Friday, October 30, 2009

An Iffy Reading Year?



Usually at this point in the year, I can look back over my reading list and there are some clear winners that jump out at me. This year things are a little different. While there have definitely been high points:

Reading Lyddie early in the year for a library class.More recently, my reading of Pretty Dead and Elsewhere were pretty darn good.

But I can't say, looking back over my list, that there are any knock-me-over fantastic books. Maybe with the exception of The Hunger Games. It knocked me over a bit. Overall, the quality of my reading seems to have dwindled this year. It kinda makes me sad, but then again I can only account for this by thinking of all the dramatic (and wonderful) changes in my life.

Obviously, I started seeing Chuck, we quickly moved in together, and we have a full-grown (and expanding) family. I've been working my tail off, and I have this wonderful new full-time gig to show for it. I've morphed into the Pregonator.

All of these changes have left me with far less downtime and far more responsibility. I haven't managed to find a dependable reading routine this year, and I often pick short, easy reads instead of the more involved and inspired reading I used to do. For example, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last year, and I found it to be one of the most inspiring, life changing, delightful, informative reads EVER.

None of those aha! moments this year, I'm afraid. Not in my reading anyway. My personal life, though, is full of them.

So I suppose I'm just finding myself on new and shaky reading ground. It's weird not being bowled over by my reading, and I miss that feeling immensely. I can only hope I get my reading bravery back one of these days and maybe my former instincts for picking books that will thrill and delight me.

Any suggestions for thrilling and delightful books?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel


Before you run screaming from the vampire fiction, STOP! This is not your usual vampire book. Jessica Abel is quite a storytelling talent, and this is an off-kilter vampire graphic novel. A quick blurb:
Dave is a convenience store clerk, and he just so happens to be a vampire. His Master, a hard-ass from the old country, makes him a vampire so he'll have a dependable night shift worker. Dave is skinny, nerdy, and has a crappy job and a crappy love life. He's a vegetarian--subsisting on bagged plasma and Blood Brew (blood beer). The graphic novel really kicks off when his crush, Rosa--a gothic hottie--starts to show some mild interest in him. Dave ends up having to face off against a bigger, richer, hotter vampire for Rosa's love, but that's not the only complication.
I loved this graphic novel for subverting my expectations of vampires. In general they're not rich or terribly mysterious. They're just normal people in all their dorkiness and with all the same old idiosyncrasies that any human would have.
Life Sucks has a very B-movie feel to it. As I was reading, some of the angst reminded me a great deal of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel, Ghost World. It was weird and pretty cool in is weirdness. I was sad to see it end, but I'll certainly keep an eye out for more of Jessica Abel's work. This was also a perfect choice for the Read-a-Thon since it was a quick read, involving, and very easy on the eyes.
This is my final selection for the RIP IV Challenge.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Read-a-Thon Wrap Up!

I admit it, I bowed out of my own volition at around 3:30 this morning. The family wanted to go to an air show this afternoon, and I had some work to do in my online classes, so I called it a night and rose around 11:30 this morning ready to roll out.

I want to thank everyone who left comments along the way and kept Rocketgirl and I reading late into the night. We appreciated every one. My own cheerleading was not as sucessful as I'd hoped because my computer starting rebelling against the Mister Linky. Boo!

I finished a grand total of four books--less than I'd hoped--but they were good reads so I can't complain. You can expect reviews of Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel; Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman; The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, by Anne Marie Fleming; and Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin. I also polished off about half of Epileptic, by David B and Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell. I'm looking forward to returning to both of them in the next couple of days.

I also finished off the RIP IV challenge with the completion of Life Sucks. Whee!

I'm not sure what Rocketgirl's final list looked like, but I'll report soon. In the meantime, we'll be donating about $55 we raised (from Chuck) to a children's cancer research foundation.

I can't wait for the next Read-a-Thon, and I hope to see you all there!

Hour 21 in Progress....

I polished off my fourth book, Elsewhere, and it was great! This is one I can't wait to review after the read-a-thon.

I expect I'm probably starting my final selection of the night if I hope to be at all productive tomorrow. I have to post new work for online classes and do a few preparations for Monday's 7 and 9am classes. Yadda yadda. We'll see if I can polish off Hall of Best Knowledge, by Ray Fenwick...before I pass out again...for good!

**Note: Hall of Best Knowledge is not looking terribly promising. Hmmphf.

Hour 19 So Far....

Soooo, I fell asleep. I blame it on being pregnant (guilty face). I took a nap for a couple of hours, but I'm back up and back into Gabrielle Zevin's woooonderful novel, Elsewhere. This is possibly the most gripping novel I've picked up for the Read-a-Thon yet, so it's perfect timing.

Incidentally, Rocketgirl fell asleep at almost exactly the same time I did. She's back in the living room, but she's just barely with it, I think. We'll see if she lasts. :) She's tried her best and done GREAT today.

My computer is being putzy having a hard time opening the links from the Mr. Linky when I try to cheerlead, so I'm not making nearly as much progress in that department as I'd hoped. I'm trying, though!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hour 15 Winding Down!

