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Judy Blume Revisited! Forever…

Welcome to my Judy Blume in July series! Ok, it’s now August. However, I read some classic Judy Blume novels throughout July and culminated with In the Unlikely Event, which I will review here as well.

The book: Forever…

My rating as a teen: 3-4 stars

My rating as an adult: 2-3 stars

Forever… was never my favorite Judy Blume book, though I knew several pre-teen girls who worshipped it because the story was a gateway into the life of a sexually active teenager. And even though I’m always a sucker for sex in a book, Forever… didn’t click for me as kid/teen. I actually have no idea when I first read it. I may have been 12. Or 15. I was fortunate to have parents with full-time jobs who didn’t pay any attention to what I read (just glad I was choosing to read) and so I may as well have been as young as 8.

I can understand why parents are so put off by this book. Katherine’s parents and grandmother all but give her The Joy of Sex for her birthday. I wish I had such cool and understanding parents at that age. I wish I could have talked to them so frankly about sex. And maybe this is why I had a hard time liking it as a young girl: Katherine’s family (and Michael’s sister) was  more progressive than my own and so her world didn’t resonate with me at all.

One thing that sticks out to me now is how prevalent “Judy Blume’s Message” is about safe and consensual sex throughout the book. As a kid/teen, I would never call Judy “preachy”. But seeing Forever… through wise (jaded?) eyes I see what she was trying to do. Judy was never one to tell kids NOT to do anything. She knew better. Kids are meant to explore everything- including sex- so why not provide the safest environment for them? However, this doesn’t mean that Judy was such a free-wheeling hippie that she couldn’t advise, and even warn, against engaging in pre-marital and teenage sex at too young of an age.

I was so surprised at how PUSHY I found Katherine’s paramour, Michael, when it came to sex. Don’t do it when you’re not ready! Stick to your guns! If it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to wait! I can almost hear Judy’s near parental rant throughout Katherine’s struggle to come to terms with her body sensations versus her fear of engaging in sex. And yet Michael says he understands, but we know he really doesn’t. What shines through so clearly to me now is how YOUNG and IMMATURE these two are. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sex, but I understand Judy’s point. You might think you are an adult at age 17/18, but think again.

Judy isn’t necessarily being preachy here, but her message is stronger in this book than in others. She understands kids. She understands the course and rush of emotions that permeate and affect every decision. Almost everything a kid and teen feels is guided by a strong emotion. They feel love more hotly. They feel fear and risk less acutely. They rarely think beyond tomorrow. They challenge, they cower. And then they grow up and things look a little more crystal.

It’s important to note that Judy isn’t making a judgement here about teenage sex. She is simply saying, “If you are going to do it, be smart”. The book is not without the pitfalls to sex. There is an unwanted pregnancy, talk of abortion, and an adoption. VD is discussed and soft drugs are used. In trying to cover them all, Judy plays a deft hand. The last thing she wants is to turn kids off and have them run headlong into the dark sexual arts uninformed, rebellious, and careless.

Still, the story of Katherine and Michael is underwhelming. I just kept waiting for them to do it. I wondered what they talked about, if anything, besides sex. Most of their conversations revolved around whether they were or were not going to do it. His aggressive pushiness frightened me and her sullenness depressed me. Was I like that at her age? Probably. I, too, thought I knew everything.

And yet, however young I was when I read it, I never took this book to mean I had permission to go out and have sex. Parents need not be afraid. If anything, this is a great book for girls who might fall in the trap of thinking they have to put out in order to be loved. And I think Judy is definitely not calling it a love story. She drills in the point that you will fall in love several times in your life, not once. I respect Judy’s insight and awareness of the teenage world, even though I didn’t find this book to have a very strong story.

Stray Observations:

  • For some reason my only memory of this book, before I reread it, was that Katherine was a Candy Striper. I’m not sure why that detail stuck with me, as it’s only mentioned once.
  • Attention if you’ve read Judy’s In the Unlikely Event: The Papermill Playhouse first makes an appearance in Forever…!
  • Michael chooses “Ralph” as his penis name. Katherine should have known then that the relationship was doomed.
  • The suicide side-plot threw me… almost seemed like it should have been a separate book.
  • Judy writes strong and caring parents well. Is she modeling them after how she perceives herself?
  • Judy hates the term Young Adult Novel, yet that’s how it’s categorized at my library. Do we need a redefinition on the YA genre?

Judy Blume Revisited! Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret

Judy Blume wisdom…

[I]t’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

It’s “revisit my childhood” month in July. For the entire month I am reading the classics- Judy Blume’s that is- and finishing with her latest release for adults, In the Unlikely Event.

I’m rereading her books in no particular order and will review them all here. So let’s start with my thoughts on her most “seminal” tale of a girl’s road to womanhood!

Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret

My rating as a kid: 5 stars (excellent)

My rating as an adult: 2-3 stars (so-so to good)

First of all, this book floored me as a kid. I think you have to be about 12 or 13 for the story to really hit home. Every single girl I knew, including myself, was obsessed with three things: boys, boobs, and getting your first period. Judy Blume covers them all.

I probably read this book at least 10 times as an adolescent. And it seemed like such a saga! She’s starting a new school in a new city, she likes a boy who doesn’t like her, she has no boobs to speak of, and all her friends are getting their periods and she’s not. To top it all off she talks to God, even though she’s of no religion. The real stinker is she doesn’t even get to go on the special trip with her Grandma Simon because of her other pesky and hyper-relig maternal grandparents! These are all the things that can consume a kid- and boy, did I relate to her.

