The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's that magical time again dear readers - it's SUGGESTION SATURDAY. - For those of you who are new to the blog, every Saturday I read one of the books that was suggested in the comments section - so keep the suggestions coming dear readers. Usually I read the books in the order they were recommended to me, but I realized today that I was supposed to read a book that Belvia suggested today and read this one next week (sorry Belvia) - but I will get to your suggestion next week Belvia so don't worry. Today's book was suggested by Betsy.

Today's book: "A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover -- these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel "the unbearable lightness of being" not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine."

I'm not sure how amusing today's entry is going to be (you've been warned dear readers) because I don't find cheating particularly funny. But I did find the book thought provoking, and that's important too. Not every book can be all fun and games.

Here are the excerpts that I found interesting:

"Dreaming is not merely an act of communication (or coded communication, if you like); it is also an aesthetic activity, a game of the imagination, a game that is a value in itself." - I always get annoyed when I can't figure out what a dream is supposed to mean, but maybe I should just lighten up and take some of the dreams as pure entertainment, or as my imaginations way of strengthening itself (I like to think of imagination as a muscle that must be exercised on a regular basis - or at least that was my excuse in high school for not paying attention in class). There's probably very little point in me trying to interpret my dreams anyway because I end up treating them like magazine quizzes, where I try to guess what the right answer is and then convince myself that it's how I really feel. And on a side, barely related note, I'm really annoyed by the way I still have food allergies even in my dreams. I can be in the middle of a long, confusing dream that makes no sense at all and then in the middle of it someone will offer me some cake and every time I say, "No thanks, I'm allergic." It's so annoying - what's the point of even having dreams if I can't eat cake in them. I also have dreams (and occasionally quick flashes during the day, I guess you could call them daydreams) where I'm falling down the stairs and another one where I'm walking with a pencil in my hand and I lose my balance and accidentally stab myself with it. I have no idea what any of that is supposed to mean, but if any of you would like to share your interpretations in the comments section, feel free. I promise I won't even be offended if you think it means I'm a little off the beam.

"It was there I began to divide books into day books and night books. Really there are books meant for daytime reading and books that can be read only at night." - I thought I was the only one who did that (just like the calendar in my head thing from a previous blog entry). I like to read the kind of books that should be read slowly, thoughtfully, at night. I never like to read mindless, fluffy books at night, or any kind of book that can be read really quickly. I have no idea why I separate books out in that way.

"I have said before the metaphors are dangerous." - I don't know how I feel about metaphors but I think cliches are really dangerous. They seem like such a harmless thing, until I start to watch someone try to completely alter an experience to suite a cliche. Have you ever watched someone desperately trying to convince themselves that the bad (perhaps even tragic thing) that happened to them or someone they know was something that will "make them stronger in the end" or some variation on that cliche that somehow proves that there is a silver lining to every experience. I guess it's nice to be an optimist - and I think most of the time I am one - but I also think that all the vividness (wow, I looked that word up and even though it's listed in the dictionary it still doesn't feel like a real word) can be drained out of an experience, good or bad, when you try too hard to make it fit within the confines of a cliche like "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger". (Crap, and I was doing so well at not rambling until I got to that sentence). There are so many cliches that I think are a bunch of crap. For instance: what goes around, comes around (I think that's just something that petty people came up with to convince themselves that everyone they hate will eventually end up miserable and alone, living in a shack on the edge of town with fifty cats, eating generic oreos that don't have enough filling because they can't afford the real ones.) As easy as pie (I've never understood that expression, because I've always considered pie the most difficult dessert to make. Plus I make the ugliest pies you'll ever see. Maybe I should change the expression to "as ugly as pie." - I kind of like that. Now I'm actually looking forward to seeing something ugly so I can use that expression). The aforementioned "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger (Maybe it makes other people stronger, but for me it usually results in me sitting in the backyard in my pajamas for six months staring up at the sky and thinking "life sucks and everyone is happy but me" until I eventually get tired of the neighbors looking at me funny and decide to go back instead and live a respectable life again. But maybe that's just me). And while we're on the subject, there is actually a website that has a cliche finder - you just put in a word like "cat" and it will find you a cliche with that word in it. What on a earth does a person even need a site like that for - for their job as a writer of Hallmark cards, to annoy people at parties, to learn to talk like an old person? I can't figure it out. Here's the site: (I may have actually spoken to soon about how useless that website was, since I just spent the last 6 minutes amusing myself by putting in random words like tomato and pencil just to see if I could stump the cliche finder with a word it couldn't find a cliche for. I managed to trip it up with the word pizza.)

So, if you've enjoyed watching me completely mangle what is supposed to be a deep and relevant book and turn it into something shallow, mindless, and almost completely devoid of meaning or substance - and you'd like me to do the same thing with one of your favorite books then call 1-800-SHALLOW . . . oops, I got caught up in the moment and was starting to feel like I was on an infomercial for a minute there. I meant to say, leave a suggestion in the comments section.

Welcome to My Planet

Friday, February 27, 2009

I didn't feel like reading today - so getting through today's book was a bit of a struggle. So far, I've had 2 days every month where I don't feel like reading, which I don't think is too bad of an average. When I started this project I thought the number would be a bit higher than that.

Today's book: In Welcome to My Planet, the fictional Shannon Olson--who shares her creator's name--is witty but confused, whip-smart but unable to fully release her ties to bad boyfriends, childhood obsessions, and the "gassy expanse" of marginal jobs. With the help of a therapist known only as the counselor, this almost 30-year-old Midwestern neurotic gamely tries to steer her way past credit-card-fueled Target binges and a too close relationship with her mother, Flo, and to slowly inch toward the elusive land of adulthood."

I have three problems with today's book, which is pretty much the same problem I have with all Chick-lit books (I can't stand that expression, by the way, but I don't know what else to call it) - 1. I quickly grew impatient with the main characters willingness to put up with too much crap from her inconsiderate, unstable boyfriend(s) 2. It's really irritating that so many of the chick-lit books (every time I say that it makes me want gum) feature a 30-something woman who is single and an absolute mess. It ends up feeling like the implication is that if the main character wasn't such a neurotic, screwed-up mess then she would be married and the fact that she isn't means that she has done something horribly wrong and 3. The main character is always obsessed with getting married. - I keep waiting for the chick-lit genre to expand a bit into any one of the following scenarios: 1. Women who, while on their journey (do I sound like I'm on The Bachelor) to finding the right person, date men who are at least not the biggest jerks who ever walked the face of the earth. 2. A plot that features a woman in her 30's who is actually stable, sane, and has her life in order, but just hasn't found the person she wants to marry yet or who 3. Doesn't want to get married at all, or doesn't want to get married yet, or who does want to get married but isn't obsessed with it to the point where she eats, sleeps, and breaths the pursuit of finding a husband. - I'm sure some would say that the main character being a neurotic mess is what makes the book interesting and funny, but I'm just not seeing the humor in it. I don't mind a character who is quirky and interesting and funny - but a character that is totally screwed up, for no apparent reason, just starts to grate on my nerves after awhile. My other annoyance, which seems to be unique to this book, is that the author never mentions her boyfriends names and instead refers to him constantly as "my boyfriend" - the expression is used about 5 times per page, and it made me feel like I was at a junior high school slumber party with a girl who just found her first boyfriend and is so excited about it that she feels the need to remind everyone in the room about it approximately every two minutes.

And now, since I've insulted the book a bit, it's time to talk about the good qualities:

The highlight of the book for me was the main character's mother, Flo, who was delightful and amusing and and quirky without being over-the-top. Sometimes books go too far with the "look how crazy my family is" theme and it ends up being too much. This was just the right amount of weirdness to make it seem believable. And, the most important good quality, there wasn't too much of a back story on the irrelevant characters (I'll spare you the rant on why that bugs me, because you've already had to sit through that one twice).

Random, shallow thoughts:

  • The main character (Shannon) was an undergraduate at Saint Olaf - and the whole time I was reading about her college experiences I kept thinking about Golden Girls, and Rose's Saint Olaf stories. I think my favorite was the one about the guy from Saint Olaf who drove the turnip truck - although I did enjoy the one about the children's cheese museum as well. I love that show.
  • The ages of the character don't match up. In the beginning Shannon says that he parents were in their 50's when she was in high school and then later Shannon is 25 and her Mom is 56. Something doesn't add up here (You see dear readers, I didn't get that high school diploma for nothing). The same thing happened when I read that Danielle Steel novel last month, but I expect that kind of inconsistency from a Danielle Steel novel. I think my parents are going to be proud when they read this entry because they loves to watch TV and point out all the things that don't make sense or are unrealistic - they seem to feel triumphant as they rattle of all the stuff that doesn't add up. I would be upset about turning into my parents like this - but I think that ship already sailed back when I was working as a nanny and I found myself using phrases like, "Do I look like a waitress to you?" and "This is not a restaurant."
  • Technology really dates a book. At one point during the book Shannon registers to win a TV/VCR combo - and the book was only written about 9 years ago. I think it's going to be interesting in 30 years to look back at books written now and see all the gadgets mentioned that are no longer available. The VCR is going to become my version of the "back when I was young, technology sucked" stories that my parents always told us. I can regale my children and grandchildren with stories along these lines, "When I was a child we didn't have any way of recording our shows, so we had to race home from our errands to watch Today's Special. And then when we did have a way to record them we could only record 6 hours at a time, and then the tape would run out - and we could only tape one thing at a time, so if Today's Special and Sesame Street came on at the same time we would have to make some hard choices " And then the children will respond with horror at how hard we had . . . or they'll look at me like I'm insane and way too dramatic.

