn't sell you I don't know what will. It was so well-written and delightful. 

Leslie Jamison's Make it Scream Make It Burn, a collection of essays, was just so, so good. She writes about a variety of topics, including a lonely whale, reincarnation, being a stepmother, and getting pregnant. Her style is so reflective and poignant that she could probably write about dust bunnies and I'd be hooked.

I also read Zadie Smith's White Teeth, after having it on my shelf for probably a decade, but Julie and I are doing a Blogger Banter post on it next week, so I'll post my thoughts then.