Book Club for Non-Readers

I’m a reader. I love reading. I always have. Somewhere my mom has my first library card that was the inspiration for learning to write my name (it was a condition of the library – you had to be able to sign your name).

When I was in 7th grade I decided to start at the A’s in fiction and read my way through the library. I think I got to about the fifth book before we moved to San Diego.

I always love to recommend books to people and encourage them to read. There are just so many experiences and stories out there, I can’t imagine anyone willingly leaving them behind.

A few years ago I overheard a co-worker comment they didn’t read at all. They hadn’t read a book since college and wouldn’t even know how to go about finding a book. He had started with Oprah’s Book Club but thought whatever book he started with he didn’t like (I don’t blame him. Oprah picks some pretty depressing books!)

This gave me the idea for a book club online here for people who would like to read more. I’ve been working on a reading list…it was really hard to keep the list down to 11 so I decided to give a choice between two titles – one I’ve read and one I haven’t, so I get to play too! I’ve tried to keep the choices for any age or gender. I aimed for a culturally diverse list because I believe the reason more people don’t read because they don’t find themselves in books. I’ve kept the reading level pretty basic and have tried to find stories that look interesting. Reading is subjective so not everyone will like the books each month but I think it’s important to be able to communicate why you didn’t like something, be it art, a movie or a book.

The official announcement will be up January 1, but here’s a sneak peep at some of the titles I’m still considering:

  • 100 Days of Solitude
  • Ready Player One
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Pointe
  • Midnight Riot
  • The Red Tent
  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Giver
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Rising Strong
  • The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

Oh! It’s so difficult to pare the list down. It’s the Sophie’s Choice of books! Each time I cross one off the list, two more pop up in my head! Anyone up for reading 14 books per month?

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Sigh. I didn’t think so.


Gone South

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 8.37.43 PMIt wasn’t fun, but it’s done. I’m moved. To Georgia. It was a pain in the patoot getting all packed up and here, but it’s over now so I can get on with my life. Or so one would think.

Setting up in my mom’s house is…labor-intensive. And an adjustment. If you know me, you would know that I absolutely hate just a few things: child molesters, coconut, living out  of boxes, and staying home more than two days in a row. Not that I’m equating having to search for my tennis shoes to child molesters, but, well, in my world both are equally irksome I just don’t think my boxes need to be thrown in a box and forgotten for all time. But they kind of have been.

Oh Lordy. I’m babbling. Sorry. I haven’t felt like myself lately.

All this to say, that I’m finally settling in to my new home. Stay tuned for tales of new adventures. I swear, there will be adventures.

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!

Major Life Change = Major Loss of Mojo

Had my first move-related meltdown this weekend. I’m so tired of talking about moving ALL THE TIME! It takes up way to much real estate in my head and I would rather my brain be filled with much more exciting stuff. Moving is BORING! And constantly being pigeon-holed in the same repeating conversation is boring and stressful.IMG_5203Anyway, I had the first real glimpse of what leaving my support network is going to be like. You know how awesome it is when your friends get you? How truly, really awesome? Like when you say you’re feeling fine and your friend sees past your BS and takes you to Chick-fil-A for not one, but two frozen lemonades without mentioning once that really, a shower wouldn’t have been remiss? Well imagine kicking all that to the curb and venturing out all naked like a newborn baby into the unknown and see what kind of twitches you develop.

So what are good coping mechanisms for dealing with great changes? Here’s my list so far:

  • Pack during the week and leave the weekends for fun.
  • Binge-watching isn’t as restorative as reading. Unless you’re binge-watching includes Joe Manganiello. He’s completely restorative. Otherwise keep the TV to a minimum and up the reading.
  • Make a list of all the things you want to do before you move. Do them.
  • Start checking out your new town for things to do and see. Check out some Meet-up groups and try to find your potential tribe.
  • Mine people for data about your new city.
  • Find something about your new city that will remind you of home.
  • Try to stop referring to your old city as home in blog posts where your apprehension will live forever.
  • Just for kicks and giggles maybe find some potential counselors so you don’t spend your first year holed up under the bed.
  • Journal, write, blog, talk. Then put it away.

