Friday, October 31, 2008



You know my favorite part of Halloween? All the good TV. I'm not usually a TV junkie, but during October, I scour the tube for scary movies, great documentaries, and specials.

I spent most of last night watching Biography Channel and the History Channel. There were biographies of Bram Stoker, a look back at the Salem Witch Trials, and other good spooky stuff.

Today I woke up to an all-day marathon of one of my favorite horrible shows, Ghost Hunters!!!! And tonight there's a 7-hour live investigation airing on the Sci-Fi channel. I'll watch whatever's leftover after our trick-or-treaters make the rounds.

Yesterday Netflix sent me a bit of good Halloween programming: Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This is the first I've seen of Sweeney Todd (I know I'm way behind the curve), and I looooove it so far. LOVE. I got sleepy and didn't get to finish, but I'm sure I'll finish it off here in a little while.

I'm costumeless this year, unless I pose as a "nutty professor," but that's everyday really. My mom, the city secretary here in our hometown, is dressed as a "Cereal Killer" today. She left the house adorned with ripped and stabbed miniature cereal boxes (blood drawn on), she dotted her face and mouth with fake blood, and she's got a costume bloody knife in her pocket to wield all day. The court clerk in the office dressed as a dead runaway bride: wedding garb complete with veil, tennis shoes, and a painted dead face. They're having a big time while I'm still in my pjs lazing around with Daisy.

I think I'll go prep the candy bowl soon so I can dip into it on and off all day.

I hope you all have a great day and night! I'll try to gather some pics of the Halloweeny goings-on here tonight.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm One of Those People

Since I was gone to class last night I missed the Barack Obama TV spot. I recorded it, though, and when I came back from my bike ride earlier I sat down to check it out. I guess the pure and simple reason I voted for Barack Obama is that I think he can help people; he can help this country and we'll be better for having him in the White House.
As I was watching the stories of middle class Americans having a hard time it actually brought me to tears because I am one of those middle class Americans that needs some help. And I hate that! My family are those middle class Americans that need some help.
You all know I work my ass off, and I do it for two reasons:
1. I feel a moral obligation to teach. There is a near-religious burden on my heart to pass along what I know to students in an effort to help them be more successful and to become more knowledeable about the world.
2. I have to.
I work for three colleges this semester, and I'll work for a total of four in the spring semester. I teach more than twice what usually a normal full-time teaching load. I don't make enough money to afford an apartment and the utilities. I'm going to school not only because I have an interest in library science, but it's a good way to keep the college loan payments at bay until I can nail down a full-time job. I'm going on my second year without health insurance.
When I was a kid I imagined that when I grew up I'd go to college, get a good education, and have a job and have a life I could afford. The reality is that I have a great education that I had to use loans to pay for and that'll I'll be paying back for at least another 10 years. Now I'm paying for more school out of pocket because it's cheaper than paying back my loans.
I know that I am not special in my predicament. I'm just one of millions.
My mom has been a single parent since I was a year old. She worked for 24 years at a Fortune 500 utility company in Dallas. She and my grandparents shared the responsibility of bringing me up an educated, moral individual because she was gone from our home for 12 hours a day. Her employers laid her off after 24 years because they outsourced most of their jobs to Poland.
She is not special. She's one of millions.
I voted for Barack Obama because I need some help as do millions of people out there. I'm tired of working three and four jobs. Even when I was employed full-time, I had to moonlight at another institution to make ends meet. Six of my eight colleagues in the department did the same. The more prosperous this country is, the more students can afford to attend college, and the more likely it is that I can find full time work again with benefits and put my degrees to good use; the more likely it is that I could afford to be sick. Thus far I've made a choice to teach college, but I don't know if I'll be able to sustain that dream much longer. It may be back to public schools and broken programs like No Child Left Behind very soon. Although, in truth, I couldn't make ends meet when I taught high school full-time either. I'm at a point now where I don't necessarily know what any of the answers are.
But I do know...
It's not shameful to dream big or challenge the status quo. It's not naive to hope for a better life, a more prosperous country, and a cleaner earth. It's not impossible to change the world. That's why I voted for Barack Obama. This is the most important election of my lifetime, and I think he's the only way we're going to make positive changes that will help me and my mom and those like us get by and prosper.
I don't like to talk about my problems in terms this depressing and this raw because I am blessed in countless ways. Even though I'm struggling, I see the glass as half full almost every day. But it's time to take our empathy to the voting booth and help each other out with policies that will build green industry and create jobs, cut taxes for the working class, and help students go to college and not have to live the way I've lived as a result of choosing higher education as a personal priority and a career.
It's time for a change.

Prop My Eyes Open with Toothpicks

glkjer mlkaeroow grumble grumble...Is it today or still last night?...grumble grumble zzZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Pardon me. I must've passed out. Was I mumbling? Talking in my sleep? I've mentioned it here before, but I'm lucky in that my Access and Retrieval class doesn't meet in person every week. We met the first four weeks or so, had another three or four work sessions from home on Wednesday evenings, and last night was my first night back after that longgggg, luxurious break. I left earlier than usual, 3:30, with every intention of being inside the classroom to meet with my final project group at 5:00 and sit down to class at 6:00. Alas, I'm glad I left early because if I'd left at normal time I would've been late. Traffic set me back, and it took just over two hours to get to the university. I had just enough time to talk to my group and get a seat for class.

It was a long night listening to lectures and working in the lab. We got out at 10:00, I drove the hour and a half home, talked to Elise on Pearl the BlackBerry most of the way, and oddly enough, I wasn't sleepy when I got home. I ended up grading papers until 2am, slept for a bit, and Daisy woke me up at 6:30 this morning. I couldn't go back to sleep so I'm more than ready for a nap right now. The good news is, I got a couple of classes worth of papers done this morning, I got the bulk of my spring Children's Lit course syllabus done, and now I'm finishing up the fourth hour of my virtual reference internship for the day (I'm available on Meebo for chatters to ask reference questions).

Did I ever mention the finalized reading list for the Children's Lit class I'm teaching at the univesity in the spring? I'm too lazy to look back in the blog to check, so even if it's a repeat here's the plan:

Assorted picture books: The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, Rose Blanche, Dear Milli, etc.

Folk and Fairy Tales: the Grimms, Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy, Andersen, etc.

Novels and Graphic Novels:
  • The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Skellig, by David Almond
  • Parvana's Journey, by Deborah Ellis
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  • American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang

Oh, and I decided to teach M.T. Anderson's Feed in my introductory writing class. I've never taught it, but I'm looking sooo forward to it.

Daisy keeps wandering from room to room...from my bed, to the recliner, to the loveseat in the nap. It's all I can do not to follow her, snuggle up, and catch some zzz's.

Caffeine, anyone?

Aside from being sleepy, it's been a good couple of days. No complaints. I have every intention of taking a bike ride this afternoon once I get some sleep. Then I think I'll finish up Silent Girl.

What have you been doing today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Out of My Comfort Zone

Happy Tuesday, peoples. I've been a complete waste of space today. I keep sitting at the computer, getting up, wandering around, staring at the bookshelves, sitting back down at the computer. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Gargoyle is one of those books that could easily throw me into a massive slump because there's almost no way that the very next book--if it's even remotely within the same genre--can measure up. Therefore, I'm taking a few flying leaps outside my comfort zone.

