Sunday, December 9, 2012

On Surviving and Loving 25

"You should draw a picture of Terabithia for us to hang in the castle," Leslie said.
"I can't." How could be explain it in a way Leslie would understand, how he yearned to reach out and capture the quivering life about him and how when he tried, it slipped past his fingertips, leaving a dry fossil upon the page
"I just can't get the poetry of the trees," he said.
"Don't worry," she said. "You will someday."
-The Bridge to Terabithia

Tomorrow I will be 26. Years old.

I'm confused about how it happened, really. Didn't I just turn 25? Though the fact that time is going at some kind of sprint recently is beside the point.

The point is that unless you haven't spoken to me, read my blog, or basically been in my general vicinity for the past year, you probably know that about 2 months before I turned 25, I had a freak out. I had just graduated from grad school a few months before, I was still trying to find my little place here, and I was just going through a thing. So turning 25 was something I could hold on to and obsess about. Around this time, a friend of mine (whose blog here is fantastic, by the way), was telling me how she made a list of things to do while she was 25. And I loved the idea. And of course, being who I am, I took it further than I probably should have. But here we are, one year later, and I survived being 25, with many (but not sole) thanks to the epitomic "list" that you're all sick of hearing about.

So, what did I do? It took me a month, but I came up with 19 goals. I put them on a spreadsheet. I saved it as "25 Goals of 25" (25 goals was going to be too many, but I was hopeful for a while!). I made columns for things that were able to be counted (beers, restaurants, letters, books). I started. That's it. Simple as pie. (Well maybe not that simple, but keep reading and I'll give you tips on starting your own list if you're interested!)

So of course, I want to talk about it. And I want to tell you what I did and what I didn't do.

If you want an intro to the list and to some of the things I accomplished early on, see this post here.

I'm not going to share with you all of my 19 goals because some are personal, some are boring, and some are embarrassing, so I'll spare you and just talk about the cool/interesting ones.

Goals That I Accomplished:

Goal #1: Try 25 New Beers
Giiiirrrlll, I finished this goal back in March. I mean, I annihilated this goal. And I continued to annihilate this goal to the point where this year, I tried 66 new beers. That's right. I could tell you about my favorites and least favorites, but frankly, I have never been good at describing why I like the taste of something very well, so I'll only say this: I'm glad I had this goal for two reasons. 1. It proved my theory that I just frankly love a good IPA. 2. It gave me an excuse to be and have fun. Honestly most of this list gave me a reason to let loose a little and try new things, and this is just one example. Now, that doesn't mean I'll ever try and drink Tetley's Ale ever again, but you can bring on the Full Sail IPA! Honestly, I think that this goal can be summed up by this photo:

Goal #2: Read 5 Books From My To-Read-Before-I-Die List
My list is about 30 books long (and constantly growing) and it's very intimidating. There's so much that I haven't read (and I know I'm kidding myself when I say I'm one day going to read War and Peace) and keeping that list helps me take care of some of the gaps in my knowledge. The five books I chose this year were Of Mice and Men, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Flowers for Algernon, and To The Lighthouse.  Actually, I thought I was being really diverse in my choices, but I realize now that I was very much on some kind of science-fiction-y, moral-y trek. Each one of these books made me think about some aspect of my life and the world around me (which of course is what reading is supposed to do) and they (well, most of them) did it quite beautifully.

Goal #4: Write One Letter A Week
I'll admit that I'm not done with this goal because I actually began it on January 1, so I have a few weeks to go yet, but this has been my favorite goal.There is nothing, nothing better than a good letter. And in this day and age, a good letter takes skill. It takes time. I spent a lot of time writing a lot of letters. My original intention with this goal was to write 52 different letters to 52 different people, but frankly, I think I was being a little optimistic in thinking that there were 52 people I wanted to write letters to. At Week 41, I cycled back and started picking people who I thought needed, would appreciate, or asked for a letter. These letters came in all different sizes and shapes--stationary, Hallmark cards, notepaper. And all in my very small, not that nice handwriting.  Every week (well, sometimes I'd skip and have to write two letters the next week to catch up.. I'm busy, okay?!), I got to sit down and think about the person that I was writing to and write about whatever I wanted. Only about 5 people wrote letters back (and they have no idea how I appreciate that), but it wasn't about getting letters back. It was about letting people know that I was thinking of them, even if just for the 30 minutes it took me to jot off a letter to them. Honestly, it became more about me. I got to sit down and spill out what has been happening in my life and became almost like meditation. I had to sit and breathe for 30 minutes. It was lovely. It was a lot of work, so I don't think I'll keep up the weekly letter, but it's nice to know that it can act as a very inexpensive and important therapy.

Goal #8: Try 5 New Restaurants
I laugh in the face of this goal. Bahahahaha! I accomplished this goal by the end of January and it was so easy for many reasons. 1. When you start dating someone, all you do is go out to eat. (And actually, Traber's and my first date was at my first restaurant and was right after my 25th birthday!) 2. Since I had been so very poor in grad school and didn't have that much time for too much cavorting about, I never went out to eat. So even basic places, like the two places that are right by my apartment complex, had previously gone un-tested. Though this goal was expensive, I loved it. And here are my top 5 restaurants that I tried this year:

1.  Jaleo (Chinatown) (Oh. The asparagus.)
2. Alewife (Baltimore) (Best burger I've ever. had. ever. Please go there)
3. Zaytinya (Chinatown) (Get the apricot dessert thing. Oh my GOD.)
4. Bier Baron (Dupont) (You can't get much better than 10$ for a burger AND beer.)
5. Biergartenhaus (H St.) (The food is meh, really, but the beer. The beer!)

It's hard to choose my top 5 really, though, because most of the reason that I loved going to these places was the company that I was in and the fun times that we had there. But the food is awesome too. I ended up trying 45 new restaurants. Ridiculous. And awesome :)

Goal #11: Fix Teeth
Yep. I have braces. The appearance of my teeth have bothered me for several years now. Things were just out of place and getting a little scary. I had some money saved and this is what I wanted to do with it. So I did. I am a 25 year old with braces. I perpetually feel 12 years old. Though the braces are clear and you might not notice them unless you got close, they are there. And they screw with everything. But I am so beyond glad I have braces. I feel more confident, I lost a little weight (because I wasn't eating as much... it's a pain to brush your teeth every time you put something in your mouth!), my teeth are looking great, and it was a really big decision that I made all by myself (with input from others, of course). The best part? I thought I wasn't getting them off until July, and it turns out it's going to be more like APRIL!!! :)

Goal #14: Update Blog Once A Month
You're a witness. I've been doing it! :) Sometimes twice a month! When I first started this blog, I was so excited, but then life gets in the way and you forget about it. But I love talking about books and reading (and myself.. of course) and I love having an outlet for that (it also helps to divert some of my boring book talk away from my poor friends and people who really don't care!). Not only that, but since I started back on the blog, I've gotten a chance to write some reviews for HarperCollins (which you can read here and here) which is so fun and challenging! I know that there aren't a ton of people out there who read this, but it's kind of nice to send this stuff into the void and see what comes back. So thank you for being a reader and for visiting! :)

Goal #16: Learn to Play the Ukulele
Have you met my ukulele Babette? She's awesome. Me? Eh... I'm not so awesome. But I know a few ditties and I love being able to play the uke. It's a fun (yes, I know, and hipster) distraction.I wish I took lessons and didn't just teach myself using Youtube, but alas. I'm sure you thought that I forgot all about Babette since my post about her, but I've been working extra hard just so I could show you this. Before you watch: I know it's not perfect. My singing voice has deteriorated immensely since high school. If you catch it, you'll see the product of Goal #13: Find the Perfect Lip Color (and I wish that I had recorded this a few days later and I would have worn my new spoon ring [from my lovely, fantastic boyfriend] which was Goal # 10: Find a Spoon Ring).


Yes. That happened. Obviously, I need a lot more work and I'm not great, but it's so fun anyway! (It also took literally 20 tries to get it to be not more horrible than that).

And now on to...

Goals That I Did Not Accomplish (And Regret in Some Way):

Goal #6: Visit a New City
Technically, I did complete this goal. This year, I went to Indianapolis, Long Island, and Sandbridge, Virginia, none of which I'd ever been to before. But they were all because I had to go (okay, had to is the wrong word.. most were for weddings and Thanksgiving which were awesome, so it was worth it!) not because I said, "Man, I really want to go there." I am notorious for not taking vacation and I wanted to break out of that mold, but time and money were not kind to me. What I wanted to put on the list was "Go to a foreign country" but I knew the likelihood of that was even less and so I didn't want to test the fates. So I settled for hoping for Charleston, SC. Alas. A dream to be realized another day.

