Zone OneI love big words.  I have a solid vocabulary, built on the foundation of obsessive reading since childhood.  I rarely have to stop and look up words while reading.  Although we have dictionaries all over the house, my husband instead often chooses to yell at me  “what does X mean?” while he’s reading.  But to me there’s a limit, a line between being well-read and being pompous.  Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the impossibly big words too.  It’s just that they’re too special for everyday usage.  Like using Grandma’s fancy china for Sunday dinner, when you take them out everyone’s a little bit stiff and uncomfortable.  And let’s face it, they usually come out when company is over and you’re trying to impress someone.

I can’t tell you what word of Zone One first hit a discordant note for me.  I think instead it was the general rhythm that felt clunky and ponderous to me.  I do remember a vague jarring feeling after the first few pages.  It’s the feeling that I would get (I imagine) if I saw a Shakespearean actor starring in a romantic comedy.  I was uneasy.  I was confused.  I thought this was a zombie story.

I don’t mean to imply that zombie stories aren’t smart.  Or that smart people don’t read them.  Clearly I’m a thinking person and I love zombie apocalyptic mayhem.  But with this book I kept thinking what is going on here?  We’re busting out the china and we don’t even have visitors coming.  When on page 75 defenestration was thrown out there (pun intended), I audibly groaned.  Who says that in pre-apocalyptic society?  Besides overly literate teenagers having fun placing it in casual conversation.  Are we assuming a higher level of erudition in the masses surviving zombie slaughter?  We shouldn’t.  My guess is the dudes slinging dead zombie bodies out windows would be saying “later motherfuckers!”  On that same page came the words (also regarding the defenestration of zombie corpses)  “. . .splashing him with ichor and grue.”  So hard on the heels of defenestration, these words almost did me in.  If I hadn’t just read a review in the New Yorker about Magic Mike XXL, I would have thought the world was ending.  Clearly there are no boundaries for the highly articulate.

There is no doubt that Mr. Whitehead is a clever writer.  Sadly, his subtle, snarky asides reminded me of a precocious child screaming for attention in a room full of adults. I do not like precocious children.  He wants us to see how clever he his.   Which, being the contrary person I am, makes me want to ignore him entirely.

So why did I finish the book?  Well for one, I’m also stubborn besides contrary. It amounts to a very petulant attitude of You think you’re more clever than me?  I’ll show you.  And also, as I kept reading I found out just how clever Mr. Whitehead really is.  When he’s not trying to show off, his legitimate brilliance eked out.  The following paragraph made me stop and say out loud “Now THAT is good writing!”:

“Parenthood made grown-ups unpredictable.  They hesitated at the key moment out of consideration for their kid’s abilities or safety, they were paranoid he wanted to rape or eat their offspring, they slowed him down with their baby steps or kept him distracted as he pondered their erraticism. . .The parents were dangerous because they didn’t want your precious supplies.  They possessed the valuables, and it hobbled their reasoning.”

THAT is what I want to think about when I think about zombies.  I want the humanization of a world filled with unhumans.  Tell me what it’s like to live with the undead and survivors.  No fancy words required.

Finally, begrudgingly I came to really like this book. I may even read it again, defenestration, ichor and all.   By the end I was satisfied with story.  It was simple and rang true.

“The world wasn’t ending:  it had ended and now they were in a new place.  They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before.”

COW       Pee alone

Happy Mother’s Day.  Like 12 hours early.  I feel like a rock star.  Today I have time to blog.  I’m timely.  It’s a miracle.

We’re going to broach a squirrelly topic today, reader(s), one that we’ve never tackled before.  You all do it, so don’t pretend you don’t.  If I admit it, will that make you feel better?  Ok, I read in the bathroom [be warned, there is some good poop talk below].

Not just magazines.  I read books.  (Incidentally, while we’re on the topic, I told my husband that the bathroom is OFF LIMITS for our shared Kindle  – I hope that’s not too unfair).  I get a lot of good reading done in there.  Or at least I used to (more on that in a minute).  Seriously, I read 205 pages of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the can.  In hindsight (pun intended) that was probably not the best choice, but I was pregnant at the time and well. . .I digress.

