Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Without a doubt, this has been our busiest and best holiday season to date. The combination of it being a "normal" year, Sawyer being old enough and more-than-willing to do ALL the things, and having the time, has allowed us to do some really great things We spent a day at Disneyland (we've never been at Christmas and a rainy morning allowed us to go on a ton of rides right away), watched Home Alone at the Walt Disney Music Hall in LA, did a Santa Run, saw the Enchanted lights at Descanso Gardens, and several other fun things. I've always said that I'd rather spend my money on experiences, rather than things! I'm usually a bit happy to see Christmas wind down, but this year I'll be a little sad to see it go. 

I am incredibly thankful my family has stayed healthy through the holiday season. Sawyer had a nasty bug before Thanksgiving, but other than that we have been well. 

Our Christmas card was so much fun this year! We always repurpose Sawyer's Halloween costumes and this year he was Marty McFly. On the cover he is doing the iconic watch-checking pose and there's a Santa flying in the sky with "Great Scott! We'll miss Santa!" (or something like that). On the inside Scott photoshopped present Sawyer into a scene I had taken of him photographing Sawyer for his very first Christmas card when he was eight months old. 

I've been training for a half-marathon in February, and to make a long boring story short, I've finally gotten some food pain under control, so that's helping a lot. I don't think it's going to be a fabulous race or anything, but it's been good for me to have some structure in my fitness routine.

So, after managing to score Taylor Swift tickets last month, I landed another big concert victory- Lord Huron in Red Rocks in June. I LOVE this band SO much and had told Scott a week before that one day I'd see them there. When the tickets went on sale the next week I couldn't get any but managed to get some somewhat-reasonable ones through stubhub. I'm worried about it somehow falling through, but my friend who is going with me and I decided we'll just go anyway and explore Denver if anything! Between these two and another one in May, my concert budget it spent for 2023, haha.

The semester ended fairly quietly at work. I managed to pull a few extra kids into passing territory and did a good job staying on top of my grading from Thanksgiving to the end of term, so I never had to pull any essay-reading all-nighters. When return in January we're starting Sylvia Plath poetry, which is always super uplifting.

I'm a few books away from making my GoodReads goal for the year, which I know I'll pull off on the the 30th or 31st, per the usual. It's a tradition! Luckily next my second week of break is pretty chill, minus a day trip to Joshua Tree with some friends (I've never been!) and a few happy hours and dinners and whatnot. 

Another big project for next week: completing my year-in-review book. I did through June over the summer, which puts me in a good spot for completing it, if I do a month or two a day once Christmas is over. I always give myself the due date of 1/1, since the site I use has really great sales and my books are LONG. 

Speaking of Joshua Tree, I'll end the year with having gone to five National Parks this year! Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Joshua Tree. Definitely got my money's worth out of my NPP (and before it expires next summer I'll be using it at Yosemite again, Rocky Mountain NP, and maybe another one of two). 

My sister is due in a few months and I have been doing the same thing for her as I did my brother- Sawyer and I choose a kid's each month and send it to the little fetus to build her library (another niece! I can't want to meet her). 

After the body shop having my car for five weeks after an accident last month, I FINALLY got my car back yesterday. Now I get to deal with car rental reimbursements from the other insurance company, since the other driver was at-fault, but I'm a persistent woman. 

I'm so  proud of Sawyer's reading lately! He always has a book in the car, asks to extend his required homework independent reading time, and is already at 200% of is AR goal for the trimester, which is only half over (I have very mixed feelings on AR, but I like how his teacher uses it). Needless to say, he is getting a ton of books for Christmas! I tried to do a mix of some of the easier series he likes, some challenging ones, and some in between.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas- maybe I'll actually put up a few posts when I'm off. I mean, for the three of your who read for fun and the person or two who is hate-reading ;) 

The Solace of Open Spaces

I first heard about Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces on Yellowstone, when the character Beth reads a line to her father (I’d pretend to be embarrassed, but I’m beyond in love with the show, so I’m not). I immediately looked it up and ordered it on the spot. Between Beth Dutton’s recommendation and my newfound adoration of Wyoming after a trip to the Tetons, I knew it would resonate. It did. 

I finally finished the slim book of Ehrlich’s recounting of her time in Wyoming, working on ranches, and I already find myself wanting to reread it (this rarely happens). The language she uses to talk about the land and the nature that lives on it is exquisite, providing the potential for beauty in expected images like the landscape but also in the dry dust storms of the summer. Her depiction of those who inhabit the wide open land left me partially envious of their space, physical productivity, and seemingly simpler lives. Annie Dillard’s blurb on the cover, that “Wyoming has found it’s Whitman” is spot on. 

I’m not going to pack up and leave my home in suburbia, but there wasn’t a page that went by that didn’t make me yearn to get in my car and drive east, through Nevada and into Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. 