Goal #7: Write a Short Story
I'm more sad that I didn't even try to do this one. I've never been an excellent writer and my creative writing is even worse. But I have an idea for a story, I just didn't force myself to find time to sit down and lay it out there. And I think I was scared (which was part of what this whole list was meant to overcome). It won't leave the perpetual "to do" list in my brain though.

Goal #15: Have a Dinner Party
Again, time just got away from me. What this was also supposed to make me do was to branch out with my cooking and try new things and it just didn't happen. I have all the elements for a great dinner party (I even have cloth napkins!), but things got busy and it fell through the cracks.

Although there are several more goals that I didn't cover, I can tell you that of my 19 goals, I accomplished 14 of them! Not too shabby!

With any kind of big project like this, there are bound to be things that come out of it, and some of those things certainly weren't expected.  For as much as I was truly dreading being 25, this has turned out to be the best year. Ever. And that's really not an exaggeration. I have had more fun this year than ever before and I think it was because I let myself. In the past, I've not been very good about letting myself have fun, but I was bound and determined (and armed with fun goals to accomplish, dammit!) to have fun. My bank account, liver, and waistline probably aren't thanking me right now, but it's worth it. Every second has been worth it.

If you're thinking about doing something similar to this, first of all, let me know(!) and second of all, here are some tips that I figured out along the way:

1. A spreadsheet (though your mom makes fun of you for it) is a great way to remind yourself what you've accomplished, what you need to do, and helps keep all your info in one place!
2. Put both fun things and not fun things on the list. The not fun things suck, but you feel an extra hit of accomplishment when you do something you don't want to AND you get to cross it off the list.
3. Don't put more than you can chew on there. Really, this isn't about making yourself crazy, it's about figuring out what you want to accomplish and trying to get through it strategically, not killing yourself to run a marathon (unless you want to) just because you think you should because of whatever reason people tell you. This is for you. And it's so much better when you can embrace it for that.
4.  Don't stress out about not accomplishing something. First of all, you don't have to share your goals with the world (my friends probably wish I hadn't shared with them!). Again. This is for you! Second of all, goals don't go away. I still want to write a short story. It's gonna happen. It just... hasn't yet.

Perhaps the biggest thing is that you have to put yourself out there, but not let the goals shape your year. Let your year invite your goals.

This year has surpassed my wildest dreams and there are so many people to thank for that, and you should all know who you are. (Tip #5 should be that you have to have people around you who will remind you of your goals, text you beer names, and take you places :) )

Thank you all for helping me make this year beautiful.

On to 26!

PS - Back in a few weeks with my Top 10 of 2012 (see some of my past "Top 10 of 20__" posts here, here, and here)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A "Mysterious" Change of Heart

Mysteries have never been my thing.

Well, I guess that's not really true. I used to adore "Choose Your Own Adventure" books which are a kind of mystery in themselves and I had an Agatha Christie thing for a while, but my stereotype of mysteries has always been similar to my stereotype of romance novels--that they are poorly written with obvious plots and are good for plane rides but not much else.

So really, no. Mysteries have never been my thing.


A few weeks ago, I got a couple more books from HarperCollins and though I knew that they were mysteries, I wanted to try something new. Expand my horizons. I mean, that's what my whole 25th year has been about!

And I'm so glad I did, because Elegy for Eddie and The Stockholm Octavo were perfect for November reading and for breaking the stereotype.

Here's what I thought:

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear: When I first read about this book, I was nervous because it's part of a series that follows Maisie Dobbs, a woman living in the first half of the 20th century who falls into being a private detective of sorts. I was worried when I started the book that I would feel left behind because I hadn't read any of the prior books, but it was quite the opposite. Though I'm sure that if I had read the other books, I would have caught on to some little inside details, but I don't feel any loss from not having read them. The novel opens with the story of a woman who works in a stable in the late 1800s. She is pregnant and ends up delivering the baby in the stable. Jump to the 1930s, post-WWI, and the baby that was born, Eddie, has been murdered. Eddie grew up relatively slow, but he had a way with horses. As he grew up, he worked odd jobs and made a way for himself with the help of his mother. Maisie, the private detective, grew up knowing Eddie from a distance, but they grew up in the same poor part of town. Maisie found a way out of her old neighborhood and when Eddie's death doesn't seem like an accident, some of his friends seek out Maisie to try and figure out what was behind it. What could easily turn into a trite "whodunit" quickly becomes about something else all together, and Eddie is just one piece of the larger puzzle. Maisie Dobbs is an interesting character, and we learn a lot about her: she grew up poor and inherited a great deal of money after the war which she is very uncomfortable with because she doesn't know how to live a privileged life. The novel follows not only the search for the truth about Eddie's death, but also Maisie's growth as a human and her realization of what she wants in life. I really enjoyed Elegy for Eddie: it's a quick read that will keep you intrigued until you figure it out! Here's a little more about the book.

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann: Take The Night Circus and Shadow of the Wind, stir them together and you get The Stockholm Octavo. With hints of magic, conspiracy plots, psychics, geometric intrigue, card games, mysterious folding fans, and a search for love, you really can't get much better. Really--from the first chapter I was hooked. The story follows Emil, a sekretaire (basically a customs worker) in 1790s Stockholm, or "The Town" as it's often referred to, who gambles at a local establishment. He goes about his general life until Mrs. Sparrow, the establishment's proprietor and a "seer" senses something in Emil and offers to lay what she calls an "Octavo" for him which uses cards to determine the eight people who will play the greatest roles in a very important act in his life. The first few chapters are full of the actual laying of the Octavo which takes eight nights. Each card laid represents a certain character who will play a role: the Trickster, the Magpie, the Key, the Courier, and so on. Once Emil has his entire Octavo laid for him, he must seek them out (or pay close attention to what surrounds him) so he can use them to influence an important event. Initially, Emil's important event in his life is to find love, which he (of course) thinks he has figured out. But he soon learns that he is part of a larger web when Mrs. Sparrow reveals that he is part of her own Octavo, and the stage becomes wide. Told in a kind of journalistic way (each chapter is attributed to one or more sources and we are warned at the beginning that much of the "history" told are based on half-truths, hearsay, and outright lies), the story of Emil's quest for love becomes the story of the eight people in his Octavo. Though the story revolves around Emil, the larger plot is in the conspiracy to assassinate the king of Sweden and the woman (called "The Uzanne") who makes the attempt. Though I really did love this book and highly recommend it, I wish that I had known more about the history of Sweden during this time--I think the political intrigue and the underlying fervor for political revolution would have resonated more. Regardless, Engelmann obviously knows what she's talking about and creates a very palpable and colorful world that is changing before Emil's eyes. His love of The Town and of his life can't stop it from changing, and that holds true in today's society. Emil is a great character who you love and hate simultaneously, but above all, you want to keep reading to figure it all out. There is very subtle but gripping element of magic that really catches you and characters that keep you on your toes. There is so much that is going on at once, and I don't want to give too much away, so I apologize if my summary is all over the place. Full of card games, mysterious fans, and the overriding idea that we are all connected in some way, The Stockholm Octavo is one that really makes you pay attention and rewards you for it. Here's a little more about the book!

So that's what I've been reading the past few weeks. Though life has kept me plenty busy, I'm so glad I got the chance to read these two new books!

The next few weeks promise to keep me busy with holidays and such, but I'm excited to come back in December and regale you with what I got done (and didn't get done) in my 25th year, seeing as it's all over in about 3 weeks! I just started Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse which will wrap up my "Read 5 Books from my To-Read-Before-I-Die List" goal.

Though I'm not freaking out about turning 26 (yet) like I was freaking out about turning 25, I have to say that I'll be a little sad to see the year go--it's been such a good one, and I want to keep it around a little longer. So I'm going to live it up and then start a whole new awesome year!

On that note, a happiest of Thanksgivings to you and your family! I hope you get to spend it with the ones you love, celebrating old traditions, making new ones, and being thankful.