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LeanI’m a little weary of women attacking other women.  I’m tired of hearing about the “mommy wars*” of the various types, so many that it bores me to reiterate them here.  I would really love to get to a place in our society where women can be whatever kind of women (or mothers, or not-mothers) that we wish to be without feeling the need to circle the wagons every time we make a decision.  For instance, I have a friend who exclusively breast feeds who feels that she doesn’t get enough support.  I bottle fed and feel that I was pressured to breast feed.  We live in the same world, how is this possible?  Because everyone is feeling judged.  And that’s because we are all judging each other, women especially.  And mothers MOST especially.

That is why I picked up Lean In.  Not because I thought Ms. Sandberg was attacking women (although this has been alleged).  I didn’t read any of the negative press about her before I read the book, only heard about it vaguely I passing.  But I have since.  And I’m here to tell you that there are exactly three things this book is NOT about:

  1. Women are to blame for the current lack of female leadership in the workplace
  2. In order to address this gap, women need to act more like men
  3. All women need to work outside the home

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StormIt’s that time of year, Game of THRONES, my friends.  Are you geeking out?   I am.  Hard. Core.  I resisted this show for two whole seasons, but in the end, pre-baby ‘bed rest’ boredom, plus my inner fantasy fan (ok, OUTER fantasy fan) won the day.  And as if often the case, once I committed my whole heart, after binge-watching two seasons (and frankly, switching cable carriers to get HBO at a great deal for Season 3), I made my way to the books.

I’m happy to admit that A Clash of Kings was the first book I read on my Kindle. While I’m still not in love with the technology, it did save me lugging around an enormous book while also lugging around an equally enormous newborn.  But we’re not here to talk about A Game of Thrones, or A Clash of Kings.  That’s SO last season(s). We are here to talk about A Storm of Swords.

I’ve decided that all authors with R.R. as their middle initials have a pathological fear of brevity.  They enjoy describing, in exhaustingly minute detail, everything everyone is wearing, eating, smelling, seeing and riding.  Lots of time is spent discussing sigils and scabbards and mottos (oh my!).  Like Mr. R.R. Tolkien, Martin takes the scenic, slow-as-a-goat-path (sometimes an actual goat path) route around his fictitious world.  Like an old man reminiscing about his youth to his grandkids.  It’s not bad, you get to see all the main tourist attractions – some of them more than once (Harrenhal, I’m talking to you!).  We know the climate and topography of each landscape intimately, as well as every breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And unlike some other books, we actually get to see our characters piss and shit (repeatedly) and, of course, have sex.  But not nearly as much as in the show.  But that, dear readers, is my only criticism.  Wow, I feel lighter.  Now let’s move on to the fun stuff (SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD!!!!!)

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One of the books I recently donated contained a bookmark from the Maine Coast Book Shop, a place I’m sure I’ve never been.  On the back of the bookmark were four handwritten words:  avatar, Savonarola, apocryphal and puissant.   This random discovery is one of the many things I like about actual, physical, tangible books.  You find stuff in them (literarily of course, and in this case, quite literally).  You can write yourself notes on bookmarks or post-its or in the margins.  Things that make you laugh out loud years later when you discover them out of context.  Books can even provide a connection to others.  My mother and I used to leave each other notes in the books we lent to each other.  This is probably one of my biggest complaints about e-readers.  This loss of physicality.  I don’t want my books stacked somewhere in a cloud.  I want them where I can see them and touch them. 

So clearly I’m still on the side of “traditional” reading, rather than e-reading.  But I cannot have a house overridden with books I’ve already read.  Add to that my almost pathological inability to pass a bookstore, nay a book aisle in the grocery store without buying something.  Which brings me to the finer points of e-reading which I think are beneficial to me personally.  1) e-books do not cause cascading piles of tomes around my house 2) e-books are generally cheaper (discounting, well, discount aisles at bricks and mortar bookstores) which is a nice plus and 3) it’s much easier to purchase them via my favorite book-buying venue Amazon. 

This third one is questionably advantageous.  It is an observable fact that I cannot listen to more than 10 minutes of NPR or read a single New York Times Sunday book review without purchasing at least one book.  Should I happen to have my e-reader on me at one of those times, the sheer ease of book purchasing could do me in – financially.  And without the physical evidence to remind me of my pathology, I may not know it until it was too late.  Something to ponder.