I missed the mid-event survey, so I'm going to hop on the train and do it now. I made dinner for the kiddos...my very healthy cheese dip along with a small portion of chicken fingers, southwestern chicken eggrolls, and mozzarella sticks. Horrible but yummy, and we've been good all day long. I intended to take pictures but suddenly I realized we'd plowed through the food. There was a large bowl of cheese dip left and four mozzarella sticks. Oops!

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now? I'm about halfway through Gabrielle Zevin's young adult novel, Elsewhere. I think Rocketgirl is working on a Sweet Valley High novel at the moment. We've scattered to the far reaches of the condo to escape the TV noise.

2. How many books have you read so far? I'm working on my fourth. I did a good bit of waffling this afternoon or I'd be further along. I think Rocketgirl is on number six.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I would really like to read the graphic novel, Little Nothings by Lewis Trondheim and Hall of Best Knowledge, by Ray Fenwick.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? I insisted that Chuck leave me alone! He went to play pool with some buddies tonight, which is probably far more fun than watching me read.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Chuck's mother talks incessantly, so I generally run screaming from whatever room she's in.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How much slower I'm reading this time around, but I was all alone last year which makes a big difference. It's great reading along with Rocketgirl. I'm excited that she's excited.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope! The organizers blow me away with their wonderfulness every time!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I'm not sure. I don't feel like I'm cheerleading enough, but then again I've saved it more for the sleepy hours, too. Being online it's easier to stay awake than reading.

9. Are you getting tired yet? God, yes. I usually sack out (whether I mean to or not) around 10:00 these days thanks to work and the baby'ness. We'll see how late I can make it. I may take a nap around 2ish if I can hold out that long and then kick it in the rest of the way.

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? Get away from the computer if you have to! I like to sink into a book for a few hours and then come back.

Hour 11 Ending....12 begins!

Blarrrg! I read 117 pages this past hour and Rocketgirl did 43. We're getting back into our groove. I had a shower and feel tooootally refreshed, and we have oodles of snacks on the way (pics to come). I'm almost done with a graphic novel biography of Chinese magician, Long Tack Sam, and Rocketgirl is finishing up Ghost Beach.

We've been eating healthy for most of the day: cereal, apples and peanut butter, etc. Now we're taking a nosedive into the junk food with hot cheese dip with sausage in it, and Chuck apparently has a basketload of other goodies headed our way. We'll see what he comes up with for our appetizer dinner.

Nymeth's Web Comics Mini-Challenge

Thanks to the wonderful Nymeth for hosting this hour's mini-challenge dealing with web comics. I like web comics a lot, especially one called PhD or Piled Higher and Deeper. I used to read this one all the time as a graduate student, and I can certainly appreciate it from this side of the professorly desk, too. Here' my favorite one of the ones I spent time reading today. Click to enlarge.


And while you're at it, why not read some web comics of your own and enter Nymeth's challenge! You'll be glad you did!

Hour 10 Approaches


Hour 10, right? Yeah. And I seem to have hit a wall. Oh no!!!

The house is awake now, so there are far more distractions to contend with, though Chuck and Rocketboy just left to go wander while we're here buried in our reading. I hit a wall reading Epileptic as it seemed to be moving veryyyy slowly. I've now started Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. It's not as compelling as The Partly Cloudy Patriot was, though, so I'm not sure if I'll stick with these two titles or move on to something else. I suspect I might try to whip through something quick to keep my morale up. I think I'm also going to spend some time cheerleading to break up the monotony and take a quick shower to wake myself up!

Rocketgirl has been book hopping as well. She finished up Monster's vs. Aliens, went on to re-read a little bit of Stephanie Meyer's Eclipse, but now she's switched over to a quick Goosebumps book, Ghost Beach.

There's a brisket cooking, I see a huge pot of cheese dip in my future this evening, and I think I'm getting over the hump. Let's have some cheers in the meantime! I need the encouragement to get past the afternoon nap urge! lol

Hour Six Begins!

Whew! Still going strong over here and trying to avoid interruption. I finally finished Ex Libris and it seemed to take a ridiculously long time to read that book in relation to its size. More on that later, though, when I do a full review post-read-a-thon. I started Jennifer's Body, the novelization of the Diablo Cody film, but I was so thoroughly turned off by the overuse of teenage lingo that I tossed it. Now I'm on to David B. Epileptic, a chunky graphic novel.

Rocketgirl finished Chunky Rice, Coraline (graphic novel), and she's on to a Monsters vs. Alien book. Not to mention the first one she put away, George's Marvelous Medicine. She's rockin' and rollin'!

We'll be back in a bit with another update. We had cereal (me) and waffles (her) for breakfast, and I snacked on some sliced Macintosh apples. But, the grumble in my tummy says it's time to look for something more filling. I'm having a wicked craving for egg rolls. Maybe someone will be nice enough to go pick some up.

