“Heritage” Festival

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Well it has been a couple of weeks since I checked in here. ‘Tis the season. In addition to Christmas and Hanukah (yes, both) we have a bunch of family birthdays. Plus I work for a nonprofit and it is annual appeal time. So I am coordinating mailings, processing gifts, etc etc etc and it is crazymaking. On top of that, my son’s 4th grade class has been working on a big social studies project: interviewing grandparents, researching & writing reports on their countries of origin, and culminating in a big party, at school, during work hours, to celebrate everyone’s ethnicity. Ok. Let’s set aside the fact that ancestry can be an emotionally-laden topic, for example for adoptees or kids with absent parents. Here is what I’m wrestling with:

First? My son wrote about the wrong country. He interviewed my dad who was born in Vienna — and then wrote his report on Germany. Believe me, we have talked about the difference between Austria & Germany. But somehow he forgot. I suppose if I was a better parent I would have discovered this before he researched and wrote the whole report. Luckily he does have some actual German ancestry on my husband’s side, but that isn’t who he interviewed. Hence the quotation marks around “Heritage.” (Please, no comments from the peanut gallery about the narcissism of small differences. I know, I know.)

And second? Not only do I not have two hours free in the middle of the day tomorrow, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to cook up some German Austrian German dish to bring for the class. My family food traditions do not include German cooking. My mom was a devotée of Julia Child and our best-loved family dinners revolved around parsley and garlic and shallots, not sausage & sauerkraut.

Ugh.

Booking through Thursday: Records

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Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday asks: Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read? How? In a journal? Through one of the online services? If so, WHY? To keep good records for future reference? To make sure you don’t accidentally reread? If not, why not? Too eager to move on to the next book? Too lazy? Never thought to bother?

I have tried to keep lists! I have tried pretty much every possible way. I have set up accounts on goodreads and library thing. I have bought pretty little notebooks with lined pages and “Booklover’s Journal” embossed in script on the cover. I have bought lovely plain moleskine notebooks too. But I’ve never been able to stay with the list for more than a few titles.

The thing is, I frequently don’t finish books. Life is too short to waste on bad books. I have no qualms about this whatsoever. But I never know what to do with Quit Lit. Should I list them? Or not? How far do I have to read before I can list it? If I list it and then quit, should I delete the listing? Ugh. Now this decision (to quit reading) that previously felt quite natural and organic has suddenly become fraught with difficulty.

And another thing, I love rereading. Probably half my reading is books I’ve already read at least twice before. Should I list those books too? Should I list them anew, every time I read them? Do I really want to reveal to the world what a fangirl I am? I don’t think so.

So… no. No lists here. What about you?

I got an award!

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Liebster Award!Thank you so much Bee for nominating me for this Liebster Award! Ain’t it pretty?

So — I am now supposed to reveal eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that she posted. Here goes:

Eleven random* facts about me:

1. I am a non-practicing lawyer. So are quite a few of my friends. In fact some of the most interesting people I know are non-practicing lawyers. I actually did quite well in law school and enjoyed it a lot. I was even Managing Editor of the law review, tee hee. But I had my first child while I was still in school and then I decided to stay home with the baby. I did get my degree and pass the bar, but never actually practiced law.

2. My husband and I were friends in high school. Our sister-in-law was also in our class. Very cozy!

3. I am an extremely hands-off parent, at least compared to most of the other moms I know. I believe my role is to help my children cope with the obstacles that arise — not to jump in ahead and smooth the way for them. My kids have been in public school, collectively, for 23 years. In that time I have only once called out a teacher, and it was because of curriculum concerns, not her treatment of my individual child. I have never requested that my child be placed in a particular classroom, and I have never complained to the principal about anything, ever.

4. I have fainted many times in my life (mostly when I was in my teens) and once had an out of body experience. I also experience hypnagogic imagery and semi-lucid dreams quite often.

5. Speaking of dreams, my dreams are always in color and almost always involve houses or buildings that have interesting architecture.