However the first two are certainly benefits and have prompted me to strike what I think is a solid compromise.  One that straddles the line and, hopefully, puts technology to good use, which still holding true to my inner, bibliophile self.  Every reader knows, on the outset, that some books are not purchased for long-term.  We know they are not enduring relationship material.  Perhaps we know the author and he/she has proven themselves superficial in the past.  Or maybe there is a “now a major motion picture” sticker on the cover.  On the other hand, there are some that generally promise to be keepers in the literal sense.  Classics, for instance, or a work from a beloved author.   I argue that anything that I would buy in trade paperback, for instance, should be an e-book.  Anything in hardcover should be an actual book.  This system isn’t full proof of course, since one can find gems that might be future re-reads just by stumbling upon them.  And of course, even classics can fall flat (in my opinion, any time they are Russian).    

Interestingly the day I made this decision, my beloved Amazon came out with the new Paperwhite.  A sign from above?  Perhaps. . .

I think you’re supposed to nest before a baby is born, but I seem to have become afflicted with the urge many weeks post partum.  Perhaps it’s the extended time I’m spending staring at things I don’t normally see, or the fact that there are now four people living in what is a small house.  I can always blame it on hormones too, I suppose.  Regardless of the root cause, I suddenly feel the need to clean, simplify and purge.  The first place I always start is my bookshelves.  We have at least one in every room.  We have books stacked everywhere there isn’t a bookshelf, including the back of the toilet. I even currently have a bookshelf in a closet. 

My nephew came by the other day and he said “Have you read all these books?”

I looked at him and smugly answered “Almost all of them, yes.” I may have even puffed myself up a little.   Later, when I was frothing-at-the-mouth annoyed that I have no room to put anything (you know, like another small person and all her paraphernalia), I thought, not so smugly, “You did this to yourself.” 

I had finally realized something.  Reading by its nature, is a solitary activity.  You can’t really share it with anyone else.  Therefore the only external expression of having read is a house full of books.  A house full of books you have already read. That seems crazy right?  Yes, it does.  While I re-read my favorites (A River Runs Through It, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and my favorite romance novel the title of which I will not disclose, although I will tell you that ‘peacock’ is in that title), I simply don’t have time to re-read most of the books I have acquired.  Otherwise I would never be able to read anything new.  So why keep them? 

The answer is complicated but for me it comes down to one thing.  A prolific reader (and yes, this is a generalization which may prove to be only specific to me) keeps them so that when someone comes to your home they can be impressed by the physical manifestation of your reading prowess.  Additionally, the right books on display may even indicate to such visitor that you are way smart.  They will be duly intimidated and full of admiration. “Look at Jess,” they will think “She has two copies of To Kill a Mockingbird [true story].  What, one for everyday wear and one for special occasions?  She must be a literary rockstar!”  Simply put, visitors like my nephew are the reason. 

Oh, but the problem is that there is a massage parlor full of rubs here.  Number one:  Generally speaking, the people who read the most are the most introverted.  Time that others spend at parties at other events, they spend curled up on the couch with a book.  Which stands to reason they likely have fewer people to actually come to their house to see their extensive libraries.  This, of course, defeats the purpose.  If a library is full and there is no one there to see it, is it still impressive?  Perhaps. Personally I never have anyone over who isn’t family or close friends.  They don’t find me smart or intimidating.

Number two, anyone who is not a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, as my friend’s husband, a man who has a tv in every room, once illustrated.  “This is the only tv you have?” he asked, pointing to my 19″ model with a built-in VCR. “What do you do, read?”

Number three, anyone who is a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, seeing as they have one of their own.  Perhaps they will see some of their favorites among your titles.  Perhaps they will see something new they like and want to borrow.  But sure enough, they will have a suggestion (or ten) of their own to add, which might in fact, make you feel less impressive, since you haven’t read it(them).  At that point, the Sisyphean nature of your book collecting will rear its ugly head.

All of which, made it quite easy for me (mostly) to pack up many dozens of titles and donate them to the library, whose collection is now a mite more impressive than it used to be.  Leaving me with enough room to liberate the closet bookshelf.  But while there are gaps on my shelves, the big psychological gap needs filling.  How will anyone know what and how much I’ve read?  How will I get my external validation?  Technology has the answer, fortunately:  www.goodreads.com.  Where you can show off what you are reading and what you have read.  All without taking up any physical space whatsoever.  Genius.  And with the Facebook app, you can be sure that all your friends know how impressive a reader you really are.