Checking In: End of Hour Three

So how's it going for everyone??? We're off to a good start. Rocketgirl is kicking my heiney at this point, but I have been cheerleading and Twittering on and off all morning, so I comfort myself with that. ;)

So far I've finished Jessica Abel's graphic novel, Life Sucks (98 pages read) and almost polished off Anne Fadiman's book of bookish essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (71 pages read). Both books were fantastic!

Rocketgirl polished off Roald Dahl's George's Marvelous Medicine this morning--a re-read for her--(89 pages read) and she read Craig Thompson's graphic novel, Good-Bye Chunky Rice (125 pages read). Now she's working her way through the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline!

It's a reading frenzy in our house! And there isn't a single soul up--besides us--to witness it. Even Daisy is passed out. I'm off to do a bit of cheerleading, and I'll probably have to run out for some dog food for Miss Daisy, but I'll check back in after a few more hours!

Hour One Nears!

Hey folks! I'm up! Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and I'm ready to read. The plan:

  • Check in to blog my progress every 2-3 hours.
  • Cheerlead like a maniac!
  • Stay awake!
  • Tweet more than I blog, so come on and follow me if you aren't already!

Rocketgirl (13, awesome reader) was really easy to wake up for this event since she went to bed early last night. Her pile is shaping up nicely with the following books included at this point:

  • Holes, by Louis Sacchar
  • Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
  • On My Own (Sweet Valley High Senior Year #15), by whoever writes those!
  • Planning the Impossible, by Mavis Jukes
  • George's Marvelous Medicine, by Roald Dahl
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  • Coraline (graphic novel), by Neil Gaiman
  • Good-bye, Chunky Rice, by Craig Thompson

We also have about a zillion other children's and teen novels in the house. She's thinking she might zip through a few Goosebumps books later to pass the time. She can polish them off in about half an hour, so they're perfect...especially for the late night.

Good luck everyone, and have SO MUCH FUN it's ridiculous! I'll be back in a few hours.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon! The Pre-Post...



The Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is drawing near, and I just can't stop adding to my pile! I got off of work at 3:30 today, so Chuck and I picked up Rocketgirl, ran some errands, and ended up at the library. Rocketgirl has decided to participate in the Read-a-Thon with me, so we both added to our piles at the library. I'll be posting about her pile in the morning.

To your left, you'll see that Chuck got pretty excited when I asked him to photograph my reading stack. He took some goodies from around the house and tarted it up with some Halloween flavor. I left the file pretty large, so you can click to see a bigger version.

The stack of books I mentioned in an earlier post is still there, and today's library stack focuses mostly on graphic novels and essay collections with a little YA thrown in for good measure. Today I added...

Graphic Novels:

  • Epileptic, by David B.
  • Little Nothings, by Lewis Trondheim
  • George Sprott, by Seth
  • Hall of Best Knowledge, by Ray Fenwick
  • Britten and Brulightly, by Hannah Berry (not pictured)

Collections:

  • Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell
  • Take the Cannoli, by Sarah Vowell
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman
  • Slouching Toward Bethlehem, by Joan Didion
  • Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro (short stories)

Young Adult:

  • Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

In other words, I have way more book than I could possibly finish tomorrow, but I have such a heaping stack of reading adventures that I am SO EXCITED about, I don't even care! I'll dip into the ones that snatch me by the nosehairs, and I'll read the others after the Read-a-Thon is over. I'm falling back on some favorite authors from last October's Read-a-Thon like Sarah Vowell and Gabrielle Zevin because they kept me awake and alert during the late hours. I hope they can do it again!

I want to take a minute to remember Dewey before all the craziness of the day really kicks in. She started this Read-a-Thon business, and the blogosphere has embraced her community building to a degree that she probably never imagined. She was truly an avid reader and a wonderful person. She opened my eyes to all kinds of new titles, and she sent me pictures from her life, and we had wonderful conversations, and I miss her. I really do. It's an honor to read for 24 hours not only in celebration of books, but in celebration of her life as well.

I'll see you all in the morning. Sleep well...while you can!

Personally: Pregnancy Spoiledness

**Note: the pic to the left are bon-bons...for effect only.

Being pregnant is weird. Really weird. In mostly good but some not-so-pleasant ways. On the unpleasant side there's always the constant poking and prodding, the weird physical side effects (I'm not going to say constipation), and well, gas. Not to mention waking up to "pay the water bill" several times a night. I know, I know! It gets worse! It's just weird. Weird weird weird. The baby bump is the coolest awesome weird thing, though. There will probably be a whole post about that.

Even more awesomeness: I am feeling far more spoiled than I've ever felt in my life. Admittedly, I'm not good at being spoiled. I'm a do-it-yourself kind of girl. I broke my ankles several times (yes, both of them) growing up when I was playing sports and doing other silly physical things like that. Whenever I was stuck in a cast or hobbling around on crutches, I was horrible at asking someone to grab a glass of water for me or bring a meal to my perch. Horrible. I hated it.