Yesterday I got a UPS package from HarperTeen, a copy of Tell the World: Teen Poems from Writerscorps. This is a book of poetry put together from the participation of teens in the Writerscorps programs in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and the Bronx. The poems cover several different topics and the participants range from 12 to 19. I whipped through it in about an hour and dog-eared a bunch of pages to come back and re-read. You'll see a full review of this one in the November issue of Estella's Revenge.

This morning the FedEx truck pulled up, and I dashed out to see what tidbit of goodness it might be. As it turns out, it's a copy of You Lost Him at Hello: A Saleswoman's Secrets to Closing the Deal with Any Guy You Want, by Jess McCann. I'm not usually into the self-help/relationshippy books, but when TLC Book Tours offered me a stop on McCann's blog tour, I decided to give it a go. Heaven knows, I could use some advice, and since I don't have any particular business sense (well, maybe a little), I might even learn something! Publisher, Health Communications, Inc., also put out Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair, and I loved that book. I have high hopes!

Now, what to read next? It's a while yet until the Jess McCann tour stop, so I might as well read something else in the meantime. I keep staring longingly at my shelves with NO CLUE what to pick up.

If you're interested in hearing more about the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, you can read my latest installment of The Finicky Reader entitled, "Extreme Reading." Maybe I'll look back over it for some inspiration. Thanks to the Read-a-Thon, Carl's RIP III Challenge, the Graphic Novels Challenge, and a few picture book reviews, my book total for the month of October so far is something like 19 books. Let's see how many I can cram in before Saturday, shall we?
Edit: OK, I found the great book that's going to keep this reading high going! I'm reading a book of short stories by Tricia Dower called Silent Girl. Each story is inspired by one of Shakespeare's female characters. I'm about 60 pages in, and it's totally got me in its thrall. One doesn't necessarily have to know the Shakespeare characters to "get" the stories--they're set all over the world and are truly heartbreaking and inspiring in some cases, troubling in others (think sex trade). Watch for more on this one!
Oh, and I did read 20 or so pages of You Lost Him At Hello. I think I'll be OK with the advice and "sales strategy" applied to dating, but like Joanne said in the comments, what to do once you catch one and he drives you nuts? Been there! I think I'm happily single at the moment, but it might come in handy when I'm ready to dive back into the dating fray. I'll keep you all posted.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Gargoyle: A Proper Review

Yesterday didn't work out nearly the way I'd planned. While I was hopped up on Mucinex and Alka Seltzer Cold, I also had obligations. My mother purchased a leather couch and loveseat at a moving sale down the street, so we had to move out the old furniture and welcome the new with help from my cousin, his wife, and two of their three kiddos. It was great to spend some time knocking a volleyball around out in the yard with the girls when the moving was done, and Daisy got to make some new friends. I also picked up a $10 mountain bike at the sale, so I have something to ride in the mornings when I don't feel like walking.
Once everything was squared away, I finally got to start my Gargoyle reading around 4:00 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, because it's such a quick read, I still managed to polish off over 200 pages. I woke up early this morning just to get a few hours of reading in while Daisy was sleepy and before I had to go teach. I finally polished off the last page just a few minutes ago after lots of work stuff and general distractions. While it's probably a horrible idea to write a review so soon after finishing a book, I CAN'T STOP MYSELF! I'm going to gush, so just sit back and be ready.
This book is simply overwhelming. I mentioned in my previous post the few quibbles I had with the writing, and if I'm being analytical, those same things still bother me. As I moved through the book, however, those quibbles became far less important and I was just carried completely away by the story, the characters, the historical bits, the adventure, and the heartbreak of it. When I compare this book to The Time Traveler's Wife, it's not anything overt I can use in the comparison. It's the feeling of the book. The characters' love story grabbed me by the hair, the heart, took hold of my chin like a stern granny and looked me straight in the eyes, stopped me dead in my tracks, and AFFECTED me.
I was particularly overwhelmed by all the research that must've gone into this novel. Historical bits pertaining to Vikings and the Engelthal Monastery and medieval Italy made the story come to life in a way that I haven't experienced in a very long time. I was also overwhelmed and delighted when I discovered that a great deal of this book parallels, makes allusions to, and overtly integrates the plot of Dante's Inferno. I first read Dante's masterpiece as a young teacher. I was 22, I was fresh out of college, and I stepped into a 10th grade classroom in North Carolina almost completely unprepared. As we worked our way through the semester, I had the bright idea to tackle Inferno. Most of the other teachers thought I was completely nuts to bring in something so complicated, but we dove in and the students loved it. We spent a week or two reading it aloud and talking about it, and I think they were better behaved in those two weeks than ever before or after. Not only was it gross--which automatically translates to "interesting" for high school students--but it also appealed to the majority of my Christian students as a way to talk about their beliefs through the lens of literature. My non-Christians loved it, too, and it opened up great conversations both philosophical and historical. Despite my precarious relationship and ongoing struggles with religion, Inferno touched me with its vivid descriptions and Dante's deft writing. Likewise, The Gargoyle is very spiritual, and I found that it made me think deeply and often.
I won't recount the plot of The Gargoyle or Inferno because you can go to any website for that, but I will tell you that I'm impressed that Davidson tackled such a sprawling story with vigor and devotion. It took him seven years to research and write the novel, and I'm just downright impressed in every conceivable way.
I have no doubt this book will hover near the top of my favorites list this year, and I venture to say it might even be a new addition to my all-time favorites list. This is a rich, involving story that I plan to return to in coming years, and only the best, most inspiring books can claim that place on my shelves and in my heart.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Sunday Salon - Must. Finish. Quickly!

I'm smack dab in the middle of Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, and it's due back to the library tomorrow. One of two things will happen.
1. I will spend the rest of today gulping it down and avoiding all responsibility.
2. I'll keep it an extra day or two, library late fee be damned.
The way it's going so far, I feel sure I'll go with the first option. Actually, I'm looking at the book now, and I'm 170 pages into the 460'ish pages of the book, so no matter how devoted I am, I may not make it. The cold meds throw me into spontaneous naps, so I don't know if I can realistically stay awake long enough to finish. Cross your fingers.
The very good news is that I'm completely involved in this book. The unnamed narrator was a complete degenerate at the beginning of the novel, but through the lurv of a good woman (a possible schizophrenic/manic depressive nut that says she was born in the 13th century) he's beginning to see the light at the end of a very painful tunnel. Right now he's finishing up treatment for devastating burns from a car accident and there's a big decision to be made. I won't tell you what it is because I'm a tease that way, but it promises to be a good plot pusher.
In the early pages of The Gargoyle there was actually a moment or five when I questioned whether or not I would continue reading. The tone of the book is sardonic and, let's just say it, smartassy. The protagonist is a cynical guy, and while his love, Marianne Engel, is absolutely not, there's not much variation in the tone because he's telling the story from a first-person perspective. The writing is very smart, and it's very funny, but it's also very self-aware. Davidson puts on some writerly flash for his reader that gets a little bit wearing at times.
Nonetheless, the story is so compelling I can't quit. It's odd...sort of like The Time Traveler's Wife was odd. The situation is impossible (if Engel is telling the truth about her 13th century roots), or maybe she's just a nut. Following the protagonist's line of self-questioning and doubt is one of my favorite parts of the book.
There are also stunning flashes of history. Supposedly Engel began her life in a monastery, with a terrific--possibly Divine--gift for languages. She works as a scribe, and the descriptions of monastic life and her work in the scriptorium are excellent. Engel also tells the protagonist exotic tales about heartbreak and loss from plague-ridden Italy, to the orient, to the rocky coasts of England.
In short, this book is never boring, although I would like to slap Mr. Nameless (my name for the burned guy telling the story) sometimes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wrapping Some Challenges...