There’s plenty of time. And hopefully space.

Bookish Banter- The Last Chairlift by John Irving

Look at us! Julie and I got through the nearly 900 page newest John Irving book, The Last Chairlift, during the start of the holiday season! There are some spoilers in here, be warned! 

Julz: This is the first time I’ve ever read Irving “hot off the presses.”  It was quirky and cute and vulgar and fun.  And of course, all the sex.  And of course there were some slightly odd anecdotes like “the kiss of questionable judgment” that Ray gave to Adam (ew) and the fact that Adam slept with his dad’s wife.  Um yeah.

Christine: I could get over the stepmom sex, since he didn’t grow up with her (Julz: Agreed), but the boundaries between Adam and Ray were a bit too poorly defined for me at times (Julz: Also, agreed). I thought the expression Em’s sexuality was interesting too, the fact that she expressed herself so loudly in the heat of the moment and was silent the rest of the time was such a deliberate commentary on the importance sex, and even intimacy as a whole,  played in the book. Also intentional was his lack of discussion about Adam’s sex with Grace. What did you think of her? 

Julz: I liked Em, especially when she started speaking.  The pantomime thing didn’t work too well in writing.  I’m glad she and Adam could support each other as spouses and writers.   

I thought it was hilarious that it was the crazy wedding weekend (yeast infections, lesbians, orgasms, electrocutions) that Adam, “… decided to adopt an uncharacteristic nonchalance.  I would henceforth appear to understand, or be indifferent to, everything.” That was a hell of a weekend…

Christine: That section was one of my favorites! Can you imagine it as a movie? Such shenanigans. So much of the story grew from that weekend- Ray and Mr. Barlow’s relationships, Nora and Em’s sexuality, ghosts, Molly’s role in their lives (loved her, by the way), etc… 

Julz: The only people in Adam’s life who appear to have died natural deaths were Nana and Molly (despite her best efforts).  Think about all of the outrageous ways people died like the diaper man previously mentioned.  Aunts, scared to death by ghost.  Uncles drive off cliff, possibly deliberately.  The elder Barlows crushed by a train in an avalanche.  Clara jumps from a chairlift.  Nora and Paul Goode are shot at two very different venues and Adam witness both.  Plus Vietnam and AIDS.  Irving is certainly creatives in how he kills his characters.

Although, honestly, I was glad to see Mr. Barlow and Ray commit suicide by six-pack and hypothermia.  I don’t think I could have witnessed Ray’s death by cancer.  Hell no.

Christine: It was very reminiscent of poor Owen Meany’s mom…

I agree, and it would have been so out of character for her to just succumb. There really was so much loss in the book, which for Adam as a writer gave him a lot of material, but to look at it spelled out like that it’s really sad, too. This isn’t a sad story, though, with a lot of grieving. What do you make of Irving’s intent there? 

Julz: I think Irving’s presentation of loss is to demonstrate that at some point in everyone’s life, it’s going to happen.  You will lose the people you love in some way or another and life goes on for the living.  Shit, look at the year I’ve had.

Why is Irving so obsessed with small men?  The way he gushes over Mr. Barlow, he would adore my husband!

Christine: Ha! Again, Owen Meany vibes! (Julz: Totally!)  I googled Irving’s height and he was 5’8”, so maybe it comes from some personal insecurities? Not that that is that short, but maybe it felt that way growing up? 

Julz: What did you think of the screenplay as narrative device?  I found it distracting at first, especially with all the ghosts in scenes.  I did get used to it after a while, and though it made for quicker reading, I was relieved when it switched back.

Christine: This was definitely something I wanted to talk about, and I felt the same way. I know Irving has written screenplays, so this wasn’t coming from somewhere completely random, but I connect with his prose so much more. I feel that way about literature as a whole, though, I much rather read a novel than a play!

Confession: I really didn’t love the ghost angle, minus his grandfather’s. I was glad that it didn’t take over the text. It wasn’t done poorly or anything, just personal preference 

Names were so important! Adam, Grace,  Rachel being shortened to Ray, Em’s name also being shortened by Nora, the plentiful descriptors for Mr. Barlow, etc.. Obviously this isn’t anything new, but I enjoyed deciphering the meanings. 

Julz: Yeah, I prefer prose any day. I could have done without the ghost angle, too, except (besides the diaper man) maybe Paul Goode’s mom at  the hotel.  And yes, I’m glad you mentioned the descriptors!  The snowshoer, the night groomer, etc.  Those were endearing.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I finally finished John Irving's The Last Chairlift- Julz and I have a post coming in the near future for inquiring minds. I enjoyed it, but at nearly 900 pages it was a tad long. 

Today is my birthday and I got lots of new books from my husband. Our birthday/Christmas strategy is very simple- set limits and exchange wish lists. It works!