Now I have all this unsolicited help that's weirding me out. And I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because IT'S FANTASTIC, but it's still weird. I'm just not used to it. Case in point:

Students do weird, nice things for me that are completely unexpected. There are always *some* students that do nice things all the time because they're just naturally nice people. Then there are students who would rather not move or speak unless they're directly ordered to. Since I've become a vessel for human life, the lines between these distinctive groups of students are blurring.

Before I left "way out there part-time" junior college to teach for "really close to home college full-time" I had one particular student that was a nut. He was former military, loud, somewhat obnoxious at times, but generally a good kid. He had my class in the Spring, before Baby Miller, and he came back for another class this Fall. While he's always been a crack up and a cutup and something of a smartass, he actually started being really sweet. Every day he would ask, "So, how's Baby Miss Miller today?" It weirded me out the first time, then I got used to it, and it was really nice.

I warned all my students last term at the new college where I teach full-time that I am pregnant. The warning went something like this: "If I unexpectedly bolt from this classroom it is wholly for your own good and your physical safety. I'm having a baby, and there's no need for you to experience my morning sickness with me. Stay seated, talk amongst yourselves (Linda Richmond/Mike Meyers/SNL/Cawfee Tawk-style voice), and I'll be right back."

Now my students are jumping in front of buses and leaping tall buildings to help me do things. OK, that's a little overdone, but they're still doing me a lot of favors. The other day a dry erase marker rolled off the desk where I'd put it, and one of my students (very reserved, that one) dove out of her chair, grabbed the marker, and said, "Don't want want you to step on that and hurt yourself or the baby!"

Finally, the atmosphere at home is different. Chuck is a great cook. He was a chef for 10 years, and his skills are STILL IN THE BUILDING. Thank God. He's taken a much more active role around the house. He's always been an equal opportunity helper kind of guy, but now it's just so cute. He's cooked TWO fabulous meals this week alone, and I could probably live off of the leftovers for another week. Wednesday night it was turkey meatloaf with a side of new potatoes and green beans in some sort of magical, buttery, white wine sauce. Last night it was stuffed pork loin with apple chili sauce and a veggie concoction of squash, zucchini, red onions, and sweet potatoes that almost made me cry. OHHHHH, and how could I forget?? Monday night he made New York strip steak, baked yams, and some other side that was delicious, but my pregnant braion has erased from my memory. Let me tell ya, on New York strip night, you've never seen an anemic woman put away steak like I did.

Funny story: And this has nothing to do with my being pregnant, really. Last night Chuck was making the apple chili sauce to go on the chops, and he put a boatload of boiling hot liquid in the blender. He knows better than to do this and plug the top of the blender, but he had a brain fart and did it anyway. When he turned the blender on, it exploded into a cloud of apple chili sauce that coated him, me, the walls, everything on the bar area, and Daisy--who was sniffing around the kitchen floor for crumbs. Of course, I helped him clean up the eruption, and I even mopped the kitchen while he was taking a shower and getting ready for class, but he snatched up Miss Daisy and took her to shower with him so I wouldn't have to endanger myself by sliding around with her or sleep with a sticky, apple-chili-coated dog. Awww!

So, yeah. Being pregnant and uber-spoiled is weird and wonderful. I haven't even told you about all the baby furniture (carriers, swings, playpens, more carriers, and swings, bouncy seats) that has appeared on my mother's porch over the last couple of months. Relatives are talking about bringing boxes of clothing out of storage. A master carpenter friend of ours told us to "show me the crib you want and I'll make it for you."

Everyone warned me about this. "Everyone loves a pregnant woman," they said. I just didn't realize! I'm loving it, and I'm soaking it all up while I can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gearing Up!


'Tis mid-week, hump day if you will, and I'm in the midst of a split shift day at the college. I taught from 7am to 11:00 and I'm back there again tonight from 6:30 'til 11:00pm. It makes for a wonky day, but as long as I get a nap somewhere in the middle I'm generally good to go. If I don't get a nap, well, the students have hell to pay. At least I get to take it out on someone not living in my house. *angelic smile*

I've been a bad, bad girl. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a whole pool of possibilities for the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon coming up on Saturday. I mentioned Francesca Lia Block's Pretty Dead out of that pile, and I read it ahead of schedule. Now I've dipped into Jessica Abel's Life Sucks.
Here's a quick blurb:
Life sucks for Dave Marshall. The girl he’s in love with doesn’t know he exists, he hates his job, and ever since his boss turned him into a vampire, he can’t go out in daylight without starting to charbroil. Undead life in its uncoolest incarnation yet is on display in this cinematic, supernatural drama told with gallons of humor and hemoglobin. In striking, colorful, B-movie sty;e artwork and light-hearted, intelligent writing by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece, Dave Marshall’s story comes alive – in a vampiric kind of way.
I know! I know! I said before that I'm burned out on vampire fiction, but apparently I'm on crack and have no idea what I'm talking about. First, Pretty Dead grabbed me by the nosehairs and refused to let go. Vampires! Now I'm all invested in Life Sucks. More vampires! The sad part is that I had NO IDEA that Life Sucks is about vampires. No, I'm not dense--really I'm not. I just thought it was angsty teen fiction. I've heard endless good things about Abel and figured I had to give it a go, so I sort of jump in blindly.
So far I'm really enjoying it, and it's offbeat vampire fiction, so that makes it all OK. The characters are young and angsty, and it almost reminds me of a Ghost World type of situation. Very snarky and indie-cool. I suspect I'll have it done long before the Read-a-Thon, so I'd better start reloading my pool of goodies!
How's your week so far?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Short Story Sunday and a Review: Half-Minute Horrors!