The Read-a-Thon wasn't just fun, it allowed me to wrap up some challenges. In the case of the Graphic Novel Challenge and the RIP III Challenge, I actually went over my goals.

The Graphic Novels Challenge was to read six graphic novels this year. Because I love them so much, I've gone way over the six, but I haven't actually counted them all. SO, these are the ones I'm counting toward the challenge:

  • Mail Order Bride, by Mark Kalesniko
  • The Jew of New York, by Ben Katchor
  • Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days), vol. 7, by Bill Willingham
  • Fables: Wolves, vol. 8, by Bill Willingham
  • In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman
  • Magic Trixie, by Jill Thompson

Of these books, Mail Order Bride was probably my favorite. It was a great combination of dynamic illustrations and unique characters.

For Carl's third Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge, I chose to read four books, but so far I've finished six that would fit. We'll see how many more (if any) I can knock out by the end of the month.

  • I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  • Ghost Files: The Haunting Truth, by the Ghost Society
  • Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story, by Kim Powers
  • Evernight, by Claudia Gray
  • Magic Trixie, by Jill Thompson
  • Ghostsitters, by Angie Sage

Of this year's RIP books, my hands-down favorite is Kim Powers' Capote in Kansas. It wasn't a traditional ghost story, although ghosts did make cameos, but it was haunting nonetheless.

Both of these challenges have given me extra incentive to bump up my reading, and Ill definitely be in for the next round!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Was Told There'd Be Cake AND Incantation...

I intended to write some snappy, original reviews for you all today, but I feel craptaculous at best. This stuffy head/cold/sinus thing is kicking my butt, so the question and answer format is more up my alley today. I don't feel much like writing, so I'm going to choke down some more Alka Seltzer Plus Cold (orange zest flavor...ugg), and go back to bed with a book. Or maybe I'll watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Either option sounds good and may lead to watching the backs of my eyelids. Enjoy!

Note: I did not proofread. Carry on at your own risk.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake: Essays, by Sloane Crosley
Copyright 2008
Riverhead Books
Personal Essays
230 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book? I first heard this interview with Crosley on The Bat Segundo Show and knew I had to snatch this collection up immediately. There seems to have been some controversy about whether or not Crosley is a nice person and whether or not she's fronting in some of the essays, and I didn't get that from the collection at all. Crosley strikes me as a witty, snarky, intelligent, and pretty honest writer. I can't think of too many people who haven't thought many of the same thoughts she has in the book. Or I have at least. Maybe I'm not terribly likable either. *sticks out tongue* ;)

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Essays about coming of age, entering the world of careers and responsibility and places to live with a sense of humor.

What did you like most about the book? Crosley herself has a great writing "voice" and the situations she describes had me laughing out loud. There's one essay in particular, about her time (grudgingly) volunteering at the New York City Museum of Natural History's butterfly exhibit. In this essay, titled "Sign Language for Infidels," she writes:

People are shockingly uncreative. A whole animal and everyone wanted to know the same things. Even the wisecracking dads all cracked wise in the same way (see: "How much butter do the flies have to eat?"). More mainstream questions that were impossible to answer honestly: how long do butterflies live? (one week, maybe two), how do they mate? (sitting, but they'll fuck 'n' fly if they have to), how many kinds are in the exhibit? (um, a bunch), how do they eat? (through a straw attached to their face).

What did you think of the characters? Well, in this case, seeing as there's only really one that matters, Crosley seems willing to divulge the best and worst of her character, make fun of herself, and generally admit to thoughts and actions that many of us might try to hide. That makes her a winner in my book!

Share a favorite scene from the book: In "Christmas in July," Crosley describes her summers at a Christian camp (even though she was Jewish...a "lax Jew" in her words) this way:

Every Saturday night the entire camp marched into a clearing in the woods, where we lit a gigantic bonfire. Four girls were selected each week to dip torches into the crackling fireball. Each torch represented a moral category at which we aimed to excel: Friendship, Cleanliness, Sportsmanship, and Love. What they really were were long sticks we'd find in the woods the evening before. We'd wrap the ends in extra-large overnight maxi pads and roast them in the flames as we said our prayers. The we'd hold them above our heads, imagining how embarrassing it would be to explain that one's death--or worse, one's disfigurement--came from a flaming maxi pad to the face.

Recommended for those who like David Sedaris, Haven Kimmel, and Sarah Vowell.

Incantation, by Alice Hoffman
Copyright 2006
Little Brown and Company
Young Adult Novel - Historical
166 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book? Heather F. read it a while back and was kind enough to send it to me! She knows what I like.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. From Alice Hoffman's website: Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. She is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as Kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family’s true identity — and her family’s secrets are made public — she confronts a world she’s never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all by vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.

What did you like most about the book? Hoffman's writing always has a lightness--or maybe an airiness is a better way to put it--no matter the subject. In this case, it was far less magical realism than you might find in Practical Magic, Blackbird House, or The Ice Queen. However, Estrella's discovery of her family's involvement with Kabbalah is quite mystical in its own way.

What did you think of the characters? Loved 'em! I fell thoroughly in love with Estrella and her family. Her aloof but wicked smart grandfather, her quirky grandmother, and her sweet neighbor, Andres. On the flip side, I loathed and wanted to choke her enemies!

Share a favorite scene from the book: I'm recycling this one. I quoted this earlier, but it's a great example of the tangible details in Hoffman's writing that really brings it to life for me:

She was kneading dough at the big table. Our table was so old you could see the dents in the wood where my great-great-grandmother had chopped vegetables. My great-great-grandmother had kneaded bread here so often, the table curved down in the center, and now my grandmother was kneading bread in the very same place. She added olives and garlic to the mix, then braided the dough in three parts so that it rose prettily.

Recommended for anyone who likes Alice Hoffman's other word, fans of historical fiction, and anyone else who might have an inkling. This is a highly likable book.

Note: It's the day after I posted this post, and I couldn't ignore the typos any longer. I proofread (ack!), and I apologize if it's showing up twice in your feed readers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

I'm finally taking a moment to begin catching up on my reviews from the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon. I was already halfway through it when I started reading on Saturday, but I couldn't keep away from The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. Salon sums the book up this way, and I wish I'd thought of it:
A "This American Life" commentator celebrates nerds and explains how to love your country without turning into a boorish, jingoistic, kitsch-crazed lout.

This wee tiny blurb and the book as a whole make me want to be Sarah Vowell. She's brilliant, funny, fantastic, and this first foray into her world earns her a place on my favorite commentator/memoirist list! It's ridiculously difficult to explain why this book is SO GREAT. Great with a capital "G." The greatest of greatness. So I'll try to show you instead.