Part of me is getting a little concerned about my Goodreads goals for the year, and part of me knows I always pull it off and will be totally fine. Please note that no part of me whatsoever thinks this whole goal is contrived and unimportant. 

The last week has been A LOT, some in good ways and some not. Sawyer got a cold that turned into something more, which antibiotics helped with quickly, but then in turn bothered his stomach. I got in a car accident on Friday (a lady turned left in front of me when we both had just normal green lights... everyone is fine, but my car will be in the shop for a whilllllle... the whole thing has been pretty stressful). My mom was down for a few days and now my sister and her husband are with us through the holiday (these are good things). Scott came back from almost two weeks out of the country and I've been trying to catch up with work so I can go into the last few weeks in a good spot. 

Since my life isn't hectic enough, I decided to train for a half-marathon in February. It's one I've done six or so times before and I'm in good cardiovascular health, but I just forgot how much time the training schedule requires, especially since I am very slow. I needed a goal, though, a reason to push myself. So, here we are. 

Mysterious plastic babies started showing up in my classroom, the ones that are baked in to cakes for The Epiphany. Now it's become this huge running jokes and I have taken a little container of them home for my house for Thanksgiving break, since my students agree they needed constant protection. Let's just say since I started making them the stars of my Insastories I've gotten a lot of new followers (my teacher account)... apparently they'd rather see them then get book recs? As if. 

Yellowstone  is back! If they just focused on Beth and Rip 90% of each episode that would be fine.

I am not into decorating for Christmas on the outside of my house, but let's just say I've added another tree to my indoors, bringing out total to three (plus a big one in my classroom, so I guess I own four!).

The one in my classroom is for the extra credit literary ornament that my students are hopefully working on. It's one of my favorite classroom holiday traditions and I can't wait to see them! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's pouring outside here in Southern California and in many other parts of the state (plus feet of snow in the mountains!)- we need it a million times over, but I must say I don't like it. I appreciate it, but I don't like it. I can't walk my dog, traffic is abysmal, and I walk around staring at my ceiling, since I just know it's going to start leaking (it's who I am).

It's Election Night and I'm avoiding the news. I know it's not going to be great and I rather get it all in one chunk tomorrow rather than lots of disappointing tidbits tonight. There are some local and state issues that I feel more optimistic about, at least.

My husband is away for nearly two weeks out of the country for work, so I'm holding down the fort with a loud, chatty eight-year-old. Thoughts and prayers, please.

Coincidentally, the day my husband left to fly halfway across the world, is also out anniversary (we went out over the weekend, so it's all good). Marriage is really, really hard- not the part about being monogamous, the part about two different people with two very different personalities living in one space and making a life together. It's just tough, some years are very, very tough. Luckily, this year has been the easiest of them all- out of all fourteen of them! 

Last month Sawyer and I took a weekend trip to Sequoia National Park and it was such a great weekend away. We drove to Visalia Friday afternoon, stayed the night there, hiked all of Saturday in the forest, and drove back in time for his swim lessons on Sunday (it's about four hours without traffic). The drive from the park entrance to the biggest tree (by volume), General Sherman, was incredibly windy but kind of a fun drive.

I just finished Thomas Hardy's Woodlanders for a research project I'm doing with my students and while it isn't best, there was a certain college-nostalgia I had while reading it. I took a class on Hardy at UCLA and just the idea of knowing I was going to write a paper on the book while I read it took me wayyyyy back.

I'm listening to Matthew Perry's memoir and...damn. It's really good, but really heavy.

I'm looking forward to lots of family time this month! We actually hung out with some of my husband's family, who we haven't see in years, a few weeks ago and then my mom comes in little over a week, and then when she leaves my sister and her husband are coming. Maybe I'll squeeze in a visit with my grandpa, too, and a cousin and I are trying to calendar some time to get lunch. Tis the season! 

Celeste Ng Reading

One of the things I missed most about the pandemic was going to readings, so it has felt good to go to a few this year! Earlier in the year I saw David Sedaris and at the beginning of the fall Anthony Doerr, and then, most recently, Celest Ng. Some of the highlights:

- I went with one of my good friends, who I used to go with several times a year. This was our first since 2019, so it was good to be back in action 
- Ng was in conversation with the Gabrielle Zevin, the author of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which I absolutely loved. They're friends in real life, which made the conversation truly authentic! 
- The venue, Second Home, in Hollywood was super cool. It's a work space for freelancers and they had a beautiful courtyard, a bar, and a little library (and even a little resident dog that was mingling with the attendees) 
- The two authors talked about race in America, Ng's book, and her writing in general. It flew by and we wanted more! 

Ng is definitely at the place where I'll read anything she writes- Our Missing Hearts was just as solid as her other two. It broke my hearts many times over and made me a little fearful for out world, but the emotion she evokes is a testament to her writing skills (just make sure you're in the right headspace for it).