Short Story Sunday for RIP IV is playing double duty this week! I'm finally reviewing a whole book of short stories. I seem to be ripping through shortish children's and adolescent novels at the moment, and this one was the perfect addition to my RIP reading after yesterday's Pretty Dead.
Half-Minute Horrors is a collection of super-short stories edited by Susan Rich. Some of the authors included in the collection: Lemony Snicket, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, Michael Connolly, Brian Selznick, and a bunch of other FABULOUS ones. There are some poems and some illustrated shorts but for the most part these run between a page and a page and a half. I expected this to be a largely "cutesy" collection of kiddie stories, but some of them were genuinely troubling and EEEWWWy.
One story in particular is about a babysitter who arrives and never hears a peep out of his charge. He talks on the phone with friends, eats some lasagna the parents left in the microwave, and thinks it odd but WONDERFUL that the baby he's taking care of never utters a sound. When the parents arrive home he's surprised when they reveal that the baby was bad...very bad....before he arrived, and he was the perfect person on whom to pin the murder. And how was that tasty lasagna??
EEWWW!!! See, stuff like that. There are ghosts and evil children, disembodied fingers, snatchers from under the bed, and more sinister troubling things like body-snatched parents, psycho killers, eery telephone voices, and walking nightmares.
In all there, were probably 30+ stories, and they were almost all delightful. I can hear Rocketgirl reading some of the stories to Rocketboy in the living room as I type, so I'm not about to go snatch it away from them to look at the specifics, but take my word...it's fun! A lot of Halloween delightfulness and wicked weirdness. I was thoroughly impressed that such teensy stories could pack such a punch.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pretty Dead



I locked myself in the house today with every intention of grading a mountain of papers that keep stacking up around my neck higher and higher and higher! Too dramatic? Nah, not really.

Like any good procrastinator I shopped for shoes, had lunch, cleaned a bit, and finished a book before I started grading. The shoes are adorable, the food was great, the bedroom is liveable again, and the book was delicious. Oh, and the first round of papers is done. Overall, it's a pretty successful day so far!

Pretty Dead, by Francesca Lia Block is my second book for the RIP IV Challenge, and it just reminded me how much I love Block's writing. The last book of hers I read was for last year's Read-a-Thon, and it was Psyche in a Dress, which I also adored.

Pretty Dead is the story of Charlotte Emerson, a 99-year-old vampire in a 17-year-old's body. While I've been burned out on teen vampire fiction for a while now, I decided to give this one a go because Block has a way of making the run-of-the-mill quite extraordinary. This book was no exception. Charlotte is a terribly sympathetic character. She was turned to a vampire under tragic circumstances, and after the apparent suicide of her best (human) friend, she's feeling more lost and lonely than ever. She wishes for nothing more than to be a human, and under extraordinary circumstances, she just may have that chance. She hates the idea of living for eternity. In a way, she reminded me quite a bit of Louis from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire.

As usual, Block's writing is provocative, surreal, and has a weird, ethereal beauty to it. Charlotte could easily be a snotty, withdrawn character, but as it is, she's a tragic heroine and likable for all she's experienced. It's hard to explain what it is that makes Block's writing "surreal" and "ethereal," so let me dig for a passage that might do the work for me. Here we go. Here Charlotte is writing in reference to her friend who killed herself:

Emily, none of this is worth it. Not this endangered blond hair, not this house full of shining things, the velvets and pearls and shiny red-soled shoes of fortune, not even this beautiful curse of immortality. What you had, even with the pain--that was life. What I have, especially now, without you, without the other one I loved and lost, is just living. Dead.

Her words just float along somehow; her phrasing has sort of a lilting quality about it. I love the details she provides of clothing, objects, people. It's all just very--dare I say it--luscious!

If you haven't read Block before, I wouldn't mind recommending this one as a place to start, or if you're burned out on teen vampires, give this one a go anyway. It was a great RIP choice, and it's going in my keeper pile.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Eternal Smile



Welp, I got sick yesterday. Woke up unable to breathe through either nostril, a hacking cough, headache, and lots of other seasonal unpleasantries. Since I'm all high risk for nasty bugs like the flu, I called my doc, she scared the crap out of me until I called in sick and went to see her, and now I'm housebound until Monday. Luckily, I do not have the flu, but I have my usual almost-November sinus infection, and all I want to do is eat really spicy Chinese takeout and drink (decaf) tea in my jammies. The snot monster visits this time every year. I don't know why I'm surprised this time!