Why I'm Like This: True Stories

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I really do have blogging on the brain - I woke up at 4 o'clock this morning with the thought of Oh no, I forgot to put the weekly count up yesterday.

So here's what the count was as of yesterday -

For the week:


PAGES - 1,551 (It's been a slower week than usual.)

For the year so far:

CHAPTERS - 1,027

PAGES - 14,739

Today's book; "There was always one girl at camp whom everyone hated"--to her conclusion about the inner lives of truffle pigs, actress-monologist Kaplan consistently amuses while cutting surprisingly deep. Never content to be merely clever, she probes, in these professed "true stories," the reasons why we manage to attach so much importance to self-justification without ever questioning it. Each story presents another element that in one way or another has shifted or reinforced Kaplan's view of people and their relationships."

This description was yet another over-the-top description that I don't think was very accurate. - I'm not sure why this continues to surprise me, but it always does. I'm like a toddler who keeps putting their hand on a hot stove. I just can't seem to accept that it's going to be hot EVERY TIME.

The book was okay - not terrible, but not remarkable either. I did enjoy how the pages smelled like wood, which reminded me of a new house. Which reminds me, in yesterday's entry I said I was going to try to use the word waft more, and today I managed to fit it into a conversation (although not without considerable effort - it's not the kind of word that easily fits into everyday conversation).

The part of the book I enjoyed the most was the story the author told about her grandfather who once gave her his shirt after she complimented it (with a note attached that said, You can always have the shirt off my back.) - Reading that chapter filled me with pleasant memories of my Grandmother, who would respond to every compliment her children or grandchildren made with, "Take it, it's yours." Those are heady words to a ten-year old - which lead to me testing to see just how far her generosity would stretch, with comments like, "You know Grandma, I've always admired that big screen TV of yours - and that's a really cute pile of money sitting over there on the counter." Just for the record, her generosity did not stretch quite that far. But hey, I had to take a shot right? No self-respecting ten-year-old would ever have let an opportunity like that pass them by.

I would highly recommend skipping over pages 130-133 if you're not a fan of bodily-function-humor (which I'm not). I wish I had skipped over it, because I have some really unpleasant mental images that I'm currently trying to wipe from my brain while typing this (I'm a multi-tasker - spellcheck keeps insisting to me that multi-tasker is not a word, but I'm using it anyway).

I remember seeing this book at the airport once, so every time I look at the cover I have a Pavlovian response (I'm not even sure if I used that word correctly or not - so now my blog has a third purpose, entertainment, to remind you of upcoming religious holidays, and to make you feel smart if you're better at punctuation and grammar than I am) - and I want to go to the airport. I love airport bookstores.

Okay, that's about all I have to say about the book, because I didn't find it terribly interesting. I usually get so caught up in the magic of books that I will say that any book was good, or okay, even if it wasn't (I do the same thing with movie theaters) - so you can never trust my judgement when it comes to recommending books. The best way to tell whether I liked a book, usually, is the length of the entry I write about it. Yesterday's book was one of my favorites (maybe even my favorite for the year so far), hence the really long entry about it. Today's blog entry was a bit of a struggle since I didn't find it as interesting. And now I feel guilt for saying I didn't enjoy some one's book in print, so I will say something nice about it to alleviate my guilt: I enjoyed that the inside cover had pictures of the author's family on it. It's always fun after reading non-fiction to see how the characters' pictures compare to the way I was imagining them in my head.

House Lust

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Yesterday, in the comments section, someone told me they were from India - which led me to search through the followers list to see where the people who read this blog are from, and I was so excited to see how many people from different countries are reading. I looked through a few pages of the list but so far I see we have readers from India, Japan, and England. It's so exciting - and now when I'm being melodramatic about the blog I can say, "I have an international following." Are there any readers out there from other countries? I get excited about U.S. followers as well - I remember how excited I was when I had my first follower from a different state. I actually called up my sister and said, "I have a follower from Utah! I don't even know anybody who lives in Utah! Someone I don't even know is reading my blog." I'm dorky that way. I get excited every single time a new follower shows up. I wonder if I'm the only one who does that. Do other bloggers get excited about that, or am I just simple and really easily amused? I guess the point of my rambling paragraph (oops I guess I've already violated my promise from yesterday about not rambling) - is that I'm really grateful that you have chosen to take time out of your busy days to come here and read my rambling blog entries. So, thank you dear readers.

Today's book took a little bit longer to read than most of the books I've read so far - not because it was longer, but because I enjoyed it so much that I didn't want to read it quickly. I wanted to take my time and savor it.

Here's the description; "Despite the current downturn in the housing market, the country's mania for homes that exploded during the last half-decade is still alive and well, according to Newsweek writer McGinn. The fascination with homes—talking about, valuing, scheming over, envying, shopping for, refinancing, or just plain ogling homes—has continued even after the market has cooled . . . " - There was more to the description, but it kind of rambled on and on, and since I'm clearly unable to stick to my promise about not rambling - I'm attempting to make up for it by not letting the book description ramble.

Interesting (and not so interesting) house facts to impress people with at parties:

  • In 1950 the average house was 983 square feet - in 2005 the average newly built home was 2,434 square feet.
  • The first mudroom was in a mansion built in the 1920s by automobile heir Edsel Ford. (And when you're done regaling your fellow party goers with that piece of information, you can move on to topic number 2: How on earth could anyone look at their newborn baby and name them Edsel? The mind reels.)
  • It is estimated that between 1985 and 2001 the percentage of home improvement projects that were executed by a hired professional increased from 50 percent to 60 percent. (I wouldn't whip that fact out at a party unless you're trying to ditch the person you're talking to, because it's such a boring fact that the person you tell it to is liable to suddenly realize that they're almost out of punch and have a dry throat after you tell them that. "That's fascinating *cough*, but I have this horrible cold and I really need some punch *cough*. . . No, that's okay, don't come with me . . . oh, sorry, what I meant to say is, I can managed on my own.")

Favorite line of the book -

When discussing a 10,023 square foot home that was featured in a home show: "The overall aesthetic reminds me of the large, open homes used on reality shows. As I wander around, I keep waiting for the Bachelor to emerge and hand me a rose." - I love a good reference to reality TV. My mind instantly leaps to someone running across this book 30 years from now, probably in a second hand bookstore, and being really confused by that sentence. "The Bachelor. . . who is this Bachelor he speaks of, and why is he giving out a rose." I imagine a conversation to follow along the lines of the one in which my mother was telling me about the game show Queen For a Day (for those of you who weren't old enough to watch TV in the 60's, it was a game show where people competed to see who had the most tragic life, and the winner got a bunch of prizes). I am tempted to say how disturbing I find the idea of a game show like that, but then I remember that I watch The Bachelor, which is infinitely more disturbing.

The title of Chapter Two is: That New-House smell - which warms my sappy heart because it reminds me so much of my childhood. My Dad likes building new houses . . . my Mom loves it. One might say she's obsessed with it (although she would like it noted on the record that she has lived in her current house for 15 years). During my childhood she would get the shakes every time the new house smell would wear off - and to tell you the truth, so would I. The smell of a new house is the smell of home to me - it's the smell of comfort and safety and happiness (a psychologist would probably have a field day with that one - but hey, at least I don't drink). My brother, sister and I all talk about how we wish there was potpourri or candle or air freshener that smelled like new wood and paint - we would buy it by the case if there was. I got a new ceiling fan last year and every time I would turn it on the smell of new wood would waft through the air (I don't think the word waft is used nearly often enough, I'm going to start inserting it into conversations more) and I would be instantly transported back to childhood. The smell of new wood, lemon Pledge, chocolate cake, and fresh produce - and the sound of profanity - those are the things that bring my childhood back most vividly.