Until next time, keep reading!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Post-Sandy Post

"This storm is kind of like love... you think you have it figured out, then it changes on you."
-NBC News 4 Reporter

Well, Sandy has made her presence known here in Silver Spring, but thankfully we are with power (which is truly amazing, really)!  The government has been closed for two days and metro is opening back up at 2:00 today, and frankly, I just need to get out of this apartment! But we are fine here, and thanks for all of your texts and thoughts while we weathered the storm! :) I filled the time by learning Moon River on the uke, reading a ton, baking, and watching Little Women. Not such a bad storm!

Anyway, I realized yesterday that I am sorely behind on updating the blog! Work has been so busy this past month and my weekends have been packed, so to be honest, my reading has suffered a little bit, but there are still things to update!

Here are the things that I've read since my last post:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: Actually to be more accurate, I listened to this book. As I mentioned back in July, my boyfriend and I have been doing a lot of driving around for weddings, parties, weekends away, etc. and to fill the hours of driving that we did, we picked a few books on tape to listen to and this was a book that we had both gotten at one point but had never actually read. It's a pretty long listen, but we finished it in about 3 separate trips. At first, I was super annoyed by the narrator's Southern accent, but then I came to fall in love with it. She had this amazing way of changing her intonation to let you know who was talking--very subtle, but very beneficial. The Poisonwood Bible blew up a few years ago when it was an Oprah Book Pick. The story is about the Price family who moves to the Congo in the 1960s for a mission. The father is a preacher and he takes his wife and four daughters with him. The chapters alternate between each girl as their adventures in the Congo escalate. Each girl is very different even though two of them are twins and their views on their lives in the Congo are fascinating. The book follows them through their time there and after when they leave the mission. A really interesting look at what family means when disaster strikes and when many of the family members don't really like each other to begin with, this is a great and engrossing book that makes you want to know how things turn out for the Price family.

Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout: A few years ago I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and liked it well enough, though I didn't love it. I have to say that I did like Amy and Isabelle more. The story is about a mother and daughter who live in a mill town in New England. While not complete social outcasts, they are both a little on the edges of society when the book starts out. Isabelle, the mother, works as a secretary at a mill where the women there basically ignore her and where she is in love with her boss who is married. She wants what is best for her daughter Amy whose long, beautiful blonde hair both helps her to hide herself while making her desirable to many. The story revolves around the sexual affair that Amy has with her teacher while she is in high school, and that story line is fascinating, but Strout does this amazing job of weaving in the context of the surroundings and the community to make this story not just about the affair, but about life in this town in general. Strout gives you small peeks into the lives of the other people in the town which really makes the story much richer and fuller. A complex and dramatic story that gets into the nitty-gritty of mother-daughter relationships, this is a great read!

NW by Zadie Smith: There's a lot to say about Zadie Smith--some people love her, some people hate her. I read White Teeth last year and while I enjoyed it, I didn't love it. But there's something about Zadie Smith that I like and is sometimes hard for me to put into words. I think what I like about her is that she's very raw and real and she doesn't shy away from the realities and situations that life sometimes puts us in.  NW is split into four sections, each focusing on a different character. All of the characters live in the northwest section of London. One of the more fascinating chapters is the one that is told in short vignettes that range from instant messenger conversations to surveys to short stories about two of the characters friendship through the years. The characters in NW seem to be the focus of the book on the surface, but the book is also about London and about life--the characters are all connected somehow, but they all live these different lives in a very close proximity which is so accurate on how we live our lives today. Told in an unconventional way that doesn't sugar-coat the realities of human existence and life, this book is a really interesting read that will make you look around you and pay attention to your own surroundings a little more closely.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: This was one of the books on my To-Read-Before-I-Die list (from which I'm trying to knock out five this year) and is the fourth that I've read from that list this year (one more to go! What on earth should it be?!). In case you aren't familiar with the novel, it's the story of Charlie who is mentally disabled and has extremely poor writing and speech skills. His IQ is very low and though he escaped living in a state home, he works a menial job at a bakery and has very little life outside of that. Charlie is chosen to undergo a series of treatments that end up raising his IQ. The book is told through Charlie's journal entries that the scientists performing the experiment ask him to keep and you see his IQ raising through the course of the book through the way Charlie writes and thinks.  Charlie becomes more intelligent than the scientists and his intelligence isolates him from the world, then is deteriorated as the treatment begins to wear off. It's a really thought-provoking story that made me really think about the role of science in our lives and the ideas of how we should or shouldn't use the technology that we have available to us. If you haven't read it, or haven't read it in a while, I highly recommend it--it's a very easy read and one that, though written several decades ago, really applies to our world today.

With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge: Now, I haven't yet finished this book--I started it at the worst time possible (when I wouldn't have time to read it during lunches because I didn't get a lunch for about a week and a half or have energy to read it on the metro) so it's taken me a while to get through it, but I'm glad I'm reading it. My best friend's husband has been telling me to read this book for probably 2 years now, so when I went to their house a few weeks ago, I stole it from him and became determined to read it. Sledge was a Marine during World War 2 and fought in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Though Sledge is not necessarily a writer by trade, his very raw and honest portrayals of the battles that he was in, the training he went through, and then men that he fought with are told in a very impactful and meaningful way. Sledge does not sugar-coat the battles or the way the Marines felt about the Japanese and he certainly doesn't gloss over the terror and horror that the men went through in fighting for our country. Sledge's details of the war are very personal and emotional, and that's why they pack such a punch when you read about the horrifying trauma of war. It takes a little time to get through because there is a lot to take in, but it's really educational and well-written.

That's what was on the plate last month. I'm really excited because once I finish With the Old Breed, I have two books that HarperCollins sent me to read: Elegy for Eddie by Jaqueline Winspear and The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann! I'm really excited to read these, especially because one of them is a mystery and it's something that I usually don't choose for myself, so it'll be something new!

I hope that you all have survived any remnants of Sandy that you experienced and that you had some good books to keep you company during the storm! I'm hoping to have an update for you on the new books in less than two weeks.

Keep Reading (and happy Fall!),

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greek Mythologies and Books About Books

"That's the kind of connection we can form with a stranger--even without their knowing--just by seeing a particular book in their hands. Life happens alongside the act of reading--a story is forever mixed with where were were and what we were doing while we were reading that book."
-Lauren Leto
Judging a Book By Its Lover

I have had the awesomely lucky fortune to have HarperCollins send me several books to review on my blog recently! (Seriously--most awesome thing ever and something you should genuinely be jealous of? Yes.) These books came at a perfect time where I'm just in that mood to sit down and read for hours while biting into a crisp green apple (the joys of which I will not experience this fall due to my current status of "braceface").

And you're in luck too, because the books that they sent me were wonderful and I can't wait to share them with you! So without further ado, the last two books I've read have been:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Do you remember your seventh grade reading class where you were forced (mostly against your will, which is saying something for a nerdy, bookworm-y seventh grader) to read Mythology by Edith Hamilton and pretty much everyone hated it because it was old and "boring" and it was more fun to write notes to your friends about what boys were cute? Then in the 11th grade, you got to take Astronomy because your high school had a planetarium and the whole first half of the class was about constellations? And of course, you devoured The Odyssey in college, not realizing how cool Greek mythology was even though you'd been exposed to it so much.

Right. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, when I saw that the book was The Song of Achilles, I got kind of excited. Since the days when Mythology was a torture, I've come to appreciate the myths in all their awesomeness. And frankly, even if you don't appreciate mythology or know anything about it, The Song of Achilles is an excellent read. The story is told from the perspective of Patroclus who was a prince before he accidentally killed a boy and was exiled to live in Phthia where the prince Achilles took him under his own wing. The two become inseparable and later, lovers. In Greek mythology, Patroclus and Achilles are portrayed as brothers-in-arms, and Miller seeks to develop that story from an intimate point of view. Miller does a wonderful job of getting you invested in the characters--they have flaws just like anyone else though they are royalty and gods, and their love is strong, powerful, and everlasting. By the end of the book, I was in tears (and my boyfriend was sick of me talking about it).

Miller knows her stuff, too--the interactions with the gods, the Trojan war, the details of the stories go to make the whole novel alive and make it feel so very real. The tale is lovely enough, but Miller's telling is especially provoking. Also, if you get the paperback edition from Ecco, there are interviews in the back as well as character glossaries and fun facts. This actually really helps if you read it over a long period of time, though it's a pretty quick and engrossing read, so that shouldn't be a problem! (For a preview of the book and some of the background info on the mythology, see Miller's website here.) 