I could be working on stuff for online classes right now, but instead I'm getting my bloggy fix since I've been without this week, and I'll be reclining in my cozy bed to read Tideland, by Mitch Cullen (thank you, Nymeth!) shortly.

In the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and review Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's collaborative graphic novel, The Eternal Smile. I was browsing through Borders one day when I realized that this graphic novel actually exists. I hadn't heard anything about it up until that point, and it finally dawned on me to get it from the library a week or so ago. I considered saving it for the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, but alas, I couldn't wait. There's a picture of my significantly chubby head next to the word "impatient" in the dictionary.

I LOVED Yang's first effort, American Born Chinese. Loved it. Did a little (big, jerky) happy dance when it won the Printz Award. I expected something similar from this little gem.

Not. So. Much.

Before you think I'm saying it's horrible, it's not horrible. It's just not as good (at all, nope) as American Born Chinese. Apparently Yang wrote the three loosely connected stories in this volume and Kim illustrated them. The first story is about Duncan, a prince who must retrieve the head of the evil Frog King in order to marry his hottie princess. There's a twist--a big'un--and Duncan finds out that nothing in the kingdom is as it seems. I won't tell you what the twist is, but it's a really sci-fi-teenager-nerd type of twist. Next!

The second story is about a frog--Granpa Greenbax--and his zillion scams. He's a Scrooge type character whose greatest wish in life is to have a "pond" so full of money that he won't hit his head on the bottom when he swims in his earnings. His assistant, Filbert, sees an odd smile shape in the sky, and it becomes Greenbax's next venture. He erects a cathedral and puts on his preaching robes to rob the locals of their cash as they worship the Eternal Smile. There's a big twist in this story, too, and again, I really can't tell you exactly what it is. However, I will say, everything is not as it seems in Greenbax's life either, and he begins to realize that maybe a pond full of money is not the pond he's looking for at all.

Finally, my favorite of the stories, and the most "down to Earth" of them all, was about Janet Ho, a corporate cog destined to go nowhere. She asks for a raise, her boss laughs it off, and shortly afterward she receives one of those SPAM e-mails from a mysterious Nigerian prince who needs thousands of dollars in cash to escape to America. Janet finds meaning in their e-mail exchanges even as she gives away her savings. Slowly, her washed out personality begins to change and she begins to see life in a new light...despite the fact that she's being had.

While each of the stories was perfectly yummy on its own, I was disappointed by the fact that they just barely seem to go together. They're thematically alike in big, vague ways, and I expected and hoped for a tightly woven narrative like that in American Born Chinese.

Oh well! It was a quick, light read, even if it didn't floor me like that other book I liked so much. Can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ack!

Whoa! Sorry I've been away. I'm settling into the new routine of the full-time teaching job while trying to juggle other things. Reading has been pushed squarely to the backburner, but I should be back to it soon. I do have a review coming up of Gene Yang's new graphic novel, The Eternal Smile, and I'll give you an update on the job soon, too.

I can't wait to get back to my usual blog hopping! I miss you all horribly!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Texas Weather and a Mini-Review

The temps have fallen into the mid-50s during the day here in Texas, and now we all think we're freezing. Except, of course, the four originally-from-New-Yorkers that I live with. They REALLY love this weather, and they're perfectly happy to leave the indoor temps somewhere around "perfect for hanging meat."


Texans, you have to understand, are so perfectly conditioned to survive REALLY EFFING HOT temperatures, that chilly makes us twitchy. Given, I like the cooler weather A LOT because it means fuzzy pj pants and steaming cups of tea, but I'm still not pleasant when my teeth are chattering and my fingers are numb--aka, when the ceiling fan is going full blast after October 1st.


We spent a huge portion of our day going to garage sales and craft fairs in the area, and now I'm ready for a steamy bath and my new hibiscus (decaf) tea.


I did finish Heather Armstrong's It Sucked and Then I Cried this afternoon, and that's probably the fastest I've read a book in months! It was a good feeling to get sucked into a book again after so many draggy, slumpy experiences as of late. I've already given you a good idea of my thoughts in my previous post, "This Book Made a Spectacle of Me," so I won't go through all the gushing again. I'll just put it this way:


This book alternately scared the shit out of me and made me cackle. It was fantastic.


How's that for a mini-review? Without further ado, I'm off to have that steamy bath now, and I need to decide what to read next. I was going to save it for the Read-a-Thon, but I don't think I can resist Gene Luen Yang's and Derek Kirk Kim's new graphic novel, The Eternal Smile. I adored Yang's American Born Chinese, so I feel no reason to torture myself with all the waiting.


Have you sucked down any books in record time lately? Tell me what they were, so I can suck on them, too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon!


It's here again! It's almost time for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon! I've participated in two RATs now, the last one being this past October. I hated that I missed the one in April, but I'm raring to go this time around. October 24th--be there or be square!


In the spirit of the Read-a-Thon, I've been mining my shelves for suitable books. I have a particular strategy that worked for me last year when I was able to complete 8 or 9 books in 24 hours (I was more surprised than anyone).