6. Still speaking of dreams: my dad was a professor of clinical psychology and this was quite a burden to me. Some people get Catholic guilt? I got Freudian angst. I grew up believing that people have secret motivations of which they themselves are not aware; that people don’t say what they mean or mean what they say; that everyone is sick and twisted under the surface. I have mostly shed this mindset, but I don’t like to share my feelings and I never tell my dreams unless they are funny.

7. Genetically I am extremely mixed. My mother’s family literally goes back to the Mayflower, whereas my father didn’t come to the US until he was 15. Three cheers for hybrid vigor!

8. Speaking of genetics, my older son’s personality is practically a carbon copy of mine. It is a really weird thing to see your self, in a person of the opposite gender and almost 30 years younger. However we have a great relationship and I think part of the reason why is because we understand each other all too well.

9. Food. I will eat absolutely anything if it is cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients. But I am extremely squeamish about processed foods. I was way ahead of the curve on this. When I was a kid in the 1970s I was terrified of fast food. You could not have paid me to eat a Big Mac. Still feel that way.

10. Speaking of Big Macs, I’ve been using Mac computers since 1986. At first I was extremely offended by the GUI. Excuse me, but I don’t need a picture of a folder to understand the structure of my file directory. I thought it was so condescending, not to mention messy. LOL, now.

11. Love olives, especially the super salty oil-cured ones. Hate raisins, especially the yellow ones that look like boogers.

*Obviously these are not truly “random” facts. I don’t think any of us would want to know truly random facts about each other. :-)

Eleven questions answered:

1. Why did you start blogging? I blog because I cannot rest until I’ve said my thoughts out loud. As you might guess, I was a hand-raiser in school — not because I was gunning for grades but because I literally could not stop myself from saying what I was thinking. (My teenage son tells me this is because I am an INTJ with a very well developed Te (extraverted thinking) function.) I had a nice little blog 5–6 years ago where I blogged under my real name. Eventually for various reasons I had to quit. But the urge to return was always in the back of my mind. So, here I am again. Finding the blogosphere changed in a lot of ways, but having a lot of fun writing, exploring, and meeting new people. Just wish there was more hours in the day.

2. Which genre do you prefer reading: fiction, non-fiction/memoir, poetry, other (sci-fi/fantasy, young adult, mysteries,/thrillers, romance etc.)? I read fiction almost exclusively. Overall I care more about the quality of the writing than the particular genre, but I mostly stick with literary fiction, classics, historical fiction, sci fi, and the occasional mystery/thriller. The heroic quest is my least favorite type of plot so I don’t read too much fantasy. And I don’t read YA, romance, or chick lit at all. At. All.

3. What is your favorite recipe? Pot roast! It only has two ingredients, and tastes divine. The two ingredients are: a piece of beef (“chuck roast” or something similar) and a packet of Lipton’s Beefy Onion Soup Mix. Sprinkle the contents of one package of soup mix on top of the beef, wrap tightly in tin foil and place on a cookie sheet. Put it in the oven at 275° for 3 hours. Done!

chuck roast

the chuck roast

beefy onion

the soup mix

4. Beer, wine, cocktails/spirits, or none? Occasionally. I am a lightweight. One glass does it for me. Also I am not a sophisticated drinker. I can tell red from white but that’s about it. I do like a dirty martini though. And I like my beers hoppy.

5. If there was a potion you could take to live another 1,000 years without aging, would you drink it? Why or why not? Of course!! Who wouldn’t? Don’t you want to know what’s going to happen????? Why is this even a question?

6. Have you seen any of the Star Wars movies? If so, which was your favorite? If not, how come? I’ve seen them all. And *small voice* I didn’t really like any of them. I’ve never understood why people like it. I’m the same about Jane Austen. I just don’t get it.