Now, what to do with my pathological book buying. . .stay tuned for Part 2.

The books read at a certain age, for me between 10 and 13 years old, can be permanently stamped on your psyche.  I became a real reader at this age, with the loving and supportive help of two very literary teachers. Interestingly these fine ladies, upon retirement, took jobs at the local library.  I can’t think of a better suited job for either of them, seeing as they introduced me to my own love of reading. 

As a young girl I read everything I could get my hands on (sound familiar?) and read at the speed of lightning (again, any surprises there?).  In my opinion reading begets reading.  It’s The Neverending Story come to life – as soon as you finish one there is another hovering in the wings.  You don’t want to stop, you might missing the next adventure.  This is also the place in my life where reading became how I made sense of the world.  When you are a young adult, navigating the confusing new currents of adolescence, processing the end of childhood and the anticipating the looming seriousness of the world of adults, fantasy has special something to offer.  At a time when you feel most impotent and insignificant, confused and lost, stories of seemingly ordinary kids doing extraordinary things is a welcome escape.  Who can forget poor Wart, who doesn’t even know that underneath all those skinny limbs and dirty clothes he’s a KING!  It doesn’t get any better.

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I feel sorry for Ms. Morgenstern.  What, you say, that’s crazy!  She got an almost obscene advance for her very first novel  with nary a writing credit to her name.  The movie rights have already been sold (were sold before the book was published) to the makers of the Twilight movies.  Rumor has it Harry Potter’s simply magical David Heyman will produce.  What’s to feel sorry for?

Two reasons: 

A) According to the Wall St. Journal, publishers, book sellers, movie producers, marketing gurus everywhere, and (not incidentally) readers, all think that The Night Circus will be the next  Harry Potter!

and

B) I’ve read 49 pages of  Night Circus.  It’s not Harry Potter.

Hold up, wait a minute (put a little boom in it. . .).  This is not a bad thing.  Or a good thing.  It’s just, well, a different thing. 

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I can’t remember if I’ve previously read The Catcher in the Rye, and therefore I’m not sure if I cheated when I put it here in “Books I Should Have Read Before.” When I opened it for what I thought was the first time, I vaguely remembered some details as if I’d dreamed them: Pencey Prep, the phonies, some ice skating. Maybe everyone was right when they answered my, “I”ve never read it!” claims with, “That’s impossible — they force you to.” “They,” of course, are our teachers, the ones who have made this assignment fiction for as far back as anyone can remember. I wonder if that’s why I can only remember fragments. Did I never finish it? Did I get bored halfway through because Holden, that prissy dip, couldn’t just man up and do his homework like I was every day? Whether I made it through to the end or not, it’s obvious why the book failed me then and why it probably fails so many other kids: it’s not a book for kids.
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 I was in a chain bookstore the other day and walked through the YA section, as is my wont, when I saw this heading on a shelf  – “YA Paranormal Romance.”  Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m pretty sure that all teenage romance is paranormal, so it seems to me a bit redundant.  We can probably thank, for lack of a better word, the Twi-hards for this.  Anything dealing with vampires, werewolves, dragons, and zombies is hip right now, as long as it involves some heavy sighing from lovelorn girls and the breathtakingly beautiful young men who inspire such, ahem, expiration (that’s one chock-full, respiratory metaphor right there).

Aprilynne Pike has her own version of this, but hers is about fairies.  This would be a hard sell if not for her ingenious vision of fairies – they are actually plants, not little flying humanoids like Tinkerbell.  They are human sized, they have human habits and they are – male and female – exceptionally beautiful.  Sounds like a winner for sure. 

There are some obvious parallels between Ms. Pike’s books and the Twilight series, which is to say that all teenage romances are the same formula – girl meets boy and likes boy a lot, girl meets other boy and also likes him a lot.  Boy fights boy over girl.  Sexual tension ensues.  Only now there are the added bonuses – someone gets bitten, someone shape shifts, someone tries really hard not to eat his girlfriend.   But the Laurel Series in many (many) ways are not even in the same category as those vampire books.

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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