Monday, November 29, 2010

books, a love affair

I confess....I need the extra space.

We moved to this house when I was eight. It was the summer before I started fourth grade. We were still somewhat new at the blended family thing but I was the only kid who was going to be a full time resident. My step-sister must have been starting college and my step-brothers would have been in their teens. I'm guessing it was with an eye to their various visits that the guest room was furnished with two twin beds. Since my return home in my thirties was unexpected, my childhood room has long been an office (both mom and step-dad work from home) and I am in the guest room. The twin bed has taken an adjustment and there is a bit of an emotional/mental downer in using it, but the second bed is mighty handy. I have a bed for me. And I have a bed for my books.

I am generally not a very material person. I don't tend to want a lot of things (which frustrates folks in December with my birthday and the holidays crammed together). But I hoard books. They are my wallet-weakness. I know I should use the library, but there's something that compels me to OWN my books. I prefer paperbacks, and would even if they weren't cheaper, because they fit better in my hands. This is especially true since I enjoy reading in bed, traditionally before going to sleep. The upside to unemployment is reading in bed in the mornings too. It's a lovely way to enter the day, especially when the air is cold and the blankets cozy. I've fallen in love with getting used books (always in good condition). I suppose there's an irony since I take them out of circulation, but I kind of enjoy wondering where they've been. I loved the one that had stamps showing it lived abroad and in a library. I kept a plane ticket stub that fell out of another (travel b/w Croatia and Italy!!).

I am sure I've said before that I revisit books. I have a decent memory for happenings in my life but have never been good at memorization beyond that. It's why I never enjoyed history classes...the stories of history intrigues me but I never could recall dates or make analogies to other events. Likewise, I sometimes recall how a book "felt" but I never fully remember it so I can reread it without boredom. Some I even reread annually...those I do recall more strongly but I still find new wonders each time.

I tend to be drawn to character driven books (I swear I've blogged on this before but can't find it...). I don't need a complex plot, I'd rather have complex players. I don't need to love the characters, in fact I prefer that they have imperfections, but I need to be intrigued by them. I like them well-rounded and with warts. I don't want them to be quite like me or like people I know, I like to "meet" new folks, but I want to understand them (even if I don't agree with them). I tend to read "quality fiction" with an occasional chick-lit break thrown it, though I've enjoyed getting to explore other genres through the HarperCollins review team.

That last paragraph feels thrown in to a post more about physical books than their stories, but I didn't want to skip it. I'll return though to the material reality of reading before I hit "publish" and send this off to the e-sphere. I desperately hope that "real" books don't become a relic of the past. I suppose they are a bit safer than records/tapes/CDs since they can be enjoyed without any extra equipment, but I hope they don't disappear with technology. I know many who love their e-readers, including my dad who is a fellow book addict, but I just can't do it. I want to hold my books, not a tablet computer. I want to feel them and turn the pages and dog-ear them (yes, I dog-ear...and I'm proud of it!!). I like the heft and the reality. When I left Boston, I brought a large duffel filled with some "essentials" and left several boxes full of books to be sent when I have a new place of my own. The second twin bed has the books that came with me and many more that I've found since then. I may need a two bedroom apartment to accommodate them when I settle again. It'll be worth it to have their company.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

it's been a bit...

