Friday, November 30, 2012

Short thoughts on reading and non-reviewing

So I spent several weeks in October and November re-reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, then reading its sequel, The Twelve, which I enjoyed a great deal but didn't LOVE the way I loved The Passage. Then I spent a few days reading the play The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow: an Instant Message with Excitable Music by Rolin Jones, the guy I knew briefly during my time at Smith, who went on to write for the TV show Friday Night Lights, and who inspired me to write a poem called "The Walk." Anyway, after reading the two Cronin books (both basically doorstops, though The Twelve is maybe 200 pages shorter), and then a really skinny book (the play), I'm not sure what to read next. Also, book group is in less than two weeks, and we never actually picked a book for December, so there's nothing lined up with a deadline attached.

This got me thinking a bit about my reading habits, and how I seem never to write reviews -- or almost never. A lot of the time, even when I know I have to write a review, like for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer books, it's very, very difficult for me to get around to writing it. It seems a little strange to me, because even though I'm an inveterate procrastinator, I truly do love to write. (You probably can't tell that from my blog this past year or two, I've neglected it so badly.)

I'm thinking that, sometimes, there are books that I'm compelled to write about. In the early days of my blog, I remember feeling this way about both The Book Thief and The Glass Castle. But for every book that grabs me that strongly, I usually read eight or ten that I enjoy to a greater or lesser degree, but don't feel so overwhelmed by them that I can't move on from them until I've mulled them over in writing. I think this is the main reason I've never considered myself a book blogger, even when I was posting more regularly, and most of what I was posting was book-related: because it's such a chore for me to review books.

And suddenly, I'm reminded of a discussion I had at Smith with my advisor, Doug Patey. I was having a rough semester, and I was sitting in his office, probably getting some combination of academic guidance and moral support. I remember saying, "I don't want to rip books apart, I just want to read them and enjoy them." He asked, "Can I give you some advice?" I said he could. "Don't go to grad school for English."

So that's it, really: I do enjoy writing about books, in general, but it can be hard to review them, because I don't want to rip them apart. Sometimes I don't WANT to look at them too closely, but just enjoy them for what they are.

The other part is, if I finish reading a book and I don't feel an overwhelming need to think it over, to work through my ideas and emotions in writing, then what I must do next, as soon as possible, is decide what I'll read next, and then start reading it. The short periods "between books" can be fraught with uncertainty, but also full of wondrous possibility. What, what should I read next?? And will it be thrilling and amazing, will it be beautiful, will it be moving, or thought-provoking? Will it change how I feel or think about things, will it show me something new? Will it change my life?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Late July journal updates

Wow, I knew I hadn't posted in a while, but didn't realize it's been over two months -- jeesh!

And truthfully, this is sort of a faux-post, which I'm able to put up only because Ryan's baseball coach decided not to go to the post-season awards night.  Apparently Ryan was one of only two or three kids who were planning to attend, so the coach decided it wasn't worth it.  Since it was over 100 degrees out AGAIN, I was totally fine with that decision.  :-D

But anyway -- sorry about that tangent -- I finally pulled out the spiral notebook I was writing in last summer and fall, and wrote two entries this past week: last Friday, 7/27, and Sunday night, 7/29.  So, the pictures below of those pages will give additional info about what we've been up to, besides being too busy to blog and too hot to have much outdoor enjoyment.  (Yes, too hot, for weeks and weeks and weeks, I think.  Even I am thinking ahead to the fall with a touch of fondness, which is almost unheard of!)

I miss you, little blog!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

New second job, changes at first job, sports, clubs, & doctor appts.

