Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Integrating Implications

Currently Reading: The Curse of the Wendigo

Pg 397: "In the name of all that is holy, tell me why God felt the need to make a hell.  It seems so redundant."

Ha!  Even though I don't believe in heaven or hell or all that mumbo jumbo, I had to appreciate that sentiment of young Will Henry.  (Yes I am back on the mostrumology books).  It's too true that so much of what is going on in the world these days is absolutely terrifying.  I mean, Rick Perry for President?  Bah!

In this latest installment, we get to travel to some new places, meet other monstrumologists, and even discover that Doctor Warthrop does have a heart.  I again reiterate that horror and monsters are not my typical thing, but Will Henry is such a good story teller, that I can't help but be drawn into the adventure.  And it seems that I am not all too removed from the genre as I was able to get several references to other horrific tales.  Doesn't it make you feel smart when you understand those subtle clues or allusions to some book that surely any well read person has stumbled across?  Not to mention when it involves art or scientists and their mind-boggling theories.  It definitely speaks to the interconnectivity among creative works in our world.  I just finished another book that revolved around a literary agent and a couple of her authors.  Even though it was pure fiction, you got to glimpse a bit of what goes on behind the scenes and couldn't help but notice how everything connected back to something else.  Is there a truly original work of art anymore?  He was inspired by Beethoven, her acting style harks back to Audrey Hepburn.  On and on the list goes.  And were even those two original in their own right?  Who knows?

I guess the moral of the story is that if something works, keep on working it.  As for Will Henry and Doctor Warthrop, well, we shall see what the final installment holds in store...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illogical

Currently Reading: See What I See

More young adult fiction!  Hooray!  I know that you all are probably getting sick of the teen angst, but really, I am sticking with the good stuff, none of that vampire lust nonsense.  This one is about the daughter of an artist who is actually a bit of an aspiring painter herself.  When Kate was young, her father left her and her mother in the name of his craft.  He couldn't sit still and needed to go out and find inspiration and all that artsy fartsy stuff.  Now, she is coming to live with him in Detroit so that she can attend art school there, being unable to afford the student housing.  Of course, dear old dad is dying and so she eventually drops out to care for him.  In the end, she does manage to attend school again, learning more about art and her own quest for inspiration.  What makes Kate and her father different is that she is able to find said inspiration from the people and places around her, while he is constantly searching elsewhere for more captivating subjects.

One of the things that I can't understand about creative minded people is that they never seem satisfied.  There is always something lacking or some other intangible quality that they are seeking.  Never being satisfied with an answer seems like an exhaustive way to live, at least to my humble left brained self.  Not that I have all the answers or an satisfied with my life as it stands.  I guess it is more that I realize that constructive actions on my own part are what is needed in order to find that elusive happiness.  Oh course I lament and whine with the best of them, but deep down, I know what needs to be done.  So who is right?  Must a person find their happiness from outside sources or, like Kate eventually decides, do you have control to create your own happiness yourself?  I guess it all depends on what lies within you and how desirous you are to attain contentment.  Sometimes it seems like wallowing is so much easier than taking action.

I am at a crux with a few things in my life and am finally realizing that I need to make some changes in order to positively affect the outcome.  Whether or not I can stick with it is still up in the air, but I am trying.  I have a list of things to do and have at least attempted several of them.  One of which was getting a membership at my local rec center.  Now that I've paid for it, I'd better use it!  There again is my rational personality taking charge.  Must not waste money.  At least, unlike Kate, I have a fantastic papa to support me in my charge.  But like Kate and her father, my Dad and myself are of the same stock, thinking logically about life and taking action.  I guess that is one thing I need to be thankful for.  OK.  Now that I am merely rambling, I am off.  One last hooray, and this one is for getting the two weeks off!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My!

Currently Reading: The Monstrumologist

Pg 119: "Yes, my dear child, monsters are real.  I happen to have one hanging in my basement."

Eek!  This is one that will chill you too the bones (not that my bones need any more chilling).  The Monstrumologist is book one in a series of young adult novels regarding the unknown, particularly monsters and other hideous beasts.  It is told from the perspective of a young orphan whose father once worked for the monstrumologist himself.  Dr. Warthrop's specialty is analyzing and categorizing these creatures, often time dissecting them himself in his basement laboratory.  Of course the story told to the general public is that he is a doctor of psychology.  Will Henry, his charge, is thrown into this gruesome world not by choice, but because he has no one else to turn to after his parents die in a fire.  He is a lamentable character, telling a story that is bother terrifying and compelling at the same time.

I am not typically one who rushes out to see the latest Saw movie or who revels in the ghost stories written by the likes of Stephen King.  Weird that I love science fiction, but cannot tolerate these types of tales.  Still, I am most certainly enjoying this one.  Is is because of Will Henry's story telling ability?  (I suppose I should be giving the credit to Rick Yancy, but still...)  What I find most fascinating about the book is the doctor himself.  He is obsessive about his work.  Often times he forgoes food or rest in order to pursue his latest subject.  Warthrop is alone in his small New England community, having to send letters out to his fellow monstrumologists, and rarely getting the opportunity to converse with them face to face.  I am intrigued by what drives his passion as well as the source of his infatuation and captivation with these beasts.  Is it some underlying altruistic feeling?  As of now, Yancy depicts him as a stubborn old man voicing the typical lines about it all being "in the name of science".  I still can't help but think that there is some other reason beneath his surface facade.  I am impelled to learn more.

The one big idea that these types of books bring to the table is that there is always something unknown out there, lurking in the shadows, merely awaiting its opportunity to enter our world.  Fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator for many of us mere humans.  We would rather fight the demons we know than have to imagine the other possibilities out there.  Does this mean we should never seek out things we do not or cannot understand?  I hope not.  Think about any great advancement made by man.  It always requires one brave soul to step outside the box and attempt something foreign to him.  Here's hoping that man doesn't ever have to be me!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Can't We All Just Get Along??

Currently Reading: Moral Disorder

Pg 48: "You have an enhanced reaction to reality."

Margaret Atwood has got to be one of the most amazing, yet unorthodox writers of our time.  Her works span across genres and often cannot simply be classified as one or the other.  Is it science fiction, literary fiction, autobiography, the list goes on.  This one is a book of short stories, the best form of fiction in my book (hee hee).  Each story brings about intriguing characters and, one of Atwood's fortes, complicated situations where there is no right or wrong answer to the problems of the place.  I have only gotten through a few stories, but am already eager to read more.

But I did say I would follow up on the Hunger Games and what has occurred for young Katniss.  The Hunger Games are over, or are they?  In the third installment, the outlying districts finally make their move, spurred on by a charismatic groups of rebels.  The leaders of this group choose Katniss as their main image to put forth to the masses.  See?  The victor of the Hunger Games is with us, you should be too!  Of course Katniss, has no desire to lead and is merely a pawn in their little game.  And yes, I use the word game again because as you read the second and third books, you see many parallels between the original rulers and the new group of rebel leaders.  Is it possible for a selfless person to lead a group of people?  I think not.  Look at all the examples that we have in our own history.  It seems that almost every rebellion becomes a mirror image of what it overthrew in the first place.  Giving someone a little power, all too often makes them greedy for more.  Even with a group, there is not stable leadership.  In these cases, it is more likely to be worse for the masses since each member is secretly plotting to overthrow the others all while finding their influence over others to be intoxicating.  In the end, not too many people are the better for the whole thing.  My mind kept being pulled to the Dune novels as an example.

You do feel sorry for Katniss throughout this entire tale, though.  She never wanted to become famous and never wanted to be a public figure.  She just wanted to be at home, with her family and friends, asking for only the bare necessities to live a productive and fruitful life.  Give her a bow, allow her to hunt for food, and Katniss would be happy.  Yet, this doesn't ever happen for her.  She is continually pulled back into the public eye by those simply hoping to use her to their advantage.  She did not ask for the life she ends up with, but is a strong, willful character who in the end comes out content, perhaps not entirely happy with the events that brought her there, but content nonetheless.

I am now quite excited to see how this all plays out on the big screen.  Although, the games were pretty awesome in my mind and I am hoping that the Hollywood version does not disappoint.

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's the Little Things

Currently Reading: Catching Fire


I love twinkly lights!  Anyone who knows me, knows that holidays are not really my thing, but I can't help but love the lights.  They are so cheery and fun.  I had to put some up on my balcony.  No tree or anything non-secular like that.  Just the lights.  I wish I could keep them up all year!

Now onto the books since that is what I am supposed to be writing about.  Chasing Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games series.  These were recommended to be by a friend whose opinion I most certainly respect.  And needless to say, I loved the first on and am excited about getting into the second.  The basis of the story is where the title comes from (well that and twinkly lights).  What are the things a person needs on the most basic level?  Food, warmth, and shelter right?  Oh and I supposed companionship too.  This story takes place in the near future.  Something has happened that has caused the government to become a compressing body that holds each district to such strict limitations that no one person is allowed to show any individuality or to rise in society.  Each year, there is a Hunger Game.  This is where two children from each district are randomly selected to participate in a free-for-all, to which the victor goes the spoils.  In this case, the spoils being food for their district.  The central government withholds basic foodstuffs from the citizens, keeping them at a near starvation level.  A win for any district, not only helps the champion, but his or her community and family.  Which is why the fighting gets so fierce at the end, or at least one of the reasons.