My biggest challenge as a read-a-thonner or a reader in general is staying motivated. If any one book takes me too long to read because it's boring or life gets in the way--whatever the reason might be--I tend to stall out. Same with the RAT. In my previous read-a-thon reading, I managed to juggle a good number of YA and children's novels, some essay collections, some shortish literary fiction, and graphic novels. This kept me going at just the right pace that I never got bored or felt overwhelmed. I felt like I was making progress!

And another thing--timing. I find that I can sit or lie still and read for about 45 minutes at a time, which was perfect! I stopped reading every 45 minutes or so, took some time to blog about my progress, and I went around to visit blogging buddies and "cheerlead" a bit. It was a great way to feel the community of readers all participating in this really awesome event.

And speaking of cheerleading, if you can, go ahead and sign up to be a cheerleader for the read-a-thon. You're committing to visit participants, and Eva has some great ideas for ways to organize the cheerleading this year to make it a bit more manageable.

On to the reading! Here's my potential reading pool thus far. Keep in mind, I'm one finicky reader, and I have a boatload of shortish, RAT-friendly books on my stacks that may weasel their way into the fun. This is what I culled this morning:

  • Jennifer's Body (a novel based on the screenplay by Diablo Cody), by Audrey Nixon
  • Pretty Dead, by Francesca Lia Block
  • The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, by Ann Marie Fleming (graphic novel)
  • Yonder: Essays, by Siri Hustvedt
  • Schooled, by Anisha Lakhani
  • Tideland, by Mitch Cullen
  • Travels with My Aunt, by Graham Greene
  • One Hundred Demons, by Lynda Barry (graphic novel)
  • Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel (graphic novel)
  • The Awakening, by Kate Chopin (scandalous that I haven't read this)

And that does it (for the moment). They all look tantalizing, and I wish the RAT started RIGHT NOW. I hope you'll join in!

Monday, October 05, 2009

This Book Made a Spectacle of Me


I was going to save my comments about Heather B. Armstrong's It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita, until I finished, but I just can't do it.
I had another OB appointment this morning. This one to go over blood, urine, and other sundry test results. I was nervous because, let's face it, I'm a first-time mother and I worry about everything. The baby might have eight heads, no toes, or maybe it'll be born with my "mother-in-law's" bad attitude. Or maybe I'll come down with toxoplasmosis, or gestational diabetes, or maybe I'll just turn into the Bride of Frankenstein and no one will want to be my friend anymore.
I started my morning reading through Armstrong's--webinatrix of Dooce.com's--book, and I was in a sickeningly good mood. Chuck even commented upon my cheeriness several times (between thanking God and other assorted deities). The good times rolled right on into the doctor's office, and as I was sitting, waiting to be poked and prodded and made to feel like a prize poodle, I was laughing out loud.
I have to tell you, the front desk sentinels (scary women, really) looked at me funny. Sternly even. I'm not sure if they were annoyed or so thoroughly surprised to hear someone bellowing laughter and nearly streaming fun-tears that their faces contorted automatically. Needless to say, I stopped reading long enough to compose myself, and then I told my nurse all about it when she was working up my info for the day.
Armstrong's book is pretty straightforward. She talks about what it was like being pregnant, having her first daughter, Leta, and it goes on to discuss her postpartum depression, subsequent commitment to a mental hospital, and recovery (the margarita, I assume).
If you've ever read Dooce.com, you already know that she's FUNNY. She's snarky, she's crass, she's ballsy, and she entertains and touches me to no end. Not everyone is as big a fan--see the "Hate" page on her site--but I'm right there rooting for her and her family.
Now this is the part of the post where I admit that I am far too lazy an ass to get up and walk the five feet it would take to retrieve the book from my dresser. It's been a long day, and I'm playing the preggers card! I have indigestion oddly like I would imagine jet fuel to be, my legs are sore from walking to the bathroom every six seconds, and I am pissy that none of my pre-preggers pants fit anymore and I'm stuck wearing capris in cool, damp weather. I know it gets progressively FAR worse, but whatever.
You don't get any witty passages today (they're coming), just the assurance that anything that brings me to laughterful tears has got to be pretty snarky and delicious. Now I'm scared to death of the upcoming postpartum portion of the book (another thing to worry about), but I'm feeling certain that Heather Armstrong will handle it with wit that I can thoroughly appreciate.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Short Story Sunday (RIP IV)