Judging a Book By Its Lover by Lauren Leto: Confession. I have several loves in my life and one of these loves is books that are about books and reading. The book-world is my world. I belong there, and I love being completely (or mostly completely) in the know when I read a book about how it feels to read and what snobs readers can be  (which I completely understand myself to be). Leto helped to co-found the popular (and hilarious) site Texts From Last Night and this book is basically that kind of hilarity for readers everywhere. Arranged as basically short essays on topics such as how to snag a date at a book store, the rules of reading in public, the lament of the loss of community based on reading that the e-readers have brought, I sincerely laughed out loud (on the Metro, of course, which is one of her "don'ts" for reading in public) because so many of her insights were dead on. For instance: one section is all about what your kid will turn out to be like as an adult if you read them [this book] as a child. My mom read me Madeline (which I loved and is still one of my favorite books of all time). Leto writes that those who are read Madeline as a child will turn out to be "Horrifyingly obedient, to the point where you can be reassured that even if you traveled out of town for a month and left her alone, your teenage daughter wouldn't dare throw a party or look twice at the liquor cabinet." Have you met me?! I mean, this is spot on stuff, here, people.

One of the more meaty and interesting parts of her book is the section called "How to Fake It" where she gives small tidbits that can help you if you get in a jam and feel the need to lie about having read something. Split into "Basics" (info about the author, fun facts), "Essentialography" (the author's most famous/popular books), and "Details" (basically fun facts to impress your friends with), this chapter charms if you've read the author (and lets you feel like you're in on the joke) and has some good information if you haven't (did you know that Kurt Vonnegut called semicolons "transvestite hermaphrodites?").

The book is a very quick read (I read it in 3 days) that charms, even though it can sometimes be a little pretentious. But let's get real here: who doesn't love a little pretention? As a reader, I think that Leto perfectly captured what it means to be a reader, which is being quite unlike anything else. For me, it also made me appreciate the fact that my parents encouraged me (well, they never complained at least) to carry a book everywhere I went, took me to the library when I was a kid, and introduced me to the land of imagination and wonder at such a young age. I am a lucky kid, I can tell you that.

Judging a Book By Its Lover comes out on October 2 and The Song of Achilles is out now! So hit the library or the book store if you're looking for something new to read to start off your Fall right!

Keep Reading!

PS--As a side note, I just have to say publicly, GO NATIONALS!!! :)

Monday, September 10, 2012


"Do you know," he asked in a delicious accent, "what Dom Perignon said after inventing champagne?"
"No?" I said.
"He called out to his fellow monks, "Come quickly: I am tasting the stars."
-The Fault in Our Stars

Have you ever just had a morning where you wake up, and even though you'd probably rather lay in bed for at least another hour, you get up and you know you can handle the day? I had that morning this morning: the sky was perfect, the weather was almost tights-appropriate, I had a good book to start, and my weekly to-do list seemed like it wasn't going to kill me. The only thing that could have made it better was if I had my iPod (which is basically down for the count.. it won't even turn on anymore) for some perfect tune-age. Oh well. But after a lovely, relaxing weekend, I always feel better.

So on this day that started out with me feeling pretty good and ending with me feeling not that different from other days, I wanted to try and recapture that morning feeling by doing several things tonight: 1) Cleaning my room (it was horrible... and I didn't even really clean.. just picked up the piles of clothes and ephemera that have gathered over the past two weeks), 2) Going to the library (duh.), 3) Blogging, and 4) Having what will probably turn out to be one of my last summer beers before fall hits. So that's what I'm doing: I'm recapturing, dammit.

I must say that I've been dying to write about the books that follow for a few weeks now, I just haven't had the time to sit down and actually post. In my last post, I talked about how my reading pile was turning out to be less than fulfilling... well, next time that happens, I'm going to make sure that I post it on the internet--it seems to be the medium the gods use to bless me with great reading! This past month has proven to be one of the better ones.

Without further ado, my recent readings:

-Arcadia by Lauren Groff: Now, if you have ever lived with me, you know that if there is anything about cults, gangs, communes, or serial killers, I will watch it. I am fascinated by all of these things and cannot get enough. So when I heard that Lauren Groff's new book was about a commune, I immediately requested it. The story is narrated by a boy, Bit,  who was born into and grew up in a commune that has (of course) a charismatic, power-hungry leader and that eventually falls apart. The story is broken up into three parts: one where Bit is 5 and observing his surroundings, one where he is a teenager and the commune is falling apart, and the final section is devoted to Bit's life after the commune. The storytelling often reminded me of Room during the parts where Bit is very young. It's definitely a coming-of-age story and in the end was almost not about what I thought it was really about. Wonderfully told and completely engrossing (especially if you're like me!), this is a well done novel that I highly recommend.

-The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: Today at the library, I saw a woman walking out with this book and I told her (because I just can't help myself) "That book was really good, but it messed with my head a little bit" (at which point she told me that she was right in the middle of taking her psych clinical and that was all she needed). But really--I didn't expect this book to make me think so much, but it did. The main plot point is that the Earth has somehow been knocked out of it's normal angle and so days and nights no longer last their 24 hours--there are some days that last 40 hours and nights that last 10. The concept is interesting, and frankly, I found it terrifying. We learn all about this from the perspective of a young girl, Julia, who now has to deal with the craziness of the Earth as well as dealing with the normal things in life. The "slowing" as it's referred to changes all kinds of things: gravity, people's behavior, farming, diseases, and the whole idea was very well thought out but also very terrifying. One of the more interesting parts of the book was the discussion on how some people decided to live by clock time (meaning that they didn't pay attention to light and dark and went by how time had always been measured) and those who lived by when the sun rose and set. It was a great book, but one that definitely kept me awake a few nights!

-Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates: Joyce Carol Oates has always been hit or miss for me, and frankly there have been far more misses than hits (except for My Sister, My Love which I devoured). Mudwoman was a big miss for me. I almost stopped reading it halfway through but forced myself to get through it. The story is about a girl whose mother is mentally ill. The woman has two daughters: one of the daughters, she kills and leaves in a refrigerator, and the other becomes Mudwoman, the one she left in the woods and who was found and adopted. Frankly, the parts of the story that were flashbacks to her childhood and the story of how she was left and found could have been good if they weren't overshadowed by the strange, often gross, telling of the woman when she is 50. Mudwoman is adopted as a young girl by Quakers and grows up to be the first female president of an Ivy League university, but she can't outrun her past and deal with her life. There were parts where my face must have been so contorted in both confusion and disgust that someone on the metro asked me, "Are you okay, miss?" Yeah... I wouldn't recommend this one. Plus it's super long (longer than necessary by at least 100 pages) and took forever.

- Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas: To get over the strangeness that was Mudwoman, I picked up a book that I actually bought my roommate for her birthday. Paris, My Sweet is a memoir of a woman who loves sweets so much that she writes about them as part of her living. She works in advertising and is assigned a project in Paris, which she takes mostly because of her love of France and her love of French desserts. The book was cute, fluffy, fun, and make me long for France (though I've never been). Let's just say that the day after I finished it, I treated myself to Paul, which just opened near work (and will be the downfall of my waist and my wallet). But in all honesty, it made me really want to search for a good bakery in DC and also to go to Paris, which is on my list (of course). A cute, super-easy read!

-The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Please read this book. I know it's young adult, and I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it's not. I promise. The story is about Hazel who is a terminally ill teenager who has a very interesting outlook on life. She meets Augustus who only has one leg because of cancer, which is in remission throughout most of the book. I'm not spoiling anything here by telling you that they fall in love and it is, of course, destined to be doomed. Okay, okay, I know that this is starting to sound like a Lurlene McDaniel book (which I was (ashamedly) obsessed with as a kid), but it's so well written and so beautiful. Hazel and Augustus kind of begin their love affair over a book that Hazel loves, which becomes an important part of their story. I loved the characters and the way that Green portrays them and how I came to love them myself. By the end of the book, I was a mess (warning: don't read this on public transportation... thank goodness I was home when I finished it) but I was so glad that I read it. I feel like I'm not doing the book justice here, but please do pick it up. Very quick and enjoyable read.

And thus ends my summer reading--I think it's officially over now, as I drain the dregs of one of my final summer beers and open my windows to let in the cool air that feels like fall. It's hard to believe it's already fall again, but I must say that I'm ready for sweater dresses, tights, cooking, opening my windows, autumn scented candles, and crispy leaves.