The Hunger Games themselves basically pit the 24 adolescents against each other.  The last man standing wins.  Each champion is paraded in front of sponsors before the game begins in order to hopefully elicit some help throughout the game.  This help could come in the form of food, medicine, clothing, and even medicine.  Once the games begin, each person is watched closely by a camera and the action is aired to the masses.  The public cheers for their representative and often work together to scape up something to give to help.  It's pretty sick once you think about it all.

The chosen pair from District 12 are the main characters in this series, mainly the young girl, who chose to take her sister's place in the games.  Her plight is trying and her ingenuity adds a whole new level of intrigue to the game.  She is a charismatic character and I am looking forward to delving more into her life and thoughts.  More to come as the series unfolds.

Oh and yes, a movie is coming out soon, about which I am a bit ambivalent.  I always hate the movie versions of books that I love, but am a bit intrigued to see how Hollywood pulls this one off.  Until then, happy reading!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Familiar Faces

Currently Reading: Choices of One

There is just something about the Star Wars universe.  Man, I love it.  I know that it probably makes me a huge geek, but at this point, I'm cool with that.  I love picking up a new book and having the opportunity to delve back into the awesomeness that George Lucas inspired so many years ago.  Seeing familiar places and following those time-tested warriors throughout their journey.  Do you think he ever imagined the impact his wee little story would have on the world?  (Or at least the fictional world).  How epically amazing.

What I enjoyed the most about this latest book is that it takes place back in the Classic era in between the original movies.  Luke isn't a Jedi yet, Han and Leia haven't begotten all those feisty children and (spoiler) the wonderful Chewbacca, Vader, and Mara Jade are still with us.  While the chronologically latest stories are all fine and good, sometimes we hard core fans need a break from all the Force users and just sit in on a good space battle or blaster shoot-out.  This one was from Timothy Zahn, my all time favorite Star Wars author.  Not just because he created my favorite non-movie character, Mara Jade, but because he is clearly realistic when it comes to the plot.  Sometimes when you read something by one of the youngsters, they are too much in awe of the characters that they have them saying and doing things that are unbelievable and out of character.  Han Solo sometimes does need to know the odds and, quite frankly, some Imperials do have a heart.  Zahn manages to stay true to the original story and personalities, but adds his own level of nuance thus arriving at a much more enjoyable and exciting tale.  He adds without taking away and never steals from others.  The actions and dialogue are all his own.

This one has inspired me to dust off some more Star Wars offerings and re-read, for the gazillionth time, a couple of Zahn's other tales.  Those library books will just have to wait.  The Force is calling.

And yes, I know it isn't really real, but hey, a girl can dream!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Foreign Language??

Currently Reading: The Sweet Edge

Pg 231: "It must be 35 degrees in the shade."

This was the second time that a thirty something degree had caused the characters to swoon.  Of course the first time, I was totally thrown, but by page 231 I was well aware of the fact that I was reading a Canadian novel.  I read a lot of books by British authors and many of them actually take place in England, but never so much have I been aware of the foreignness of a book that with this Canadian one.  Funny isn't it?  You'd think that with Canada and America at least sharing a border, this wouldn't have been the case.  Maybe it the fact that this story could only have been told in Canada.  All those English click-lit books could just as well be set in New York instead of London, just by substituting feck with some other word ; )  I find that I like it though, the foreignness.  The point of a book or a movie is often to take you away to someplace different and all the better to do that, by reading something taken place in another country.  And reading a book written by a native, as opposed to all those Americans posing as foreigners, is always a nice refreshment.  Oh and the title, it refers to the foreign languages of the Canadian and English novels despite their having a common tongue as us Americans.

So onto the story, Ellen and Adam are at a standstill in their relationship.  Both are unsatisfied, but neither can really voice what they want to change.  Ellen works at an art gallery, Qi (see Aunt Cathy, I was wrong), and eventually it is here where she finds some answers.  While she is busy installing and presenting artistic offerings, Adam goes off by himself on a 50 day canoe trip through the wilderness.  He finds himself lost and yet eventually finds some piece.  Needless to say, miscommunication and misunderstanding, cause the couple to become further and further saddened, despite their being in two separate places.  What is it about the human psyche that so yearns for companionship?  What is wrong with being alone and being happy with it?  I find this question popping up in my own life quite a bit.  I am satisfied being alone, but the few people connect to me cannot fathom that and of course seek to remedy my solitude.  When you are alone, no one else can hurt you.  When you are alone, you are in charge of your own life and actions.  Of course, when putting it into words, it sounds kind of pathetic.  Still, are couples the best way to solve things?  It seems, through all my reading and all the stories I hear, that more often than not, pairing off simply causes more heartache than it is worth.  Can you still be a part of society, but still be alone?  Are you necessary?  Adam removes himself from society, but is still influencing it even through his absence.  Ellen is in the midst of it, but still utterly alone.  When they do meet again, things are different, but are they really better?  I think not, but this is left up to the reader.  I will say that the ending is quite appropriate for the theme of the novel.  Adam had left a gift for Ellen which she never opened in his absence.  Upon his return, he presents it to her, but what it actually is, that is left up to us.  Will it bring them together or throw them further apart.  Intriguing, eh?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Don't Wanna Be A Sheep

Currently Reading: Across the Universe

And no, not the movie with all the Beatles music.  This is a young adult science fiction story.  It follows the similar theme of a ship being sent out to Alpha Centauri in order to create a new civilization on this planet.  The main members of the expedition are put in cryogenic stasis for the duration of the journey.  What makes this one unique is that the main character is a teenage girl who came with her essential parents.  She too was put to "sleep" but was awoken too early and finds herself thrown into the civilization that has grown among the members of the traveling crew.  This group consists of descendents upon decedents as the trip was originally slated to take about 300 years.  They have created their own little government and lifestyles that are totally foreign to Amy, the main character.  She doesn't understand at first and manages to point out many flaws in the system that the current people cannot even fathom.  Their leadership consists of one "Eldest".  He is accompanied only by his "Elder", basically a leader in training.  The Elder is of a similar age to Amy.  The people aboard the ship are forced to be held to a certain procreation cycle and so people are part of distinct generations.  There had been a dramatic episode of a plague in the earlier years of the trip and so a more rigid form of control, the Eldest system, was established.

What I find interesting is that almost every form of government finds itself inevitably falling back into a totalitarian pattern.  Think of communism.  There were certainly distinct leaders there, despite the rhetoric calling for equality and whatnot.  Even our democratic society is finding it self in a tail spin, with more and more concentrated government control over people's individual rights.  The Eldest points out three main sources of discord.  One of which is difference and another is the individual.  His goal was to eradicate any desire for change and to get people to be satisfied being sheep to his sheepherder role.  Things were fine while no one new that anything could be different, but when someone new, Amy, who looked different and had different experiences, came into the picture, discord, much to his dismay, occurred.  This is inevitably happening in all forms of government and it makes you think.  Should we simply roll over and accept the fact that no matter what, there has to be a leader?  I hope not, but who knows, maybe that is the way we humans work best.  There are leaders and there are followers.  Which one are you?

This post is now hitting too close to home as I too am struggling with my role as a "leader" at work and really don't want to think about my inadequacies.  Still, I don't know that follower is the best description for me either.  Why can't there be some middle-management positions?  I think that may end up being where I fit best, although most days I'm not sure that I fit at all.  Anyways, now I am getting on that tangent I was so hoping to avoid so thus ends the post.  Still, ponder the ideas that this book poses.  Must we have a single charismatic leader or is it possible to be a true, democratic society?  Regardless of what your answer is, where do you find yourself fitting into the system?  Are you content to follow or are you driven to lead?  Hmm...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Teeny Boppers

Currently Reading: The Queen of Cool

Pg 15: "I don't want to make the effort.  Just give me the end result, I say."

One of my side projects has been helping the school library read through the "questionable" books that were sent to the campus library to be part of the collection.  She is used to filtering for middle school students and so I have been giving some insight on what is appropriate for high school aged students.  Firstly, I have a personal issue with the whole banning of books.  All ideas should be out there for everyone to experience and either embrace or reject.  Of course at the same time, I totally understand how a school needs to be conscious not only of its student readers, but of the parents of those students as well.  The conservative folks in the area will most likely have issue with everything but the Bible!!  That being said, I am enjoying reading some more of the books that my students may potentially read and am glad to help get some stuff out on the shelves.  I thought the quote was oh too appropriate for many reasons.  Not only is it something I hear each an everyday from the lovely little kiddos coming into my classroom, but it is something I myself am struggling with a bit these days.