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts


Apparently we're a once-a-month blog over here, now. Ha! What can I say? Life has been busy and I do what I can, when I can, with what I can. 

I have been reading, albeit at slower pace than the summer since school started. I started the month with a book I'd seen in many places, Remarkably Bright Creatures, and I thought it was okay. I'm sure it would make an adorable movie, super touching and with some great scenes of the PNW, but it just wasn't amazing. The dialogue alone bugged me from the start. Right now I am unfortunately feeling the same way about my current read, Killers of a Certain Age, although with that one I can at least get behind the idea of bringing awareness to certain things our society does to older people. 

I went to the Anthony Doerr reading in Beverly Hills a few weeks ago and he was absolutely delightful. So funny, so smart, it was just a great event. David Ulin from the LA Times interviewed him, whom I have seen several times (and read one of his books), and he was so enjoyable too. It makes for a very late night, but they're often on Thursdays, so I can hang in there on Fridays. 

Speaking of readings, a friend and I are going to hear Celeste Ng speak later this month and I am so excited. I love her first two books and her third just arrived the other day, so I'm hoping to get through it before the event (it will be a bit of a palate cleanser, as well). 

I recently listed to I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy after hearing all the buzz absolutely everywhere. It was the perfect listen- she of course reads it and her whole story is so fascinating. Despite most of the things she focuses on being quite heavy, she still manages to bring light and humor into her story. I had no idea who she was, since I was too old for the iCarly mania, but nonetheless, I was captivated from beginning to end. 

My son has been bugging me for months and months to buy a Switch so I can play Animal Crossing, the one game I have expressed interested in that you can play on it. I finally gave in and it's so funny to see him try to "teach" me to play. He insists the thirty or forty minutes I sit down to play on the couch next to him twice a week or counts as "hanging out time," so I guess it's a win. 

We had family portraits taken for the first time earlier this month and I just got them back last week and love them so much. A friend from work is semi-retired from her photography business but she occasionally will take on a client still, so we totally lucked out. She did an amazing job and I can't wait to get some printed. 

Sawyer has decided on a Halloween costume: Marty McFly, since he's obsessed with those movies. Marty wore A LOT of layers, lemme tell you. Luckily he will be able to wears many of them all fall, so I guess we're killing two birds with one... Halloween costume.

My husband has been in NYC for several days for week and I've had to build in extra time to my daily routines to just check things. He and I are equally paranoid about burners being off, candles blown out, curling irons not plugged in, etc... so I rely on him as my co-fire-started-checker, and now that he's not here I'm on high alert. I know, this sounds super crazy. I have always been very worried about home catastrophes, fire especially, which I blame on the fact that a fire broke out in my parents' home when my mom was pregnant with me. Being scared of fire truly is innate in my case. And, to make matters worse recently, the home around the corner from us burnt down in the middle of the night and I pass by it  daily when I walk (my heart breaks for the family every time I go by it- I was so thankful the neighborhood banded together to help them out, but still... their home is destroyed).

Since we're on the topic of me being witness to devastating things, because that's fun, here's another one. A few weeks ago I was taking my son to swim class and I noticed the husband and young daughter of an old colleague whom I am still friendly with. I saw them ride in front of me... and then cross the street on the other side... and then get hit by a car. It was one of the scariest moments of my life (and Sawyer's). Long story short, while they were hurt, they will be fine and please please please everyone wear helmets.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. See above for what I read in August! I really, really loved the Louise Erdrich one and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (so much better than Ready Player Two...)

2. I got my Covid Booster on Thursday night and, like my predicted clockwork, it knocked me out twenty-four hours later for twelve hours (I always get Moderna and always have pretty strong side effects). I was so confident in the timing that I even agreed to go to Happy Hour yesterday evening, and I felt totally fine until I got home, haha. I know there is some who think we should wait a bit to get it, but my husband has really big work trips in October and November, so this works best for our family. 

3. September has been quite the month for home repairs issues, and it's barely half way through (cue crying emoji). We had to have a huge tree removed in the back yard, our eleven-year-old dryer quit so we replaced the pair, and then the pool guy texted yesterday with the news that our salt cell was dead. The joys of home ownership, right?

4. Despite the home stuff, this month has been a lot of fun so far- my friend had a big Roaring 20s dress up birthday party that another friend and I went to, my new babysitter has come over again and we absolutely love her, my husband survived flying to Seattle (he hates flying) for work, Sawyer had to memorize a poem for school and did wonderfully, I have gotten together with a few friends, and, most importantly, it is no longer 106 degrees. 

5. I got the weirdest, best mail yesterday: my Warby Parker try-ons, a kit that will supposedly teach me how to crochet a penguin, and Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

6. I don't know if I am going to listen to them all, but I just discovered the Podcast on Spotify 60 Songs that Explain the '90s. Such a flashback to my youth- the first one is Alanis Morrissette's "You Oughta Know," so we're off with a bang! 