Later in the book the author mentions TV shows about homes, such as House Hunters. I really enjoy that show - and on a side note, it was the show that I used to talk my parents into joining this century and getting a DVR. My mother is obsessed with that show, but she could never remember what time it was on (or what channel) and so she always missed it. So for Christmas one year I decided to make home-made gifts (in addition to real gifts, because we're not in an episode of Little House on the Prairie after all), and I made her a several DVD's filled with episode of House Hunters that I had recorded (clearly the term home-made is being applied in the loosest possible sense here), and I told her, "This is what it would be like all the time if you had a DVR, you just show up at the TV and the DVR has taken care of everything, like a friend but better because you can order your DVR around and it never gets mad at you." So, to make a long story short (oops, well it might actually be too late for that), they got a DVR shortly afterward and they've never looked back (they've also never looked away from the TV screen, but that's a story for another day). The author relays a story about a couple - Annabelle and Jeff - who are watching an episode of House Hunters: "In this episode, a young San Francisco couple hopes to trade up from their cramped 700-square-foot house into something roomier. Annabelle and Jeff cringe as the camera pans the couple's current living room, which is awash in clutter. "What you need is to not have two giant dogs in your 700-square-foot house," Annabelle says to the screen." (For the record dear readers, I'm aware of the fact that I was supposed to use ' instead of " for the last quote, but I didn't like the way it looked, and well, it's my blog. It's my blog and I'll use " if I want to, " if I want to, "if I want to. You could use incorrect punctuation if it happened to you.) - I'm sorry about that last sentence, I've had a lot of sugar today and sugar affects me the way alcohol affects normal people. - That excerpt from the book made me laugh so much because it reminds me of my Mother. She practically goes into cardiac arrest when she sees the clutter in the houses on that show. For those of you who don't know her a quick back story: My Mother has the items in her pantry and cabinets in Tupperware containers with labels on them: Flour, Rice, Brown Sugar (On a side note: I'm fascinated to find out that Tupperware is actually a word that spellcheck recognizes. I didn't see that one coming). And thank goodness for that, otherwise I might reach for the brown sugar and accidentally grab the oatmeal and never realize my mistake. But, the label saves me - I look down and see the "Oatmeal" label and think to myself, "I was wondering why the brown sugar suddenly looked cream colored and lumpy." (Sorry for mocking you Mom, I promise that will be the last time . . . for at least the next 3 days). I am not nearly as horrified by the clutter - probably because I'm a recovering clutter-aholic myself - but I am constantly amazed by the people on that show that say, "We need a new house because our current house is only 2,800 square feet, and we'd like to start a family, and we just don't have room for a third person," and then I end up yelling at the screen, "What is wrong with you that you can't fit 3 people in a 2,800 square foot house, you spoiled yuppie. Maybe if you got rid of that ugly plaid couch and your antique lunchbox collection you'd have room for a baby."

So, just to bottom line it for you (sorry Alissa, I know you hate it when I say that): I really enjoyed today's book and could have written a much longer blog entry about it, but I didn't want to test the patience of all you dear readers, assuming I didn't already test your patience with the excessive amount of rambling I did throughout today's entry. I would definitely recommend this book (especially if you're the kind of person who yells at the TV while watching House Hunters).

Letter From New Orleans

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I had some trouble finding a book to read for Mardi Gras. I wavered back and forth between reading a book that was specifically about Mardi Gras and one that was about New Orleans, so I reserved three different books from the library so I could decide later. I didn't get a chance to pick up the books until this morning - and it turned out to be a very good thing that I reserved three, because the two that I was originally considering turned out to be unsuitable, because they both had so many pictures in them that there really wasn't enough text in them to make me feel like I was really reading an entire book.

So I settled on reading Letters From New Orleans, and then looking through the other two so I could learn more about Mardi Gras. Here's the description of today's book: "When Rob Walker and his girlfriend relocated to New Orleans in 2000, Walker (a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine) started filling his friends' email inboxes with tales of adventures from his new home. Those stories--capturing the simple, everyday, and often unbelievable moments that regularly transpired in the Crescent City--are the basis for the fascinating Letters from New Orleans."

Fun facts:

  • New Orleans was declared the 49th weirdest city in America. I did a google search to try to find the list, but I couldn't find it. I did find a list of the top 10 weirdest cities in the world, and New Orleans made the list - So basically, there's a consensus that New Orleans is really weird, but a little bit of a dispute going on in regards to just how weird it is.
  • Louis Armstrong (love his music) was born in New Orleans (I'm ashamed of myself for not knowing that already). At the age of twelve he was sent to reform school after firing a gun into the air - he learned to play the cornet while in reform school (so you see kids, crime does pay).

I have never paid any attention to Mardi Gras before, and I knew absolutely nothing about it until today. So it was interesting to read about it from the perspective of someone who is relatively new to the Mardi Gras experience. Here's an excerpt; "The parades begin in earnest about ten days before Mardi Gras, and there are dozens of them in and around the city. We saw at least ten last year. Here is what happens: There are high school marching bands, and there are floats tugged by tractors. Each parade is put on by a krewe, which is what Carnival clubs are called. There is a theme for each parade, and the krewe members on the floats generally wear masks. What they do is they throw beads and other trinkets off the floats . . . " (Okay, so maybe I did know something about Mardi Gras - I knew about the bead part . . . but I only knew about that because I saw it on a commercial for a board game that came on while I was watching a reality TV show).

In honor of New Orleans being voted one of the weirdest cities in America - and the world - here's a random, weird passage from the book in which the author is attempting to explain why he moved to New Orleans from Manhattan: "In Manhattan, I found, one tends to think in terms of What's New. For example, I can remember when Balthazar was the new Bowery Bar, when Moomba was the new Spy Bar, and when Orchard Street became the new Ludlow Street and Thursday was the new Friday. Last year people said gray was the new black. For a minute or two, sincerity was supposed to be the new irony. I saw on a magazine cover that brown was the new blond. Certainly I remember Avenue B becoming the new Avenue A, and I think by now Avenue C is the new Avenue B. The idea is to have spotted the It idea five minutes before whoever you're talking to. Well: Maybe New Orleans is the new Avenue C!" - You're probably wondering by now what the point of me putting up that passage was. Well, I'll tell you why dear readers, it was to illustrate two of my pet peeves: 1. the expression "____ is the new ____" and 2. people who introduce new things to their family and friends with smugness rather than excitement. Those are not the most interesting pet peeves a person can have, but . . . there it is (which brings me to an auto-peeve - isn't that cute how I'm making up new expressions - I have in which I feel the need to end sentences with "there it is" or "that's just how it is" - I used to do that all the time in high school, and then I finally got rid of that annoying habit, and then it just popped up in my blog entry when I least expected it to).

In conclusion, I think that my brain is still being affected by the Ellen Degeneres book that I read last week - I've been doing a lot more rambling lately in my blog entries - Join me tomorrow dear readers, when I will attempt to make it all the way through the blog entry without rambling incoherently. It will be like watching a fun new game show where the contestant is going to attempt to do something really challenging.

Million-Dollar Nanny

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yesterday was supposed to be Suggestion Sunday, but I moved it to today so that I could read a book in honor of George Washington's birthday yesterday (I don't know why I'm recapping as if you can't see yesterday's entry right below this one - Do you feel like your watching the first five minutes of a Monday episode of a soap opera with all the recapping?)

So today has temporarily become:


My mother has chosen a romance novel for me to read today - or as I like to call them, smut books. She used to be offended when I would call them this, but now when I ask her, "Read any good smut lately?" she just smiles a little bit and launches into telling me about the plot of her latest book.

It seemed especially appropriate for me to read one of her trashy books because I'm the one who got her started reading them in the first place (oops). I started reading trashy novels when I was in junior high - and, lucky for me, no one even noticed for a few months. Adults would just look at me reading, smile, and say, "Isn't it nice that she's reading instead of watching television" - and no one would even bother to look and see what I was reading. Until one day when my luck ran out. I made the mistake of leaving a copy of the book I was reading on the coffee table just long enough for my mother to find it and start to read the first few pages . She was horrified, and quickly confiscated my entire trashy novel collection - and before she got around to throwing them away, she got hooked on them herself, and then quickly started reading books that were even trashier than the ones I was reading. I was reading the semi-trashy novels like Danielle Steele - and she prefers ones that are slightly trashier than that. And that's when I became a romance-novel-orphan. My mother began saying things like, "Just a minute I'm in a the middle of this chapter" when I would come home from school and want to tell her about my day (my Mother wants it on the record for all of you dear readers to witness, that she denies the aforementioned accusation) - and our conversations began to revolve around the latest exploits of Trisha, whose "real independent" and her nemesis-turned-lover Stefan who "seemed arrogant at first, but it turned out it was just because he'd been hurt in the past."