I've started reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and I think I'm going to love it! :)

In closing, let me say this: it's hard to believe that as of tomorrow, it's been 5 whole years since I got on my first airplane ever and landed in London to spend  3 months in Canterbury, England. So, to close this post, I'm throwin' it back with one of my favorite pictures ever.

How can anything possibly top skipping down the lane that Maria von Trapp skipped down? I ask you that. :)

I hope that your summer reading has made you feel renewed and ready for the fall!

Read on, friends,

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Yellow Ukuleles and Piles of Perfection Await

One of the advantages to not being beautiful is that one usually gets better-looking as one gets older; I am, in fact, at this very moment gaining my looks.

-Nora Ephron
As someone who reads a lot and talks about reading quite a bit as well, I find that it is this amazing natural phenomenon to go through phases in my reading. Not phases--that's the wrong term... more like.. spurts. There are weeks that go by and all I want to do is read. I've got a perfection of books in my queue and the gods of opportunity have shined down upon me to give me time to devour any piece of text in sight. Then there are other times when the gods do not smile and the pile is less than perfect and I just do the normal amount of reading. I think you know where this is going.

Last month handed me less than a pile of perfection.

Not to say that there wasn't an abundance of enjoyable reading, but I have only four books to account for since my last post. I want to talk about the books first and then go into some other orders of business.

Since my last post, here's what's been in my head:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez: After reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and A Clockwork Orange, I'll admit that I was feeling a little drained. They were some very good, but very intense reads. I had nothing from the library, so I ransacked my roommate's bookshelves and came up with this one. My roommate Kristen had mentioned it to me before and told me I should read it, so it was in the back of my mind when I picked it out. And it was lovely. In case my love for books with varying narrators at differing periods of time hasn't come across through my love for A Visit from the Goon Squad and Let the Great World Spin, then let me fill you in: I love books with varying narrators at differing periods of time. The story is told from the perspective of the Garcia girls who were born in the Dominican Republic and move to the United States as teens. The story is told backwards and from all different sides, so it almost feels like a bunch of short stories, but Alvarez does an amazing job of holding the thread and making you feel for the characters. From themes of growing up to family ties to immigration, this book paints a brilliant picture.

I Remember Nothing and Crazy Salad by Nora Ephron: When Nora Ephron died earlier last month, it had a strange affect on me. I, of course, grew up adoring most things she had her hands in (I mean, You've Got Mail is one of the greatest movies ever... I mean... "Bouquets of sharpened pencils."), but I think what really affected me the most was the outpouring of devotion that followed her death. (If you haven't seen Lena Dunham's ode to Nora Ephron in the New Yorker, please read it here). Nora Ephron seemed like this amazing human being, and although no one is perfect, it seems as though few people had much bad to say about them. She was someone that people will genuinely and noticeably miss. Let's be true here: who doesn't want to be remembered the way that so many seem to remember Nora Ephron? So I thought maybe the secret of her ways would be revealed in her writing, and it completely was. I adored I Remember Nothing. And what I adored about it was it's complete hilarity and bluntness. The last two chapters made me pause. They are "What I Will Miss" and "What I Won't Miss" and they remind me of lists that I often make for myself.  I Remember Nothing is a very quick read and although it often had me choking back tears for reasons even I can't fathom, I really loved it. So of course, I picked up Crazy Salad next, and while I liked it, I wasn't as excited by it as I was the other. Maybe because it was a book of essays that, though related by the fact that they were all about women, weren't as personal as I Remember Nothing. Any Nora Ephron is wonderful, and perfect for summer, so if I were you, I'd pick one up.

In One Person by John Irving: If you're going to read a John Irving book, you have to be prepared to be completely enveloped in the world he creates. I'm serious--don't tell me I didn't warn you. I mean, it's a lovely thing and one that few authors can pull off, I find. But he has this way of letting you truly see and understand his characters and the world in which they live. The story follows a boy who grows up in Vermont and goes to an all-boys school at which his step-father teaches. The boy grows up knowing that he is bi-sexual, but is stunted in his small New England town. I don't want to tell too much of the story because although Irving doesn't try to hide it (he knows we aren't fools, after all) there are some big surprises. The cast of characters is raw and varied (including a cross-dressing grandfather and a librarian who is not quite who she says she is) and it did really keep me hooked through the whole thing. There are some graphic sections of the book, both sexual and not, but it wasn't just for the sake of being graphic--there is purpose. Irving goes deeply into the AIDS crisis in New York in the 1980s as well as the world of wrestling which was fascinating. A good read, but I would say it should be one you commit to, not just keep around for kicks.

And that's it.

I know! It doesn't seem like much at all. But life has gotten a little busy, so there is less time for reading. (I'm 2 weeks behind on my New Yorkers which NEVER happens!).

But there are other fun things happening and one of them is goal related.

I'm moving closer and closer to accomplishing more goals, and there is one I'm really excited about:

Yes. It's a yellow ukulele. Oh. My. God. I'm so excited about it I could die. I know how to play a total of 4 chords on it, but I'm learning! It's beautiful. And her name is Babette. So, if you're really nice to me, maybe I'll play it for you if I ever get past the four chords I currently am master of.

Also, this is not goal related, but it is something cool! I'm sure you all know that my roommate and I have moved out of our roach-infested, disgusting apartment into a brilliantly beautiful HUGE apartment. Well, we have so much space that we literally don't know what to do with ourselves. My room has two things hanging and it looks so sad. However, I love this blog Young House Love, and a while ago, they mentioned a company called A Vintage Poster who they ordered some things for their walls from. I loved it and have wanted to get something from them ever since. I wanted a custom poster, so all I had to do was send in what I wanted, and I got tons of proofs back and she tweaked them just the way I wanted (in my insanity) and out came this:

It's one of my favorite quotes from Leaves of Grass and I'm putting it by my bed so I can see it every morning. :) Gotta love Walt. I'm not 100% sold on the frame yet, but we'll see. Maybe once I hang it (which could be a while.. I'm so very lazy), I'll show it to you on the wall! A Vintage Poster is awesome and beyond helpful and they have really cool things that are pre-made, too!

Those are the big developments in my life (I know.. I'm so exciting, right?!) but in awesome book news, I'm devouring Arcadia by Lauren Groff right now and can't wait to talk about it, and I've got some other really awesome fun things in the queue!

What are YOU reading? I hope that the summer gods have given you a book pile of perfection. :)

Happy reading (and strumming!),

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Summer Day and Catch-Up

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?

-You've Got Mail

Today was a Summer day. I mean, obviously it was summer, but this morning was the perfect temperature and humidity level to make you remember those mornings when your mom decided it was late enough that you could strike out on your bike and speed down the street and the evening sky was just cloudy and hazy enough to be interesting. Not every summer day feels like that (especially here in DC) and the fact that the oppressive heat has been on a (probably short) hiatus and the day just felt like Summer and frankly, it's just been a long day, made me want to sit and watch the sky change to dusk while drinking a glass of wine and talk about books. So I'm doing the next best thing and blogging about books while drinking a glass of wine in my (mostly) clean apartment while glancing at the sky every once in a while. So don't mind me if I drift a little...

It's been a while since I've kept you truly abreast of what I've been currently reading. What with my post about good summer reads (which deserves 2 more promised installments at some point) and my post about my 25th year goals (which continue to progress), I've been ignoring the fabulous things I've been reading (unless of course you see me in person, then it's generally my topic of choice). Summer is the perfect time to really focus on reading for many reasons, but one reason always sticks out to me: everyone else is doing it too! Most other seasons are so busy and crazy that people don't have time to read, and unless your like me, who has to have a book in the queue at all times, summer often offers the perfect opportunity to delve into something amazing. Therefore, there are so many more people to talk to about books.

Sorry, enough blathering... on to the good stuff.