7. There are SO many good new released this fall- I made a reel for my bookstagram account (@bookishlyb) but don't know how to get it here/don't have the time to figure it out, so maybe I can get my shit together and do a post. Debatable.

8. Honestly, I do consider shuttering this blog a few times a month, just because I hate doing things I can't consistently maintain. I don't want to, though, since it's a fun time capsule of a really huge chunk of my adult life, and I do enjoy popping on just to write a few times a month. I enjoy writing things that aren't emails, student assignments, etc... so that alone is probably reason enough to keep going. More than anything, I just need to reframe what exactly my expectations are for the space. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

August! It's over! I managed to read six books this month, but it has been really full life-wise (hence no posts here). Some of the highlights (and a few lows):

- Sawyer started school and all is well between his new teacher, the center that transports him before/after school, etc... He goes to art class a few times a month and is now doing weekly swim lessons, since we've talked about him joining a swim team someday (I have maxed out on what I can teach him, which is pretty limited, so now I need a professional)
- I am wrapping up my fifth week back, which is crazy. The days themselves can drag on and be really tiring, but as a whole the year is off to a quick start
- My husband is traveling A LOT for work, which is so weird, since he never has before. Luckily I am a very independent woman who has no problem holding down the fort (pats self on back) 
- We have to have a tree removed from our backyard tomorrow and I'm pretty sad about it. It's a huge eucalyptus, but the roots are doing some damage, so it's time to pull it out before anything becomes too expensive. I am pretty nervous about it all, since it's right next to pool equipment, but they're insured and I'll be at work the whole time. By the time I get home it should all be over 
- I went hiking last weekends with some friends and then we had brunch afterwards- my idea of a perfect friend date
- WE FOUND A BABYSITTER! She is an old student now in graduate school and I trust her completely. We did a trial run a few weeks ago and it went smoothly, so she's coming this weekend for a longer stretch. The prospect of all the future dinner's out with just my husband is so exciting (not that I don't love taking Sawyer places, but we are together A LOT)
- The three of us went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Back to the Future. It was so fun! 
- I renewed mine and Sawyer's Knott's Berry Farm passes, which we haven't had for awhile. I had gotten a little sick of it and probably will again, but it's fun for a few hours. We thought about getting Disneyland season passes for a minute, but we'd have to go like once a month to make them worth it and I'm more of a go-once-a-year kind of person, so we opted to not. 

And a few more things...

- I have gotten super in to the band Lord Huron this summer and I'm so bummed I missed my chance to see them in concert when they were touring 

- I am SO glad Sawyer's new teacher doesn't use Class Dojo (it's this app that connects the teacher to the parents and allows them to award points for things, take away points, post messages/pictures, etc...). I think it could be utilized well, like I have friends who just use it for messaging, but I think teachers should just handle their day-to-day classroom management in their room without a sort of tattle-tale big brother sort of app (and Sawyer only got one point taken away all year... I just don't like it). 

- I am so happy for the people that the student loan relief bill will help! I paid mine off last year, so I won't benefit, but I know people who will. It doesn't take away from the fact that their is a HUGE problem with the ridiculous college costs that exist now, but at least it's a little help

- Let me just tell you, the two minutes you're on hold with your kid's school secretary trying to figure out why they were marked absent after you are very sure you dropped them off at the daycare center that transports them is excruciating. Because there's this middleman taking him to school I check his attendance through an app every minute to make sure he made (and on time). One day last week he was marked absent, just a few days after a registered sec offender managed to get on a nearby elementary school campus. Luckily his teacher just made a mistake, which I know I've done, but I probably lost a year off of my life!

- I can't wait for this weekend! Despite it being 106-110 degrees, I have big plans. My friend's Roaring 20s costume party is this weekend and another friend is my date since my husband has a work trip, another friend is coming over to swim one day, and then Sawyer and I are taking Ellie to meet another friend's puppy (this will probably go poorly for the dogs, since Ellie is terrified of other animals). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hey! It's me! I'm back from an incredibly busy stretch of the summer. Since we last chatted, I have:
- taken Sawyer aquarium
- had two book clubs
- chauffeured Sawyer to and from art camp for a week
- drove to the Bay Area to pick up my sister and while there spent the day in San Francisco 
- spent a day in La Jolla with Sawyer and my sister
- had a park reading date with the above two
- did eight miles of hiking with friends in Big Bear (our Half Dome trip was canceled because of a fire, but we rallied and made the best out of it!)
- met family for the day in San Louis Obispo, which is four hours a day

I started back at work yesterday and was quickly reminded as to how much planning goes into being a working mom, if things need to run smoothly. Luckily this happens every single year and I rapidly acclimate to the rush of work days (Sawyer hasn't even started school again yet, nor do I have any grading! That's when the true craziness begins.