My sister couldn't figure what was so great about those books that she would want to walk around reading them all day - and I wanted to see how her really trashy novels compared to the semi-trashy ones I used to read - so we waited until she went out of town for a few days and read some of them. Woohoo, just a couple of wild and crazy young people - our parents went out of town for a few days and that's how we passed the time - not having a party or doing a bunch of stuff we weren't normally allowed to do, but reading a bunch of trashy novels. I still remember the plot of the book I read. It was a Christmas-themed book about a woman who was a 30-something pregnant virgin, who got pregnant using artificial insemination because she desperately wanted to be a mother but she had been burned so badly in the past that she vowed that she would never trust any man ever again. So she went into labor at a truck stuff, and a truck driver helped her deliver the baby in the back of his truck (isn't that the stupidest plot you've ever heard of), and somehow in the process he falls in love with her (because apparently there's nothing more attractive to a man than having a baby in the back of his truck), and then she spends about 100 pages resisting him until eventually giving in and realizing that he's all she's ever wanted. Then I read a second one - hoping that it wouldn't be as cheesy as the first one - about a woman who got pregnant during an earthquake by a guy whose name she didn't even know (isn't that classy), and so she couldn't contact him and tell him about the baby. Then, when she's 9 months pregnant, she's driving through a snow storm (classy and smart - she's got it all) when her car breaks down on the side of the road, and then she goes into labor - and just at that moment the father of her child just happens to come by on his tour bus (he's a rock star) and they find their way to a nearby cabin where he helps her deliver the baby (there seems to be a theme running through the books my mother reads). Neither one recognizes the other at first (classy, smart, and observant - the good qualities just keep on rolling) - but then they eventually realize who the other one is, and they start to bicker and then somewhere in the middle of the fight they realize that they're soul mates who can't live without one another (despite not actually knowing one anothers' names). After my mother got back from her trip, I questioned her about this book, and the conversation went like this:

Me: So you find this story Romantic.

Mom: Yes

Me: So if I came home and told you that I was pregnant by someone whose name I didn't even
know, who I met when I thought I was going to die, you would find that romantic.

Mom: Well of course not, the romantic part comes later.

Me: When? When they're in the cabin looking at their baby and they still don't know each others names? Or when they decide to get married in the middle of a screaming match? Where exactly is the romantic part?

Mom: I think that you just don't want to see it.

So I'm reading today's book in honor of Mom and the trashy novel habit that I accidentally started. Here's the description from the back of the book; "After being stripped of her wealth by a conniving con man, Sherry LaSalle may be down, but the suddenly broke socialite is far from out! She may not be used to having a job, but she's just landed the ideal position with sexy single dad Rafe Montoya. How hard could it be to take care of a pair of irresistible four-year-old twins? - The beautiful ex-heiress is the last person Rafe expected to bond with his orphaned niece and nephew. But Sherry is confounding the Harmony Circle mechanic with her down-to-earth, gingerbread-baking ways. She's clearly the perfect nanny for his kids. Is she also the woman Rafe wants and needs to complete their instant family?"

Lessons I've learned about love from reading this (and other) "romance" novel -
  • When falling in love with someone, it's important to have a lot of fake conversations in your head in which you deny your love for that person, and in which you refer to them by their first and last name as often as possible, such as "I certainly won't be falling in love with Rafe Montoya, not in this lifetime" or "Stefan Mackenzie is exactly the kind of man I need to avoid at all costs." - Well, unless of course you're already pregnant with his baby and don't happen to know his last name . . . or his first name.

  • Instant families are hot. If you happen to have just gained custody of your sister kids or if you're pregnant with someone else's baby, it will make you instantly more appealing to men (and not just any man, but an extremely attractive man who could have any woman he wants) - it will also make you more lovable.

  • All great love stories (and I use the term great loosely here) start with two people who hate each other. So it's important to put your worst foot forward when meeting new people. If you can throw in a little arrogance, and a snotty comment or two, then you are guaranteed a happy ending.

Join me tomorrow dear readers, for a special book to celebrate Mardi Gras.

Mount Vernon Love Story

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Today was supposed to be Suggestion Sunday, and I was going to read a book that my mother had chosen, but I decided instead to read a book in honor of George Washington's Birthday. I'm going to read the book I would have read for Suggestion Sunday tomorrow. So tomorrow will be Mother Monday.

I was really excited about reading today's book, because I've actually been to Mount Vernon. I love museums, especially historic house museums, and I think Mount Vernon was one of my favorites.

Today's book: "Originally published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens, this slim, muted historical romance is the long-out-of-print debut by America's reigning queen of suspense. As the quasi-biographical novel opens, George Washington is preparing to attend the inauguration of his successor, John Adams; Clark, employing inelegant but efficient transitional techniques (Adams's "rather flat nasal voice seemed to become more clipped and sharp-toned.... It became his mother's voice"), quickly moves the narrative back to George's boyhood. The temporal seesaw continues as she juxtaposes George's trials (his mean mother, his unrequited love for a friend's wife) and triumphs (his land acquisitions, his bravery in battle) with his reflections on the state of the union in the novel's 1797 present. But her focus remains on the domestic (a French and Indian ambush at the Monongahela River in 1755 is rendered with far less care and credibility than scenes of George's skill on the dance floor) and the emotional (George's "mantle of leadership" concerns him much less than the naughtiness of his stepson). What passes for a driving narrative force is George's slow transfer of affection from the beautiful, charismatic Sally Carey to the small, "pretty widow" Martha (known as Patsy) Custis he married, and then the growing bond between "my old man" and "my dearest Patsy."

I opened the book to the introduction and here was the first thing I saw, "Dear Reader. . . " I love books that start that way - I feel like I'm instantly drawn into a conversation with an old friend.

Here are two fun articles about how Martha Washington was better looking than most people assume:

Random, useless facts I learned from this book:

George Washington's step-son Jacky was a brat - there's just no way to soften it. All throughout this book I found myself saying under my breath, "Someone needs to take away every toy that kid owns and send him to his room for about a year." There has been some disagreement among historians (and dorky people who like to sit around and argue about the lives of Presidents) as to whether George truly loved Martha, or if he just married her for her money. After reading about how unruly Martha's son was, I think he married her for love, because there's no amount of money in the world that would be worth putting up with a kid who behaves that badly (or maybe that's just me). What do you think dear readers - would you be willing to put up with a bratty kid for 15 or 20 years in exchange for large sums of money?

Before he met Martha (and perhaps even for awhile afterwards) George was in love with his friend's wife - and Martha was married to someone else when George first met, and began to fall in love with, her. How very Melrose Place. People who think history is boring are really missing the boat - some of the stories they would read about while exploring the past rival anything you might see on The Young and the Restless.

George and Martha never had any children together. - It's absolutely ridiculous that I just learned that considering I read a book just last week about First Families. So you see dear readers, when I told you I have a bad memory, I wasn't kidding. Perhaps it might be time to start supplementing my diet with some ginkgo (which is commonly misspelled as gingko).

The Great Derangement

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Making its triumphant return to the blog this week is:


Today's book was suggested by C. Thanks for the suggestion C.

I'm feeling a bit tired right now, but I'm going to try to write a coherent blog entry anyway. I'm tired because I stayed up until 3 a.m. last night finishing up the reports I had to do for work - and now I'M FREE. I'M FREE. I'M FREE. Starting today I went back to my normal part-time schedule, and I will finally have time to deal with the to-do list that has been growing steadily over the last month.

Around one o'clock last night (technically this morning) I got really tired, but I decided to press on because I thought it would be so nice to wake up this morning and have nothing to worry about except for reading today's book. I imagined a lazy Saturday morning and afternoon of lying around and reading, putting up my blog entry early in the day, and then having the whole evening to do whatever I wanted. And then I woke up this morning . . . to a flooded bathroom. I'm tempted to say, well at least tomorrow will be a relaxing day with nothing but reading, but I don't want to jinx myself.

Today's book; "With his trademark mordant wit, journalist Taibbi explores the black comedy of the American polis, where a citizenry shunted out of the political process seeks solace in conspiratorial weirdness and Internet-fueled mysticism. Trained from birth to be excellent consumers, Americans have become experts in mixing and matching news items to fit [their] own self-created identities, according to the author, who embeds himself in these pockets of people as he travels to the Congress press gallery, Iraq, meetings of the 9/11 Truth Movement, and goes undercover at a Christian Retreat. He pillories born-again Christians and the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, concluding that despite their differences: Both groups were and are defined primarily by an unshakeable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side; the Christians seldom distinguished between Islamic terrorism and, say, Al Gore–style environmentalism, while the Truthers easily believed that reporters for the Washington Post, the president and the frontline operators of NORAD were equally capable of murdering masses of ordinary New York financial sector employees. Thoughtful Democrats, Republicans and independents will find common ground in this book that punctures pretense, hypocrisy and know-nothingness."

Favorite passages:

  • "That's the way things work in America. You can literally stick a fork into your own eye in public, and so long as your check clears, no one will even bat an eye."
  • While at an encounter group, in which he was hesitant to share his real life stories involving trauma he had suffered, the author instead made this story up: "My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his over sized shoes. He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television, and then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know - whap!"

