Random updates

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Well today is the last day of NaBloBlaPoMoRaRaRa. I didn’t even come close to daily posting. However, I did get back into blogging and I have a feeling I’m going to be sticking with it for a while. The blogosphere has changed a lot since my heyday (2006–8) but I’m starting to get the hang of it, I think. So, here are some random tidbits.

Book group. I chickened out. Stayed home. While some books are fun to pick apart, I had nothing but contempt for Racing in the Rain. There were at least two people in the group who loved it and honestly, I didn’t even want to hear their reasons for liking it. I don’t think I could have talked about the book without insulting them, you know? So I didn’t go.

Currently reading. I just started Game of Thrones and it is really interesting. Because I think this might be the first time in my life I’ve ever seen the show first, you know? When I read the book first and then see the movie I am almost always disappointed. But doing it the other way around… I like it! Especially with a book like this. It is so much easier to keep track of the characters and visualize the action. Love it!

Work. I work for a teensy arts nonprofit. We are working on next year’s budget to present to the board. After today’s finance committee meeting I am feeling optimistic about future growth, also I think my job is secure for the next year. Yay! I love love love my job. Even when it drives me crazy (which it frequently does), I know it is the perfect place for me. I am very lucky.

Dad. My dad is turning 80 in a couple of weeks. He is in basically good health. His main complaints are things that are annoying but not the least bit life-threatening, like eczema and leaky tear ducts. But mentally he is definitely showing signs of aging. This next decade is going to be difficult. Both his parents lived well into their 90s.

Kiddos. Heh, today my older son (age 17) realized for the first time that I follow him on twitter. Apparently he also did not know that the entire internet can see his tweets. My phone dinged in the middle of the aforementioned finance committee meeting with a notification that he had tweeted back: “Mom unfollow me NOW.” I can’t wait to discuss this with him when he gets home, bwahahahahahahahahaaaaaa!

Telescope. My husband is at the public library right now checking out a telescope. How awesome is that?

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The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

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This book is perniciously bad.

Full disclosure: I read it for my book group. I certainly would not have bothered with it otherwise. I knew when I started it that it was not “my type” of book, and that I probably wouldn’t like it. I even wrote a short post debating whether or not it would be unfair of me to review it since the fault was mine, not the book’s. However, when I wrote that post, I hadn’t yet finished reading it, and there was much plot yet to come. I had no idea how bad it was going to get. Now it appears that I have a duty to write this review to warn y’all away.

This novel is about the trials & tribulations of a race car driver, Denny. His wife dies; he becomes embroiled in a custody battle with his in-laws; and he is falsely accused of rape. He overcomes these obstacles, learns valuable life lessons and becomes a better, wiser man. And the hook is that the whole story is first-person narrated by his dog Enzo. Whom we know, from page 1, is going to die at the end.

So, here’s a laundry list of criticisms:

1. Some of the “life lessons” are very, very wrong.

Listen to this:

What is the real truth regarding the death of Ayrton Senna, who was only thirty-four years old?

I know the truth, and I will tell you now:

He was admired, loved, cheered, honored, respected. In life as well as in death. A great man, he is. A great man, he was. A great man, he will be.

He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave. And I knew, as Denny sped me toward the doctor who would fix me, that if I had already accomplished what I set out to accomplish here on earth, if I had already learned what I was meant to learn, I would have left the curb one second later than I had, and I would have been killed instantly by that car.

But I was not killed. Because I was not finished. I still had work to do.

Well I got news for you. People die ALL THE TIME before they are “finished” and to suggest otherwise is insulting. Yes, it could be the case that God has a grand plan and we mere mortals (by definition) can’t see it. I don’t agree with that — I think much happens that is senseless and random — but I’ll grant you that it’s a possibility. However, in Racing there isn’t any mention of God or grand plans. Just a dog. Is the dog supposed to be god? There is so much wrong with this that all I can do is sputter. Seriously.

2. Other “life lessons” are trite and obvious.

Example:

Hands are the windows to a man’s soul.

Watch in-car videos of race drivers enough, and you’ll see the truth of this statement. The rigid, tense grip of one driver reflects his rigid, tense driving style. The nervous hand-shuffle of another driver proves how uncomfortable he is in the car. A driver’s hands should be relaxed, sensitive, aware. Much information is communicated through the steering wheel of a car; too tight or too nervous a grip will not allow the information to be communicated to the brain.

So are toes. Mine are curling with embarrassment just from having typed that.

3. The intelligent dog has a startling blind spot.

The dog lives in a constant state of frustration because he cannot communicate with humans. He complains about this frequently throughout the book. Wrong shaped vocal chords & mouth plus no opposable thumbs equals total inability to communicate. Come on. He is intelligent enough that he can know God’s grand plan, but he can’t figure out a way to communicate with gestures?

4. Some major plot twists are strangely inexplicable.

People do really shitty things to Denny. The grandparents’ custody battle is looooong and expensive and vicious, and why? The author gives no foreshadowing, no background or life story for the couple. There is no indication that their daughter suffered any ill effects from growing up with such vicious parents. There is no indication that Denny is a bad father, which might also provide some motivation. The in-laws say they are worried about his financial situation, but is that reason enough for this huge battle? I mean, why not set up a trust fund? In short, this major plot twist is just not believable. The false rape accusation, ditto. That’s huge. There is no backstory or motivation for this girl. I guess she just wanted attention? Or did the evil grandparents bribe her to perjure herself in order to bolster their custody case? Again: just not believable.