My husband and I got to go out to a non-child-friendly restaurant in a different city last night, since my sister is in town. And in a few weeks we get to go out again, since we finally found a babysitter. A miracle!

I am about 100 pages into Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and I love it so much. Don't be put off by the synopsis- it's really great and not about videogames.

I read seven books last month- all of them were really solid except Cult Classic. I definitely prefer Sloane Crosley's essays. 

I'm kind of at a standstill in terms of how I want to handle reviews here and on Instagram. I've tried doing quick little bullet points and monthly round ups, but nothing really sticks. Honestly, I think I'm probably just going to do whatever I feel like! Definitely a round-up picture/post, but maybe just mention the ones I really like or have time for. 

We finally caught up with Yellowstone and this is totally the fastest I have watched anything since Sawyer was born- I love the show so much I'll probably start re-watching episodes on the treadmill. All I know is that I wish there was a little more Beth in me, because there are have needed some of her sass. 

So, how did I do on the list of things I needed to finish up before ending the summer? 

- finish six books (YUP)
- finish current embroidery project (NOPE)
- embroider a necklace (I have these little sort of metal settings that are clearly hard to describe) (YES, but redoing) 
- have a fun weekend in the bay area/SF when driving up to get my sister (YUP)
- have loose ideas for the first week and a half with students (YUP)
- do some boring yard work (YUP)
- Half Dome ready (I need to go to REI, stay active, etc...) (YUP, but didn't actually go)

Bookish Banter: Middlesex

Hey! It's me! I'm alive! Until my next update, here's a conversation between Julz and I about a reread for both of us- Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. It's hard for me to reread things, since there are just sooooo many books to read as is, but I always walk away with a new, deeper understanding and appreciation that I should do it more often.

Christine: Obviously fate versus free will is a huge thematic component in the text, which is a nice tie back to the classical references and ancestry. Then there’s also the idea of nature versus nurture, which is an interesting extension of that concept. How much control did the characters have of their lives? Their futures?

Julz:  I think free will was more prevalent than fate.  Sure, there were things that were beyond the characters’ control, like civil unrest and the goings on of the wider world, but every decision they made shaped the lives of their family.  Like, um, marrying your brother! 

I could totally relate to Callie here:  “Gradually as most of the other girls in my grade began to undergo their own transformations, I began to worry less about possible accidents and more about being left behind, left out.”  That was so me until my junior year of high school.

Christine: Father Mike and Jimmy Zizmo both marry into the family and end up showing their corruption (although Zizmo is much more overt and immediate). Both are religious figures and are outsiders- what do you think Eugenides is saying about those not blood related to the family? Or even religion (I know Zizmo’s organization wasn’t exactly traditional)?

Julz: I think the way Eugenides addressed religion made it sound more like superstition and it felt like he was rolling his eyes at the concept of organized religion. Maybe that’s why he portrayed Mike and Jimmy as corrupt, as they were a reflection of those institutions.  Hmmm?

Christine: Agreed! Speaking of secondary male characters, what do you think of Dr. Luce? Part of me hated him for treating Cal as a mere specimen, but if I try to look at things objectively, he’s a scientist and this is a really, really different time period when it comes to sexuality and patient transparency. 

Julz: Well, that can circle back to the nature versus nurture concept.  Luce was convinced that despite her maleness, Cal could continue as female because that’s how she was nurtured.  I didn’t really feel strongly either way with how Luce handled Cal.  I think he expressed enough compassion toward her, and yet, there was a bit of detachment when studying her.  Hey, it was the 70’s they were all probably smoking cigarettes in his office.

Christine: I loved this book, despite forgetting a lot of it (I did read a really long time ago, in my defense), but I had one criticism, and that was of some of the symbolism being a bit too obvious, namely the spoon and the house address. Any nitpicky problems? 

Julz: I didn’t think Eugenides was hitting me over the head with symbolism any more than say, John Irving.  I read it probably 15 years ago, and it was pretty much like reading it for the first time again.  This book definitely cemented my love for multigenerational family epics (unabashed plug for Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill). 

My one irritation was that we didn’t get the punchline to Cal referring to her brother as Chapter Eleven until the very end.

And funny enough, the first time I read this book, I highlighted the following (about the house on Middlesex Boulevard): “…communism, better in theory than reality.”  I’m guessing I did that because it’s so similar to a quote from the Simpsons.

Christine: I will have to check that one out. I always say that I don’t like them and then end up eating my words, hah!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I have never had such an immediate nostalgia for a vacation before, this one for the Tetons starts basically immediately upon returning home (Yellowstone was cool, but those Tetons... man). In order to curb this I made a list of some places to go to shake things up a bit this fall, to get me out of suburbia. One plan that I'm most looking forward to is at one point taking a half day on a Friday, driving up to Visalia, and then going to the Sequoia National Forest to hike on Saturday and then returning the following day. I've also never been to Joshua Tree (honestly, I don't have a huge calling toward desert landscape, but I have National Park pass now, so I might as well use it) nor have I taken the aerial tram from Palm Springs up to San Jacinto Mountain to hike. Sigh. I'm trying.