The first essay in the book, and one of my favorites is "What He Said There," a chronicle of one of Vowell's many vacations to historical sites, in this case, to Gettysburg. She spends time ruminating on the Gettysburg Address, something most of us do not do, but Vowell does it in such a charming, poignant, and clever way that I just can't help but love it and be touched by it. There are pages dogeared left and right throughout this particular essay that indicate my favorite passages. It's brilliant for its nuanced observations, its hilarity, and it's honesty. It's a great example to illustrate the tone of the collection. Here's one small part I dogeared:

The Gettysburg Address is more than a eulogy. It's a soybean, a versatile little problem solver that can be processed into seemingly infinite, ingenious products. In his speech, besides cleaning up the founding fathers' slavery mess by calling for a 'new birth of freedom,' Lincoln comforted grieving mothers who would never bounce grandchildren on their knees and ran for reelection at the same time. Lest we forget, he came to Washington from Illinois. Even though we think of him as the American Jesus, he had a little Mayor Daley in him too. Lincoln the politician needed the win at Gettysburg and, on the cusp of an election year, he wanted to remind the people explicitly that they could win the war if they just held on, while implicitly reminding them to use their next presidential ballot to write their commander in chief a thank-you note.

I guess what makes me feel so at home with Vowell's essays, despite our common political leanings, is a tendency to question. Question authority, question leaders, question the morality of political and social choices, even when our respective ideologies may fall out of line with the majority. In the book's title essay, "The Partly Cloudy Patriot," she writes in part about her emotions as a New Yorker following September 11th.

Immediately after the attack, seeing the flag all over the place was moving, endearing. So when the newspaper I subscribe to published a full-page, full-color flag to clip out and hang in the window, how come I couldn't? It took me a while to figure out why I guiltily slid the flag into the recycling bin instead of taping it up. The meaning had changed; or let's say it changed back. In the first day or two the flags were plastered everywhere, seeing them was heartening because they indicated that we're all in this sorrow together. The flags were purely emotional. Once we went to war, once the president announced that we were going to retaliate against the "evildoers," then the flag again represented what it usually represents, the government. I think that's when the flags started making me nervous. The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government. Skepticism of the government was actually one of the platforms the current figurehead of the government ran on. How many times in the campaign did President Bush proclaim of his opponent, the then vice president, "He trusts the federal government and I trust the people"? This deep suspicion of Washington is one of the most American emotions an American can have. So by the beginning of October, the ubiquity of the flag came to feel like peer pressure to always stand behind policies one might not necessarily agree with. And, like any normal citizen, I prefer to make up my mind about the issues of the day on a case by case basis at 3:00 A.M. when I wake up from my Nightline-inspired nightmares.

This is a political book, a historical book, and a Sedaris-quality book of personal anecdotes. You should hear her extol the virtues of being a nerd. Pure brilliance. Ultimately, Vowell's politicism is tempered by humor, and I think almost anyone would love her for her thoughtfulness and her rationale even if they don't side with her on politics. For me, it's almost like having a well-spoken sister to explain my feelings when I would only screw it up if I tried to do it myself.

Note: Sorry for any spatial weirdness in this post. Just more of Blogger's format screwuppery.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just in Case You Were Wondering...

I could survive for 44 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds Pedia

It's Happening...

The snot monster is here.

It's less than a month until my 28th birthday, and as is usually the case, I'm in the process of getting sick. It's probably a combination of allergens in the air and weather changes in Texas, but I am sick on or around my birthday every single year, and if things keep going the way they are now, this will be no exception.

I have a medium pile of stuff to do:

  • Print off lecture notes for tomorrow night's online midterm.
  • Finish up my next Bibliobuffet column.
  • Grade the second writing assignment for one class before 3 other classes come sliding in.
  • Read for my other graduate class and post some discussion before the module is due on Sunday.

Things I would rather do:

  • Read The Year of Living Biblically.
  • Watch Big Bang Theory that I DVRed last night.
  • Sleep.

In other news, Daisy has officially become a teenager. I know this because she's been digging an intricate system of tunnels and ditches in the back yard just in case McCain-Palin manage to pull off a victory. She's an Obama supporter, too, ya know. Or she might just be bored. I walked out in the back yard a few minutes ago in an attempt to rescue a potholder she got hold of, and then I noticed that she'd hidden pillow fuzz and potholder stuffing, fake flowers, and an empty Pepsi bottle in several of the holes. Stockpiling.

Never a dull moment around here.

For now, I'm off to shower in hopes of unclogging my head.

P.S. The owl necklace at left arrived in the mail yesterday. I love pretty baubles. They make me not care that I sound like a drunk munchkin when I talk with a stopped up head.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Sunday Salon - The Morning After

What a whirlwind the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon was! I'll be the first to say, I never thought I'd reach 1,200 pages. That never entered my mind. I lucked out by having a stellar stack of books that kept me interested (and awake). Ha!

I got up around 10:00 this morning after three hours of sleep. I can't say that I'm 100%, but good enough to get through the day but with an afternoon nap, I'm sure. I've showered, I've had a quick bite to keep my stomach from growling, and I'm looking over what needs to get done today:

I need to grade one class worth of papers (we'll see), and I still have a big stack of books sitting here, so we'll see if I'm motivated to pick anything up. Right now my library pile looks the tastiest, American Wife (Curtis Sittenfeld) in particular.

You can expect full-blown reviews of the following books sometime this week:

Incantation, by Alice Hoffman
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley

I may leave the other books with just captions in the Read-a-Thon posts. They were shorter, less to say. We'll see.

I'll update this post later in the day if I actually do take the plunge into another book. In the meantime, a very swingin' Sunday to all of you!


Welp, I haven't gotten much read on this last stretch because I haven't been feeling too well, but the grand total is 8 books, 2 short stories, and an unfinished novel and graphic novel for 1,269 pages. I'm pretty proud of myself, and now I'm going to bed. lol

I'll have a full wrap up in a few hours along with some proper reviews.

Thanks to Dewey and all her helpers, all the readers, and all the cheerleaders for making this a great time!

The final challenge: The Wrap Up!

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Incantation, by Alice Hoffmany
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The organization was flawless!

5. How many books did you read?
8 and some bits

6. What were the names of the books you read?
See the sidebar.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Probably Incantation.

8. Which did you enjoy least?
They were all good, so there wasn't really a loser.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
100% I love it!

Hour 23 and 24!

In the home stretch now! I probably won't update until my final post, but I'm working on the graphic novel It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken. Wish me luck!

Hour 21 Wrap!

No, really, I'm still awake. Fading, but I'm determined to make it the WHOLE WAY THROUGH. Determined I tell you. If I have to hop around and dance to cheesy 80s songs before it's over I will MAKE THE SACRIFICE! And scare the neighbors.

Ghostsitters, by Angie Sage was really cute. It sort of reminds me of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but far more upbeat. A blurb...

When Aunt Tabby and Uncle Drac head off to Transylvania, Araminta is upset—they're going to be away on her birthday. However, when it turns out that her almost-grown-up cousin, Mathilda, will be babysitting, it seems things couldn't get any better. But Mathilda's brought along trouble: two rowdy teenage ghosts, Ned and Jed, who listen to no one. It's a disaster! Can the girls figure out a way to get Ned and Jed out of the house for good?

Good times. I didn't realize it at first, but Sage is also the author of the Septimus Heap books. I haven't read them yet, but they're waiting patiently on my stacks. To learn more and see some fantastic illustrations, head on over to the Araminta Spookie website!

