Best Book I Read in 2015

This book wrecked me. I usually like to start the new year with the best book I read in the previous year. I’m done. Nothing I will read in the few month remaining in 2015 will rock my world as much as Pointe by Brandy Colbert. It’s one of those books that makes you feel like whatever kind of writing you do, that you should just stop because nothing you write will be that good. It’s the type of book that, when people disagree with you about the amazingness of the story, makes you wonder if you were even reading the same book. It’s the kind of book that wakes you up in the middle of the night because you’re worried about the characters. EVEN AFTER YOU FINISH THE BOOK.

It’s a total fluke how I found out about this book, too! I had gone to the LA Festival of Books at USC in the spring which was a terrible good load of fun – I highly recommend going if you have the chance. Anyway, I had gone to the Young Adult Fiction: Outside the Margins panel with authors Anthony Breznican, Jo Knowles, Sarah Tomp and Andrea Portes. It was a ridiculously hot day and we were sitting in the direct sun on those little white plastic chairs on the grass lawn. We had tried for the little bit of temporary shade. I think we had been hoping to move to the left as the sun moved so we could remain in the shade. But hopes were dashed as a woman came just after the panel had started and sat beside us. The 3 of us had the market on shade for all of about 5 minutes.

The panel was interesting. The authors were pretty candid about writing YA, but not the typical YA. These heroes and heroines were broken and daring and weird and fearless and real. Anthony Breznican was discussing this genre of YA where the characters are facing genuine peril, that the situations they’re in are real, adult and dangerous with permanent consequences. They are kids in circumstances that would make headline news. Breznican’s book seems a little too real for me – I had that moment of wanting to read/not wanting to read his book that tells me I will eventually read it. I think the question he answered was something about the violence or tragedy of his storyline and how he came to write the book from experiences in his Pennsylvania hometown. He said something to the effect of just because a story has no violence, doesn’t hinder it from being a violent story – I’m totally paraphrasing here. Then he pointed in the audience saying that Brandy Colbert had written a devastating novel without a hint of physical violence. He was pointing at the woman sitting next to me.

I’m not gonna lie, the fact that this young black woman with her shoulder length dreadlocks was getting props from a man on the panel for writing an incredible book completely sold me on Pointe more than the other novelists’ books (which I will still read!) I’m more likely to read recommended books if I know nothing about the storyline. “This is the best book ever!” will capture my interest faster than “This is the best book ever because the heroine fights this evil dragon and her sister is a sorcerer who wants to tame the dragon and then they end up on opposite sides of a war!” I guess because when you give me the details I usually tend to guess most of the story. Or at least the ending.

So first you have a black female lead character. She’s upper middle class, goes to a nice private school and has her eye on becoming a principal ballerina for a big dance company. Already the story is bucking the norm. She’s managed to overcome anorexia and is getting on with her life despite the fact her best friend and neighbor was kidnapped. It’s a complex story with a twist. I thought I knew what it was going to be about, how it was going to end and how it was going to resolve but it didn’t go where I wanted it go. It went somewhere way better.

The supporting characters are interesting and not entirely likeable 100% of the time. That only makes them more real to me. Theo’s relationship with her friends is good. Her budding romance with Hosea is rocky and tense. Her actions and her really bad decisions make sense with her backstory – I love that. Consistency of character is an important thing for me. Sometimes characters in books do things only because the plot demands it. Theo’s storyline is strong, well-crafted and beautifully consistent. I’m trying very hard not to include any spoilers, so let’s just say that the cause and the effect are very clear and thought provoking.

It’s definitely the sort of book I would have loved as a teen. The YA stories of my youth were largely about middle class white girls who had a crush or a bad teacher. If I managed to find a story with a black female she was usually struggling in the ghetto and wondering if her family would survive. It’s probably the reason I ended up reading a lot of fantasy.

Colbert has a new book in the works for 2017 that looks interesting. I’m hoping she does a continuation of Pointe. I’d really like to spend some more time with these characters. I would like to think that this book could become recommended reading for freshmen and up because it offers great discussion topics without being preachy and judgmental. However, I think the casual (but not gratuitous) drug use and sex will turn off the prudish.

If you’ve read it, please let me know what you think!


A Relationship On the Edge

I may have to break up with Pinterest. Which is sad because I still kind of love Pinterest. It’s just that Pinterest has gotten selfish and no longer takes my needs into account.

When we first met Pinterest and I, it was love at first site. This was what I’d been searching for my whole internet life. Keeping all my interests bookmarked on my browser and Delicious was cumbersome and there was no photo reminder telling me what intrigued me about each site. And there, finally, after I’d stopped looking, was Pinterest. All bright and shiny and colorful – full of visual inspiration. Eager to court me and whisk me off my feet into new worlds of wood turning, shoelace tying, paleo cookies and decorating with palettes and burlap. Exactly what I’d wanted all those years before.