In an attempt to escape through the written word, all three of the books I am reading right now are nature-based (and so good!)- Fuzz by Mary Roach, The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, and 100 Hikes of a Lifetime by Kate Siber. I need to finish something so that I can start rereading Middlesex for a buddy read with Julie (and then start Young Mungo for book club next week!). 

Last week we laid low after Sawyer got a twenty-four(ish) stomach bug that through him for a major loop. We tested him a few times for Covid, but luckily it was just a quick virus (that no one else got!).

Yesterday the three of us went to Legoland, which was lots of fun. We got there when it opened, did all the rides before the crowds started, and let Sawyer obsess about the model cities. 

We are supposed to hike Half Dome in two and a half weeks, but there's a pretty bad fire at the south entrance, where we enter from, right now. I'm also concerned about air quality and the heat... 

I finished the LEGO typewriter set the other day! It was a bit tedious and maybe not as fun as the other sets I've done, but it wasn't too hard. It moves like a normal typewriter but doesn't actually type. 

There are three weeks left of summer vacation- here are my biggest to-dos:
- finish six books
- finish current embroidery project
- embroider a necklace (I have these little sort of metal settings that are clearly hard to describe)
- have a fun weekend in the bay area/SF when driving up to get my sister
- have loose ideas for the first week and a half with students 
- do some boring yard work
- Half Dome ready (I need to go to REI, stay active, etc...)

A Few Things About... Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

This collection of essays from Sedaris is in line with his others, covering topics ranging from family, his partner, culture, his book tours, and current events (including BLM protests and the pandemic). This isn't a bad thing- it's what he does, combined with his candor, wit, and quirky observations.

Sedaris said he answers snail mail fan letters, so I am going to write him one and ask him to by Fitbit friends with me, since we are both hardcore step fiends. I told Scott and the look he gave me was PURE judgement, hahahaha. I told my two friends who are also reading this and they totally egged me on. True friends, true friends. 

Sedaris always writes about his family, but he spends quite a bit of time discussing the death of his father, whom he had a rough relationship with. I appreciate that he doesn't romanticize his feelings after he loses him- so often once someone dies they become a hero, despite sometimes hurtful flaws. 

No matter how I feel, pandemic writing is here to stay. Sedaris' doesn't make me feel pessimistic or anxious, but thankful we've come so far. 

A Few Things About... No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

If you want to feel guilty about how much time you spend on your phone or other device then THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. The unnamed main character spends most of the book completely and totally absorbed in "the portal" which is basically just her online presence. Eventually a family crisis brings her out of it a bit, but the fact that she was just so entrenched is a lesson for us all. 

Lockwood's satirical, over-the-top writing may not be for everyone, but despite laying it on a bit thick at time it certainly is effective. So much of social media and "softer" news sites is so trivial and mundane, and we know it. Lockwood also provides continuous commentary on the ever-changing internet vernacular, forcing her audience to question the origins of phrases and words that pop into circulation. 

While Lockwood's efforts are admirable, I do think that at times she overuses shock value, whether it's in passing online comments the narrator is reading or her sister's baby terminal disease. I think this can be a really useful technique, but just a touch overused here. 

When David Sedaris promoted it at his reading (and Lockwood came out and read from it!) he mentioned how it was perfect for millennials with short attention spans, since the format is comprised of super short paragraphs.  

"Was that Satisfying?"


"What did you do all day?" Louisa asked.

There had been a time when Mirella liked Louisa's questions- what a gift, she'd once thought, to be with someone who was so interested, interested in everything she'd done all day, someone who cared enough to ask- but tonight it was an intrusion.

"Went for a walk. Did some laundry. Stared at Instagram, mostly." 

"Was that satisfying?"

"Of course not," Mirella said, a little sharper than she'd intended, and Louisa gave her a surprised look. 

Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel (60)


Was that satisfying? 

Ever since finishing Sea of Tranquility  the other day I keep returning to this seemingly inconsequential line, which also tends to elicit humming of a certain Rolling Stones song, naturally. It also reminds me a little of Marie Kondo's nauseating phrase "does it spark joy?" (no Marie, my iron doesn't spark joy, but sometimes I need to remove the goddamn wrinkles from my shirt, so back the hell off). But, this is different. Was that satisfying?

Simply put "satisfying" means "giving fulfillment or the pleasure associated with this." I mean, that's really the basis for a happy life, right? Or at least contentment, being fulfilled and finding pleasure, both of which come in all shapes and sizes. 