I confess...I sometimes even think in bullet points. Being the type to overthink things, I wonder if my bullet posts are annoying. Then I realize it's my blog and I can do as I please. Then I wonder again. Then I think I want more followers....some sort of ego thing....then I wonder if bullets bore followers. Really, life in my head is quite complex.
  • Two weeks ago, I missed a birth control pill one night (took two the next). Normal women take a week off of active pills every month. I don't since I take them to control the endo. I was off with ONE pill after years of no misses. I ended up curled in the fetal position for a week.
  • Yesterday, I went to the store and bought a pint of ice cream and a copy of Shape magazine. I caught the cashier (well, self-checkout supervisor-type) grinning.
  • I've come to a conclusion on the marriage stuff. I am not mad at X for divorcing me. I am, however, mad at him for marrying me. He knew the problems that ended up making him leave were there and just hoped they'd change. He didn't take me as who I am. I admit I'm not perfect, I own that I have issues that contributed to the problems, but I was open about those. I took him as he was (he isn't perfect either...), he didn't do the same.
  • A guy hit on me the other day. We'd made eye contact at a bar (we were the only ones under 60 there alone). He came over and said "You have pretty hair." I thanked him. He said "It's long." I said "Yes" and that I'd worn it long for many years. He fumbled with his beer and then eventually left. It was kinda sweet and felt nice but, as a suggestion to readers, an opening compliment is lovely but you need to have a follow-up. Yes, I could have helped, but wasn't feeling motivated (or, honestly, attracted).
  • I can feel my core muscles getting stronger from PT. Definitely a good thing. I get nervous before appointments sometimes because I can't think of much to say and you kind of need to talk during the assisted stretching part.
  • I've never been a fan of the Thansgiving meal. I am, however, looking forward to: lox pinwheel appetizers, squash, and dessert. And red wine...but that's a given.
  • My mom has always cooked Thanksgiving. She puts on music since she's in the kitchen for a while. It is often the only time of the year the CD player is on and it is often Barbara Streisand (some stereotypes of New York born Jews hold true). For this reason, whenever I hear Memories, People (Who Need People) or other such songs, I think of turkey.
  • An addition to my treadmill tv viewing is On Demand episodes of The Defenders. I was really surprised to enjoy it. Not "fine TV" by any means, but a fun watch.
  • I want to see Harry Potter but want to let the crowds die down. I'll admit they've all fallen downhill for me after the first...but that's not unlike me.
  • I'm waiting for a new shipment of books. I've taken to buying used ones in good shape from Amazon. There's usually a $3.99 shipping charge on each since they are from different places (not Amazon itself) but that's not a bad deal when the books are usually between a penny and four dollars.
  • My birthday is sneaking up. It triggers a random bit of mental trivia from an English teacher. She said to watch out for 33 year olds because that's the age at which Jesus is said to have died and thus it often has meaning when used. I'm wondering what meaning 33 will have for me. My 32nd year was not a good one but it does present the opportunity for 33 to be a re-birth of sorts. Now the same voice at play in the intro to this post is wondering if that statement would be offensive to some people. I hope not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

two-for-one: Mental Floss History of the US & Take Me Home

I confess...I procrastinated a small bit so you get a double review. Both brought to you by the lovely folks at Harper who send me promo copies.

  • The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America -- Will Pearson, Mangesh Hattikudur, Erik Sass

This definitely falls into the realm of a book I might pick up and glance at on my own but wouldn't likely have bought if not presented with the opportunity to read it for Harper. I enjoyed it, though I think it may be better as a "pick-up and read a few pages" book than one read straight through.

Mental Floss is a magazine that presents factual information in a humorous tone (how is that for a totally non-humorous description). I knew the name in passing but hadn't read anything in their retinue before. This novel begins with the arrival of man in North America, makes a quick leap to European explorers (w/ a solid explanation for the missing detail due to the lack of written artifacts), then goes through colonialism and American history through Obama and the current recession. In each section, it gives a general chronology, reviews some popularly accepted misconceptions, and covers some biographies and popular topics. The whole is told in a very readable, enjoyable manner. I made a few new discoveries (Washington wasn't a great general) though less was a surprise than it might be to most since my education favored questioning history a bit more than most.

It is an enjoyable ride. I do NOT intend it to be negative when I say it would be a great "bathroom book"'s simply a book that would be easy to pick up, peruse for a few pages, and then put back down till a later date. I'm not a history gal (partly b/c I have no memory for it so it frustrates me) but it held my attention and I give it 4 of 5 stars.