What is the effort required, you ask?  Well it is almost November and that means I need to start writing!  I have something of an idea ready and am now looking into the building blocks about how to get a competent, compelling story started.  Ironically enough, I am looking into a young adult novel.  This is something I can relate to more that most of the adult literature I read in that much of my emotional and physical experiences are very adolescent still even at the ripe old age of 28.  (Twenty-eight!  I still can't really believe it!)  I want to be a writer, but am now finding the task of actually writing to be quite daunting.  Even now, as I read back through this post, I find it littered with grammatical errors and run on sentences.  I suppose the task now will be to let go of some of my controlling, perfectionist tendencies and just put pen to paper.  Wish me luck and expect more writing related thoughts to come this month.  (I will of course still be reading, just putting a different spin on what I post about my reading.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oh the Weather!!

Currently Reading: Miss Timmin's School for Girls

I'll bet you have no idea where I took this...
It is oh so interesting how so many of the underlying and fundamental causes of events are shrouded in mystery.  You cannot for the life of you see through the fog blown in by outside factors such as personal opinions and evasion tactics.  When you get right down to it, most of life is really viewed through a haze of misinformation and so seldom are we actually faced with the cold hard truth of a matter.  This story takes place (obviously) at a private school for girls.  Not so obvious from the title is that this school is in India not all that far from Bombay.  One of the most fun things about being a reader is that you are able to see the inner workings of a place that many of the characters do not get to experience.  At the same time though, the author works his or her hardest in order to give you many other things to munch on so that you are not simply reading off the nuts and bolts of the plot line.  I am less than half way through this one and really cannot comment too much on the story except to say that at this point, I am intrigued.

My brain has been preoccupied lately with a few things.  First, as previously mentioned in another post, the whole work/who am I issue.  Second, the wonderful ideas I was immersed in last night at the TDWCC dinner (speaking of obscuring via fogginess, see Mr. Perry).  And third, what I plan on talking about for the rest of the post, my own novel.  My little brother's little lady brought to my attention the fact that November is National Novel Writing Month and I am all signed up to participate.  Of course that means having a plot lined up before the first and I am having some struggles with that.  I just want to start typing whatever comes to mind, thus the appeal of a blog, but know I need to do some planning before hand.  How can I blur the edges a bit?  What things am I going to use to hind the framework of my story.  (Eek!  That means I have a story to begin with!)  So that being said, be forewarned that many of the upcoming posts will be connected to the activity of writing (or being blocked from writing) and I would appreciate any tips and any support from all, what is it now, 9??, of my followers!  Thanks in advance!

And I promise, if nothing else, I will update you on the conclusion and my thoughts as I further delve into the lives and times at Miss Timmin's School for Girls.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Which Witch??

Currently Reading: Beginners

Part of this book is a coming of age story, while there is an underlying tale relating the Salem witch trials.  That is the part that is intriguing me the most.  The trials were such a terrible occurrence which occurred not from not any actual wrong doing, but rather a fear of those who are different from the norm.  This is something that we see all too often in the world these day.  I especially see it here in Texas.  We are constantly putting out new rules and legislation that harm or put more restrictions on those who are different.  We don't like anyone from another place.  We don't like anyone who isn't upper middle class.  We don't like poor people or minorities.  And people with other sexual preferences, well, they hardly count now do they?  They are evil doers!!  It is so sad that fear is the emotion that drives so many of the decision makers now a days.  Why not start embracing those differences and learning from each other?  It is something that just makes such simple sense.  Of course that could be why it is virtually unseen in public policy here.  Things that make sense are taboo.  We each can do our own part by speaking up for those who are different as well as reaching out to these groups and admiring the unique qualities that they bring to our communities.  Why do we want to promote the same when clearly it hasn't been working too well lately?  Wasn't America founded by outcasts?  I feel like we are regressing as a people and it makes me sad.

This book features a couple who move to a very insulated town.  They are so far outside the norm that few even attempt to approach them.  The young lady who actually does, is so intrigued that she falls under their spell and becomes an outcast herself.  I am wondering now how things will turn out for poor Ginger.  Will see come back to the fold or totally shuck off her roots and try something new?  Sure it is something that her parents and friends fear, but is it really such a bad thing?

Oh and one more note.  I also recently read Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants.  Another wonderful tale of life affected by a love for animals.  It is interesting that I like these books so much since I am not the biggest fan of animals myself.  Maybe I just like those who like animals.  Hmmm...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rat Race

Currently Reading: A Wedding in December

Yes another Anita Shreve book.  I really do read other stuff, but so much of it lately has been too embarrassing to post and I am trying to appear all literary here!  This is another of Shreve's heart-wrenching, reflective tales dealing with decisions, the consequences of those decisions, and of course, decisions that you missed out on in the past.  She clearly has her theme down pat.  Much like James Patterson or Jane Green, except good this time.

Something that has been on my mind lately is jobs or really, careers and occupations.  Sure we all need to work for a living, but are you simply carrying out a job or are you doing something as part of a career?  It is something worth considering.  When I worked at Tom Thumb, it was merely a job.  Now that I am teaching, it is supposed to be a career.  I am now at a new school with a different clientele and unfortunately am finding myself reconsidering my career choice.  I may not have the heart needed to teach kids who actually need good teachers.  Much self-reflection has occurred and most certainly will be continued as the year progresses.

What makes all of this hard is that I keep reading all these books about people with those ideal careers such as authors or owners of bed and breakfasts or the like.  As in people who have some freedom in their actions and tasks each day.  I find myself longing for such freedoms.  I feel very tied down by the bell schedule.  Why can't we just have Socratic seminars each day?  Of course I know the answer to that, just don't like it.  I think my dream occupation would be a writer.  Not necessarily a literary author, but writing of any sort.  I love making worksheets and writing tests for school.  I also like doing all this blogging and even informal essay type things would be right up my alley.  (I now giggle since I am going bowling tomorrow.  Oh what a punster I am!!)  Writing of any sort calls to me.  So how can I take advantage of this longing?  How can I use my passion to fund my needs?  It is something I plan on considering for I oh so long to write and be in charge of my time.  I guess the key will be to find something worth writing about that others will find worth reading about.  Finding readers.  From my list of followers, it seems to be something I need to work on a bit.

One final though for pondering.  Do authors write about writers because it is what they know?  It seems like the best authors have at least one book about a fellow author.  Maybe it's an unwritten rule or something.  I know about teaching so does that mean I should write about a teacher?  What about all those vampire books out there these days?  Should we all start being more wary of bats?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Currently Reading: Calling Mr. King

Pg 166: "When you come down to it, all of us, in whatever line of business, have to work with or report to some bastard."

Such truer words have never been spoken.  This has come to light more and more as I advance through my career as an educator and really just being a participant in life in general.  Whether that ultimately ends up being a higher power or simply your mom, we are all "beneath" someone, having to explain our decisions and actions.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could do and say whatever we wanted regardless of the consequences.  Alas, no man is an island.  The wonderful thing about living in America is that we have a bit more freedom in speech and deed than many others and how important it is for us to exercise this right.  I just got back from a little trip to Minnesota where I was able to engage in many stimulating conversations (thanks MJ!) where I could voice my thoughts and opinions as well as hear those of others.  Too bad we spent most of the time lamenting issues and planning ways to circumvent the man, but how wonderful that there are others out there that are willing to give my "two cents" a fair hearing.

This quote is funny because the gentleman who speaks these words is a hitman.  He too has to answer to someone!  Calling Mr. King is all his life as a hired killer and the ways he has to balance career with his own personal interests, mainly architecture.  Humorous and stimulating all in one slim volume.  Very good reading.  I was able to learn a bit about wondrous buildings throughout the world and see some of the inner workings of the hitman trade (fictional of course).  Recommended, but request it quick since I was wait listed for this one!

Now of course, apologies are in order for the neglect I have given to you all and my lapse in blogging.  The school year has been a whirlwind of activity and I am only now, after eight weeks, catching my breath.  I would say that I promise to be better in the future, but with high schoolers, the future is never static and who knows what tomorrow will bring.  The one constant in my life is books and I hope to have many more gems to share soon.  The positives include good people, steady employment, and of course, the public library (unless these Republicans get their way).  Where would we be without these amazing public services?  Not all of us can have our own libraries in the den.  (Not to mention having a den to put them in!!)  So let's keep speaking out in support of public works because at the end of the day, they are for the public which most certainly includes the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich.  Speaking of whom, we will miss you Mr. Jobs.  I am, as I type, utilizing the amazing technology and ideas you brought to the masses.  You will be remembered for always.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gaining Root

Currently Reading: Ghost in the Wires

Pg 125: "People, as I had learned at a very young age, are just too trusting."

Wow!  I am totally blown away and still reeling from Kevin Mitnick's tale of his hacking days and subsequent perusal by federal agencies.  He is amazing!  I am terribly envious of computer savvy folks and it is mind-boggling to read about the things he did.  The weirdest part of his epic story is that most of the hacking he seemed to do took place as he was trying to outsmart the feds and merely escape from their coming after him for the earlier hacks.  He does things that I cannot even fathom.  I loved all the technical details and am still in awe.  See, I am incoherent in my description of this book.  Thank goodness for spell check (something that would be child's play to mess with in Mitnick's case, I'm sure).  The rise of technology's prominence in our lives seems to have opened up so many new ways to discover information about people in addition to simply connecting our lives by mere threads, or wires.  Everything we hold dear can be altered, copied, or discovered by someone who wants it enough.  Is this a good thing?  In general, I say yes.  While Mitnick was basically, and it for sure now, an ethical hacker, there are still those out there out to gain root for evil.  Still, is it worth stopping them all in order to prevent those few, darksiders?