What the HECK am I going to read now?! Definitely needs to be something else mindless, or if not mindless at least very visual. Will have to paw through my graphic novels. See y'all in a bit!

Total pages so far: 1237!

Hour 20 Wrap, Begin Hour 21!

Thanks to all the cheerleader comments I think I have my 2nd wind! Hour 20 was my BEST HOUR with 106 pages read! Wheeee!!

Total Books: 7 and a half, 2 short stories, 1/3 of a will-remain-unfinished novel
Total Pages: 1, 130!!!!

Off to finish up Ghostsitters! Thanks to all of you who have been stopping by with cheers and encouragement! I need CAFFEINE!

Hour 20, Beginning to Feel It!

So that Neil Gaiman thing I was so excited about didn't work out. It's 2:05am here in the Central time zone, and my copy of Smoke and Mirrors is a mass market paperback. Not so much! Not really working out for me. SO, I've switched over to a children's book that appears to involve no thought whatsoever.
Perfect! I shall endure!

It seems I'm the reader of the hour in not my finest hour! ;)

Hour 19 Mini Challenge!

Hour 19 marks the beginning of Carl's RIP mini-challenge. I'll be curled up with Neil Gaiman's short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors for the next few hours! Good times! Head on over and get the scoop.

Midway Through Hour 18

From Amazon (no spoilers)...

The opposing forces of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal underscore this brief but rich tale set during the Spanish Inquisition. Told by 16-year-old Estrella deMadrigal, the novel shows how gruesome beliefs nourished by ignorance and prejudice destroyed the lives of countless people. Hoffman weaves a tale of a close friendship between two teens, Estrella and Catalina. Both envision that their lives will be intertwined forever. However, there is a secret about Estrella and her family that unfolds in spurts.

This is the latest book I've finished for the Read-a-Thon, and it could very well be my favorite! It's a quick read, but like most of Hoffman's work it's rich in imagery and it's just a lush reading experience all around. I'm always fond of Hoffman's use of symbolism and color, and I always feel like I step into the world she creates every time I read one of her novels.

Here's a favorite passage that made me hungry at this late hour. Estrella approaches her grandmother to ask her some questions...

She was kneading a dough at the big table. Our table was so old you could see the dents in the wood where my great-great-grandmother had chopped vegetables. My great-great-grandmother had kneaded bread here so often, the table curved down in the center, and now my grandmother was kneading bread in the very same place. She added olives and garlic to the mix, then braided the dough in three parts so that it rose prettily.

Yeah, I want that bread now!

I'm off to choose my next book and maybe whip up a big bowl of popcorn. Or maybe just coffee. Ha!


Books read: 7 and a piece
Pages total: 1,004 <--holy crap!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hour 16 Begins!

Just finished book six, a shorty--In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman. I needed something that would allow my eyes to rest a bit, and this book has been on my stacks for a ridiculously long time, so what better time than the present!

It deals with Spiegelman's anger and confusion that came with 9/11 as well as the days and years after. The book itself is stunning. Constructed out of board, like a child's board book, each layout is two full pages; a huge expanse of space for Spiegelman to weave his most famous characters--himself as drawn in Maus as well as more realistic interpretations interspersed with classic comic strip characters. It's really a raw chronicle of his feelings about the incident itself and a searing indictment of the government in the years after 9/11. Spiegelman really is the father of contemporary comics. Excellent, as always.


Books read: 6 and a piece
Total pages: 838

Note: I tried to upload a gorgeous spread from In the Shadow of No Towers, but Blogger put its foot down. *sticking out my tongue at Blogger*

Beginning of Hour 15: Another One Bites the Dust-ah!

5 Books - check!

I Was Told There'd Be Cake was excellent. Very funny, self-deprecating, snarky, wonderful. I will definitely consume whatever Sloane Crosley puts out into the book world from this point forward. In the next few days I'll properly review the books I've read for the RAT. At that unnamed point I'll dole out snicker-worthy quotes. Until then, I have more books to rape and pillage.

What will my next book be? Heck if I know. I have Incantation which looks yummy, I have the very short The Book Shop, by Penelope Fitzgerald. I also have a pile of other books sitting here. Let's see what sticks!


Books: 5 and a piece
Pages since last update: a bunch
Pages total: 790

P.S. My eyes are feeling a bit like a dump truck had its way with them!

Hour 12: Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley

2. How many books have you read so far?
4 and 3/4s

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I just pulled Alice Hoffman's Incantation from the shelves. I'm thinking that one will definitely be a winner.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not really. I alerted my mom and she agreed to provide meals and distract the dog.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not too many. Daisy craziness here and there, restlessness.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How quickly it passes! It's sad to be half done. :(

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope! Perfect as always.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
More snacks, definitely.

9. Are you getting tired yet?
Not really tired in body, but my eyes are a wee bit tired. After this book I'll probably switch to something with bigger print or a graphic novel.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?

Hour 11: Walkin' and Snappin' Challenge

Kim at Page After Page had the right idea with the Walkin' and Snappin' mini-challenge this hour. She asked participants to get out and take some pics of what they saw. I sat in my sunroom for a while and milled around the front porch and thought I'd share the view of our Halloween/fall decorations with y'all. My mother is slightly addicted to "yard art," but it's pretty darn cute. It's feeling very fall'ish here in the Lone Star State!
In reading news, I'm almost halfway through I Was Told There'd Be Cake. It's still a winner!

Hour 10 Deserves Brownies

Since I'm now reading Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake, I thought it appropriate to make brownies. Fudgy, with a bunch of white chocolate chips thrown in. MMMM! Can't dive in yet, they're not cool, but I'll be pairing those with a cool class of milk.

Last hour (9) was worthless. I spent some time mixing brownies, playing with the pup, talking to my mom, and petting my books in an attempt to settle on the next victim. All-in-all, not really a worthless hour at all (saving my eyes here), but I only got 15 pages read.

I am happy to report that Crosley's book made me laugh out loud multiple times in those 15 minutes! A very good sign.

I'll report in when I make some more headway. Keep on keeping' on, Readers and Cheerleaders and Mini-Challenge leaders and Co-Hosts...

You get the picture. It takes a village!

Hour 8 Wrap Up, Bring on Hour 9!

Still going strong! Feeling a wee tad sleepy here in the transitional moments from Dope Sick to whatever will come next. Dope Sick was really good, and had Myers' signature oddness to it.
It's the story of Jeremy Dance, street name, Lil J. He's gotten wrapped up in the shooting of a cop, and as he tries to run away and hide himself in an abandoned building, he discovers Kelly, a strange man who just wants to talk with him. Kelly's TV plays back Lil J's life...any scene from any part, and it shows Lil J his future--perched on the top of a building with a gun to his head.
This book is really fast read, and expertly told. The structure, as in the only other novel of Myers' I've read, Monster, is really interesting. He tells an intricately woven tale full of flashbacks and asides that eventually come to a head. Check a future issue of Estella's Revenge for a full review.
Embarking on Hour 9, I'm not sure what I want to read. I might go back to Wondrous Strange, or I might break into Sloane Crosley's book of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake!. I'll report in later to tell the tale!
I think it's time to make some brownies or comment on others' blogs. My eyes need a break!
Books read so far: 4 and a piece
Pages since last update: 71
Pages total: 557

Hour 7 Wrap Up, Hour 8 Begins!