  • Take Me Home -- Brian Leung

This novel falls into the realm of books that I wanted to like more than I did. I very well might have picked it up on my own and I wouldn't have regretted it but I also would be unlikely to return to it or pass it on. I'd give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

The novel follows Addie Maine in both her first stay in the Wyoming Territory (1880s) and her return as an older woman (1920s). The focus is on the earlier period, when she joined her brother who had been attracted to the territory by the promise of a homestead. Having found the land rough, he ends up working in a coal mine shortly after Addie arrives. The area is populated by both Caucasians and Chinese, the latter brought in by the rail and mine groups to provide cheap labor. The lack of money leads to strong racial tensions, tensions to which a growing friendship between Addie and a Chinese man run counter. I won't say too much more to avoid venturing into spoiler territory, although it becomes clear early on that Addie is wounded in a local riot (one that has a historical parallel).

I like stories about strong women and Addie is certainly one. I am also interested in the history of racial tension, especially stories that sometimes go untold...I knew of tension with those of European descent and the Chinese (it's easier to have tension w/ groups that appear different on sight) but not of the particular story that provides the historical backdrop for the tale. I just never felt fully pulled in, never fell into the story and the characters (I've said before, characters make a book for me more than plot). I wanted to know a lot more about Addie's lone female friend in the territory but that was pretty much a side story. Leung (who I think is only on his 2nd novel) has talent for identifying an interesting context and tale. His prose flows well and has character. But I just didn't find myself surrendering to the tale enough to give it a higher rating. Good, but not great.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a really rambly post continuing the talking theme

I confess...I finished a book so should be writing a book but instead I want to ramble more and expand on the last post. Which in a way is ironic since the main point is that I know I talk less than the average person. Warning -- I know this is more disjointed than most. My back is bad and I took some medicine to help and am a bit disjointed (EMPLOYERS -- I WRITE BETTER THAN THIS!!).

I don't feel the need to speak nearly as much as others seem to....and I know it can drive others nuts (AGAIN, EMPLOYER-TYPES, THIS IS SOCIAL ME...I INTERACT WELL IN AN OFFICE SETTING WITH FOLKS AT ALL LEVELS...I LIKE TO SHARE A STORY ABOUT MY LAST DAY IN MY ATTORNEY JOB TO SHOW THIS, CALL AND ASK ME ABOUT IT). I don't always say "hello" to someone who enters a room (I know this bugs my mom). I don't feel the need to say too much about my day...especially these days when the main difference is the level of pain and whether or not I had PT. I have a very busy inner monologue but rarely actually talk aloud to myself (though my thoughts are often in fully-formed that normal??). I admit I'll speak under my breath when I'm upset/arguing...stuff I want to voice but don't want heard...but most of my spoken words are meant to be heard. I call out Jeopardy answers if people are around but never if I'm alone.

There's a listening side here too. I get thrown sometimes when people chatter, especially if I'm involved in another task. I think I concentrate more on verbal exchanges than most (see prior post)...I mostly speak if I really want something heard and, in return, I really listen if someone else speaks. I sometimes throw in a comment about a TV show, but it is carefully timed to fall in a silence. It drives me nuts if people talk over a show since I can't hear both at once. And I'm often truly watching and listening rather than using the TV as background noise.

I think this may tie in to a hearing issue. I can't distinguish sounds too my old apartment, I had to turn the TV up when the air conditioner fired up and I had trouble with conversations when I was on the train. My mom's a former speech therapist and says this is a figure/ground issue. A hearing aid wouldn't help since it isn't volume but rather the ability to separate sounds.

I think it is also about attention. I want to be listened to when I speak so I want to listen when you speak. If you are just talking to talk...or talking more to yourself...I have difficulty. I've started to just plain ask whether my mom is talking to me or just thinking aloud. And, while it may be sad, I do often really want to pay attention to things like my book or a TV show (especially my favorites!!). I can multi-task with many things, but it's harder for me when it involves listening and/or speaking. So, unless it is time-sensitive, it helps to wait to the commercial (or ask me to look up from my book).