One of the most interesting things about Mitnick's story is that a lot of the "hacking" he did was through social engineering rather than through computer or phone technical details.  He simply called someone up and managed to get what he needed.  How trusting we are!!  Often times, geeks and nerds are labeled as being socially inept, but in order to properly use social engineering, one has to be incredibly astute regarding people.  How to read them as you poke through their brains and attempt to gain the desired knowledge.  Knowing how far and what buttons to push requires a lot of intuition.  Perhaps we are too quick to stereotype in these folks' cases?  You never know, it could be exactly what he wants.

Anyways, read this book.  It is awesome.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Role Playing and Pachyderms

Currently Reading: Hannah's Dream

Pg 241: "Was it possible to be better at being someone else than you were at being yourself?"

Alas and alack, I have been out of touch for far too long.  School is now in full swing and this quote seemed a bit appropriate given what I myself sometimes feel, but also some of what I see in the students as well.  All too often these little kiddos try to shuck off their unique personalities in terms of playing a role.  They do this to fit in or because they are not comfortable with who they are.  And they are often very good at playing these roles.  I am at a new school where there are many young gentlemen who are more concerned with acting like thugs, than doing well, or at least passing in their academics.   The saddest part of this is that many of them could have bright future ahead of them, but are throwing it all away to look "good" for a bunch of fifteen year-olds.  Well enough of the lamenting, back to the actual book.


This heart-lifting tale revolves around an elephant named Hannah.  She has been living alone at an ad-hoc zoo created by an eccentric lady in the mid 1900s.  The story takes place in the present day long after her benefactor has passed.  Hannah is getting old and weary and her only companion, her caretaker Sam, is also ailing.  A new elephant keeper comes onto the scene and helps all see how they can best help Hannah.  All works out in the end, but not sappily.  The supporting characters, including Sam's wife, a well-meaning zoo official and a precocious pig, add to the tale and provide some comic relief.  All in all, a nice story and well worth the read.  Some would say it is reminiscent of Water For Elephants, but I'm not so sure.  This one is more readable and uplifting.  More about the elephant conditions and less about forlorn love.  (Something I appreciated.)

Now back to work, but I promise not to be so lax in my posting in the future.  Here's hoping the role you play is your own! 


Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Act of Contrition

Currently Reading: A Patchwork Planet

This one was another of those books that was eerily mirroring some of my own life while I was reading it.  Poor Barnaby (what a great name!) is a down on his luck 30 year old.  He works for "Rent-A-Back", hardly an exciting profession, doing odd jobs for elderly folks who cannot manage to do household chores on their own.  Recently divorced, Barnaby only gets to see his daughter once a week and these visits are hardly long enough to gain the trust and love of his daughter.  Her mother doesn't seem to go out of her way to help him connect with the girl and really goes out of her way to make them difficult and short.  Barnaby made an error in his adolescence, stealing from neighbors, and seems to have to pay for it for the rest of his life.  What was the related bit for me was the constant feeling of guilt.  I am oh too prone to feel guilty for everything, even things that I have no control over.  I even feel guilty towards myself sometimes.  Barnaby's mother and father paid off some of his victims and of course will not let him forget this fact.  Every time he visits, she manages to slide it into the conversation and is quite a passive aggressive woman.  Of course when Barnaby manages to pay it off, she wants to return it, most likely so that she continues to have something to hold over his head.  He is also seeing a woman who produces feelings of guilt from a similar situation.  Her aunt hires Barnaby on as a daily helper, misplaces some of her money, and accuses him of stealing it, which of course he didn't.  His girlfriend sneaks the money back to her aunt and then proceeds to remind him of this fact for ages.  Even when the money is found, she refuses to take back her replacement, just like Mom, seeming to want to have something to hold over Barnaby's head.  So at the end of this long tale I have told, I guess what I am saying is that we both felt tremendous amounts of guilt.  The differences between our guilt is that his is invoked on purpose, while mine is from my own imaginations.  It is amazing what a powerful emotion this is.  I am still reeling with it as I type.  Another fantastic tome from Anne Tyler.  That woman certainly seems to understand the underdogs of this world, giving them life, while at the same time, not wanting to change them, something all too common in contempory fiction these days.

Well, off to work.  (I am feeling guilty about taking all this personal time away from my daunting to-do list for work!!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hooray for Science??

Currently Reading: Knockout Mouse

There are so many quotable sentiments in this that I couldn't decide on just one for this post.  Knockout Mouse is a combination biological and technological thriller.  It is really cool to read about all the things scientists are doing in terms of genetics, but actually terrifying as well.  On one hand, you have people striving to find a cure for cancer or some other noble cause.  On the other, you have egotistical scientists and funders seeking glory more than anything else.  In this book, a scientist dies due to what innocently (at first) seems to be a bad allergic reaction, but the underlying motives by her co-workers and other key players in the scientific arena cause a second look at the cause of not the death, but the reaction that caused it.  One of the most exciting thing about this book is that is speaks of plausible possibilities that can be seen as good or bad.  I for one am all for scientific research in all its many forms and hope that creative thinkers continue to use their powers for good.

Sorry for such a short post, but it is back to the grind for me which is seriously curtailing my reading and blogging time.  So now off to bed so I can get up again.  Sigh...but again, it is all for a good cause.  Those kiddos need me so they can go on to be super scientists like the characters in this tale.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Deja Vu

Currently Reading: Body Surfing

Anita Shreve is the queen of details.  Every little nuance about an object, person or place is given its due attention in any of her amazing books.  It is one of the many things I love about her writing.  The best part is that each detail serves a purpose.  All too often you read novels where too much attention is paid to unimportant little things and you find yourself skipping ahead to the dialogue or character action.  I always chuckle when reading a Clive Cussler adventure and he comes to the place where he describes what Dirk or Lauren are wearing on a date.  Who cares?!?!  That is so not the case in Sheve's writing.  The book begins with the smallest of hints about the main characters.  A flaw in a bathing suit or the feel of the sand beneath one's feet tantalize the reader into wanting to find out more about this person or place.  And of course, Sheve delivers in spades by giving life to subtly flawed and totally real characters.  Another interesting thing about this story is that it takes place at a beach house that has served as the setting for three of her other works.  Most notably for many, The Pilot's Wife, and the characters from those books are given acknowledgement through Sheve's attention to detail.  Of course the one I remembered the house from was Beach Glass, as The Pilot's Wife is one of her books that I haven't gotten to yet.  That will definitely be remedied though as I now know a bit more about that story and am intrigued enough to want to learn more.  Perhaps a marketing ploy?  I think not though.  She puts so much care and attention into creating these spaces that it seems like a waste not to use them again.  Not so much in the way that other authors carry over characters, but simply showing how so many different lives play out in the same setting.  Very, very interesting and a unique technique.  I am even now thinking back to other books of Sheve's that I have read and seeing if there were other connecting tidbits that I missed in the first reading.  Just one more thing to make her books memorable.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From Point A to Point B

Currently Reading: Commuters

Pg 361: "You know who you are, and that's the point."

So how obvious is it that I am in a little bit of a lull when it comes to work?  A new book each day practically!  Well that is all about to change which is why I am posting so much now that I can.  This book's name sort of refers to work, so I guess that can serve as a segue.  Although the title does imply working, I think it is more about the journey as opposed to the end, which I'm sure is what Tedrowe had in mind.  Here is a story told from the points of view of three main characters each hailing from a different point in their life.  An elderly newly-wed, her stressed middle aged daughter and her new step-grandson, a former user who is still trying to find who is he sans substances.  One of the most exciting things about this book is that you really don't know what will happen next.  You begin the book by making predictions, but are surprised so often that you stop trying after a bit and take the story as it comes.  Winnie, the old woman, recently married Avery's grandfather much to the dismay of his mother.  The grandfather is a successful businessman who quickly succumbs to dementia.  Winnie is at a loss because their married life just started and he is already lost to her.  Meanwhile, Winnie's daughter, Rachel, is experiencing the same thing.  Her husband recently suffered head trauma causing him to have to re-learn how to live and spurring on a desire to write a book about his experiences.  While he toils away with his writing groups, his family finds themselves in a financial and emotional decline.  How can you be present and available to others when you can't be the same for yourself?  I don't want to say that this is a novel about finding yourself, as the quote suggests, because I don't think that would be true to the author's intentions.  I think it is more about dealing with what you are dealt in the best and truest way possible.  In the end, things are OK.  Not good, not bad, but at least finally accepted by all involved.