Satisfaction is so personal and can vary within one person, dependent on the time, day, or phase in life. A satisfying weekend to me as a college student (cheap cookies, an afternoon binging illegally downloaded movies with my boyfriend, and news of a canceled class) is so drastically different from me now as a thirty-eight-year-old (slaying a long to-do list, a good meal, time with friends, time with family, a tough workout, and some sort of activity out of the house... clearly it takes a lot more now, haha). Satisfaction depends on what our goals and desires are, as well. I am satisfied when I feel productive, active, and involved, while others would feel the opposite. There's a billion different types of satisfaction, as well: emotional, physical, professional, personal, spiritual, gastronomical, creative, social, cultural, familial- the list goes on and on. It's more than just happiness, but it can be an integral part of what brings us joy in our lives. 

I think there's a difference between short term satisfaction and long-term, as well. This could be with healthy habits (maybe walking is satisfying today, but over time will it really support long-term fitness goals?), finances, careers, and who choose to spend our time with. 

More than anything, I found two points of importance in this phrase. The first is in regards to myself. Is what I am doing bringing satisfaction? I hate folding laundry, but the idea of clean clothes and being done with a tedious chore does in fact satisfy me. A work out? Definitely. Time spent playing with my son? Sure! And while I never sit down on the couch to watch TV alone, an hour  or two watching something with my husband satisfies the need to have time with just him (as opposed to conversation interrupted by a certain little kid, work emails, chores, the dog, etc...). This works the other way, too, though. This morning I found myself getting carried away with my Instagram scrolling- five minutes was a satisfying break from responsibilities, but the fifteen minutes I was approaching felt like a time suck, which was where the "was that satisfying?" question comes into play.

The second point of importance is a return to above when I remarked satisfaction being different for others. Sometimes I hear how others spend their time and I just... don't get it. But satisfaction is personal and after a long day at work or caring for kids a few hours binging crappy TV really is a satisfying release for them (just how I'd prefer ice cream to carrots). As my son CONSTANTLY reminds us, mostly when we're telling him he's incorrect, "different people like different things." 

While nothing is perfect,  this phrase is a good reminder to focus on what brings value to our lives but also the permission to slow down and enjoy what does bring us satisfaction. 

A Few Things About... This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

This book is about time travel, but, thank goodness, really is not. Sci-Fi isn't my favorite genre, but Straub makes this trope her own and focuses more on Alice, the main character's, relationship with her ailing father and the decisions she's made in her life.

Books like this are always meant to make you pause and take stock of your life- what if you would have done things differently? What would you change if you could go back in time? I'm a little concerned that this is going to become an overused genre (can we blame The Midnight Library?), but I did appreciate that there was a lot of foundational context provided before this element entered the plot. 

If you need a pool/beach read but don't want to slum it, this is a perfect book. Straub is a solid writer, the plot moves quickly and there are some endearing quirky moments. Still, you can look up occasionally to check on kids, doze off, or grab a drink and you won't feel lost.

I didn't love the ending- maybe just me, but I thought it was a little abrupt. 

A Few Things About... Talk to Me by TC Boyle

I find primates fascinating, in terms of their genetic similarities to humans and how that can result in such complex relationships with people when they are held captive. This is definitely the case in the novel as we see Aimee forge such a close bond with Sam, a chimp that is being taught by a researcher to communicate using an incredibly broad vocabulary. 

Aimee's character development was fascinating- she starts off as such a quiet, lonely student, but then forges these incredibly strong bonds with Guy, the researcher, and Sam. Do her choices show a sense of independence, though, or an inability to be alone and hence the decision to succumb to co-dependency? There are moments when she exerts such strength, yet it tends to be done to preserve her relationship with the chimp, especially.

The peek into the bureaucracy of financing scientific projects at the university level was interesting and, unfortunately, I think, despite the book taking place many years ago, it's still the same. What's going to create the most published articles? How much will be gained or lost? What will make the facility look the best? What's good now, as opposed to the future?

The ending was a little zany, which I guess you can't not expect when reading a book on the subject matter. 

A Few Things About... Election and Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta

I quickly reread Election, since it had been a very long time. I will say that I think it’s the stronger of the two, just in terms of writing. Perrotta is more subtle and effortless with his wit in the first, and while the second one is definitely not bad, it feels forced at some points.

I love Tracy Flick in both,  and I think there are things I identify with in her adult character. I understand deciding on a different career path than originally intended, measuring your self-worth by your productivity, and stifling your emotions to plow forward and save face (don’t I sound like so much FUN? haha). I also loved that she ended up in education, since I can definitely relate to that. 

Perrotta’s format is similar for both- he ties a cast of characters together, examining intricacies of their lives, allowing the reader to empathize in situations we might not otherwise. The only drawback is that in the second one, especially, I would have liked to see maybe one or two threads left out and more depth with others. 

The ending of Tracy Flick was definitely written for a movie in mind… let’s just keep it at that