I’d be interested in hearing your ideas!

Me and Billy Joel – Moving Out

IMG_1855A while ago I said I was sitting on an announcement. It’s a big, LIFE-CHANGING thing. One I’m just now facing up to.

I’m moving to Georgia this winter after 38 years in southern California. I don’t know how I will adjust, but I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude. The biggest fear is losing my support network of great friends. While I’m secure that I will make friends in my new state, I’m not completely confident I will make FRIENDS – you know what I mean?

I currently have the very best friends God can grant a person. Friends I can call when men are stupid. Friends who will bring me juice and cough drops when I am sick. Friends who will not hesitate to jump in the car and head to beach to watch the sunset. Friends who will say, “don’t wear that again, okay?” with just the right gentleness and humor that I’m not offended. And we’re all walking through this life together and have been for 20-30 years! They’ve taught me so much and I hope I’ve been at least a quarter supportive as they have been of me. Consequently, I’m not really keen on walking through the awkward friendship stages again to get to something real. Starting over when you’ve already achieved the pinnacle of friendship perfection is nothing to look forward to. Why can’t I just take all my friends with me?!!

Still, I believe the move is for the best and I believe it is what God wants of me. Although today, at 72 or so days away, I’m more than feeling the stress of everything. And I’ve realized, more than ever before, that my response to stress is either exercise, eating or shopping. I am currently not exercising because I’ve injured my back – that’s only for this week, but still I’m feeling antsy. I’m eating stuff that makes me feel like crap (I ate chicken nuggets yesterday! Chicken nuggets!!) and while my “shopping” is so low-key it’s almost negligible, now that I CAN’T buy anything, I WANT to. I mean, I have Amazon Prime, y’all. Buying moving supplies isn’t quite cutting it. So there’s a lot of reading, Netflix-ing and playing of Candy Crush going on to keep me balanced.

Things to look forward to are being close to family again. It’s been 38 years since I’ve been in shouting distance of cousins and aunties – that will probably be the biggest change. I’m also looking forward to exploring a new city, albeit one without decent Mexican food.  Finding my new favorite places will be adventure enough to keep me from missing San Diego for a long while. My social life will probably slow waaay down and that will give me time to write. It will be easier to take weekend trips to other states. Here, I drive 12 hours north and I’m still in California. There, 12 hours in a northerly direction lands me in New York with about 97 states in between. Rain. I’m looking forward to regular rain.

The biggest challenge will be living with someone else – namely my mother. We are such two totally different people that it’s going to be quite an exercise in patience for both of us. I like having my space and my privacy and the option to not talk to anyone if I don’t want to. If I want to watch 6 straight hours of Buffy there is no one around to judge me now. Mom likes to call me to the kitchen to point at the bowl I neglected to soak. It’ll be an adjustment and I’m aiming for a year before I find my own place. Preferably downtown. I’ve always wanted to live in a city (above a shop!) and hopefully this will be my opportunity.

We are taking it one day at a time.

Food Writing

I’ve been reading essays about food lately and have thought maybe I need to expand my skill set and give it a go. I mean, my relationship with food is salacious, poignant and relevant just like some of the essayists I’ve read. I can write about my confusing relationship with asparagus or my obsession with marzipan shaped to look like fruit in the Betty Crocker cookbook I read when I was 10. What about my attempt to make Beef Wellington when I was 15 with ground beef? Or how I like to buy Mother’s Iced Oatmeal Cookies, open the package and let them get stale for a couple of days before I will eat one?