The quote really spoke to me in many ways.  All to often we are faced with having to figure out who we are and then once we do, we try to prove it to others through our actions and words.  So you're a hipster?  That doesn't mean you can rock some bootcuts every once in a while.  I am going through a crisis of sorts that isn't really so much about finding myself, but rather being true to myself.  I have spent so much time trying to achieve something that I think someone wants me to do, but am still unsatisfied.  In fact I may have achieved the goal a little too well, and am now faced with how to fix it.  Do I go back to my old ways?  I don't really want to, but that's the only thing I know.  All I know is that I am uncomfortable and things have reached a breaking point.  Now that I think about it, my problem is not really about the quoted idea, but I just had to get it out there.  Now onto carrying out the plan.  That is the hardest part.  I know where I am and where I want to be, just don't want to make the journey between the two places.  Ugg.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

She Should Have Said Yes, Yes, Yes

Currently Reading: Star Island

I periodically pick up a Carl Hiaasen book for the sheer pleasure of losing myself in the sordid, yet oh so hilarious tales from the Florida landscape.  His imaginative plots and returning characters make a fantastic break from the woes of one's everyday life.  This novel is especially poignant at this time, since it centers on a hard to control, wild starlet, Cherry Pye,  who is both untalented and a total PR nightmare.  We are carried through and grounded by her body double, Ann, at once humorous and level headed.  Madness ensues and no one is spared, as is typical, yet cherished, in these books.  Even now I am chuckling at the latest antics of these anti-heroes.

The reason for this one to stick out at the moment is that we have recently lost our own untamed songstress, Amy Winehouse.  In fact she is even mentioned in this book as an example of one who has most definitely lost her way mentally, but at least has the saving grace of being talented.  It is terribly sad when these young ladies find that obnoxious behavior, sexual favors, and banned substances are the only ways they can feel accepted and loved.  We always think about how wonderful the lives of celebrities are, yet at the same time revel in their demise.  Often it is the general public at the heart of the, well not necessarily blame, but causation I think.  We feed their addictions by unconsciously encouraging the bad behavior.  Who sells the most records and movies?  The ones in the paper.  How do they get in the paper?  By doing outrageous things.  How do they get the money for outrageous stuff and the ubiquitous  drugs and booze?  Through the sales of said records and movies.  It is a terrible catch-22 of a sort.

Now for the record, I do not condone any of this behavior.  I am as straight laced as they come regarding the drugs and alcohol and whatnot, but you do have to consider how we relish the next piece of gossip from Lohan or Sheen.  We cheer them on while at the same time condemning them.  Maybe instead of thinking that the grass is greener, we should simply thank our lucky stars (no pun intended) that we are simple folks living a simple life and then leave these celebrities alone.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Going Bald

Currently Reading: Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

So it appears that my initial hunch may have been right.  All of the stories have to do with interesting occupations.  I suppose the key word is occupation as opposed to simply jobs since some of the characters are not being paid to do what they do such as the AV Whiz Quiz boys or the diggers.  In this case, it is something that occupies them or something that they simply do for the sake of doing.  All the occupations have a component of obsession to them, something that I can totally relate to.  The Grandmother becomes obsessed with some of her "families".  In a later story, a museum curator becomes fixated on features of some of the exhibits and an exhibit attender becomes obsessed with her.  There is even a young girl consumed by creating model cars and she doesn't even like cars.  It is all in the details.  The little things that engage the character's minds and encroach on their everyday lives.  I too share some of these obsessions to details and really I think that everyone has something that occupies their thoughts more often than others throughout the course of the day.  At the end of the collection or "bumper" (a new use for the word, introduced to me by my little brother) of stories, one is left with a feeling of obsession with finding more and more of theses intriguing characters.  I am looking forward to reading more from Kevin Wilson, the author.  Clearly a young man to watch.  Thanks Kevin for such an awesome thing to occupy my mind with for a bit, thus keeping out the obsessions for awhile.  Now back to fixations.

Oh and the title refers to a character who is in fact going bald and terribly obsessed with keeping every lost hair.  Of course the downside being that his girlfriend gets them all sewed up into a little pillow as a "gift".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hide and Seek

Currently Reading: Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

I love short stories.  One of the most intriguing things about any collection is figuring out what connects all the various tales.  Sometimes it is clear from the beginning such as a common location or time period.  Other times, it is a little more tricky.  With this set, I am having a hard time figuring out the thing that ties them all together.  I keep thinking I figure it out, but then am faced with something totally new.  This collection includes stories about a grandma for hire, scrabble tile sorter whose parents spontaneously combusted, a pair of misfits struggling with their sexuality, a list of tips for "sensitive brothers" who have sisters who have died, a group of brothers carrying out their mother's last wish of folding paper cranes in order to gain their inheritance, and finally three recent college grads who have no idea what to do with their lives and decide to start digging.  And I am not even done!  What could possibly come next?  When you look at the list I've amassed so far, there are a few things to note.  Uncommon professions, family, and seeking one's identity are a few themes that have popped up more than once.  This is definitely an intriguing collection by a very talented writer.  Kevin Wilson is able to get into the minds of all his characters and make their thoughts and words believable.  I loved his baby boomer grandma and sympathized with the poor man who's task was to sort out the 'q's (of all letter to be assigned!).  Even those pair of high school misfits spoke to me in their own way.  The conclusion of this grouping of stories is something that I am both looking forward to and dreading as I so don't want to be finished.  Clearly this is a writer who deserves further investigation and attention.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roaming Hearts and Minds

Currently Reading: The Debutante

But what I am actually going to talk about is the conclusion of Mr. Peanut.  So the main husband hires someone to find, not kill, his wife.  While he thinks this peculiar little man is a private detective specializing in finding missing persons, it seems that "Mobius" actually has a different agenda in mind.  The husband, David, has written a book in which he details the various ways that he could kill his wife.  Mobius gets his grubby little hands on this book and proceeds to carry out the plans, to little success.  By the time David finally catches on, it appears he is too late, however the wife ends up moving things along on her own.  Alice is depressed and on many medications for this and her prior weight reduction surgery.  Unfortunately for her, these pills are not quite what they seem.  I don't want to ruin things for you all and so will not give away all the details, but if you are looking for a compelling, psychological tale, I highly suggest looking this one up.  The Debutante actually deals with a few of the same themes, being affairs.  Staying not only physically, but mentally as well.  Can you be untrue to someone in ways besides sexually straying?  Alice and David prove this to be true and theirs is not a tale one would wish to repeat.


On another note, I have started a new blog because I found that there were many things I wanted to talk about and share that didn't necessarily have to do with books.  Stepitude is still in its early stages, but look for more to come soon and thanks for joining me!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Relax. Go nuts.

Currently Reading: Mr. Peanut

For real this time!  It is totally huge and totally bizarre and I am totally loving it.  The main story is about a man who is accused of killing his wife.  At least this is how the book starts, but then so far it has mainly backtracked to the beginning of their issues and told the story from there.  I know that whole irony thing has been done before, but the way Ross does it is kind of different.  We are periodically called back to the present and also get the opportunity to see the past lives of the detectives on the case as well, both of whom also have some horrific wife stories.  The three relationships are so outlandish and yet the characters involved are so real that you could believe this to be a true story.  The main wife has had several miscarriages, gained and lost massive amounts of weight and of course has abandonment issues to boot.  Other wives in the story include a self-imposed bed-ridden woman and a dissatisfied housewife, each with their own set of problems.  One of the detectives, the one with the neglected housewife, is Sam Sheppard, and so that adds its own level of intrigue to the story.  I am looking forward to seeing how it all ends, but even more so the actual actions that lead up to Alice's death, which at this point is seeming to be more of a suicide than not.  By peanut (and yes I mean one) nonetheless.  Hmm...

Note: Title is trademarked by Planters

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sweet Smell of Pressed Tree Pulp

Currently Reading: Mr. Peanut

So this post is not going to be about a particular tale since I lied and haven't started the currently reading book, but will do so in a minute. It is about books themselves. The physical wonder of a series of bound pages containing worlds one can only imagine and characters as memorable and unique as life itself. I recently moved to a new apartment as part of a job change and in doing so, found myself with scores of boxes filled with my lovely books. Looking at the stack of tomes (extremely paired down recently in a purging spree), I was awed by all of their contents. I considered getting rid of more so I wouldn't have as many to move, but just couldn't bring myself to part with any of the ones remaining. How can you let go of an early edition of Good as Gold or Breakfast of Champions? Works by Clarke and Heinlein published in the forties and fifties are things to be treasured, not thrown out with the Dan Browns and Jane Greenes, not that any of those plague my bookshelves anymore. I love my books and don't know that I'll ever be able to go completely electronic. There is something about turning a fresh page and uncovering a new character or piece of situational irony. They even smell good. Alas, my new embracing of the library as caused my collection to remain fairly static with only a new Richard Russo or other gem to earn its way onto the limited shelf space. Still, the library contains books, not files. So basically, this post is a toast to books in all their dog-eared, fingerprinted glory. Here's to you, you keeper of imagination and dreams!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mmm...mmm...good

Currently Reading: The School of Essential Ingredients

What is it with food? It makes its way into every book no matter what. Any chick lit book is about someone who eats too much and is a bit porky. Romance novels always have a seen with someone cooking for the other or wine being consumed by the gallon. Even detective stories and action thrillers have some food element involved be it what the corpse last ate or the stake out hoagie. Food plays such a prevalent role in our lives and yet we all too often take it for granted. We abuse it and use it in any sort of manner that will fulfill our particular needs at the moment. I can count myself amongst the top food criminals, but why really? What is it about food that makes it so important and such a large part of our lives?