The X (see for definition) was (well, is) a talker. And the difference definitely frustrated both of us. He'd decide to talk less to accommodate me but seemed to put that into practice at inconvenient times. If we're at dinner, let's talk. But I kind of like companionable silence when sitting on the couch or driving in the car.

So...I'm not sure how to wrap-up here. If I don't say "hi" when you enter the room, don't think I don't care. If you're talking to yourself, warn me and all is good. Gilmore Girls is on in twenty minutes, so talk to me on the commercial (oddly, I could read a reply here easier than listen to someone speak). Forgive me for being a bit of an odd-duck. It isn't you, it's totally me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

le mot juste

I confess...sometimes I feel like an explorer on a new planet. I watch people and am fascinated by them and I think I understand them, but I have trouble translating that into interacting with them. To be clear (READ THIS ANY POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS), this is Social Me...Work Me has a task and is representing more than just ME and Work Me does fine.

I think part of the issue is that I communicate differently than many people. I don't feel the need to say too much and I like to be able to really think before I speak. I form my thoughts before I voice them rather than working them out as I speak. I know where I'm going. And, I'll admit, I get frustrated with folks who don't. Not because they are in any way inferior, but because I just don't relate. I get frustrated with people grasping for a word or finding their way to the end of the sentence during a pause rather than in advance. I know this is my issue, not theirs. But I still get impatient.

I also really like the RIGHT word. Which can mean I'm quiet while I find it. And that I sometimes get confused when people misspeak because I am truly listening to the specific words and need clarification. It also explains why I like to write more than speak and why phones can be a bit scary (AGAIN, NOT AN ISSUE FOR WORK CHERYL, IN CASE YOU WONDERED). Actually, I write pretty quickly but I'll go back to fix a single word to fit better. It is not about grammar, especially in blog-land where I rarely go is about the perfect words. I get frustrated when I can't put my finger(s) on the word I want. Right now, I'm annoyed that I can't say "le mot juste" with one English work.

I think my communication style also plays into, but doesn't fully account for, my social nerves (I think that's a better word than anxiety for this instance). I get nervous in conversation, especially one-on-one. I do think quickly (modest, huh??) but I can't always verbalize immediately. I know I fall back on some less than ideal traits to compensate. I often throw in a "me too" story because I want something to say and I want to be a part of the conversation. I worry this comes off as one-upmanship. I don't intend it as such and hope you'll forgive it.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

book review: maryann in autumn

I confess...this is another book review and, after reading other folks' thoughts on the book, I realize I am again out of the target market. But, again, I still enjoyed the read (and, again, this was a book sent to me by the lovely folks at Harper with my agreement to review it but no limitation on content or nature of the review). Mary Ann in Autumn is a recent release from Armistead Maupin and is part of a long-running Tales of the City series. I think I may have read one of the books 15 years ago or so, but I'm not a follower....clearly, the series has MANY fans from my perusal of other reviews.

The book is built upon the return of Mary Ann to San Francisco from twenty or thirty years away on the East Coast. It follow her plotline as she reunites with friends, deals with crises in both her health and her marriage, and evaluates where she is in her life. Other characters include her estranged daughter who writes a sex blog and is drawn in by a homeless woman and a transsexual man who becomes acquainted with someone very much outside his world. From other reviews, it is clear that most of these characters are "known" to followers of the series but you can certainly catch on and enjoy the book without that familiarity. The book can stand alone (though I think it might contain "spoilers" if someone read this and then went back to the prior books) and does so as an enjoyable tale of deep friendship and identity (that's my theme lately, I suppose). It is an easy read with inviting prose and well-constructed characters.