Hour 6 was kind of slow, and things picked back up in 7. Took some time in Hour 6 to have lunch (chicken fried steak, pinto beans, salad) from the cafe down the street. I read a litte bit of Wondrous Strange, but it seemed to be moving reallyyyy slowwwwly and was making me sleepy, so I put it aside in favor of Walter Dean Myers' new book, Dope Sick (releases Feb. 2009).

Myers is well known for his fiction about inner-city youth. His novels Scorpions and Monster are probably his most famous.

So far Dope Sick is a really good read. I should finish it soon, so I'll report back in a bit.


Books read so far: 3, about to be 4, and part of a 5th.
Pages since last update: 130
Total pages: 486

Hour 6 Begins!

Hey folks! I took a couple of hours away to reallyyyy dig into my reading. Since I posted last I finished the final pages of Psyche in a Dress, by Francesca Lia Block. It was really a beautiful book: an odd mixture of mythology, coming of age, and poetry.

Then I picked up and whipped through Magic Trixie (vol. 1) by Jill Thompson (Trixie herself pictured left). I didn't realize it when I started, but Thompson is an Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist. She's the author of Scary Godmother, which I haven't read, but I will now, and I do believe she was a guest illustrator in Bill Willingham's 1001 Nights of Snowfall prequel to the Fables series. She's really amazing. Her art is dynamic, and eye-catching. Truly delightful. Magic Trixie is for the kids, but it was just as much fun for this adult. Magic Trixie is a young witch and goes to school with other supernatural creatures--vampires, werewolves, mummies, a Frankenstein-monster-boy. She has a quandary on her hands when she has to decide what will wow her classmates at show and tell--they've all seen her standard arsenal of spells. In the meantime, her little sister, Abby Cadabera, and her family at large, drive her nuts. This book ends with a sweet conclusion and a successful show and tell, but I won't divulge how she finally pulls it off.

Visit Jill Thompson's blog HERE.

You can visit the Magic Trixie block HERE for more of Thompson's lovely artwork.

Now I'm digging into my fourth book of the RAT, Wondrous Strange, by Lesley Livingston. This one is about 17-year-old Kelley, a starving artist/actress in New York City. She gets her big break in her theater company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and find herself embroiled in the real world of faeries.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this one, but 40 pages in, I'm beginning to get in the mood. I've read a lot of fantasy this morning, so my next read will probably be something more realistic. Wondrous Strange is around 330 pages long, so I'll be working on it for a while. Wish me luck!

Here's the latest tally:
Books: Starting #4
Total pages: 356

Hour 3 Wrap Up

Whew! A whirlwind hour 3. I started with a conversation with Susan. She called to check on my progress, and as is usually the case it turned into a full-blown conversation. This time about books to teach in the Spring. Fun fun! We have such a good time batting book ideas around.

After we got off the phone, I dove into Francesca Lia Block's Psyche in a Dress. So far I've polished off 93 pages of it, which is quite misleading and way more unimpressive than it sounds. The book is a thing of beauty, but it's also written in verse, so it's really quick reading and not too many words on any given page. That said, I should finish it up in a few minutes and move on to my 3rd book of the read-a-thon.

Wish me luck!

Books read so far: Almost 2
Pages read so far: 194
Up next: No idea!

Hour 1 and 2 Wrap Up/Begin Hour 3

Woohoo! Off to a rip-roaring start. I just finished my first book of the challenge, although this one is sort of a cheat. As of last night, I had 94 pages of Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot under my belt. I read 60 pages of it in hour 1 and finished off the other 41 pages in hour two. Hour two also consisted of a de-licious cup of caramel something-or-other coffee with pecan creamer from my mom's coffee stash (aka, the Miller household Starbucks) and a egg and bacon frittata.

So here's the breakdown:

Title of book(s) read since last update: The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell
Number of books read since you started: 1 (OK, a half)
Pages read since last update: 101
Running total of pages read since you started: 101
Amount of time spent reading since last update: 90 minutes roughly
Running total of time spent reading since you started: 90
Mini-challenges completed: Introduction meme, commented on featured readers

Off to read something else! Not sure what just yet! Be back later.

Beginning of Hour 1

A "getting to know me" meme courtesy of Dewey's first post o'the day:

Where are you reading from today? I'm reading from a very small town in northeast Texas. It's about 40 minutes northeast of Dallas. As for my own personal location: my bed!

3 facts about me:

1. I have very curly hair.
2. I have no intention of getting out of my pajamas today.
3. I like Spicy Nach Doritos better than any crack food in the world.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? 17 pulled especially for thi occasion (no way in hell I'll be able to read them all), plus the hundreds in my TBR stack.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? I only managed to polish off 2 books last year, and I'm shooting for five this year. More if possible. As for hours, I ususually take a break or two an hour to do things like this (although it may be less this time around). We'll see.

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? Read short books and rest as needed. In other words, don't kill your eyes!

Now, back to The Partly Cloudy Patriot!

Read-a-Thon (RAT): Pre-Posting

Good morning, readers!!!! It's just about 10 minutes until Read-a-Thon go time here in the central time zone (according to Dewey's time zone page, which I hope I haven't misinterpreted). I have a Daisy asleep on my leg and a pile of books waiting for me. To do before I start reading:

  • 1. Brush teeth.
  • 2. Wrap up (it's chilly in Texas)
  • 3. Turn on available lights to stave off eye straing (thank God for CFL bulbs)

It's not too late to plunk down some cash for green business, Eco-Libris. I realize it's probably a risky choice going with a green biz instead of a non-profit, but Eco-Libris has always been great to me, they try to keep everyone current on environmental issues, and I don't think they're knocking on the Fortune 500 yet. Keep in mind, money handed over to Eco-Libris will then earn us collective BookMooch points which will go to a library in the Philippines. Holler at me in the comments or by e-mail if you're feeling loose with your wallet. I have a few sponsors and a few of you have taken it upon yourselves to pass the word along on your blogs. Thank you so much for your kindness, and I'll post those thank you's at the end of the event.

In the meantime, put on your reading shoes, and let's go!

My first book o'the day will be Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot. I know, no one here is surprised. ;)

Friday, October 17, 2008


The one and only Read-a-Thon stack. Click to get a closer look.
Can't WAIT to dive into these.


Not only is tomorrow the 24 HOUR READ-A-THON (known here at TTL: Estella's Revenge from this point forward at RAT), but a miraculous thing has happened in my home.

I am caught up on work.

Work includes: grading papers for 6 classes, posting new assignments for 5 classes, fielding e-mail from 120 students, projects for my own grad courses, reading for said courses.

This never happens.

I feel a wee tad like I've been released from shackles. I have *free time without guilt* today. Without guilt is really the key there. What shall I do with myself?

Probably the same thing I did yesterday afternoon and last night: read Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. Now I've said that I'm enjoying this book, but admittedly, despite my enjoyment, it was moving a bit sloooow. Until yesterday. Yesterday I hit page 100 and it took off like a rocket! I read something like 200 pages yesterday, and I'll no doubt finish up today. The sad part about this is that I won't be able to post my review until November 12th (blog tour)....soooo, you'll just have to wonder exactly how much I love it until then.

Let's have a champagne toast for free time. So what will I do with my day besides reading:

I'm going to lunch at my mom's office (City Hall) today. The city manager gets a wild urge to cook for everyone from time to time, and today I think it's going to be steak, taters, beans, banana pudding, and heaven knows what else.