I probably shouldn't say this because it makes me sound like a bad person, but I'm oddly fascinated - almost in awe - of people who are really good liars (maybe good isn't even the right word in the case of the examples in this book, but more like quick and efficient liars). I think it's because I'm such a terrible liar myself that I can't quite figure out how other people can pull it off. I can't even pretend to like some one's shoes when I don't, I find myself stammering and stuttering, unable to even choke out "nice shoes." I'm even more mesmerized people who are such good liars that they've convinced themselves of their own lies - those people fascinate me - because I can't figure out how a person even reaches such a point. I would love to sit down and have a conversation with them about their lying technique - I have so many questions I want to ask - How many years of lying did it take before you started to believe the lies yourself? Do you rehearse that stuff in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning, or do you just go out there and wing it? Do you get excited about the thought of almost getting caught, like a thirteen year old making out on the back porch with their parents just a few feet away (Not that I ever did that . . . okay. . . fine . . . maybe I did. . . once. But I got such a lecture about my unladylike behavior that it killed all of the fun. - Do you see what I mean, I can't even lie about that.) - Or is it more satisfying to feel like you've completely gotten away with the lie? But I guess that's expecting the impossible to want to have an honest conversation with someone about lying.

But here's my absolute favorite sentence in the book: "No creature on earth is more inclined to verbal diarrhea than a modern American. . . " - It's so true, and this blog is exhibit A. I don't know why it's so fun to spend day after day writing about every weird quirk I've ever had, every odd family moment - but somehow it is. There doesn't seem to be any filter in my brain that sorted out the things that were appropriate to say out loud and the things that I should be too embarrassed to ever admit publicly - in fact, the more that I should be embarrassed by something the less I actually am (that already seems like a sentence that's going to make no sense when I go back and read it later - I think the tiredness is kicking in and making me incoherent). I used to think this quality was unique to my immediate family - but I'm finding that to be less and less the case as time goes on. I've lost track of the number of times complete strangers in public have told me about their battles with cancer, their anti-depressant use, their relatives who are on drugs. And what is it about vacations that make people want to tell complete strangers on an airplane, or in the hotel lobby, about everything from their bathroom habits to how their last boyfriend cheated on them. So, in the spirit of celebrating how very American we all are, let's all admit one really embarrassing thing that we should really have the dignity to never admit. I'll go first: I was once wearing a dress that was dry clean only and I accidentally walked by a sprinkler, and even though the dress only got slightly wet it still started to shrink while I was still wearing it. For those of you who aren't Americans, go ahead and have a good laugh now, we deserve it for being so ridiculously chatty.

My Point . . . and I Do Have One

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Before I get to today's book I want to talk about me . . . what a shock and such a departure from how I'm going to talk about me while discussing today's book.

A fellow blogger, Loree ( has tagged my site, which means that I'm supposed to list 6 weird things about myself. Generally I include at least three weird things about myself in every blog entry, so making a list of six should be a piece of cake (oh cake, not a bad idea). Six weird things, please, I could do that blind folded with one hand tied behind my back - and to prove my point I'm going to close my eyes and type this with only one hand:

1. gidr rehsye - (Well, okay, so maybe the blindfolded part was a bit of an exaggeration - but I can still do this with one hand tied behind my back.)

1. I spend ridiculous amounts of time looking at (Okay, typing those eight words took me about 10 times longer than is should have, and I'm burning daylight here, so I'm going back to typing with both hands. But, I wanted it noted on the record, that I could make this list with one hand tied behind my back if I really wanted to) - back to what I was saying . . . I spend way too much time looking at gift registries of random strangers. I look at registries of people I know too, but at least that behavior falls somewhere in the realm of normal. The weird part lies in my fascination with registries of people I don't even know. It's just so interesting to see people register for a toy to hook to the stroller that they forgot to register for, and then come back two days later (after what I assume was a phone call from one of their relatives saying, "So what are you going to do with the stroller toys considering you have no stroller.") and finally register for that stroller. I spend enough time doing this that it could qualify as a hobby.

2. I was about 23 before I figured out the correct way to pronounce Reverend Al Sharpton's name (I think you can see I was working on this list while watching the news). I heard the name mentioned on TV shows when I was a child, but most people say his name in such a way that the Reverend and Al part all kind of blurs together and comes out sounding like Reverenel. I remember hearing that at the age of about 10 and thinking, "Reverenel. That's the strangest first name I've ever heard." I'm sad to say I didn't realize my own mistake until long past the point when I should have. I do this with song lyrics all the time, and I usually end up disappointed when I find out the real lyrics, and I stubbornly go on singing the song my way anyway. I started to feel really stupid about not having realized that one sooner - but, after consulting with my sister, I'm reminded of how I had to explain the expression "Nothing to write home about" to her just last year (when she was 26). She thought that it was "nothing to ride home about." When I told her it wasn't, she briefly admitted that it made more sense as write, but now she has gone back to insisting that "ride home" makes perfect sense.

3. I hate calling the hotline on the side of the box when something of mine is broken. I'm always convinced that the person who answers the hotline is going to judge me for not knowing how to operate whatever it is of mine that's broken - and then they'll think I'm a complete idiot who should have read Consumer Reports before buying whatever it is I'm calling about. The fact that they spend all day long talking to people who have broken stuff doesn't seem to dampen my concern.

4. When I'm driving and I realize that I'm going the wrong direction, I refuse to turn around in some one's driveway. The reason for my refusal is that I'm always worried that I will accidentally pull into the driveway of a really lonely person (whose heartless family never comes to visit them) and that they will get really excited when they see the car, and then be so disappointed when they realize it's just a person who was going to the wrong direction. I don't want to be responsible for bringing that kind of disappointment into some one's life. - I'm not sure how odd the other items I've put on the list are, but I know this one is weird because every time I tell this to someone else they give me a blank stare and say, "You are so weird."

5. I love cartoons - and not just the ones that are somewhat respectable like Simpsons (and by respectable I mean a cartoon that was created with adults in mind) - I love to watch Franklin, Little Bear, Rugrats, All Grown Up, The Peanuts, The Berenstain Bears - and then of course the classics: Jetsons and the Flinstones. I used to work as a nanny so I had a built in excuse for watching cartoons, I could tell myself, "I'm watching this for the sake of the children. I have to monitor what they're watching to make sure it's not inappropriate." But then I lost my excuse - and it still hasn't stopped me from kicking back every now and then to an episode of The Berenstain Bears. My favorite episode is the one where Brother and Sister Bear go to camp (I laughed. . . I cried . . . I grew as a person).

6. My use of silverware, plates, cups, and bowls could best be described as unconventional. I eat cereal out of cup and popcorn with a spoon - I've even eaten a candy bar with a knife and fork from time to time. This weird little habit did come in handy when I was a nanny, because I discovered that the kids would try all kinds of healthy food if it's fed to them in a weird way (brown rice out of cup, fruit out of a giant serving bowl, cereal eaten with a fork - kids love novelty. They would also eat anything if it was served to them on a platter with a toothpick in it).

Now on to today's book -

My Point . . . and I Do Have One won the "What Will Angie Read Today" contest by a landslide (and by landslide I mean that it got 3 more votes than the other books did).

The description for today's book; "Ellen DeGeneres shares her hilarious take on everything from our most baffling human foibles–including how we behave in elevators, airplanes, and restrooms, and why we’re so scared of the boogeyman–to fashion trends, celebrity, and her secret recipe for Ellen’s Real Frenchy French Toast. Most of all, this witty, engaging book offers insights into the mind of one of America’s most beloved comics.…"

I love the chapter titles. Here are my two favorites; A Letter to a Friend or A Frog in a Sombrero Does Not a Party Make, I Went to a Psychic or Baloney is Just Salami with an Inferiority Complex.

Favorite Excerpts -

  • While discussing the bird psychiatrist she employs for her bird; "You just call him up on the phone, tell him what's bothering your bird, and he tells you how to deal with it. He's a lot cheaper than an actual psychiatrist - no pun intended - so sometimes I call him up with one of my problems and pretend that it's one of my bird's problems. 'Well my bird is thinking about starting a new relationship. The problem is that this other bird reminds him of somebody else, somebody who hurt him in a previous relationship. My bird had been rejected and didn't take it well. He drank a lot of fermented seed juice and didn't go out much for a long time. And when he did, he took out his pain on other birds."
  • After consulting with a psychic; "The bad news, though, was that I was going to have to sit down and actually write the book. I was kind of hoping that elves would come in the middle of the night while I was sleeping and write a best-seller for me; the psychic told me that though this wasn't impossible (she claimed one or two of Danielle Steel's books were written this way) in my case it was highly unlikely."

I guess that elves thing would explain the inconsistencies in her books - suddenly it all makes sense how one of the characters in Heartbeat had been divorced for 10 years at the beginning of the book and then by the end it had only been eight. Those elves have really got to start consulting with one another.

Tomorrow I'll be unveiling the winner of the "What 80's TV Star's Biography Is Angie Going to Read Today" Contest.

Like a Mighty Stream

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today is the end of week seven, so it's time to do the end of the week count:

PAGES - 1,856

PAGES - 13,188 (that number kind of surprises me because it really doesn't feel like I've read that many pages).

