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

Five Things About... Vladimir by Julia May Jones

First of all, I liked that this book focused on the sexuality of a middle-aged woman who was starting to grapple with the implications of really aging. At thirty-eight I do occasionally wonder what this phase of life will be like, so I appreciated the glimpse. There was a level of physical insecurity that the narrator constantly battled, which I think runs counter to this popular assumption that women after a certain age often "let themselves go." 

I tend to enjoy the academia trope, which this definitely unders. The narrator, her husband, and her object of desire are all professors and much of the background is set at a college in upstate New York. 

While I can see how some might criticize the narrator's voice, it is uniquely hers. She is deeply flawed and makes some very poor decisions, yet there's an honesty there that I at least found interesting. She really is embodying this sort of stereotype that has been created about many male professors- she's pretentious, she's opinionated, and she's egotistical. Her husband is all of this and more, so in order to survive in her marriage and at the college she works at she's become this way as a defensive maneuver. 

I appreciated the look into an unconventional marriage; it's not open... but it's not closed. Granted her husband takes advantage of this (and some of his students) more than she does, but she agrees to it and is vocal about that. There are a lot of issues between the two of them, but deep down there is love and I think that as a society we are just now slowly coming round to the idea that marriage means different things to different people. My husband and I are faithful, but there are things about our relationship that others raise their eyes at (separate bank accounts, I didn't change my name, he doesn't generally travel with us, etc...), so I like the idea of embracing more progressive moves. 

The last fifty pages are ridiculous. I mean, they're entertaining as hell, but things get a little crazy and I don't know if all the plot choices were the right ones.