This book is all about the relationship between food and well, relationships. How can certain ingredients change your mood or the feelings of those around you. What stimulates the palate as well as the heart? Now don't get me wrong, this isn't so much a romantic story, but more along the lines of a reminiscent tale of life in general. Again, as in Joy for Beginners, we are given the glimpse of another person's life through their chapter, told from their third person perspective. All the characters are students at the cooking school of a woman who loves food and how it can be used to alter your emotions. It is all about finding the essence of the ingredients, coaxing out their true identities. Is it the best book I've ever read? No, but it is making me want to whip up some homemade pasta or a rosemary stuffed turkey breast. Sometimes my process food addicted mind needs a little diversion.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Illusion of Order

Currently Reading: Real Life & Liars

Pg 160: "Control is an illusion."

This book is all about control or rather the lack of it. Mira's family is coming together to celebrate her 35th wedding anniversary. Her husband of course is also there. Throughout the celebration and ensuing activities, we are given a glimpse into the four separate, yet interconnected lives of Mira and her three grown children, one who already has a family or her own, another who is just beginning her own little family and another who is a wandering soul simply trying to find where he fits into life. Each child has a unique perspective and we are able to see each of these through their own eyes as each chapter is written from one of their perspectives, or the first person perspective of Mira herself. One of the most interesting things about this design is that the reader gets to experience each sibling's thoughts about the others in addition to seeing their thoughts on themselves. One thing rings true, each is jealous of the others. This is all too often the case with any group of people. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? The main underlying theme, besides family dynamics themselves, is that Mira has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and does not want to go through with any treatment. Each of her children, once the cat is out of the bag, has their own selfish reasons for wanting her to fight the disease and really, we never find out what Mira's final decision is. The book ends with each person at a turning point, forced to make a life-altering decision and take a leap of faith. I wonder what each will decide? The fun part is that I get to pick for myself how I want each life to continue. One of the magical aspects of books that I just love.

Oh and to explain the quote in the context of the book, each character is simply trying to find some control and order in their life and while each thinks the other holds the key to this elusive ideal, none really does. Mira helps guide not only her family, but the reader as well, to the idea that in the end, one must take life as it comes. Sure you make small decisions to affect the moment, but there is only so much control you can maintain before life gets in the way. Something for us compulsive people to consider. How much stress is worth it before you are able to accept and take things as they come?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fatherhood and Other Epic Journeys

Currently Reading: You Don't Love This Man

I know I have mentioned this before, but one of the things I love most about reading is getting inside the mind of a person totally different from myself and looking at life from a new perspective. This book is first person from the point of view of a middle aged father whose daughter is about to get married. In fact the present day part of the novel takes place on the day of the wedding. The father's bank is robbed and he is brought back to memories of his earlier life beginning from his first robbery, which occurred when he was a mere teller. The story follows his past life for parts and then reconvenes with the present action accordingly. I found myself thinking about my own father and how so many of Paul's thoughts mirrored thoughts I have not only heard my dad voice, but have subconsciously been voiced as well. How hard it must be to be a parent. It is awe inspiring and I'm not sure that I could ever be so selfless. In addition to providing a unique perspective on fatherhood, this book also tackles the themes of divorce, career and personal disappointment, May-December romances, and the reckless decisions we make as adolescents. This was truly a touching and though-provoking read and worthy of a spot on anyone's bookshelf. (Speaking of which, mine are now emptied due to an impending move. Who'd have thought I had so many?!?!?)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oh and by the way...

Currently Reading: The Secret of Joy

Why do people wait until they are at death's door to reveal secrets that they have kept for years. I have never understood the concept of the whole death bed confession. You fester and live with some crazy knowledge and then right before you go, you finally exhale and make everyone else deal with the mess. Wouldn't everyone be better off with the secret coming out sooner? You wouldn't have to live with the inner angst and others would be able to understand and forgive while you are still around. This story begins with a father revealing to his daughter that he father another child years and years ago. He passes on and she is left to pick up the pieces. Rebecca decides to seek out her sister and is met with a stone wall. Her sister doesn't want to bring up the past and upset her life as it is. However, Rebecca remains persistent and in addition to gaining a new family, she also discovers her own calling. I am not quite finished, but am enjoying the growth and discovery that each of the sisters experience. Of course always in the back of everyone's mind is the fact that there is a slim possibility that Joy isn't Rebecca's sister after all. I have a feeling that the DNA results will return and no one will open it to find the truth. That would be the "happy" ending so we shall see. This is a fun, touching story and while not a literary masterpiece, it raises some thought provoking questions and brings to life some inspirational yet flawed characters. A great summer read.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Dare You...

Currently Reading: Joy For Beginners

Hooray! I am done with my Master's program and so now find myself with all this extra time and nothing to do (at least until work school starts again). So what will I do with myself? This latest book is providing some inspiration. Five friends get together for a "Victory Party" celebrating the elimination of one member's breast cancer. While at the party, they get the idea that each woman will do one thing that she would never have dared to do, something scary and unique to each of them. The twist is that no one gets to pick what they do, but rather is assigned something by another member. Each woman is given a specific task from something as exciting as kayaking through the Grand Canyon or traveling to Europe alone to the everyday such as baking bread and getting a tattoo. The book progresses over the course of a year or so with each chapter being told from the point of view of the person carrying out her specific task. It is heart warming to hear their thoughts and you cheer each of them along as they deal with their inner demons and fears.

So now all that being said, what is the one thing you want desperately to do, but are too afraid or practical to undertake? I found myself thinking not of what I would assign myself, but what others would assign to me (much more daunting). I think that my one task would be to shake off the routine and make a friend. Even as I type, it terrifies the heck out of me. I know, I know. Many of you are thinking, that's easy! I do that practically once a week. My mom is one of those people who will cozy up to the next person in line at the grocery store, but that is so not me. That's what was so cool about the book. Each task was personalized. What is easy for one, is ever so hard for another. Wish me luck and I would love to hear what your task would be and even more, if you actually go out and do it. No pressure. It doesn't have to be tomorrow, but rather when the time is right.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Inspiration

Currently Reading: The Fiction Class

This one is about a woman who teaches an adult education writing course in fiction. It is in an interesting layout in that the chapters alternate between her personal life and the happenings in her course. At the end of each "class" the students' take home assignment is also printed for us. I am not only enjoying the book, but finding myself wanting to actually do the assignments myself. They are so interesting and are inspiring me to write. I even thought of a totally cool idea for a book of stories (to be illustrated by my skillful little brother). The intertwining between the assignments (predetermined) and the teacher's personal life keep the story interesting and now that I am towards the end, they are becoming one. I originally picked this book because it was about a teacher, something I can totally relate to, but am finding myself more drawn to it as, I don't want to say aspiring writer, but I guess someone who occasionally dreams of being a writer. The main character's relationship with her mother is also touching and appropriate for the topic. It seems we all have a story to tell and it is only the brave who actually attempt to put it on paper. I will make another post later when I finish the book containing all the assignments. I think they are something many of us will appreciate and hopefully some of you will give them a try too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Old Favorites

Currently Reading: While Mortals Sleep

Hooray for new stuff from Kurt Vonnegut!! Well not exactly new since, alas, he is no longer with us, but this is a previously unpublished collection of short stories by the master of fiction himself. In addition to containing my favorite word, lugubrious, this set of tales is wonderfully rich in engaging characters and points for pondering. One of the things I like the most about Vonnegut's work is that he is so real. All of his characters are people one could relate to. They are often flawed, lamentable creatures, but that makes me love them all the more. Who wants to spend all their time reading about people who have it better then them? There is a really good foreword to this collection by Dave Eggers. Usually I don't read the forewords and endnotes, but in this case I did since I had read things by Eggers and enjoyed them in the past. He is very poignant in pointing out the themes and common threads throughout Vonnegut's stories and really does an excellent job summing things up and sharing why he is also a lover of the late writer. One thing he mentions is that there is always a small take away from each of Vonnegut's tales. He is like the modern day Aesop in a way and totally unafraid to wrap things up, a trait oh so common in contemporary writers today. Vonnegut doesn't preach exactly, but does share some of the many life lessons he has learned himself. He coined an idea that I feel very strongly about which is "Humanism". Not a religion or cult, but rather the idea that one's main purpose on Earth or goal in life should be to care about others regardless of any eternal reward. Kurt Vonnegut remains one of my favorite authors and people. I am sad to never have had the opportunity to meet him as I'm sure it would have been an interesting discussion. We'll miss you Mr. Vonnegut.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

To Read or Not to Read

Currently Reading: Conviction

This short, but sweet post is not actually about the current book (it is one of my Star Wars tales, fantastic, but very audience specific). It is rather about bad books. One of the pitfalls of enjoying the library more and more is that I am picking up what are, quite frankly, terrible books. I have stopped reading three books in the past two weeks simply because they stunk. I didn't care about the characters or their sob stories. When I was only buying books, I was far more discriminant about what I was selecting and therefore didn't run into this issue very often. I guess I was also more reluctant to give up on something I paid for rather than a free loaner. Is this good or bad? On one hand, I am sick to death about getting into something I think will be awesome and then feeling let down. On the other hand, I am finding myself reading things that are in fact awesome that I may never had picked up if I were paying cover price. I guess the ultimate decision rests with my doing better research and taking advantage of the hold system. Still, you sometimes wonder why a publisher decided to print the book in the first place. Well that's all I have for today. Must get back to work on my own "book" that I am writing entitled "Examining the Effects of Goal Setting on Ninth Grade Algebra 1 Students". Sound like a page turner, eh??