And the winner is . . . Like a Mighty Stream.

Thank you to everyone who voted - and for those who haven't voted yet, you can still vote on the book for the 19th (until midnight tonight) and on the book for the 20th.

Today's book was a short one, so I had hoped to get this entry up earlier in the day, but I had a ton of other things that I had to fit into my schedule in between reading. I am really looking forward to the end of this week when I will be done with the extra work I have to do, and I will finally have a chance to catch up on some things. The first thing that's on my list is catching up on reading other people's blogs. I follow about 20 different blogs, but I just haven't had time lately to read any of them or leave comments - but I am going to correct that situation this weekend.

Here's the description from the back of the book; "Like a Mighty Stream tells the stories behind the landmark August 1963 march - the precipitating events, the emergence of leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and John Lewis; the unheralded contributions of the women; and the personal experiences that drew so many there that day."

I'm having a bit of trouble writing tonight's blog entry because this book made me feel very emotional. There are some things that are hard to put into words - but I'm going to try and ramble my way through this entry anyway.

My favorite excerpt from the book was a memory from John Marshall Kilimanjaro, who describe what happened when the bus he was traveling to Washington on stopped at a rest stop in Virginia: "There as no one at the rest stop. We walked around a bit to stretch and saw this big mound of earth - it seemed as if there was some construction or building going on. Several of us decided to climb to the top of the mound, the sun was slowly rising, and as we looked out, all we saw were buses, coming from the north, east, west, and south. And we knew it was our people. We burst into applause." - Kilimanjaro goes on to explain that their biggest fear had been that the March would be a bust, and that after seeing all the buses coming they set out with new attitude. I'm a completely sappy person, the kind who cries during commercials (in my defense Heinz used to air a really good ketchup commercial about World War 2, and Hallmark had a great one about adoption) - and so it's no surprise that this particular passage got me all choked up. Something about the image of them standing on that mound watching the buses come in made me cry. If you're not as sappy as I am you might be able to get through the whole book without getting choked up, but I think you will still find it very moving - and if you don't, then all I have to say to you is: grow a heart Tin Man (just kidding).

This book was piqued my interest to the point where I was making a list, while reading, of all the people discussed that I want to know more about - I thinkthat's always a good sign, when a book is interesting enough that it becomes a jumping off point for learning more about a particular subject. I've made a list of biographies that I want to check out, and I'm going to try to read some of them throughout the rest of this year (since I think it's totally unfair that there is only one month of the year set aside for learning about black history).

And now I'd like to do a special salute to sandwiches and the people who made them (stay with me here dear readers, I'm going somewhere with this one) - The morning before the March, more than 300 volunteers gathered at the Riverside Church in New York City, to assemble more than 80,000 cheese sandwiches which were packed into a lurch along with cake and an apple (the cake and apple part is totally irrelevant to the story, but I just felt like throwing that in anyway). The lunches where then transported to Washington on a refrigerated truck. That story may seem trivial, and pointless, but I was struck by how those who weren't able to help out on the front lines of the March were still able to contribute in their own way - a way that may not seem as important as some of the other roles played that day, but a way that was instrumental in those who marched being able to get through the day. So that's my deep moment for the day - that even if you can't do dramatic newsworthy things every day to change the world, there are still small things you can do to contribute. Okay, sorry for the mini-lecture, I do hate to get preachy dear readers.

After I finished reading the book I went to youtube and found a video of a newscast about the March that aired in 1963. Here's the link:
As soon as I'm finished with my busy, work-related schedule I'm going to figure out how to embed videos on the blog, but for now the link is going to have to suffice.

I promise dear readers, that after two days of serious books and entries that the next few days are going to be fun and lighthearted - I don't want things to get too heavy around here. So join me tomorrow for some shallow thoughts on whatever book wins the "What Will Angie Read Today" contest.

A Year by the Sea

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Warning: Tonight's entry is not going to be as whimsical and light-hearted as most entries, so if you only like the fun, light-hearted, funny kind of blog entries just skip right over this one, because this one isn't going to be a barrel of laughs (not that any of my other entries are a barrel of laughs, but I'd like to think they're at least a bucket of laughs, or a bowl, or at the very least a teacup of laughs).

My sister wanted me to read a book about the beach today since she spent the day at the beach. Today's book was the only beach related book I had in my to-read stacks, so I went ahead and read it even though it's a few pages short of the 200 page requirement I set in the beginning. Oh well, the books I read for the last few days have been almost 400 pages, so I guess it all evens out. I'm reaching a point where I'm starting to break all of the rules I set for myself: the entry much be up by 7 o'clock (please, I've been lucky to get the entry up before midnight the last few days), not reading any other books besides the book for the day (I haven't broken that one yet, but that's only because I don't have time at the moment, as soon as I'm done with the reports for work I'm going to break that rule), all of the entries have to be light-hearted (there are some books where the subject demands a more serious approach). I think I'm reaching a point with this project where I'm realizing that there is no way to map out ahead of time what's going to happen. Stepping out into the unknown is not something that I excel at - I like to know exactly what to expect before even starting with something new - so this experience is really shoving me out of my comfort zone. It's kind of nice to be able to look back on the last month and a half of reading and blogging and see that even though I had no idea what I was doing when I started this - and even though all the rules I had set for myself are falling by the wayside - that it's still okay. The project is still going well, I'm having more fun with it than I thought I would - and somehow, even on the days when I feel like I have nothing to say about the book I just read, somehow the entry still turns out alright and the words feel like they're just falling into place. I've always over-thought and over-planned things - so I'm very glad that working on this project seems to be showing me that things can still turn out alright even without be trying to force things to be a certain way. I feel like this book was the perfect book to read at this point, when I am slowly coming to these realizations, because some of the realizations that the author comes to in this book seem to mirror what has already begun to happen in my life because of this project. Isn't it funny how that happens sometimes - how just the right book can come into a person's life at a time when they are most able to receive what it has to offer. I've had the opposite feeling too many times to count, where I feel like the book itself is good but what it has to say just doesn't resonate with me at this point in my life - so it's always nice to get to experience the opposite of that from time to time.

Today's book; "Curling up with this autobiography will refresh readers' souls and adjust their attitudes. With their two sons grown and married, Anderson and her husband decided to take a "vacation" from their long marriage. Her husband moved on to a new job hundreds of miles away, while Anderson cocooned herself in her rusting Volvo and drove to her family's cottage on Cape Cod. During the year-long separation, Anderson reestablished her connection to nature and was able to discover new hope. She swam with seals, ran a marathon, worked in a fish market, and earned extra income clamming activities that gave her the opportunity to shed her image as family nurturer and allowed her to grow as an independent woman."

I don't feel like the description on the back of the book does this book justice. In fact, I almost didn't buy this book because I thought, "I'm not a middle aged woman seeking to start over in life. I don't have a stale marriage that I'm trying to get away from, or a problem with overlooking my own needs in order to take care of others. How can I possibly relate to this book." I think this book was about so much more than just becoming an independent woman - it was also about not wasting so much time trying to plan out every experience ahead of time, and not trying to force things to be what you wish they were, and about learning to appreciate what's good about the situation as it really is instead of always focusing on what's lacking. That's always been hard for me - particularly in light of the chronic illnesses that have been with me for decades now - but I am slowly learning to stop focusing on what's missing (in this case, good health) and instead deal with what is: I don't have perfect health, but I do have (thanks to bad health forcing me to work only part time) more spare time than anyone I know, which has given me the chance to read a book a day, and write this blog which I have had so much fun with. It's given me time for so many things; time to write (and fill over 100 journal volumes), time to reflect, time to read, time to figure out some things that I never would have learned had I not had ridiculous amounts of spare time. It's also given me a chance to find out that I'm capable of being really happy in the middle of a totally crappy situation - which is a very useful skill (skill probably isn't the right word, but I don't feel like searching for an online thesaurus right now) to have around. Thanks to illness I can no be happy in the middle of all kinds of crappy situations now, which is a very odd thing to be bragging about - but hey, I take my joy wherever I can find it.

I just don't feel right writing an entire entry without including some random crazy anecdote from my family, so here goes: In the beginning of the book the author mentions having a garage sale before leaving for her new life by the sea, and I had an instant childhood flashback. I can never think about my childhood without thinking of several things: junk food, Cedar Point, profanity, and garage sales. My mother loves having garage sales - she has them constantly - and her garage sales have become quite well known around town. She has a special list of people who get to come the night before, she has a cash register, refreshments are sold, music is played in the background - it's not just a garage sale, it's a garage sale experience. The best part of her garage sales was that she would be so preoccupied that we would get to watch endless hours of television and eat so much junk food that I'm surprised my growth wasn't stunted (although maybe it was, people did always expect me to be a taller than this). Just thinking about it makes me feel happy.