I do think you'd enjoy the book more if the characters were old friends, but I still enjoyed the visit. I gave it 4 of 5 methodical mind wants to say 3.75 stars but I think the last 1/4 would be an easy give for fans of the series. For those unfamiliar with the Tales, it's still enjoyable. It clearly operates from a very open-minded position on sexuality and gender...that fits with my views but it might not be for everyone so I do want to include that proviso.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

book nook: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

I confess...I was never a girlie-girl. Nor am I mother or a sociologist. So I may be a bit outside the primary demographic for Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. But I am fascinated by the development of identity, especially in girls and women, so I was excited by the chance to read this book by Peggy Orenstein. To cover formalities: I was provided an advance copy of the book by the lovely folks at Harper (but they do NOT control what I say about it)...expect three other reviews in the near future (one very near since I'm 3/4 through another book).

Moving on...Orenstein has previously explored gender issues but watching her own daughter led her to focus on girlhood beginning at a younger age. It was fascinating to learn that the concept of "pink is for girls" is relatively new and that the idea of Disney Princesses as a stand-alone concept (apart from the movies themselves) is only a decade old. On a side note: the Princess concept is marketing-driven and apparently the "purists" at Disney objected and, as a result, the materials with all the gals have them all looking away from each other. Orenstein explores the pluses and minuses of princess-play and the mini-pop-star phase that follows on its heels (think Miley Cyrus and Hillary Duff) as well as children's pageants and the role of the internet-world on girlhood.

The book is intelligent and informative. Orenstein clearly has her views but she does attempt to solicit input from opposing camps. She makes clear that she isn't some paragon of perfection as she presents vignettes from dilemmas encountered in her own role as mother to a young girl. I'd give the book 4 (of 5) stars. I think it would be of particular interest to new moms (and maybe not just moms of girls, although that's the focus) but it needn't be limited to that audience. Anyone interested in the development of identity and the impact of our culture on girls (and thus on women...both of today and of tomorrow). It was a very fast read (my copy was ~180pp) but gives a lot to think about.

Monday, November 8, 2010

levers and punchcards and scantrons, oh my

I confess...this post would have been more appropriate last week. So, ummm, rewind your mind...and giggle at my little rhyme.

I'm a December baby and started school early so the first time I got to vote was in the Fall of my sophomore year in college. My first lesson in the realities of democracy came with registering to vote. My college was only about 1100 students but certainly the type that put the "liberal" in "liberal arts education" (side note: I actually have a picture from my freshman year with a bunch of liberal Democrat students and a few communists smiling aside a likely-unknowing Bob Dole). But, anyway...the first lesson in democracy came with learning that our tiny school had been gerrymandered into three different districts. The area itself was fiscally conservative and I guess we proved a threat. The college had also repeatedly offered to host a polling location for one or more district but the folks-in-power somehow decided that it was better to, literally, place a polling place in some guy's garage. Can't make it too easy for them youngin's to vote.

As an excited 18 year-old, I did a bit of volunteering in advance of my first ballot....which was November 1996. Given the political dynamics, the college crew had done a lot of work for a US House candidate in a neighboring district. None of us could actually vote for him, but it was where the energy might pay off. We held a big party on Election Night and celebrated Clinton's re-election, but the House race remained too close to call. In the end, our candidate lost by a mere 84 votes...a minuscule number in a US House race. Part of that was painful, we could have called 85 more people!! But, it was a very real and vivid lesson that voting does matter. Yes, most elections won't be that close, but they can be and you don't want to be left regretting apathy or laziness. We worked for the same candidate again two year later. He won.

So, that's where I started. I voted this year knowing my folks were unlikely to win, but I still got my butt there (and avoided the three car bumper-bashing mess as I was leaving the lot). I've voted in PA, VA, GA, MA (and PA again). I've used levers, punchcards, computer cards, fill-in-the-lines, and light-up ballots. My favorite was the absentee ballot in VA for 2000...they sent the punchcard ballot and included your very own little puncher (kinda a straightened paperclip). I have a semi-interesting story of Election Night 2000 but that's more of a verbal tale.

Ultimate point...I voted. So, even though I concede my choices didn't carry, now I get to complain if I don't like what happens.