Here's what I've been reading since the end of May:

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa: My boyfriend Traber was actually the one to suggest this book, and we read it together which was really fun and interesting. It is translated from Japanese so the language is silky and intricate and really on point. The story is told from the perspective of a woman who works as a housekeeper in Japan and is assigned to a man who forgets everything on a daily rotation. So when she comes to clean his house each day, she has to remind him who she is. The man was a math professor and has this love for numbers and the image that you get of him is so interesting because in order to remember things, the housekeeper pins notes to his jacket. The housekeeper has a son who is young and who comes with her to the man's house each day and they form a strange sort of family. If you know me at all, you know that numbers are really not my thing at all, but the way that the professor explains his love for numbers was beautiful. Traber is more of a numbers kind of guy, so it was fun to talk about math and what we each got out of the book. I believe that there is a movie that is based on the book, but I'm not sure that I'd want to see it because the language was so wonderful.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown:  A friend had told me to read this a while ago and it kind of got pushed back in my mind. But then one day I was desperate for something to read and ended up stranded due to rain at Kramerbooks, so I grabbed it and subsequently devoured it. If you were an English major, I think you'd especially appreciate the book, but if you weren't you'll still enjoy it. The story is about three sisters who were raised by their father who has dedicated his life to studying Shakespeare and their mother who was scatterbrained. The sisters are in their late twenties now and dealing with the problems they face in their lives. One sister is in a relationship that will take her homebody self away from home, one sister is adrift in doubt about herself and what she wants to do with her life, and the other has made poor professional and life decisions. After facing reality, they all end up under their parents roof at the same time though they aren't thrilled about it. I think this book really affected me because I am one of three sisters (with a bro thrown in there too, of course) and the complicated, strange, but wonderful bond of sisters is one that rivets me and helps me survive. The sisters are all named after Shakespearean characters (which is super fun) and can quote Shakespeare out of thin air. A great story of family and how much we rely on it even though we don't always realize it.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: I will admit that I was super hesitant about this book. Over Memorial Day weekend, Traber and I drove to the Dirty E for the Ox Roast and being the nerds we are, we wanted to listen to a book on tape. I tried to get him to listen to The Great Gatsby, but I didn't want to die in a fiery car wreck, so we turned it off and he turned on The Art of Racing in the Rain.  The story is told from the point of view of a dog (strike number one in this girl's mind--I HATE talking animals--they freak me out. Really.) and honestly, listening to books on tape has never been my thing. I don't listen well enough and I always feel like I'm missing something. Well, I was wrong. It doesn't happen very often, but I was dead wrong. This book is beautiful. Really. Honestly, I'm so happy to have listened to it because I can't imagine a better way to savor the whole thing. The narrator even sounded like a dog would if he spoke! The dog, Enzo, tells the story of his life from when his owner Denny bought him from a farm to his own death. Denny marries, has a baby, and goes through a lot of horrible things when his wife gets sick, but it's this hopeful, promising story about life and death and reincarnation and the love that you can truly have for a person. Please do yourself a favor and pick it up. Warning, you will cry (I literally could not help the tears from rolling down my face) and if you have a car ride or something that needs some sound, I recommend the audiobook. It's lovely and perfect.

Home by Toni Morrison: I've been looking forward to this book since I saw Toni Morrison at the National Book Festival last year. So worth the wait. I know that not everyone likes her style or "gets" her, but I could read her all day. I get her. The story is about a black man who comes home after the Korean War and his sister. They grew up in the South and have to deal with the repercussions of being black in that time period. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot that happens, but the prose is exquisite (as one can expect from her) and what does happen is subtle and brilliant. I have always been interested in African American history and I feel like this is a time period that doesn't get much play in history books, so I really appreciated her take on it. It's a quick read and one that might open  your eyes a little.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon: This is the secret that no one knows: my mother gives pretty great book recommendations. She's not the biggest reader, but she has a great methodology for knowing what I like: she judges the book by its cover. You can laugh, but some of the greatest books I read in high school and college particularly were inspired by my mother's discerning eye as she labeled and processed books. She sort-of-recently started getting into books on tape (which, as I already said, I'm not a huge fan of), so I like to hear about what she's listening to. And I'm always intersted in seeing how things translate into spoken word. Anyway, she recommended this book because she loved it when she listened to it and as she said, "It's just a beautiful story about a beautiful girl." So I read it and I really enjoyed it. The story takes place in the late 1960s and follows several characters: a woman who has metnal problems who is institutionalized and becomes pregnant, the man she falls in love with who is deaf and confined to the institution because no one knows what to do with him, and the old woman they meet when they escape, who ends up raising the woman's daughter. It's a lovely story about the interconnectivity of human life, how wonderful life can be when we help each other, and how important it is that we do things for the people in our lives that they may not even realize we're doing. Like Marcia says: "It's a beautiful story about a beautiful girl."

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: I'll be honest with you: I was in a reading rut. Sometimes it just happens that I can't figure out what I want to read, so I end up binging on New Yorker issues I have to catch up on. I was in a rut like this a few weeks ago, when my roommate handed me this book. It took me about 75 pages to get into it, but once I was, I was hooked. This is a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about two cousins, one born in the US who has a distinct mind for business and comics and the other born in Czechoslovakia who studied magic and escaped the Nazi regime with hopes to bring his family to the States. The boys start their own comic, The Escapist, which they expand upon and grow up with. The book is long (over 600 pages) but Chabon knows where to startle, excite, and prod you into loving these characters. It's a wonderful story that touches on family, ambition, identity, love, trust, and comics. It's so many things woven into one and it works so well.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: Check another one off my 25 list, folks, cause took the number three spot from my to-read-before-I-die list for this year. I'll be honest--I was kind of disappointed. I know that it's a classic and that many people have it on their "top" lists, and I can dig that, I really can. The book is about the dystopian world that has become ultra-violent and awful. Alex is the anti-hero who does lots of raping, killing, and enjoying general debauchery all the while speaking a crazy slang language (very distracting for me) and thinking he's awesome. I see what Burgess was trying to do with this whole thing, I really do, but it all felt very rushed and unsatisfying to me. If you've read it or seen the Kubrick film, you know about the brainwashing, and I just wasn't feeling all that affected by it. I will say it's a movie I now do not want to see because I don't feel like I could handle the violence. I'm glad I read it (if only so I can just say 'horrorshow' now as my own little joke to myself), but I was less tahn impressed. I expected something grander.

And that's it--I finished A Clockwork Orange yesterday and am on to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez. Though waiting close behind in the wings is Nora Ephron's  (Mother of us all) I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections which I picked up because hearing about her death really stuck with me (hence the quote at the top). So many people wrote so many lovely things about her and it made me really think about the kind of person I want to be. I also have Crazy Salad in the queue so I'm excited about that. I mean, how could you not love something that comes from the pen of the person who wrote You've Got Mail?!

In other book news, I found this article from The Millions about books that are coming out in the second half of 2012: gotta be honest and say that I almost passed out when I saw that Richard Russo, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros, and Emma Donoghue are coming out with new books! Is there anything you're excited to start soon or waiting to come out?!

Well, it's sufficiently dark now and I've enjoyed a glass and a half of wine, so I think it's time for me to sign off. I hope your Summer days have been lovely and relaxing and full of good reading.

Happy Reading,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Twenty-Five and a Half Ain't So Bad...

She refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn't boring.
-Zelda Fitzgerald

This post is not about books. I know. I'm shocked, too. Books are my favorite topic, we all know that. But my second favorite topic of late is my 25 of 25 list that I'm slowly working my way through. Seeing as I am officially 25 1/2 years old as of June 10, I thought it only right (and completely self-indulgent) to post about my progress so far. (I do so love a good excuse to talk about myself.)

One thing you must know about me--I love lists. Lists rule my life (in a positive way, I think). I make a to-do list every. single. day. While I was in school, I made a to-do list every Sunday night and often made additional daily lists depending on the week. I live by planners and schedules and it makes me happy, even though it's a little weird. But who doesn't love that act of the cross-off when you've done something?

I have a list. It's big and wonderful.

This list is comprised of things that I want to accomplish while I'm 25. (I've introduced this list in the blog before here.) In October of last year, I started having this weird quarter-life crisis that was bringin' me down. I don't know why 25 sounded so wrong to me, but it was all I could think about. I was still getting used to not being in school and I generally wasn't thrilled with where I was in life (which sounds so self-help-y, but whatever). So I was a downer in general. But I was sick of being that--no one likes someone who complains all the time. So when I was figuring things out for myself, or trying to, anyway, a list made so much sense. My friends Cassie and Liz had also turned 25 sort of recently and they both made to-do lists for themselves for their 25th years. A list that has goals that you WANT to accomplish?! Bingo! This was right up my alley.

Let's be honest here--I've had a list of things I want to do before I die since I was about 12, and while some of them will never come true (an Olympic athlete I shall never be), I actually have accomplished some of those pre-teen wishes for myself. So, I thought, why not try and get some of these goals complete and add some new, smaller, more realistic, but important goals to the list and set myself a time-line?