I've found myself unexpectedly alone in the house with nothing I immediately need to do, so I'm writing this to let people know that, Yes, I'm still alive, but I really HAVE been too busy to get in touch and catch up.  The calendars for April and May look like this:

First: after watching the checkbook numbers get smaller and smaller in recent months, and our finances get tighter and tighter, I finally found a way to get some extra money.  I happened to check the TSCPL job page and found they were looking for a shelver, an 18-hour a week position.  Now, I lost count long ago of the number of times I'd applied to work at TSCPL, and even the number of times I was actually interviewed.  I know the first time I applied there was before I was pregnant with Kyle, so it was at least 13 years ago!  But never before had I tried to get a job where I was so obviously overqualified, which also suited my particular talents so well.  I actually wrote a cover letter to go along with my application and resume, explaining that I have always loved putting books and other media in order, and that I'd recently rearranged a section of F. Scott Fitzgerald right there at TSCPL!  (Sort of like, I'm willing to put your books in order anyway, so it would be awesome if you'd pay me to do it.  No, that's not actually what I said, but it's how I felt.)

So, long story short, they were really hiring two shelvers, and incredibly, 13+ years after my first attempt, I finally became an employee of TSCPL!  I just got my first real paycheck yesterday, and thank heavens, the extra money is going to be a huge help for us.  I'm working 58 hours a week, but we need the money, and shelving books and DVDs feels less like work than any other second job.  Don't get me wrong, it IS work, and there are moments when I don't love it, but mostly I enjoy it, I like the people, and I'm still amazed that I'm finally working there.

As for my full-time job, I just learned this past week that a decision has been made to "downsize" my library, and to relocate it -- though it might only be moving to a room adjacent to its current location but much smaller.  I expect to get more concrete information this week, but my colleague Becky and I have already starting some initial planning about what to have in the new location (if there's room), and what we'll add to our existing "library annex," back in the basement of the lab, in the "old library."  I'm trying to stay as positive as I can about it; for one, there hasn't been any talk of actually eliminating the library and/or my position, so priority number one, remaining employed and with health insurance, seems to be secure.  Yay!

Between the lack of finances, the workload at my day job, and the potential second job, I wavered about whether to attend the Special Libraries Association conference in Chicago this July.  After getting the shelving job, I decided to skip the conference this year, and just plan to go to the MTKN and pooled fund meetings this coming fall.  Now, knowing that I could be moving my library in early or mid-July, it's definitely for the best that I didn't make those plans and register for SLA, since I really need to be here to move my library.

The boys have been busy, and have kept us busy, with the usual sports and school activities.  Ryan's new baseball team has practices and games, but they're more competitive, and playing in tournaments -- two so far, both in KC (though the second one had games on Saturday but was rained out on the Sunday).  I think we'll be in two more before the season ends, but I admit, I lose track.  Both boys' basketball season ended in mid-March, but then Kyle signed up for a 5-week spring basketball league, which just ended three days ago.  This past week has actually seen the end of the boys' spring after-school running club, which met two days a week, and Kyle's bridge club, which was held before school three or four days a week for the past five weeks.  The bridge club ended on Thursday morning with a tournament, and on Thursday afternoon, almost 90 kids in the running club participated in a 5K run-walk.  Ryan made fourth place in the 5K, and Kyle came in tenth.

Finally, this past Wednesday, Ryan had his first appointment with the dermatologist, who confirmed what we'd suspected for the past couple of months: the areas of "hypopigmentation" on Ryan's face and neck are caused by vitiligo.  It was nearly invisible last fall and winter, but with the warm days and baseball practices came the early spring tan, and not only were the patches more visible, but as weeks went by, we could see they were getting larger.  And of course, it took a long time to get to the dermatologist: I called his regular doctor at the start of spring break for a referral, so we got in six to eight weeks later than we would have liked.

It's not known exactly what causes vitiligo, but it's thought to be an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks or suppresses the cells that cause skin pigment.  There's no cure, but there are some different treatments available.  We're starting with an ointment that works to suppress the immune system in those small areas, so the skin might repigment.  It will be weeks before we'll know if it's working.  We made a follow-up appointment for mid-August.  When I asked the doctor if it's likely to spread further, he said, "It can do whatever it wants."