We had a good couple of years. I’d sign on and there would be scads of photos from friends, real and faux, who shared my same interests. I was specific in my expectations. I rarely followed anyone 100%. I’d look at their boards and only follow what I was genuinely interested in. Not being into sports or weddings or children, those were specific boards I avoided. This ensured my feed was always filled with things I was excited about and I did not have to weed out the bleh stuff. Until I did.

The first infraction was an unending stream of wedding goo. Was Pinterest trying to tell me something? Initially I thought I was following a board in error and clicked to rectify that immediately. But I wasn’t following the board at all! It was a community board with over 50K pins! (I also don’t follow boards with more than 3K or so pins – they take over and most pins are things I’ve already seen.) I had to write the company and ask why I was seeing pins I didn’t want over pins I did want. After a few days the wedding stuff disappeared.

Pinterest and I were back on track. I started a board with my friends for printables. I joined another community board. I learned how to line my eyes, trim a quilt, make a unicorn horn and cook a ham. I used the secret boards to plan a party. I even went to a work event to learn how to use Pinterest for event planning. My boss and I would have Pin Breaks on rough days where we’d just scroll through Pinterest looking to see what caught our eyes. For my part, I actively weeded my own boards – searching out dead links, duplicates and misfiled items. I increased from 15 boards to 41. We were golden. Until we weren’t.

Pins of things that I’d already seen a million times over started showing up in my feed. Kid stuff popped up with a vengeance based on my following a couple of people who had boards for kids with specific learning disabilities which I used as research for a friend. Now I was getting “Here’s where to hide the Elf on the Shelf!” “10 helpful ways to teach your children manners!” “summer activities for families that cost next to nothing!” Ugh. This was the initial roll-out of the “Picked for you” category. Pinterest lead me to believe that once I chose to hide these pins they would eventually disappear. I spent some time and hid everything, regardless of my interest. And disappear they did! Until they didn’t.

When the “Picked for You” pins returned they came back with a vengeance. I sought help from the internets and found this little bookmarklet that works well enough on my desktop, but not at all on my iPhone. The smaller phone screen requires more scrolling past unwanted ads to get to the content I want. I’ve been bombarded with lingerie ads (for lingerie that does not come in my size), sketchy “health” advice, wedding dresses, how to style white-girl hair and gluten free recipes (I always ask for extra gluten). It’s like going to Nordstrom to buy shoes and the salesperson keeps showing you vacuum cleaners.

unwanted removed

How my feed looked after the bookmarklet “removed picked for you” pins.

There’s been some criticism about the Picked for You pins, but it doesn’t seem to phase the Pinterest Powers That Be at all. I get that they want to make money and all, but at what cost? Already I’ve curtailed my activity. Mostly I stick to my own pins or maybe I will choose someone I’m following and take a look at their latest pins specifically. You also have to be careful that Pinterest isn’t following random boards for you. I just checked my feed a couple of minutes ago and found that I am now following several homeschooling boards. I never followed any homeschool anything! As I stated above, when I follow someone I look at all their boards individually and choose only the me-specific ones. The people whose boards I follow blindly are the people I actually know IRL.

When I first joined Pinterest it was before they were trying to earn a profit. Now it seems that is all they are trying to do. They clearly used an algorithm to discover that I recently pinned several items about making your own lingerie and then used that information for a sponsored pin fest for vendors who are trying to use the site to promote and sell their items. However, the algorithm does not take into account the fact that I am looking into making my own lingerie because the color, sizing and cost of items available to purchase are limiting to me. I also got sponsored pins from Kraft after I pinned a few mac and cheese recipes. Like I’m supposed to go, “What? There’s mac and cheese in a BOX that I can make with water?!” and “I can add ham and tomatoes to it?” followed by “Oh, this wonderful modern world we live in!”

Stop Promoted Pins is an app for your computer and your cell phone that supposedly removes all the unwanted pins from your feed. I will definitely be trying it, but will it just be a matter of time before Pinterest counters that move and Sunkist Tuna dessert recipes start popping up?




Back in the Day

Bought a new cookbook a couple of weeks ago.  This is how it can be dangerous to own a smart phone.  I went on Amazon to order a sock knitting book (that’s a post for another day) and the way they get you is with that $25 free shipping.  I needed $8 more to make it to $25.  It was late. I was in bed. The screen is small.  I got tired of scrolling through pages of recommended items looking for an appropriately priced item and just ordered whatever was #1 on my wishlist.  I was so tired, I wasn’t even sure what I was gonna get!

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a modern throwback. Lots of delicious looking recipes with (my favorite) little intros to each dish.  I like a little story with my recipes. This bakery looks like a great hangout – a lot of the photos are taken there with their collections of vintage cookware. The Days seem like fun people, too. Ones you’d want to invite to every cocktail party, but maybe that’s just the cuteness factor of the two of them on the cover.

I’ve so far just read the thing as a novel. Haven’t decided what I’m cooking yet. I’ll be sure to share here when I do.