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why Can't We All Just Get Along??

Currently Reading: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

So as promised, here is the conclusion of In the Garden of Beasts (by Erik not Eric Larson, oops!). It seems that Ambassador Dobb was really the only one involved in all the shenanigans who actual viewed the situation for what it was. Everyone poo pooed his warnings and failed to understand the direness of the situation. No one listened and look at what happened!! Not that he could have prevented the war, but America would have been better prepared and taken steps sooner to avoid a lot of unnecessary bloodshed. It's just another case of those who think they know everything (and yet are really just diluted, ignorant, pompous.....you get the point) being the ones in charge, making all the bad decisions. Sigh...it was a sad, but necessary read since I now feel far more informed on the days and years leading up to Hitler's reign of terror. He simply swooped in one night, took out his enemies, and the next morning was declared ruler of all. And no one but Dodd questioned the situation.

The book I have started now is also about the horrors occurring for Americans during WWII, but this time from the perspective of a Chinese American boy whose best friend, an American Japanese girl, is taken from her home and sent to one of the internment camps popping up in our "enlightened" country at the time. How sick to read the same words again, only this time instead of the Nazis rounding up Jews, it is the Americans rounding up the Japanese. It is actually quite fortuitous that I read these two in a row. This one is fiction, but the underlying facts remain the same. People are afraid of difference and the only way they can come up with to calm their fears is to get rid of those who are different. What ever happened to working in harmony and learning from each other? (Ironic as the camp is called Camp Harmony). Yet another case of failing to learn from history, or in this case, what is happening across the pond. More sighs....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Omens of Things to Come

Currently Reading: In the Garden of Beasts

What does the layman really know about the rise and fall of the Third Reich? Now by layman, I mean anyone who hasn't delved through the pages of the epic tome "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". We are overwhelmed with literature about the Holocaust and the evils brought throughout the second World War, but what about before? What about the people in Germany who witnessed and allowed such craziness to prevail? This book is the latest Eric Larson history and focuses on the American Ambassador to Germany prior to WWII. Ambassador Dodd is not your typical political official. He is a historian, teacher, and writer. He is granted the post and accepts at first because he wants more time to work on his writing, a book about the old south. Of course, this is not what he ends up with. The story also follows his daughter through the various social circles present in Berlin. She is face to face with many prominent Nazis, but of course can't help but meet with other too such as the hidden communists and those opposed to the regime. They care about lavish parties and extravagant displays, whereas Ambassador Dodd is a miser and seeks to actually discuss serious themes. She tries her darnedest to see good in the Nazi party, but is all too often faced with the realities of the situation. I am not even half way through the book, but there is one main thing that keeps popping out at me with each turn of the page. We are experiencing the same political shift today.

Maybe it is just in my particular community, but there is a rising group of people who remind me all too much of the Nazis and hold many of their same ideals. Controlling the minorities, declaring themselves to be superior, stifling the press, calling for more armaments, taking back our individual rights, intruding on personal decisions, hmm...who does this remind you of? Oh look at the time, its time for a cup o' tea! Now I'm not going to actually say it, but I am afraid. Mr. Dodd's daughter, unlike the ambassador himself, is not as learned and worldly as her father and is therefore more apt to fall for the lies, parades, and smoke and mirror games of the fanatics in Berlin. She reminds me of many of the people who are influencing our policies today due to ill-informed voting and religious beliefs. Just pages ago, her communist beau laughed at her reverence for a particularly brutal crucifix. He just doesn't understand the worship of suffering. Now I am getting back on my typical tirade and so will stop, but be forewarned, I will be back when the book is done with more thoughts and ponderings. Or should I say, ruminations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What a Clever Boy

Currently Reading: The Count of Monte Cristo

I can't believe that I have never read this one!! It was absolutely awesome. My book loving friend and I were discussing what to read next and she mentioned that since she would have to be teaching it soon, she was going to read this book. It is on tap for my tenth grade students and so I thought it would be fun to read along with them. Lo and behold, I loved it. I was expecting something along the lines of A Tale of Two Cities. Wonderful at the time, but not something that you can truly appreciate at these times. You know how you always read those classics that are just written in a language that is no long applicable today. Well this was most certainly not the case. Maybe it is because it has been translated and abridged, but I was able to follow the entire story and was completely drawn into the tale. How clever he is! One level of intrigue after the next. You read about some small detail at the beginning and then a hundred pages later BAM, it was the catalyst of some complicated ploy. I am interested to hear my students' perceptions of the story and what they take away from it. Overall, it is a tale of revenge but also about redemption of a sorts. Very interesting and I am so glad that they are getting to experience some fantastic literature at their age. All too lacking in some of the other "teen" books I have picked up at the school library.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finally!

Currently Reading: The Lovely Bones

Pg 328: "I wish you all a long and happy life."

Another fantastic rec from a student. I don't know how the movie worked, but I can't imagine since it is mainly a narrative from the point of view of a dead girl. The story follows her family after her death and the emotions and actions they experience based on this unfortunate event. What strikes me the most is that even though she is in "heaven" and traveling back among her family, Susie is not preaching a religious tale or trying to influence the idea of life after death. What I am taking away from this story is that life after death is something that the living actually experience rather than the dead. How do you deal with the death of a loved one? How will it change your perception of the world or its perception of you? It is an interesting topic. Susie's father is outward in his responses while her mother holds it in and eventually can't deal with it anymore and leaves. Her sister and brother are mixed. Susie is able to walk amongst her friends and family, at some times actually interacting with them or entering their subconscious. It is kinda fun. Like being invisible. She knows who killed her and the events surrounding the hiding of her body, but really can't do much about it. I was expecting a mystery to be solved, but it is mainly an emotional story. I liked it a lot, but don't know exactly what I am taking away from it. I guess the quote kind of sums it all up. Enjoy it while you can.

That being said, the reason I have been so remiss in my blogging is that I have not been enjoying life but rather stressing over the billion things that I have on my plate at the moment. I have read several books that should have been blogged about, but alas, time does not permit for it all. My list is growing and growing. I guess currently reading also needs to contain the lovely tome "Basic Statistical Concepts" too!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Allure of the Continent

Currently Reading: The Paris Wife

Hemingway was an avid skier. Who knew that? Whenever I think of him, I imagine a crotchety old man in the tropics drinking and cursing. One of the things I like best about reading novels about famous artists, as opposed to biographies, is that you get a better picture of the emotions and the moods involved. And not just for the famous person, but for his or her associates as well. This book is from the viewpoint of Hemingway's wife and is a wonderful ride through the artistic community in Paris as well as other places. One of the things that sticks out at me, is that these types tend to stick together and form their own little cliques that us regular folks can only envy. He pals around with Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald. Not to mention Ezra Pound and Sterling Anderson. They are all expats who are drawn to the freedom of Europe. Now yes, America is the land of the free and all, but it is not free in all respects. Artists often feel stifled by the general mood of America and its lack of appreciation for art and those who create it. I guess they have a point. Most of our freedoms and the things we laud about ourselves deal with making your own way through financial means, rather than what makes you happy and feel sated. For us, money is the thing that is supposed to accomplish all this. I can kind of relate as there is a "starving artist" in my own family. I often find myself thinking that he is unsuccessful and needs to get a life because he is not making money and being the American definition of a success. But at the same time, I am envious of his freedom. He is doing what he does and doing it well. How wonderful to sketch all day and produce things that are pleasing. I can't say that all my students feel the same satisfaction when we factor a polynomial or graph a rational function. Who is right? Who is doing the best thing in life? I guess that it is impossible to say one or the other definitively. What is right for one is certainly not right for all. This is why artists go away. That attitude is so much more prevalent in Europe. Maybe one day it will rub off on us greedy Americans, but I don't foresee that happening anytime soon. We have spend our entire existence trying to shuck off out European roots. Why embrace them again now? Not to mention they don't like bombing people as much as us. Sigh....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Precious Gifts