Ryan, posing for me a few weeks ago

Kyle and Ryan (not fighting, that's unusual)

I hate that Ryan has to deal with this, but so far, he's been good about it, and he hasn't been teased.  Because he's been going to school with most of the same kids for years, and the school year was maybe 3/4 over before it started really showing, I hope most of the kids in school will just think, "That's still the same smart, fast, goofy Ryan, his face just looks a little different."  And, although we'll need to be even more vigilant with the sunscreen, vitiligo itself doesn't cause him any pain or itching, and there's no health danger directly connected with it.  So far, it seems the thing that annoys him the most is that "the kids who ask me what happened to my face, they're usually the same ones I've already told a million times but they keep asking me."  The doctor gave us the option of no treatment or start with the ointment, and I asked Ryan to decide.  Since he chose the ointment, I hope it helps.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Fraction of the Whole: SO FUNNY!

Of all the sentences in all the books I read in 2011, this sentence has to be one of my favorites:

Until now, I'd never realized how much Dad resembled a dog being pushed unwillingly into a swimming pool.

It's from A Fraction of the Whole, the debut novel by Australian writer Steve Toltz.  It was around that part of the book (page 430 of the 530-page hardcover edition) that I asked myself, "How can a person be so witty and creative and funny for so many pages?"

I bought this used hardcover copy at Hastings (check out the "Pass It On" sticker in my cover scan!) in late 2010, after hearing Ann Kingman rave about it several times on the Books on the Nightstand podcast.  I read it in the fall of 2011, and it was a wild and wacky ride, and I completely loved it.  I have a dozen sticky notes marking particularly funny passages, in addition to the one on page 430.  I kept this book on my own nightstand for months, always planning to post a review of it, or at least a post collecting some of the most hilarious bits.  I actually started writing this post in October after the last 24 Hour Read-a-Thon -- so, almost six months ago!  But now, all I really need to say is this:  Go find yourself a copy of this book, suspend your disbelief, start reading the first page, and trust Steve Toltz to take you to crazy and fun places with some very unusual but often lovable characters.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Connecting the thoughts, one book to the next

Over the past two weeks, I feel like I've entered a "perfect storm" of sorts, or at least a perfect reading storm, if such a thing exists.  It took me far too long to finish reading my latest LibraryThing Early Reviewer book, entitled Manage Your Depression through Exercise, but very near the end, I found a section that strongly resonated for me, about anger.  There was a checklist of signs and symptoms that can indicate "hidden anger."  Out of 33 items, I checked off 11, and truthfully, there were a few more that I pondered over.  (There's also "high blood pressure," which shouldn't apply to me as my BP has run low all my life, but the last few times I've had it taken, the past year or two, it has seemed higher than ever before.  But, I haven't had it taken in quite a while, so I didn't think I should check that one off.)  This section in the book, and especially the checklist, got me thinking about anger, and about things in my life that make me angry...when really, I know in the logical part of my mind that I have it pretty good.

That Saturday, within a couple hours of finishing what I'd been calling "the depression exercise book," I'd fallen into true depression.  It derailed much of my weekend, requiring me to take a long nap that afternoon.  I don't recall much of that Sunday (Feb. 19); I think I did some housecleaning and listened to podcasts.  Ryan had a basketball game Sunday evening, during which my mood became black and tears filled my eyes more than once.  I had a small headache too, which didn't help.

I was between books, and reluctant to start reading Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone in the mood I'd been in.  I eventually started the novel The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.  My mood recovered, and the book was an excellent companion for several days.  Late in the book, the main character, Virginia, talks with her doctor about being angry at her mother.  The doctor says, "Anger is a healthy long as you can find ways to channel it where you don't hurt yourself in the process."  And then he asks her, "Have you ever tried kickboxing?"

A light went on in my own mind, as I thought about the anger checklist, and how much I'd love to kick things and punch someone, and how such an activity could be both therapeutic and great exercise for me.  I've since checked out a kickboxing DVD from the library, and although I've only watched it once so far, it was kind of fun and I'll definitely try it again.

This brings me to my latest audiobook, which has moved me so deeply that I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday and bought the hardcover (and with my member's discount and the last $5.00 on a gift card, I didn't spend much at all).  It's called Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  I could praise this book all day, so I hardly know where to begin, but at the most basic level, it discusses the strengths of the kinds of people who like to spend time in solitary pursuits and/or inside their own heads -- people who are usually shy, but also likely to be sensitive, creative, artistic, and thoughtful.  In short, there's a lot of stuff in there that reminds me of me, and helps me to feel more normal.  Introverts really need time away from others, and the time and space to engage in projects that interest them, and to do work that truly matters to them.