I think I'll walk! It's a gorgeous day with temps in the 50s and 60s in Texas, and it's just a little over a mile round trip.

I MUST get caught up on my Bust reading. The newest issue has been sitting here staring at me for far too long.

If I get in the mood, I might stream a Netflix movie. OR, I have this week's episode of Pushing Daisies to watch, as well as the Project Runway finale (already know how it turned out) and some back episodes of Ghost Hunters.

Oh, and I'm building a faculty website through one of the colleges. That's fun work stuff, so I don't mind.

Until tomorrow, bright and early, I wish you well, friends!

*skips off into the midday glare*

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Almost Time!

I'm soooo very excited about Saturday's Read-a-Thon. I took a few minutes to rearrange books and dust shelves today, so I pulled a few more books for my potential reading pool. Staring at me from nearby (click to see a blurb):

The majority of these are childrens and YA books, some ARCs from publishers. Why not use the Read-a-Thon to get ahead on reviews, right?

Of course, I also have some fantastic-looking adult books and graphic novels, also mostly for review:

And while I think these might be too long for me to tackle during the Read-a-Thon, I'm really looking forward to:

Whew! Plus there are always the new books I got recently and the library books. And, well, all the books on my shelves that haven't been read (well over 100), plus the books I've already read but that need re-reading for the children's lit course I'm teaching in the spring. Wow, when I put it like that, I'm almost overwhelmed!

This Read-a-Thon is like heading into a candy store with an unlimited allowance. 24 hours of nothing but reading. JOYYYYY!

And that reminds me...I need to stock up on snacks. Ideas?


If you're in the mood to win a box of spooky books from the Hatchette Group via Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf go drop your name in the hat before Friday (10/17/08) by noon PST!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Randomness on the Go...

Morning blogger babes! Busy day--giving my students a midterm over short stories and literary terms, finishing up an assignment for tonight's Access and Retrieval online class, and finishing a 3-day long marathon of paper grading. BUT, I had to stop in to pass along some randomness!

Raz from Eco-Libris interviewed me about the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon since I'm urging readers to give money to plant trees. You can read the interview here.

If you're still on the fence about the Read-a-Thon, read Dewey's latest post for an extra dose of information.

You can read my latest "Finicky Reader" column at Bibliobuffet to learn more about my interest in children's literature then and now.

In other reading news, I'm well into Jennie Shortridge's Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. Admittedly, I was a little unsure about this one when I started, but the cover is one of those "I'd sell my soul to live in the world of this cover" covers, and I'm finding that the contents are indeed worthy of the cover. I still want to lick the book regularly. More on that later...

I've also been picking through The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell when I need a paper grading break or my butt falls asleep sitting at the kitchen table tapping away on the laptop. I've only read a couple of essays, but she's already got me laughing out loud. A very good sign of things to come.

This passage, from the essay "The First Thanksgiving," made me giggle. Discussing her Montana family's intentions to spend Thanksgiving with her in New York, she gets a little...concerned...

I was terrified we wouldn't have enough to talk about. In the interest of harmony, there's a tacit agreement in my family; the following subjects are best avoided in any conversation longer than than a minute and a half: national politics, state and local politics, any music by any person who never headlined at the Grand Ole Opry, my personal life, and their so-called god. Five whole days. When I visit them back in Montana, conversation isn't a problem because we go to the movies every afternoon. That way, we can be together but without the burden of actually talking to each other. Tommy Lee Jones, bless his heart, does the talking for us.

Note: The opinions about family expressed above are not necessarily related to Andi's in any way. Her family is quite fun, talkative, and delightfully warped. Although, admittedly, talking about non-country artists can be a problem in certain circumstances.

P.S. I can't wait to see the new movie, W.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This is an ILLNESS...

Really, this book addiction is out of control. I told you about my fortuitous discovery (B&N gift card) yesterday and my subsequent purchases. Well, I'm very happy with myself and the lust is really pumping for those books that I picked up, but today I found myself in a "situation."

It was my usual day, I woke up around 6:00 or 6:30 when the sound of Daisy chewing on her feet in the crate rattled me out of my slumber. I checked e-mail, did some work, ate a muffin, and got ready for work. Headed out about 9:00, got to the college, read over my students' assignment for today, taught from 9:50-11:05, and I went to the library to finish up a few Information Hunt assignments for my Access and Retrieval class.

Before I out myself, my question for you, dear book lovers, is:

Can we ever really pass up free books? Really. Can we?

In my case the answer would be...NOOOOO! I came home with the following:

The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. This seems to have become one of the "it" books in the blogosphere as of late, so that explains how I came to be interested in it. Well, that, and the cover. I'm a whore for a great cover and this is one of them. A blurb, my dearests:

The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany.

If I had to guess, I would say I'll dive into this book before the others I checked out. We'll see. My reading habits are as shifty as Texas weather (retarded, cliche comparison...shhhh!).

I've decided to try to let go of my bloodthirsty grudge I've had aimed at Curtis Sittenfeld (biatch!) for years. I can let it goooo that she said this about Melissa Banks' novel, The Wonder Spot:

To suggest that another woman's ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut -- doesn't the term basically bring down all of us? And yet, with ''The Wonder Spot,'' it's hard to resist.

Ok, fine, I'm not letting it go at all. To read the rest of the review, click HERE. I haven't even read The Wonder Spot, but I find Sittenfeld's review so needlessly bitchy, I just can't let it go. BUT, I'm still going to try one of her books. Part of me hopes American Wife is really worthless so I can sorta, kinda call her a slut, too. Or maybe just a pretentious a-hole, but we'll see how it goes. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion I won't be receive any books from Random House...ever? Ha!

Blurb from Bookmarks Magazine:

While critics couldn’t say for sure whether or not Sittenfeld captures the exact thoughts of Laura Bush, they did agree that she creates a realistic and highly sympathetic portrayal of the (soon-to-be former) First Lady. (The author supposedly based the novel on Ann Gerhart’s 2004 biography, The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush.) Sittenfeld asks provoking questions about marriage, loyalty, and responsibility. But many reviewers couldn’t fundamentally understand why the very decent Alice had supported her husband despite her doubts about his capabilities; Sittenfeld’s pat, unsatisfactory answer is that Alice leads a life “in opposition.” That, combined with the author’s obvious contempt for Charlie, brought the reviews down a notch. Still, there’s nothing as titillating as a look, albeit fictional, inside the White House—especially during an election year.

Finally, The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff. I want this book for two very distinct reasons 1) Susan liked it 2) the cover is DEL-I-CIOUS! Almost as yummy and edible as The Gargoyle.

Blurb from an Amazon review:

On the very morning Willie Upton slinks home to Templeton, New York (after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor), the 50-foot-long body of a monster floats from the depths of the town's lake. This unsettling coincidence sets the stage for one of the most original debut novels since The Time Traveler’s Wife. With a clue to the mysterious identity of her father in hand, Willie turns her research skills to unearthing the secrets of the town in letters and pictures (which, "reproduced" in the book along with increasingly complete family trees, lend an air of historical authenticity). Lauren Groff's endearingly feisty characters imbue the story with enough intrigue to keep readers up long past bedtime, and reading groups will find much to discuss in its themes of "monsters," both in our towns and our families.