So that's what I did.

I created a new Excel spreadsheet that I named "25 Goals of 25" and let it sit empty for a while. Once I created it, I found myself furiously trying to find a pen and paper in bars, on the metro, at work as my brain started firing off random things I wanted to do.

Out of these scraps of paper and text messages to myself, I came up with a list. Originally it was to be a list of 25 things. But as I was entering the wise-old age of 25, I know something about myself--25 things was going to be too many and I knew I'd be disappointed with myself when I couldn't do all of them. So the list stands at 19.

19 things I want to do this year.

It's an exceptional list, if I do say so myself.

I love it. And to be honest, I really think that it's added more fun than stress to my life--it's forced me to be fun and adventurous where I wasn't before. Not only that, but I can honestly say, that even though I'm only halfway through 25, it's been one of the better years ever.

Plus, it's a killer conversation starter. :)

So now that you have a little bit of an explanation, here are the things that I've done, I'm in the middle of doing, and I'm looking forward to doing to get through my list.

Things that I have accomplished so far:
1) Get braces. This was my first goal accomplished, and it may be the one I'm proudest of. My teeth have bothered me since I started college. I often don't notice things about myself, but I noticed in college that my teeth started shifting forward and I was starting to get snaggly. Before my senior year of college, my mom and I went to the orthodontist to get a consult on how much it might cost to get braces, but it was far too expensive and insurance did not cover it. So I waited. In grad school, I was quite broke (as it's only really acceptable to be), so there wasn't much of a choice there. I decided in January that since I now had a real job and had saved enough money and gotten to the point where I wanted to take the plunge I wanted to get the braces. So on January 19, I became Brace Face. At 25. The waiting room at the orthodontist's was swarming with tweens and it made me sad, even though most of them were talking about what color rubber bands they were going to get and I was paying extra for the clear brackets. But ya know... I don't mind them so much anymore. Mostly because I can see such a difference already! I still have a year to go in them, but that's nothing. And it will be so worth it. Plus, I have to be careful what I eat, so I've lost weight while they've been on. Double score! :)

2) Try 25 new beers. This goes without much explanation, really. I mean, who doesn't love trying new beers? It gave me an excuse to mix it up and try new things. I accomplished this goal on March 24 (don't judge me, fools) and I'm actually at number 33 (I want to keep counting!). Got a new beer you think I should try? Tell me!

3) Try 5 new restaurants. This is the goal that has surprised me the most and taken on a life of its own! I live in Washington DC, which, granted is not the most known place on the earth for its restaurants, but there are some fine ones here. While in grad school, I very rarely ate out (I mean, Chipotle was a huge treat for me). So, since I now had a real, paying job, I wanted to try all these places that people always mention. If you want to accomplish this goal, start dating someone. That's the key. Since December 10, I've now tried 25 new restaurants, 18 of them with my boyfriend (who seems to enjoy the game of accomplishing this portion of my list). Before May hit, I was on a roll trying 5 new restaurants A MONTH, which was exciting and awesome (obviously it takes very little to please me, or haven't you caught onto this yet?). My only regret is that I haven't recorded what I got at each place and how I liked it. I guess I'll have to do that next year.

4) Go to a wine festival. We went to the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival last month and it was so fun! We took a keg bus down (of course, you have to get your palette ready with some Bud Light before wine) and had a lovely day. It was a beautiful day out and it's something I've always wanted to do. Goal accomplished!

Things I am in the process of accomplishing:
These are the goals that are both the hardest and the most rewarding. Anyone can happen to try 5 new restaurants or go to wine festivals. Pishaw. I made some goals that I'd have to keep up with throughout the whole year. These are my favorites.

1) Read 5 books from my to-read-before-I-die list. Yes. This list does physically exist. It's existed since I was 21. I've actually done some sweet damage to it since its creation, and I always try to read at least one thing on it a year. But this year, I wanted to feel literary. So I want to read five. Since December, I've read two: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and 1984 by George Orwell. These are books that most people read in high school but somehow, I missed them. I loved them both (for different reasons, obviously.) The other books I'm hoping to cross off the list and add to these two are To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I seem to have a very post-modern, dystopian thing going on here... I'm loving it. This is fun and it makes me feel good to get some real reading done!

2) Update my blog once a month at least. I actually have done this, and I have really loved it for several reasons. One being that it's fun to reflect on what I've read. It helps me to not only remember things, but to make better-shaped recommendations when people ask me. The other reason I love it is because it kind of gets my mind working. I'm not the most eloquent of writers, that I know, but I love the challenge of trying to tie things together and give the quick and dirty on any given book whether I liked it or not. Even if no one reads this but my mom. :)

3) Write one letter a week. This is by FAR my favorite goal. I love mail. I love sending it. I love getting it. I love picking out the perfect card to send to a person (I am a Platinum member at Hallmark. Seriously.). And I feel like people don't send mail enough. I've waxed philosophic about letter-writing before, and I'm hoping to write a whole post about my experience with doing this, but let me tell you that sitting down once a week, thinking of someone to write to and writing to them is one of the more therapeutic things I do during my week. It's a lovely feeling to put that letter in the mailbox and even though I generally don't expect to get anything back (though I do sometimes!), I love the whole process of letting my thoughts and my affection travel across state lines and wind up in someone's mailbox to surprise them when they least expect it. A letter. Just for you. It's lovely. It's getting hard to do, I won't lie. My goal was to write to 52 different people, one different person each week, but I'm beginning to think that I don't know that many people! But I shall soldier on. I'm a little behind (a few weeks, actually... cough cough) but I'm planning to catch up this weekend.

Finally, here are some more things to look forward to me talking about to the point where you're going to want to slap me:

Goals that I'm hoping to accomplish sometime soon:
1) Find the perfect lip color.
2) Find a spoon ring (they are so elusive!!)
3) Write a short story.
4) Buy and learn how to play the ukelele (mainly so I can play this: and this: )

I've accomplished a few other goals, but they aren't very exciting, really, and some are a little personal, so I'll spare you.

But these are the goals that have made my 25th year so amazing so far (along with some other wonderful things).

Sorry to take that jaunt away from books for a post here, but I wanted to somehow mark my status as a 25 and a half year old!

However, I've been reading some AMAZING books (Home by Toni Morrison, anyone?! The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown?) and I hope to write about them soon!

Stay tuned.

Keep reading (and accomplishing goals!),

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Reading: Installment 1

"Lying on top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying on a closed trunk on a summer night. For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me. The atmosphere and I became the same."
-On the Road
Jack Kerouac

My friends moms have been asking me for book recommendations since I was roughly 15 years old. It wasn't until I got to be about 18 that my friends themselves started asking me. So, over the past 10 years or so, I've learned a little about people and their reading habits. One of the many things I've learned is that come about mid-June, everyone is looking for a recommendation. And it's not the people with whom I talk about books on a regular basis--it's the people who finally have time to sit down and read on vacation. This is a primo opportunity for me to dig into the archives of my reading past and pull out some great things that made my own summers so vivid and lively.
Last weekend was Memorial Day, meaning that the summer reading fever has begun, and thankfully so! So, in anticipation of the summer reading onslaught, I thought I'd get ahead of the game and make some recommendations for great summer reading.
I want to split this post into several installments because I have quite a few and didn't want to be overwhelming.

I figured I'd give you an instance in which you might desire a new book and then go from there. This was a fun exercise for me--worked my brain a little.

So, here are some books for you if you are...

Sitting at the beach for a week:
The beach is the best. Sun, booze, bathing suits, sand in places that probably shouldn't see sand, sun hats, and water. So when you're at the beach, enjoying yourself and escaping from the reality that is your normal life full of bills and work and other people's needs, you just need a book to take you somewhere else. Recently, I was sent an advance copy of The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri and I finished it in about 2 days. The story is an easy read and well-written. You can tell from the book that the author knows the sea well--it is the most constant and steadfast character in the novel. Barbieri's writing about the sea is lovely and lilting and if you're sitting near the beach while you read it, then I imagine it would come even more to life. The story surrounds a woman whose powerful husband has cheated on her, so she leaves with her two young daughters to visit a long-lost aunt in a very small beach town where she has to learn to find her own way. The novel goes quickly and would be perfect for a sunny, hot day.