For me, it often comes back to writing.  Oh, if only I had the time and space and energy to WRITE, then the non-writing hours, the hours in which my regular everyday life happens, would be more bearable.  I don't know if this is true, but on some level, I believe it to be true, and of all the things that make me angry, it's the sense that my life now -- remember, it's not a bad life, I have a lot of things to be grateful for -- is so very far from the life on the page that I imagined I'd have, back when I was a teenager, when I wrote poem after poem, and kept a journal.  I didn't see myself becoming a wife or mother, and for a while I didn't even see myself becoming a librarian.  In my heart, I was a writer.  Virginia Woolf put forward the argument that a woman needs a room of her own if she is to write.  This is echoed in Susan Cain's book: many times, writers require quiet.  Time, space, mental energy, and quiet -- a recipe for writing, with ingredients nearly impossible for me to come by.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In love with Lola and the Boy Next Door

I was browsing through my library's latest e-book additions, and saw Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.  I knew nothing about the book, but I remembered book bloggers mentioning the title on Twitter a while ago, in tweet-sized bursts of excitement and anticipation.  Figuring it would be a fun read, and a quick one, I placed a hold on it, and was able to start reading it about a week ago.

Lola is a high school junior who's dating a 22-year-old musician.  She also has a unique fashion sense that includes designing and making her own clothes and wearing all kinds of wigs.  As someone with very limited and hum-drum fashion experience, and having never worn a wig in my life (as far as I recall), it took me a while to get into those parts of the story, and to appreciate that aspect of Lola's character.  But I enjoyed the book right from the start, and about a third of the way in, I was beyond hooked.  This book is full of squee!

The Boy Next Door mentioned in the title isn't the musician boyfriend who's really a bit too old for Lola, but The Boy Who Used to Live Next Door and Broke Lola's Heart Before Moving Away.  Early in the story, Lola sees her neighbors moving out, and soon, the family of The Boy Next Door moves back in.  Please suspend your judgment on this point: the boy's name is Cricket Bell.  I think Cricket is a completely idiotic choice for a name, especially for a male, and it only makes a tiny bit more sense when we know his twin sister is named Calliope.  Beautiful and drool-worthy people can have less-than-lovely names; I had a crush on a boy named Harvey when I was very young, who coincidentally had the same kind of dark hair and bright blue eyes that Stephanie Perkins has given to Cricket Bell, and while I found the name Harvey unfortunate, the fact that I remember him fondly (dreamily?) some 27 years later is proof that a person can have a lot of beauty lying behind a less-than-flattering name.

So, Cricket has grown into a handsome young man, which is not surprising.  What did surprise me was the fact that he was actually a nice guy, a truly good person, almost from his first appearance in the book.  He didn't play games with Lola, but told her early in the story that he'd felt badly about their falling out before the Bells moved away, that he'd always thought she was special, that he'd always liked her, and still did.  I don't read lots of young adult novels, but this seemed to me like a refreshing change, a very attractive guy openly proclaiming his feelings to a girl, because given their history, he thinks it would be wrong to pretend he isn't interested.  Lola spent two years hating Cricket for hurting her, and it takes a while for her feelings to thaw.  Also, Lola's relationship with Max, her musician boyfriend, is pretty serious -- at least on Lola's side.

This book reminded me of what it was like to be a teenager, and at times it made me wish that I was 18 again.  I finished reading it on Tuesday morning before work, but then on Wednesday night before bed, I was skimming back through it again, re-reading scenes and highlighting passages.  I wasn't ready to leave it and move on to another book, and figured I'd need to force myself out of my (too-long, unintended) blogging hiatus to write about it, before starting my next read.  It's hard to decide where to go now, when I'm still in Lola's room, standing behind her as she looks out the window and talks to Cricket, who's leaning out of his window in the house next door.