Back for another installment of RIP IV's Short Story Sunday. At this point I've sort of abandoned Joyce Carol Oates and Daphne Du Maurier in favor of Joe Hill's collection, 20th Century Ghosts. The first story was so chilling and captivating that I couldn't put it down. I'm three stories in, and I have yet to report on any of them, so here we go...
*Note: I read "Best New Horror" for last week's Short Story Sunday, but life jumped up and got in the way, so I wasn't able to post about it. I'm playing catch up today! I finished the other two just this morning, so they're fresh.
"Best New Horror" is the opening story of the collection, and it's the first truly chilling story I've read for the RIP challenge this time around. Who knew it's so hard to find really SCARY stories anymore! I suppose most authors are too sensitive and postmodern for that...or something.
In this tale, Eddie Carroll edits a yearly an anthology--America's Best New Horror--and he's getting steadily more disgruntled at all the crap that lands on his doorstep. The stories are sensational rehashings of past writings. Hardly an originality. That is, until he receives a letter from a professor named Harold Noonan who was crucified for having published a particularly disturbing and "genuinely distressing" horror story by the title of "Buttonboy" in a university journal. The story is raw, unapologetic, and the professor is accused of being a misogynist and other horrible things simply for having printed it. The writer is a former janitor at the university named Peter Kilrue.
Eddie Carroll is so taken by the story that he contacts Professor Noonan, and goes far out of his way to track down Peter Kilrue to get his permission to publish the story in America's Best New Horror. It's also his hope that Kilrue has other gems to offer, and he's invigorated by his job and the prospect of new literary talent for the first time in many years. His search leads him to the Kilrue brothers' home in a deserted mountain area where they all live an odd, detached kind of life. And suddenly Carroll finds himself in a horror story all his own.
GREAT short story! It's quite an ambiguous ending, but it's just wonderful. Truly creepy and hair raising at a number of points in the story, it really started 20th Century Ghosts with a bang, and so far it's the most reminiscent of Hill's father's (Stephen King's) work. Don't get me wrong--it's still original--and it is probably better written than most of the King stuff I've read, but I have to admit that I have not read much of King's short fiction, so I'm pretty biased.
The other two stories I'm reporting on today are far less "pure horror" and more thoughtful ruminations with odd, paranormal, or horror elements. The second is the inspiration for the collection's title, "20th Century Ghost."
Told in timeshifts, "20th Century Ghost" is the story of the Rosebud movie theater, long-time owner, Alec Sheldon, and the theater's resident ghost, Imogene Gilchrist. Alec first sees the ghost at the age of 15, shortly after receiving the news that his brother was killed in the South Pacific. As he grapples with the news and the loss, he escapes to the Rosebud one afternoon, and in the midst of watching Fantasia, Imogene appears in the seat beside him. At first he doesn't realize she's a spectre, but he soon notices the hand on his arm is decidedly freezing, and as she talks about the movie she develops a nosebleed that becomes progressively worse. By the time he retreats from his seat, he sees that she's slumped in her chair, head falling over to her left shoulder, the blood drying on her face.
Alec is captivated by Imogene, and begins working at the theater shortly after his encounter, and he owns it until well into his 70s. He catalogues Imogene's appearances over the years. She picks all the best movies to make herself known: The Wizard of Oz, Harold and Maude, The Birds, and the list goes on.
As Alec is nearing the end of his tenure and the Rosebud's popularity is dying, a young boy who saw Imogene in The Birds as a 12-year-old comes back to town as a grown-up, a famous director in fact, and buys the theater to refurbish it. Alec is given a seat, center stage, to watch a revival showing of The Birds, and a documentary filmmaker's lens catches a moment of exchange between Alec and Imogene that will make Imogene a famous ghost and ultimately change Alec's life forever, though I can't tell you just how.
While the ghostly element is certainly creepy, "20th Century Ghost" is much more about love and loss, and something of an homage to the movies. It was really a beautiful story, and I found myself quite touched by it.
Finally, the last story I'll report on today, is "Pop Art." While its subject matter is the most off-kilter so far, it's not horror in the least. That being said, I still really enjoyed it. The nameless narrator (I think he was nameless...I can't find his name now), grows up with an unusual friend named Art Roth. Art is inflatable. Yes, you read that correctly--inflatable. Hill explains this as a genetic disorder like any other. Art can move and sort of float along, but he can't move very quickly, he has no internal organs, and he can't speak since his mouth doesn't move. Instead, years of therapy help him write his thoughts with crayons (pencils or pens might pop him).
Art is a delicate, thoughtful boy and young man, and his friendship with the narrator is unlikely. The narrator keeps to himself and tries to cultivate his image as a sociopath just to keep others away from him in his unhappy existence. One day, as he saves Art from a gang of bullies on the monkey bars, things change, and the two become fast friends. Theirs is a typical relationship among boys--lots of teasing and silliness--but Art also has a bit of a fixation on death. Honestly, how long can someone inflatable stay patched and inflated? It is a strange and sad coincidence that leads to Art's downfall, and our narrator blames himself entirely.
It's really a story about friendship and growing pains. The narrator's level of responsibility and awareness of the well-being of others inflates (pardon the pun) exponentially as Art goes downhill. It's a really weird device for storytelling, but Hill did it well because I sort of forgot to think about Art's condition, even though Hill constantly reminds the reader, and saw him only as a person with an illness who was losing time.
20th Century Ghosts, so far, is one of the most impressive story collections I've read in a very long time as he tale stands nicely on its own, and so far I don't feel like I'm re-reading the same old thing over and over again. I hope he can sustain it throughout the collection because so far, I'm sold!
I'll be counting these not only for the RIP IV Challenge, but also for 100 Shots of Short.