I've been working since about 6am with a few breaks for meals and whatnot. It's after 9:00 pm now, and I really want to stop, but I still have a job application to complete. See y'all later!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Retail Therapy!

I made a truly shocking discovery today: I had a leftover B&N gift card from last year with MONEY ON IT! A pretty significant amount, actually. Since TheOtherFeminist and I were off to Dallas to eat yummy Indian food at Clay Pit and have a day of fun and frivolity, I figured it was a good idea to take the card.


I picked up three books that I've been lusting after for ages...

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs. I actually first discovered Jacobs when I happened upon The Know-It-All in North Carolina while I was browsing one day. I put it on my wishlist and before I'd even gotten around to it, this book hit the market and blew up! I'm excited to finally have my hands on a copy because I feel a non-fiction urge coming on soon (as evidenced by this and my other purchases today).

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. I'll just give you a blurb for this one since there's no way I can describe it as well as Publishers Weekly:

Looking for insight into why she prefers Little Bighorn and Gettysburg to Martha's Vineyard, Vowell (author of the witty Take the Cannoli) calls her friend Kate, who works as a counselor for survivors of torture, who says, "That's how we try to make sense of the worst horrors. We use humor to manage anxiety." If Kate's right, then Vowell is managing her anxiety very well. Her best short, personal essays (anywhere from about two to 12 pages) focus on her ambivalent relationship to American history and citizenship: no one in recent memory has been as insightful on the direct pleasures and perils of voting, the misuse of Rosa Parks as a metaphor, the appeal of Canadians (who "ha[ve] this weird knack for loving their country in public without resorting to swagger or hate") and the relative merits of presidential libraries. Further undone, perhaps, by her devotion to such topics, Vowell also offers an eloquent defense of being a nerd...

While I find it grating and damn near impossible to listen to Vowell on Chicago Public Radio's This American Life, I do find her quite funny and insightful, so I hope beyond hope that I can get her voice out of my head as I read this collection. With America (myself included) embroiled in political hoo-hah, this sounds like the perfect humorous fix. I voted last week, by the way. Absentee is a wonderful thing. Now I've really got to get my car inspected and my Texas license back!

Finally, and I've probably wanted this book the longest, is I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a book of essays by Sloane Crosley, Associated Director of Publicity at Vintage/Anchor books. Another pre-fab blurb for ya:

Wry, hilarious, and profoundly genuine, this debut collection of literary essays is a celebration of fallibility and haplessness in all their glory. From despoiling an exhibit at the Natural History Museum to provoking the ire of her first boss to siccing the cops on her mysterious neighbor, Crosley can do no right despite the best of intentions-or perhaps because of them. Together, these essays create a startlingly funny and revealing portrait of a complex and utterly recognizable character that's aiming for the stars but hits the ceiling, and the inimitable city that has helped shape who she is.

I've heard every imaginable comment about this book, from "Crosley is mean!" to "Crosley is hilarious and honest!" I became interested when I heard her interview on The Bat Segundo Show, and I knew I had to have it.

It's been a long day, so for now I'm off to settle in with Jennie Shortridge's Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. Hopefully my eyes won't get droopy too fast.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Evernight, by Claudia Gray

A treat from HarperCollins and my fourth book of Carl's RIP III Challenge, Evernight was a huge surprise. When I first heard of the book on various blogs I thought, "Oh, look, more vampire fiction. Helloooo Stephenie Meyer wannabes!" However, I'm woman enough to admit when I'm really REALLY wrong. I owe Claudia Gray an apology and I'll even throw in my first born if HarperCollins will send an ARC of the next book in the series, Stargazer.
Before I gush any more, here's a brief synopsis:
Bianca Olivier is uprooted and plunked down in the middle of an odd boarding school, Evernight, when her parents get jobs teaching there. They feel it is to Bianca's advantage to branch out, meet new people, and generally step outside of herself a bit. However, the students at Evernight are an otherworldly sort of beautiful, stuck up, and more than a little strange. Soon enough, Bianca begins to feel at home as she falls in love with the far more down to earth, but similarly enigmatic, Lucas Ross.
Admittedly, this review will be somewhat vague because there's a big twist about 150 pages in. I'm sure if you read other reviews they will certainly give it away, but this twist actually shocked me and left me with mouth all gapey. Maybe I'm off my game, or maybe I'm just slow, but I really didn't see it coming. What a wild ride!
I realize you're probably wondering what sets it apart from other vampire fiction--especially the most visible of them all, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. I venture to say the writing is much better. I never cringed. Gray has a gift for using true-to-life teenage lingo in a way that doesn't make the reader's butt pucker (maybe that's just me). I felt that the teens were sincere without annoyance. What an idea! There's also far less angst in this book than the Twilight series. Well, I take that back, there must to be hormones and angst in some regard or there'd be a striking lack of conflict, but on the whole I felt like these characters possessed a far more pronounced ability to pick themselves up and just get on with it. Of course, the book is far shorter than any of the Twilight saga, so it was far tighter writing in general.
Bianca and Lucas were both very likeable and conflicted, and I just fell in love with both of them. You've heard me yammer on endlessly here about my favorite vampire series of all time: The Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith, and this series is certainly good enough to take up space on the "keeper" shelf right next to them. In fact, L.J. Smith provided a blurb for the back of the book!
If you don't have it in your hot little hands, this book is a great choice for the RIP III challenge, so hop to it!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Mediocre Day for Children's Books

My children's book reading streak continues! In all honesty this little streak was a result of two things 1) non-existent attention span 2) the need to get some books reviewed and out of my review closet! I've almost emptied all of the picture books out of my review closet, though, so you won't have any of these to look forward to for a while. Although, honestly, this latest batch wasn't so great, so I'm sort of looking forward to not reading any for a while!

We'll start with the good ones and work our way down:

Jamberry, written by Bruce Degan, I actually think I remember this book from my childhood. It was published in 1983, so that would be about right. Jamberry is a really fun long poem about a bear and a boy that go out berry picking, and I found myself with a mad urge to lick the pages a few times. I want to say this book came into my kindergarten classroom as one of those GIANT BOOKS that had to be propped up on the chalkboard because it was too big to hold. The berries look even better when they're huuuuuge! Great book back then and now.

Papa and Me, written by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, is a story of a father and son having a good day together, and it's sprinkled with Spanish words. It's certainly a nice teaching tool, but it also has stunning illustrations. The cover is gorgeous, but the goodies inside are even better. Not my favorite story, but the pictures made up for it.

Don't Bump the Glump, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. This one has a big sticker on the front that says "Shel Silverstein's first poetry collection!" And I'm happy for the disclaimer because I didn't care for this one at all. It's a bunch of short poems about weird animals. Cute, sure, but not nearly as entertaining as Silverstein staples like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.

Welcome to Your World, Baby, written by Brooke Shields and illusrated by Cori Doerrfeld, was a bomb. Not the bomb. It reads like a book written by a celebrity! Who'd have thought. At first I was sort of delighted with it because I thought the little girl had a baby brother and had swathed him in pink and tortured him with tea parties all the way through, but now I'm pretty sure baby sibling was a girl, and the book isn't nearly as much fun without the cross dressing. Illustrations: A+. It's another tragic case of a fine illustrator getting stuck with a boring book.
Images by Freepik