Tomorrow dear readers I'm going to unveil the winning book - I'm sure you're just trembling with excitement. You can still vote on the book for the 19th and the 20th - and I've corrected my instructions on how to use the comments section because apparently I explained it the wrong way (oops). Tune in tomorrow dear readers to find out if Trisha and Stefan end up together . . . Oh wait, this isn't a soap opera. I meant to say, tune in tomorrow to find out if the book you voted on won the "What Will Angie Read Next" contest.

America's First Families

Monday, February 16, 2009

The last few days have been incredibly busy, and so I've had difficulty getting the book read, and the entry up - but by this time next week I will be completely done with the end of the year reports for work, and I will be able to start getting my blog entry up earlier in the day. I'm looking forward to that.

I just wanted to remind everyone that voting for the books I'm going to read on the 18th, 19th and 20th is still open - and we have a few ties going, so we need some tie-breaking votes. The options for those days can be found in the blog entries from February 11th, 12th, and 13th.

Since today is President's Day I decided to read a book about First Families - and I'm so glad I did because now I will have random facts about the Presidents and their families to regale my sister with the next time I see her. Normally, she is the one who tells me random facts about the Presidents, so I'm looking forward to being the Presidential expert (and I use that term loosely because the chances of me remembering very many of the details from this book are slim).

The description of today's book; "America's First Families is the first book to take a close look at the real lives of America's own "royal families" in the White House, from John and Abigail Adams in 1800 to Bill and Hillary Clinton in the twenty-first century. Vivid anecdotes and revealing facts are drawn from diaries, letters, newspaper and magazine stories, and the author's own vast archive of research and interviews."

For those of you who might still be in a Valentine's Day kind of mood, I'll start with the White House weddings:

  • The first White House wedding took place on March 12, 1812 - and was the wedding of James Madison's sister-in-law, Lucy Pane, and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd.
  • James Monroe's daughter, Maria, was the first child of a president to marry in the White House. The ceremony took place on March 9, 1820.
  • Three presidents married while in office - but only one got married in the White House - Grover Cleveland who married Frances Folsom in 1886.
  • Woodrow Wilson's family was the only First Family to have two White House weddings.

I can't even imagine the kind of frenzy the press would go into now if someone got married in the White House. They would probably spend months completely ignoring all the real news stories going on in the world, and instead obsessively talk about flowers and dress designs. It would make the "Breaking News: Obama ate a hamburger today" new stories look like substantive reporting.

My favorite parts:

John and Abigail Adams's nephew, William "Billy" Shaw, lived with them in the White House. He was described as a person who "grew so obsessed with books that he became socially dysfunctional." - I probably shouldn't be so amused by that, but in light of my current blogging project I can't help but laugh. I think the problem was that Billy didn't have a blog - and therefore he couldn't justify his reading habit by saying, "I'm working" the way that I can. Sometimes I think I'm getting too obsessed with reading, but I'm still doing better than Billy, since I can still find time for things other than reading, and I'm still able to hold conversations with people (although most of those conversations have been about books, so maybe I am becoming socially dysfunctional).

President Benjamin Harrison's grandson, who was named after him, became a press sensation at the age of 18 months. He was known to the press as "Baby" McKee - and he became so famous during his grandfather's presidency that columns were written about him (what he ate, what he wore, how he was taken care of), the American people loved hearing every detail of his life. That's what having no television will do to people, they become way too easily amused. President Harrison soon became exploiting this in order to turn public opinion in his favor - but it eventually backfired on him when Baby began to be lampooned in cartoons and people began to claim that "Baby runs the White House." - All I could think about while reading that part was that if that happened today the political ads during the next election would go something like this, "Can we afford four more years of Baby running the White House. This November, vote to put grown ups back in charge."

Random, useless trivia:

  • The Hardings still served alcohol in the White House during prohibition.
  • The Trumans were the first to have a television in the White House and the Carters were the first to install a VCR.
  • The official presidential retreat now known as Camp David was originally established by FDR, and later given the name it is known by today by President Eisenhower, who named it after his grandson.
  • President Tyler was the first president to be guarded by a permanent security detail.
  • Theodore Roosevelt's collection of pets included; a badger, a kitten that attacked the Speaker of the House, a six-toed cat, a one-legged rooster who was given a crutch by the children, parrots, kangaroo rats (which I had never even heard of until now), an owl, guinea pigs, dogs, and horses.

I'm going to go relax now after an incredibly stressful attempt to get this blog entry up. The computer froze up every 2-3 minutes, and then the whole screen went completely white for 20 minutes while I was in the middle of typing this.

Walt Disney

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today I'm beginning a new feature on the blog, Suggestion Sunday. Just a quick reminder, Suggestion Sunday is where I read a book that was suggested by someone in my family. I decided to start with my parents, since they're the ones who taught me how to read. My Mother is still working on picking out her book, so today I read the book my Dad suggested. My Dad picked a Disney related book because those are the only kind of books that he reads.

Today's book; "After years of research, Bob Thomas produced a definitive biography of the man behind the legend of Disney: the unschooled cartoonist from Kansas City who went bankrupt on his first movie venture and developed into the genius who produced unmatched works of animation, and ultimately was the creative spirit of an international entertainment empire."

These are my two favorite pictures from Disney World - because I think they capture the essence that is my Dad. He's basically a really tall eight year old. Which made for a very fun childhood, and an incredibly embarrassing adolescence.

As you can see, when Dad is on vacation he is willing to pose for any picture, no matter how ridiculous the circumstance. You should see the stares we got when my Mother was taking the picture of him with the giant Coke bottle. There's also a picture of him pretending to lift a giant lego, but I couldn't find that picture. I'll post that picture the next time Suggestion Sunday rolls back around to him - because I know he'll suggest another Disney related book.

Fun facts about Walt Disney and Disneyland:

  • Disneyland opened in 1955 - which is the same year my Dad was born. Coincidence? I think not - and neither did Dad who decided in 2005 that since he and Disneyland were turning 50 that year it was only right that they should celebrate together. Dad wore his Happy Birthday button around all week. For those of you who have never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld on your birthday - the Happy Birthday button entitles you to free dessert at every meal, and you get to ride in the front car of all the rides. Dad had a hard time getting used to the Happy Birthday button though, and spent the whole first day responding to cast members saying, "Happy Birthday John," by saying, "How do they know my name?" My Mother would dryly respond with, "Maybe because you're wearing a giant button on the front of your clothes that says Happy Birthday John on it."
  • Walt Disney's favorite ride at Disneyland was the Peter Pan ride. - If I had to chose my favorites among the rides that were there from the beginning I would have to pick the teacups. But my favorite ride of all time is Soarin' Over California. For those Disney enthusiasts who are reading this: What is your favorite ride? I love asking people that question because every time I do the other gets so animated with their answer, regardless of whether it's a four year old or a 70 year old. - Those rare people who don't get animated about it I find highly suspect. I don't trust a person who doesn't find Disneyland/Disneyworld magical. It's just not right. It's almost as disturbing as hearing someone say they don't like cookies or Christmas or money. It's just plain old-fashioned wrong.
  • One of the original Disneyland workers vividly remembers women's spiked heels sinking into the softened asphalt on Main Street on opening day. - I'm so amused by the thought of someone wearing high heels to Disneyland. I attempted that once at Disneyworld, because there is a section of the MGM park that is set up to look like a city street from the 40's, and I wanted to dress up like I was in an old movie and have someone take a black-and-white picture of me. But, sadly, Disneyworld does not sell black and white film. My sister and I walked out of that giftshop feeling disappointed and we decided that it's not that we are odd, but rather that Disney does not have their hand on the pulse of today's youth. It's probably for the best anyway - I can't even imagine how my feet would have felt after walking around like that for 8 hours.
  • Within seven weeks of opening Disneyland had received 1 million visitors, and those customers had spent 30 percent more than was expected. - As I read that I could hear my parents voices saying, "Well of course they spent 30 percent more, the park had a captive audience." - Even thinking about the expression "captive audience" sends a chill up my spine, and I feel certain that when my sister reads this entry she will feel the same way. For the first 3 years that my brother was in college my parents harped incessently about how colleges are able to charge ridiculous prices on everything from tuition, to books, to rent for apartments near campus because they have a "captive audience." This went on until it reached the point where my sister and I decided we were going to beg/mock/plead/cry and roll around on the floor/yell - anything that we had to in order to get that phrase stricken from their vocabulary for good. They eventually dropped it from their everyday language - but occasionally it makes a hideous return back to our lives, and every single time it's like nails on a chalkboard.
Well I hope that you've enjoyed taking this mental trip to Disneyland/world with me. The next time my Dad requests that I read a Disney related book maybe I'll post some pictures of the rest of the family. My sister and I defy all travel logic and spend way more time on our appearance when we're on vacation than the rest of the time, so we look better than normal in all of the pictures - not that you don't look good every day Alissa. Excuse me, I meant to say that no woman in the history of the world has ever looked better than you look every day. Hows that for sisterly loyalty.

Pride and Prejudice

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day dear readers.