Another great beach read is One Day by David Nicholls. Warning--you will cry like a baby behind your sunglasses. Nicholls has a great approach to telling the story of two people who meet in college and become best friends. Each chapter takes place on the same day over the course of twenty years. During those twenty years, Dex and Emma graduate from college, get crappy jobs, get better jobs, fall in love, fall out of love, and find that the other is still there. It's a heartwarming story that goes perfect with a relaxing day at the beach!

Ann Brashares wrote The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants which I un-guiltily love. Right after she finished the last of that series, she wrote a book called The Last Summer of You and Me which I also loved. It's Brashares first book for adults. The story follows two sisters and their childhood friend Paul on a summer that changes all of their lives. It's a well-told and insightful story of the tragedy and beauty of becoming an adult, often sooner than we want to.

Missing school:
Don't lie. You miss it. Just a little bit. Well, if you don't yet, you will if you're anything like me. I loved the freedom of summer as a kid, but in reality, by mid-July, I was ready to go back and have someone to talk to about books! If you're missing school (even if you've been out for a while), here are some books that might take you back to your summer reading days.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I had to read Kate Chopin's The Awakening which was life-altering. Edna is stuck in a life that she is supposed to love but there is something missing for her. While summering in New Orleans, Edna discovers a passion for life that she can't quite fulfill herself because of her duties to her family and to the society that she loves and hates.  I loved this book because it made clear to my 18 year old mind how lucky I was to have been born when I was, post-feminism. The language is lovely and the story may be sad, but if you're looking for a little symbolism and feminism, this is the book for you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has to be one of the better books ever. For me, this is a perfect summer read--what could make you feel more free than reading about men in a mental institution testing the limits of their humanity against the man?!

Another book I read while I was a senior in high school was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which remains one of my favorite books to this day. Kurtz, horrors, the Congo, humanity. Boom--English 101. So awesome and quite short, so a good, quick summer read.

Work is killing your soul:
It happens. We all know it. And what better way to alleviate that soul-strangle than with a completely obsessive, engrossing, all-encompassing book that you basically keep on your person at all times hoping to get a minute to yourself during the day or at least during lunch so you can sneak in some more pages? I know of no better way.
I've already talked about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, but I loved it so much, I had to tell you to read it again. Sorry. But you will not regret picking this book up. I actually considered skipping New Years Eve so I could finish it. Here's what I wrote in my previous post: "The Night Circus is actually a little hard to put into words. There is a magical element to the story, but I wouldn't call it magical realism and I wouldn't call it fantasy either. But that's kind of what I loved about it--it is uncategorizable. The premise of the book is that two older men agree to hold a competition in which they choose a pupil to whom they will train for a big duel although they are not told what form it will take. It ends up becoming the Night Circus which only opens at dusk and closes at dawn and contains magical tents, amazing characters, and the beautifully woven story of the competitors who make it real. My favorite part is that the book turned out not to be what I thought it was about the whole time (at least in my interpretation) and I love when things surprise you like that." Just go get it.
I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was one of the first books I read after graduating from college, so maybe that's why I associate it with summer. Or because it takes place in the South, I don't know. But either way, if you are one of the 5 people on the planet who hasn't read it, you should grab it. I loved the story--it was heartbreaking and funny at the same time and was something you could sink your teeth into rather than just brush past.
I used to be in a book club and one of their picks was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which I fully anticipated hating. I ended up loving it and it earned a spot in my Top 10 list for 2010 post. I'm not a big mystery person, but this one grabbed me and held on tight. The story is beautifully translated and follows a boy whose father owns a bookstore where he finds the book The Shadow of the Wind and begins to realize the mystery behind it and its author. It's lovely, particularly if you're a book lover by nature.
Those are the first three instances in which you might need a good book recommendation, but I have more, so stay tuned for future posts next week!
I hope that your summer reading has begun and that you're able to sit down on your front porch or a pool deck or a beach chair and read while just feeling summer.

Happy Reading,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Mid-Month Post, Because I Was Too Excited

"The techniques of opening conversation are universal. I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost. A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be

-Travels with Charley
John Steinbeck

As I was writing my weekly letter as demanded by my "25 Things To Do While I'm 25" list, I realized how low on the lovely personalized stationary that Santa brought me I am, and realized that I've now been 25 for 5 months! This is no real relevance to this post at all, I just thought it was an interesting way for me to measure time. Funny how fast and slow time can go at the same time. I just saw the first lightning bug of the season tonight (because the first lightning bug is determined by when I see it and no one else) and almost cried--it's almost summer. I love spring. I think I love it because it's often elusive--just when you think it's spring, it turns back to winter, and you have one beautiful day when you can smell the hyacinths on a pretty (but not too hot) day and then it's sweltering and you're in a bathing suit that you aren't quite ready for.

This may seem random, but it's certainly got me thinking about summer books. There are two times of year that people ask for books the most--summer time and Christmas time, and summer time is the most fun. Next week (hopefully), I'm going to be posting about the perfect summer reads for all your reading needs! So look out for that one.

In the meantime, I wanted to make a mid-month update on what I've been reading because frankly, I've been killing it in the reading arena.

I think I've written about my young love affair with non-fiction before, though not in great detail, but it is a love affair that I do so enjoy. Every once in a while, I need to clear my head with a good non-fiction read. If you are in that mode too, and frankly even if you aren't, please, for your sake, pick up Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein. First of all, if you know me and have ever asked me for a book recommendation, you know that one of the first things I ask is "So, you've read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, right?" I do love my Jonathon Safran Foer, so when I saw that his younger brother had written a book, I was all in. Moonwalking with Einstein is a combination of journalism and memoir that from what I've seen has been rivaled recently only by Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Foer takes on an assignment to talk about the US Memory Championships (yes, it's a real thing) where super-nerds congregate in attempts to out-memorize each other. They memories the orders of decks of cards, random words, poems, etc. and are judged on their abilities. Foer was so interested in this, that he decided to take one of the champions up on his offer to train for the next year's competition. Foer writes about not only his own training and such, but the history of memory and the devolution of memory in our society. This might sound like a boring topic, but Foer weaves the history and case studies in so well with his own memoir portions that it becomes a seamless narrative where you don't realize you're learning anything until the end. My favorite part was his explanations of how to develop and use a Memory Palace where, in order to remember a list of things, you envision a house that you are familiar with and place the things in the list around the house as you traverse it in your mind. His visits with people with memory issues (people who can't forget and people who can't remember) are well done and fascinating.

Sincerely, pick up Moonwalking with Einstein... it's a pretty quick read and will make you think about your own memory and how you use and abuse your brain. Fascinating stuff! Like I said, you'll like this one especially if you liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!

The other book I picked up since my last post was John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. As you know, I just read Of Mice and Men pretty recently, but I kind of fell in love with Steinbeck's prose, and a friend of mine had read Travels with Charley and recommended it so I thought I'd pick it up. Again, if you know me, you know how I adore On the Road (and almost anything Beat Generation besides Burroughs... too creepy) and I think that part of the reason I love it (besides just loving on Jack) is because I love the idea of travelling by car (even though I was constantly carsick as a girl). I love the notion of freedom that it gives and the possibilities that surround it. So when I figured out that Travels with Charley is about Steinbeck's trip across America with his dog in a camper, I was so in. I loved it. It may be one of my favorite travel books ever. Steinbeck makes no pretensions about trying to "find America" because he knows that it's impossible--you might take the same exact trip and meet the same exact people as he did and you'd still come away with a completely different experience. It's what makes us humans. All he wants to do is tell us what he's seen and share his observations. It's lovely and refreshing. He meets and talks to all kinds of people about all kinds of things, he discusses the loneliness of the road and how it's like nothing else. Frankly, it made me want to pack my bags and just head out there. One of the most profound and interesting parts of the book was when he discussed the race riots and desegregation of schools that were happening in the South when he passed through there on his way home and how it affected him. His prose is clean and beautiful and it really got me at the core, which is what reading is all about.

Travels with Charley is short and a quick read as well and would be perfect before the planning of any trip or when you feel like you need to connect with something.

So those are my past two books and I couldn't wait to share them until the end of the month!

Next week, I hope to have a good summer list to you (I got an advance copy of a book from HarperCollins that I'll be sharing!) so that you can get a jump on all the great things out there for the beach, for when you're stuck at home wishing you were at the beach, or for finally catching up on things you've missed out on over the winter!

It's a pretty summer-ish night here, and as I finish my glass of wine I sign off before I venture outside into the lightning bugs again.

Happy reading,