7. Have you ever had annoying neighbors? What was annoying about them? Oh lordy, yes I have. We used to live right in the middle of a student neighborhood in a college town. The street we lived on was actually an alley with five houses on it, all owned by the same landlady. This landlady was a long-time resident of the town who loved these houses because of their historical significance, and she cherished the thought that she was preserving what had once been a cozy family neighborhood in an area now overrun by undergrads. So she kept the rents low and was choosy about her tenants. One  was a middle-aged single woman who had lived there for more than a decade. In many ways this woman — let’s call her Elphaba — was a model tenant. She kept her house and yard immaculate, did small repairs herself, always paid her rent on time, and clearly appreciated the neighborhood’s history. But Elphaba had a sharp tongue and a very short fuse. You did not want to get on her bad side, ever. If you let your grass get a half inch too long? If your guest parked in her spot? If your kid left their trike in the alley? She would curse. you. out. Viciously. And she would regularly wake us up in the middle of the night, yelling at the undergrads to turn down their music & take their party inside. O irony — it was not the students who woke us up, but her yelling at them to be quiet. I would have loved living there if it weren’t for Elphaba.

8. Do you play a musical instrument? If so, what do you play? Mainly I noodle on piano and clarinet, but we actually have quite a few different instruments in our house which I pick up from time to time — mainly violin, guitar, mandolin, and uke. All my kids take lessons and music making is a huge part of my daily life in many ways.

9. Do you, like me, think the term “Black Friday” sounds like an evil, Satanic, devil-worship feast day? Totally.

10. What was the last movie you saw? Did you like it? No spoilers, please! Life of Pi in 3D AND I ADORED IT!!!

11. What was the last book you read? Did you like it? No spoilers, please! The last book I finished was The Art of Racing in the Rain. I did not like it.

Heh, that was fun! Thank you Bee!!

Alas, I’m not sure I can pass this award along. I’m so new here that I really haven’t found much of a community yet. I think I will just hold this in reserve for now. Hopefully will get to know more bloggers that I can tag in the future.

Talking Animal Lit

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In the comments on my post about The Art of Racing in the Rain, Bee asked whether part of my problem with that book was because it was narrated by an animal. Very good question! I definitely do have issues with talking animals in books. I realize that an animal narrator is not the same as a talking animal, but this is a pet peeve of mine, so here you go.

Talking animals for the most part means children’s books, and that’s the first obstacle. I know there is a whole world of adult book bloggers who read tons of YA and kids’ books, and write serious reviews. Not I! I can barely bring myself to read along with my own bookworm daughter, even when she begs me to read her latest favorite so we can discuss it. So that automatically cuts out a whole bunch of talking animal books. But even when I was a kid myself, I did not like talking animals. And especially not talking stuffed animals. No Winnie the Pooh for me, thanks. Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Watership Down, I’m running out of examples but you get the idea. Ugh.

However.

If there is a REASON why the animals can talk? If the author ACKNOWLEDGES the fact that animals don’t usually talk? If they interact with humans and it is a THING? Then we are in a completely different ball park. I can think of 3 awesome books that meet this requirement. Two are even kids’ books!

1. The Narnia books. Ok, the reason they talk is that Aslan, aka God, gave them the ability to talk. Not exactly a scientific reason, but that’s ok. It is still an acknowledged reason. The animals talk to humans, and it is unexpected, and it is a thing that they talk. So that is fine with me. Plus there are a million other reasons to love the Narnia books. It’s all good.

2. Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. One of my all time favorite kids’ books. Yes they talk. Yes it is a thing. Yes there is an actual scientific explanation. This book is awesome and I have reread it many times, despite what I said about not liking kids’ books.

3. The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. The talking animals in this case are dogs — two “hilariously slanty-eyed” bull terriers, to be precise. This is the only adult fiction I can think of with talking animals, and they are not main characters. However they are brilliant. The book is brilliant. Weird, but brilliant. And oh man is it a thing that they talk. If anyone else has read this book please let me know. I want to discuss it!

bull terrier

bull terrier

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?

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.