I'm not doing Suggestion Saturday this week because I wanted to read a book that was in keeping with the Valentine's Day theme - but Suggestion Saturday will be making its triumphant return next Saturday, so please keep the suggestions coming.

Today's book; "The romantic clash of two opinionated young people provides the sustaining theme of Jane Austen's 1813 masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. Spirited Elizabeth Bennet is one of a family of five daughters; with no male heir, the Bennet estate must someday pass to their priggish cousin Mr. Collins. Therefore, the girls must marry well - and the arrogant bachelor Mr. Darcy is Elizabeth's elusive match."

Shallow thoughts about this book:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have always reminded me of my parents. I thought that the first time that I read this book, and I couldn't stop laughing in the theater when I saw the movie. Inevitably, every time I go to the movie theater I end up sitting by someone who laughs at everything, even the parts that aren't even remotely funny. When I went to see Pride and Prejudice with my sister, we became those people - everything that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet said amused me. Clearly Jane knew someone like my parents, because in every one of her books there is a couple that bear a striking resemblance to the two of them. This could become a fun game for those of you who know my parents - the next time you watch/read any of the other books/movies try to see if you can figure out which characters are my parents. - This reminds me of game my sister and I sometimes play: pretend family. There are two ways to play - the first way is where you pick the characters from literature (or you can use movies as well) that you would like to be related to if you had the chance, and the second way is where you try to find the characters in literature that are most like your real relatives. It's a fun travel game, and it really passes the time when you're stuck in an airport for several hours or stuck in rush hour traffic.
  • Mrs. Bennet mentions that Mr. Bingley has just moved into the neighborhood, and has an income of 4 or 5 thousand pounds a year. I wanted to know how much that would be, not only today, but also in American dollars. So first I searched for some way of figuring out what four thousand pounds in 1813 would be worth today, and I found this interesting article: Then I converted the pounds to dollars and came up with this amount: $333,890.86. - So, it turns out that Mr. Bingley is not as wealthy as I had imagined him to be - not that he's poor or anything, but I was imagining him as having an income of several million a year.
  • While reading this book I kept thinking about a scene from the movie You've Got Mail where Kathleen tells Joe that she's read Pride and Prejudice over two hundred times, and that every time she's in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are going to get together. I feel the same way when I'm reading a Jane Austen novel, and when I'm watching one of the movies - I already know going into it exactly how it's going to end, and yet I feel like I'm in suspense the whole time, thinking, "I hope they end up together." That's totally insane to feel that way about a book that I've already read about 20 times, and yet I still hold my breath a little every time I read it.
  • Yesterday I mentioned words that I can't stand the sound of - well today I would like to talk about words that I love. I love the word amiable. I'm so sad that people don't use words like that anymore. Whenever I read a Jane Austen novel, just a little bit of the language starts to creep into my speech, and I try to use words like amiable. This always results in me getting very strange looks from whoever I'm talking to. I think we should all use the word amiable at least five times tomorrow, and see if we can do our part to bring that word back. Are you with me dear readers? Or do you not get a kick out of being weird the way that I do?
  • I'm always amused by how dramatic people in Jane Austen novels are about colds. I know it was another time period, and minor illnesses were more dangerous than they are now, but I think some of those characters are being drama queens. The Bingley sisters are described as being "grieved" upon hearing the news of Jane's cold, and go on to discuss how "shocking it was to have a bad cold." In other Jane Austen books, someone having a cold is described as "sad news," and producing effects which are "exceedingly bleak." - Of course my sister is no less dramatic when she has a minor illness. She stands at the top of the stairs, acts like she's about to faint, and says, "Death . . . Is . . . Imminent," her voice getting weaker which each word that passes.

My favorite sentences of the book:

". . . and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity." (I love how in Jane Austen novels, even when an insult is expressed it comes out sounding so wonderful that it would be easy to miss the insult if you weren't reading carefully enough.)

"To Elizabeth it appeared that had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success." (I can't stop laughing about that sentence.)

Join me tomorrow dear readers as I kick of Suggestion Sunday. For those who missed my previous entry where I talked about Suggestion Sunday - I'm setting aside one day a week to read books that have been suggested by family members. I'll leave you in suspense of who is going to be the first family member chosen (except for those of you who don't even know my family, in which case I'm sure you're feeling no suspense at all).

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank

Friday, February 13, 2009

I've heard from a few people who have had trouble with the comments section, so for those of you who are computer challenged the way I am, here's a quick tutorial on the comments section:
Go to the end of each entry and click on the word comments. Scroll down until you see a box that says Post a Comment. Write your comments in the box, and put your name at the end of the comments. Then when it tells you to choose an identity, click on anonymous. Then click on publish comment. If you've done everything correctly it should say that your comment has been saved and is awaiting moderation.

Now for the books to vote on for the 20th:

I haven't read enough biographies yet this year - and after reading about Designing Women finally being released on DVD this year, I was feeling in an 80's sitcom kind of mood. I decided to refresh my memory on 80's sitcoms because I didn't want to give you only options from my favorite shows, so I googled it and found this site which lists TV shows by decade:

Here are the options for February 20th -

Delta Style: Eve Wasn't a Size 6 and Neither Am I by Delta Burke

Here We Go Again: My Life in Television by Betty White

Fatherhood by Bill Cosby

Couplehood by Paul Reiser

You can vote on this book until the 19th - and you can still vote on the book for the 18th (up until the 17th) and the book for the 19th (up until the 18th). Don't forget to put your vote in a separate comment from your regular comments because I won't be publishing your vote until after the winning books are revealed.

Today's book: "Peter Van Pels hid in the attic with Anne Frank and died in the camps just before liberation. But what if he survived, forged a new identity, and came to the U.S. after the war? Feldman imagines the young immigrant, who denies his Jewishness and his horrific past, marries, raises a happy family, and succeeds in business. He reveals his identity to no one, including his Jewish wife, and he never speaks of the Holocaust cruelty he witnessed. But when the Diary, edited by Otto Frank, is an international bestseller, followed by the play and the movie, Peter can no longer suppress his survivor guilt, his fury at the exploitation and cover-ups, and his traumatic breakdown."

I bought this book because I enjoy Ann Rinaldi books (historical fiction), and I thought it would be similar. I think I enjoy Rinaldi's writing style better than Feldman's - but this book wasn't bad. It was worth reading once, but not something that is bookshelf worthy.

Another reason why I bought this book was because of the title, which was also the reason why Kara picked it for today. An interesting title gets me every time. I also have in my to-read, books with titles like: I Love You Like a Tomato, The $64 Tomato, Fat Girls in Lawn Chairs, My First Five Husbands - how could I not buy books with titles like that. I'm not sure why I keep buying books with the word tomato in the title - in fact, I'm kind of shocked there are even two books in the world that have the word tomato in the title. Maybe my subconcious has decided that if I can't eat tomatoes (I'm allergic) them I'm going to read about them. So tell me dear readers, have you ever read any books that have the name of a vegetable in the title? I sense a crazy book quest in my future - to find a book that has the word cucumber in the title.

I really have nothing fun and light hearted to say about this book. I've been known to make a ton of inappropriate jokes in my life, but even I have my limits. I do have some random, pointless observations though:

The main character, Peter, mentions some physical symptoms he has been having - and I instantly start play literary doctor. Thanks to years of reading books about illness (thank you chronic illness for that one - as if I really needed one more weird quirk), I've now deluded myself into thinking that reading about illnesses is just as good as going to medical school. So now, whenever I read a book with characters who have health problems, I always try to diagnose them. In Little Town on the Prairie, Carrie kept experiencing symptoms of weakness, heart palpitations, exhaustion, paleness - and I instantly had two thoughts: 1. I'm so glad I wasn't born 100 years ago, before many of today's chronic illnesses were recognized and treated, because I would have been the person that others talked about in whispered tones as having a "delicate constitution" - either that or they would have said I was "crazy in the head." 2. Carrie clearly had a thyroid problem. - I read books that were written a hundred years ago and think to myself, "Allergies. It was clearly an allergy - she should have never eaten that cake." or "Don't send her to the attic, she'll never recover from her Vitamin D deficiency that way." - I feel vindicated when I come to page 21 and realize that Peter's symptoms were from a thyroid problem. What a sad little life that I lead, that correctly guessing the illnesses of characters in books makes me this happy. I'm simple that way.

Later in the book, Peter talks about how some words are round and full - like the word home - and some are more slippery - like the word house. I've never thought of words in this way - not the slippery part anyway - I think of it more in terms of harsh words and gentle words. I can't stand harsh words like purse, lady, and moist. I think the word moist is the worst one of all - I have yet to hear anyone say that word without it sounding disgusting and conjuring up images of mildew on a dirty, public bathroom floor. Just so I won't feel like a total freak, tell me what your least favorites words are dear readers - or am I the only one who thinks the sound of certain words is like nails on a chalkboard?