Currently Reading: Life as We Know It

I borrowed this book from an eighth grade boy. Wait! Don't stop reading now! It was amazing and a wonderful read. I am actually quite proud of him for having picked it out and enjoyed it himself. It is a future history story in which the moon is hit by an asteroid. It is not destroyed, but put off its orbit a bit and this shift quite literally changes "life as we know it". The story is told through the journal of a teenage girl. She lives with her mother and two brothers. It is amazing the impact that the moon has on the Earth. It guides our tides so at the onset, you think that it is only a few tsunamis that are the issue. (And as current events tell, these can be quite damaging.) But of course, this is not the only problem. The changes in tides causes the atmosphere to shift which leads to altered weather patterns. Not to mention the increased pull on lava or magma underground (I forget which is which) and so volcanic action and ash in the air changes things too. Almost all contact is lost with others and the family becomes an isolated unit in the desolate world. They manage by fasting and burning whatever wood they can find. Millions die and they are close to it as well. The most telling thing about this book is how much we take for granted. Simple things like water, electricity, phone service. And of course now common things such as the internet and satellite TV. It makes me think of the horrors that are occurring in Japan as we speak. All the modern conveniences become moot and we are left to rely simply on humans and their ingenuity. I hope that this is never an experience that I have to face myself, and yet feel it is something we all have to keep in the back of our minds. All of this is tentative and may be taken from us at a moments notice. We must not waste the gifts we have at hand and must cherish the things that will last through and through. Family, knowledge, imagination, and emotion. All things that will be around no matter what happens with the moon or anything else around us. Oh how lucky we are.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Finding Yourself

Currently Reading: The Other Family

I think I have blogged about something similar before, but I am ever taken by the ability of one person to so dominate his or her peers that they lose themselves and their own individuality. In this book, Richie is almost the main character even though he is dead before the book even starts. He is the father of four children. One boy by his first wife and three daughters by his second. Although it turns out that they never actually married and he stayed legally wed to the first for all the subsequent years. Richie's power personality has caused all those around him to meld their lives to suit his needs and virtually everyone is lost once he is gone. This story is about them finding themselves and Trollope does an excellent job of sharing each person's journey without bias or an underlying motive. In the end, after much discovery, they all end up OK. Not perfect, but in a contented state. Being able to think of their own needs, helps Richie's family find themselves which is cathartic for all.

I try to think about who or what is the domineering factor in my life, but find that I cannot think of any one thing except myself. Does this mean that I am more selfish or does this mean that I am surrounded by people who are themselves not selfish, pushing their own wants and needs onto my actions? It is something to think about. Wives who stay with abusive husbands or people who stay in other unsatisfying relationships not because they are happy, but because it would cause them to lose their anchor and purpose in the world. It is hard to reach a balance. Yes one should be mindful of those around them, but they need not be submissive and live only to serve others. You must take yourself in mind when making decisions. Not always first, but consider the effects you will experience. Perhaps at times the happiness of someone else is actually the best solution. Sometimes pleasing others is pleasing to yourself. Much to think about. I like it when a book does that. Satisfying and entertaining.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Morbid Thoughts

Currently Reading: The Good Thief

I know, I know. It has been far too long. I actually have four books to blog about and really, I am choosing to focus on their common theme, death. In the first, The Clothes on Their Back, death is viewed as an ending of a story. The main character longs to know more about her heritage, but finds that death keeps cutting the story far too short. The second book, Crazy in Alabama, takes a more humorous approach. Death is something that occurs each day and everyone deals with it and deals it out in their own way. The Dead Lie Down is the third and it looks as death as rebirth. The main characters find that death is a way to reinvent yourself and create a fiction to be displayed for others. Now I am currently in a book that sees death as a profession. The young boy who is the main character, finds himself amongst grave robbers and while he is initially upset by this career choice, he is alone and basically forced to participate if only to remain alive.

What I find interesting is that so many of the books, movies, and even songs we hear deal with two main themes, death and love. Why are these so prevalent in the arts of both today and those of yore? I think that it is because they are things that all humans experience at some point in their lives. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female, death will touch you at some point in your life (and well really in your afterlife as well). We can almost all relate to losing a loved one, missing out on the lives of those before us, and eventually succumbing to death ourselves. The fear of death is also something everyone feels at some point be they god-fearing or not. As I read these books, I think about the ways that death touches me. I admit it is not something I dwell upon on a regular basis, but I have lost people close to me and long to have met so many of the people who have since passed on. Another thing that makes death an interesting theme in literature is that it is inevitable. No matter what choices are made or actions are taken, death will get us all in the end.

Now I don't want to leave you all on such a morbid thought, so here's something more cheery. We all know it is coming so let's make the most of each day and take advantage of the fact that we have still eluded the grim reaper for now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Isolation

Currently Reading: Life, After

This one was recommended to me by one of my students. It is about a girl in Argentina whose family is forced to move to America because of all the political unrest and financial difficulties. They just got there as I am reading and so I am looking forward to seeing what ensues. The scariest part of this book is that the Argentinian Jews were going through all these hardships earlier this decade and I had no idea! How can I be so out of the loop? It is embarrassing that the first I am learning about this is when I am reading a young adult book. My mom is so good (perhaps too good) about watching the news and keeping up with current events. I am so immersed in my own little world that I have no clue as to the horrors and even excitement that is occurring each day throughout the world. I am going to resolve to change this. It is important to be aware of not only local issues, but global ones as well. We are no longer isolated people living in small towns, but rather part of a world wide community of people. How can I be so self-centered in the face of all these crises? Of course, on the other hand, I find myself thinking about what I possible think I can do to make a difference. I guess that simply informing yourself about what is out there is the first step. So here's to making a big first step in becoming a productive member of not just my own personal community, but the larger one as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

If you really loved me...

Currently Reading: 10 Days in the Hills

Of course I actually just started this one and have two others to post about. First is Mercy by Jodi Picoult. This one is about mercy killing, which reminds me of my last post a bit. A relatively young man's wife's body is rife with cancer and she is in so much pain. The pair are so totally in love that he will do almost anything for her. She asks him to kill her, and he does. The trial and feelings that ensure are heart-wrenching in part, but overall, I just couldn't relate to the whole love stuff. There is another side story about another couple where one would do anything for the other, but he is not quite so in love as his wife. This stuff I just couldn't understand, but the whole mercy killing business is something I can think about. I would hope that I would be allowed to choose death before pain, but really, who are we to decide. I think that it is one thing to have a DNR, but another to actually have someone kill you. I can't really say one way or the other who is right. I hate seeing someone in pain and I understand the need to be in control. I guess in my mind, she needed to have done the deed herself rather than make him feel obligated to do it. Then your choice truly affects someone else in more ways than simply emotional ones. How would she have felt if he had to spend the rest of his life in jail? What if he was brutalized in prison? This would be her fault. How can she feel just in punishing him in this way as well? I don't know, maybe it is because I have no experience with this sort of love and devotion. Still, this book brought up a lot to talk and think about. This is something that needs to be addressed in our legal system as it is occurring all too often.

The second book is That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. Yet again he manages to weave a complicated tale between the characters in his story. Russo is such an amazing character writer and I always love his books. One notable thing about his writing is that as he ages, his main characters age as well. I can help bu feel that their relationships are mirroring things in Russo's own life. He also does so well at depicting the academic. Even with all their short comings, they still make me want to teach at a college. How different it is from my public high school career. It is interesting how Russo tends towards academically inclined people. Perhaps this is what he knows and therefore who he can write best. Anyways, now you have two more goodies to consider perusing. Actually three, since this next one is pretty cool so far.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ghosts and Spirits

Currently Reading: Hypothermia

Book five of the Icelandic murder mysteries. Again, another interesting topic lays the basis for this investigation. The afterlife. Do you believe in it? Why or why not? In this story, the woman who died is actually a central character as the book makes many forays into the past and we have a chance to learn her thoughts and feelings just prior to her death. She has recently lost her mother and her father died in suspicious circumstances when she was just a girl. Maria wants to believe in an afterlife so terribly that she even resorts to finding a way to die and then be revived by her doctor husband. Her experiment does not yield the intended results and yet she knows for sure now! (Morbid humor, I know.) She made a pack with her mother prior to her death where they planned a sign for Maria's mother to give to show she was still around and watching over her daughter. Maria then loses touch with the real world in her attempts to discover and appreciate any sign of her mother's continued existence. I wholeheartedly do not believe in life after death. I think that in order to believe in the after-world, one must first believe in a higher power, which I do not. I suppose that it is comforting to people to believe that life does not end with the passing of our body. It makes death easier to accept as well as helps one simply go through the motions of living each day. I think that it is almost more morbid and horrifying to be living for later rather than taking each day as it comes and appreciating what you have at the moment. Who has time to worry about things that will happen once you are dead? You will be gone and over with and someone new can now take your place and use the resources you were so selfishly hording. Now this does not mean that you should just take your life once you are no longer "useful", but still, I wonder why we spend so much energy and money to provide for the dead. Funerals and sacrifices to ancestors seem a little unnecessary to me. The person is dead and gone for god's sake! They can't do anything with that plush cedar casket. I am all for living when you can, dying when it is time, and leaving all your bits and pieces to someone who is still around to appreciate them. Sure we don't get to pick when we go, but I do think some people stick around for longer than necessary, taking up space and doctor attention that could be focused on someone who has more life left to live. Now I am getting into even more controversial topics and can hear some of you yelling yourselves hoarse at what I am typing. Still, my argument is really this. If there is an afterlife, give me some proof. Otherwise, I'm going to keep thinking death is the beginning of your usefulness to worms and maggots and nothing else. Maria couldn't find her proof and neither can anyone else I know.