I have always been a creative, maker-type person. Preparing food fits naturally with my personality because it is taking a very basic need and changing it, adjusting it, customizing it to your own tastes and ideas. You can give 12 people box Mac n Cheese and a full pantry and you will have 12 bowls that taste different. I find that truly fascinating. I always have.

I used to read cookbooks as a child. My two favorites were the Joy of Cooking and the Betty Crocker Cookbook. We also had Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking which I did read from time to time, but a lot of the recipes seemed a little too sophisticated to my elementary school palate. I loved watching Julia on her PBS cooking show, however. And The Galloping Gourmet program was a treat whenever I was home sick from school. You would think with all this French cooking and culinary wizardry, I was a little gastronomic adventurer. But no. My tastes were fairly ordinary. I liked chicken, beef, the pork ribs from the Chinese restaurant, spaghetti, pizza, baked potatoes, cooked carrots, spinach, hamburgers, white rice, fried egg and bologna sandwiches and anything made with Shake & Bake.

I rarely had to venture outside my comfort zone because my mother is not an adventurous eater. I never had to eat lima beans or brussel sprouts because she didn’t like them. Unfortunately she did like liver and green beans, so that was the form my torture took. Once when I was about 4 or 5 I was stubbornly refusing to eat my gross green beans. I only liked the skinny green beans and these were the short, fat green beans with the giant lima bean looking thing in the center. Ugh. I had to sit at the table until they were finished. As I sat there I was inspired by a book at the table – my new book of jokes. What better place to hide unwanted green beans! I was clever enough to put the stuffed book on the bookshelf wedged tightly between Fox in Socks and Miss Suzy so the pressure actually allowed the beans to dry without going moldy, which would have given me dead away. I found the book probably 8-10 years later, beans and all.

In 5th or 6th grade my class took a trip to a television studio to watch a taping of one of those morning type shows with incredibly perky hosts. First we were ushered into a room that I now know as Craft Services where food was lined up on tables as far as my pre-pubescent eye could see. What had caught my eye was a big brown cake in a tin. Fruitcake, it said. How could I lose? I loved fruit, I loved cake! Win! No. Lose. I don’t know what those jellied green bits are in fruitcake but to this day they still give me a bit of shiver when I see them in the grocery store during the holidays.

My day of horrible tastes was not over! The show we watched taping live had a cooking segment. I think they made some sort of trifle with ladyfingers soaked in booze. They called for volunteers from the audience to taste the finished product. Me and a classmate were chosen. Booze and kids, what can I say? It was the 70s. The fruitcake experience hadn’t deterred me – the law of averages was on my side, right?

So, so wrong.

It wasn’t the booziness that did me in, although that was not good. I think it was brandy? It was the soggy bread. If you give me a choice between short, fat green beans, fruitcake or tiramisu? Tiramisu is coming in last. Somewhere in the archives of NYC ABC programming there is a videotape of me trying very hard not to make the gross-out face with a mouthful of brandy trifle.

Still, these were very minor setbacks dragged along the heels of homemade pretzels, fresh bialys from the deli near where my mom worked, cream puffs made by my best friend’s mother as an after school snack, duck a l’orange from the Jamaican restaurant downtown, veal and pepper subs hot and running with juice, the impossible combo of carrot cake held together with thick cream cheese frosting, my mother’s twice baked cheesecake and so many other delicious things. Once I was exposed to a world of food beyond what I’d grown accustomed to, I was fascinated by the combination of basic ingredients that made up the world of tastes that everyone experienced differently.

Today I have only a couple of food taboos: no innards (I’m not a huge fan of meat, anyway), no dyes (allergic) and preferably nothing that resembles that awful green bean casserole made with condensed soup. I still have some major dislikes: coconut, peas, walnuts, hazelnuts, pickles, soggy bread but I can tough those out if need be. I’ll try very hard not to hurt someone’s feelings if they’ve gone out of their way to cook for me. I don’t know if I have a voice when it comes to food writing, but I’m looking forward to exploring the options.

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?