5. The writing is not engaging.

I admit, this is subjective. But here’s the thing. I have zero background knowledge about car racing. Zero interest in it either. And that means I am ripe for the excitement of learning something new. This book could have sucked me into a hitherto unknown world filled with colorful characters and fascinating insights. It could have turned me into a fan. Like for example Patrick O’Brian turned me into a fan of Age of Sail, which I had zero knowledge of before reading those books. Or Michael Chabon turned me into a fan of comic books, which I hated before reading Kavalier & Clay. Those authors showed me a new way to see something I had previously thought boring, and whoa, I became fangirl. But not this book, alas.

6. The Deus ex machina ending is ridiculous.

Ah yes, all ends must be neatly tied. So why not have a new character sail in at the very end and suddenly offer Denny his dream job? And then the dog dies (because now his work is “finished”), but luckily we don’t have to be sad about that because Denny goes to the race track and meets him again, reincarnated as a little boy also named Enzo who is “a race car driver at heart” and we can all be happy and The End.

Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks

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This book was a hoot!

Something Missing is the story of a professional cat burglar. He has been stealing for years from the same “clients” and never been suspected, let alone caught, thanks to his obsessive attention to detail. However, there is “something missing” from his own life as well: friendship & love. He is extremely shy and socially awkward, and of course he can’t talk about his work. As you might guess, this book is about what happens when unforeseen contingencies arise. One thing leads to another: Martin finds himself intervening in his clients’ lives, confronting his own demons, falling in love, and being a hero.

A big part of the charm of this book is the descriptions of Martin at work, and the rules for success that he has developed over the years. They are so detailed and sensible that you might even come away tempted to try burglary yourself. For example:

Certain items could be taken from a home without anyone ever noticing, particularly if one is familiar enough with the homeowner’s inventory to determine how long an item has been in stock. A bottle of Liquid Plumbr, for example, should never be taken during its first month on the shelf, because the homeowner has likely purchased it for a specific reason. A kitchen sink is slow to drain. The bathtub is filling with water during a shower. In these instances, a missing bottle of Liquid Plumbr, which isn’t cheap, might be noticed. But after thirty days, it’s safe to assume that the homeowner has solved whatever plumbing problem from which he or she might have been suffering, and then the bottle can easily vanish without a trace.

(Honestly, it makes you wonder about the author. Did Matthew Dicks just make this all up? Or is he writing from personal experience?)

Anyway, the burglary stuff is hilarious and fun to read. But the author also does a great job with the other aspects of the book. Martin’s personality is consistent. His growth is gradual and believable. The plot is tightly constructed. The prose is matter-of-fact, clean, and unobtrusive. The romance is sweet but not too sweet. It’s a light read with a happy ending, but it also makes you think.

Tiny tower

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A proper post just isn’t gonna happen tonight. I have had quite a day of emotional ups & downs at work. Funny… my home life is very comfortable, cozy, safe and secure… but work is often an emotional roller coaster for me.

So I think for tonight’s post I will just reveal another embarrassing fact about myself, which is that I am totally obsessed with my tiny tower. I am actually on my second one. I completely maxed out my first one, with every possible floor, every bitizen with a 9 in their dream job, etc. So I started over again. Tiny Tower II has 71 floors and (as of yesterday) the fastest elevator. Speaking of which, have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually ride that thing?

Anyone else have a tiny tower? Or something similar? Do tell!

My deprived childhood

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Heh, I googled “writing prompts” and got zillions of hits. I wonder what that says about the blogosphere… Anyway, this one particularly caught my eye:

“The things you didn’t have growing up define you.”

Well there was one thing I didn’t have growing up that sure as hell defined me then, and in some measure continues to define me today.

I was the weird kid who didn’t have a TV.

First world problems, I know. But back in the 1970s this was huge. You couldn’t just go watch stuff on youtube back then. If you didn’t have a TV, if you hadn’t watched last night’s episode of Welcome Back Kotter or Happy Days, or the god damn Saturday morning cartoons, you were totally cut out of 90% of the playground conversations going on around you.

This was extremely painful to me. I felt like such a freak. It was embarrassing. When other kids found out, at first they didn’t even believe it. And then they teased me. Worst of all? My parents didn’t even have a good reason for being TV-less. It wasn’t a matter of principle. We didn’t go to a Waldorf school or anything like that. Nor was it a question of money. They just didn’t feel like getting one. No matter how hard my sister and I begged, it just wasn’t gonna happen.

Today? You’d be surprised how often things like ABC Afterschool Specials or The Electric Company come up in conversation among the 40-something crowd. When that happens, I just blush and feel like an idiot.

Lordy, what I missed!

In case you are wondering:

  1. I don’t have cable and I restrict the amount of screen time my kids get. However they are allowed to watch pretty much anything they want on video and the internet. There is nothing their friends are watching that they aren’t. I am way more permissive than most of my friends.
  2. My parents now own a TV.

A brief embarrassing anecdote

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Uh oh, I almost didn’t make it today. I REALLY want to make it through this month without missing a day, but what does that mean on a day like this, where I ran myself ragged and now I am quite completely drained, both mentally and physically. I mean what is the point of spewing words just for the sake of spewing words? Well all right, I will tell you a little story.

Today is Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday; he would have been 90. The first book of his that I ever read was Slapstick. I was, like, 14 years old. At summer camp no less. And I thought this book was the most hilarious thing ever. I gave it to this other girl to read, and she also thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. In case you aren’t familiar, one of the characters has Tourette’s Syndrome. Well, we spent the entire summer pretending we were also afflicted. Every time we saw each other we would start shouting obscenities and acting loony. And this was the entire basis of my friendship with that other girl. We had nothing else in common. The only thing I can say in our defense was that it never once occured to us that Tourette’s was a real thing. But when I look back on it, I am ashamed.

Hi ho.