I even did a special project inspired by Margaret’s when I was in high school. My family was also of no religious persuasion, and I was curious to find out what religion meant to other people. I had to write a paper on different cultures, but I turned it into my own religious project. I went to a Jehovah’s Witness meeting, a Church sermon, and talked to a person I worked with at the local pizza joint who was Muslim. Just like Margaret, I didn’t find all the answers I was looking for but I was awakened to a new sense of spirituality and what it means to simply ask a higher power for guidance.

As an adult, however, the book doesn’t quite hold the same resonance. I was surprised to discover that Margaret is, pardon my French, kind of a bitch! Must be due to being a hormonal, pre-menstrual kid but I’m still shocked at how almost unlikeable she is. I kept having to put myself in the shoes of a pre-teen girl. Remember when you thought your best friend was a horrible person? Remember when you made of that girl or that boy? Remember what it felt like to be an outcast, or misunderstood, or left out? My having to remind myself that no girl at age 11 or 12 is very likable, and it took me out of the story.

Also, however dated the book is (Pads with belts? Velvet hats? Plaid bedskirt, your mom says “gads”- yuck to all!), this is STILL a revolutionary book for its time and now. Is there another book that really makes it ok to talk about your period with fervor and excitement? Judy Blume is so skilled at capturing that unique age right between childhood and adolescence and all of the things that girls SHOULD be talking about, and questioning. Judy never subscribes her books to the “Young Adult” genre and I agree. It’s like saying this book is only good for a certain age range and not others, but who decides that anyway? Moms should talk to their girls about periods, boobs, and boys at a younger age than we think. Because, as Judy subtly points out, us girls are already talking about it by age 11, which isn’t considered to be under the Young Adult age range.

The God piece in the book felt out of place for me as an adult, but again, I had to remind myself that being a kid is all about figuring things out. A kid’s deep thoughts might seem trite and silly to us grownups, but how else will we learn about ourselves? I used to talk to God too. And I asked him to make my butt smaller. I think I was about 8 or 9.

As Judy says: “I had a very personal relationship with God. I talked to him about all my worries, concerns, and feelings, the way Margaret does. My readers are always asking how I know all their secrets. After reading this book you’ll know some of mine!”

Stray Observations:

  • MAVIS was apparently a sensational name circa 1970.
  • Even though not grading a year-long project is slightly lame and pointless, how cool was that to be trusted with a year long project at age 11?! Are we just less mature now?
  • I wanted to live and play in Nancy’s room: organdy skirted vanity, perfume bottles, and make-up.
  • Every time I eat a pickle, I think of Grandma Simon and say to myself “Mmm, nothing like the real thing!”
  • The size of pads back then were like bricks!

Sequel: The Sequel (ad nauseam).

We are a country that loves its sequels. We just can’t let a story go. If a sequel doesn’t make sense, we have prequels. Reboots. Trilogies that somehow turn into 5 movies. TV adaptations and spin-offs. It never ends!

In the book world, sequels are series. And I’m starting to notice a trend…

Just as a TV series really should end around season 5, a book series has to have some end point. I recently finished book 2 of “Outlander” and am DAUNTED, even though I love series, at the prospect of reading 7 more 900+ page books. When is it logical for the story to end?

There are those series that consume your entire life. “Game of Thrones” is one of them. I read Book 4 last month and I’m not sure George R.R. Martin has an end game, though there should be. “Harry Potter”, for example, was well-plotted. Each novel felt like the characters advanced to a next level, and part of this is due J.K. Rowling’s brilliant foresight and planning to have the books follow Harry and co. by age and education level. By the time they are ready to leave Hogwarts the books are done.

Diana Gabaldon could have easily written the “Outlander” series as a great trilogy, rather than drag it out for 8+ books. You end up following the characters lives as closely as your own. I don’t need that. Endings are painful, but necessary. Stories are meant to live on in your imagination. I want a book that will stay with me and take a part of me with it when I reach “The End”. Why give away a novel’s power by feeding the story beyond any logical expectations?

Sue Grafton backed herself into a corner when she started writing her alphabet series. I believe we are up to “X” in the series, and as I’ve ready each book faithfully from letter A until now (some of them more than once) I get a sense that she’s exhausted. She’s been writing these mysteries for the better part of 30 years. Her main character Kinsey gets nearly killed in every single book. What a life! At some point, maybe around “K” or “M”, we stopped believing that Kinsey’s life had any realistic trajectory moving forward. By all accounts she should be dead (or under witness protection).

I will admit the books are fun- as are most books in a series- but I get lost in overall arc of the storyline. I begin to feel manipulated that the books keep coming and the story gets stretched beyond limits because there’s money to be made. Did Diana really anticipate a full 8+ series storyline when she first typed out the original “Outlander” novel? Or did someone tell her she needs to write more in the series because fans and publishers demand it?

I’m reminded of obsessed fan Annie Wilkes and writer Paul Sheldon from “Misery”. What will happen once Diana finishes “Outlander”? Will millions of us fans revolt, lock her up in a basement somewhere, and demand she bring Claire and Jamie back to life? J.K. Rowling let go, much to the dismay of a bazillion kids and adults alike, but she hasn’t been stoned.

In praise of the trilogy, I say, and here’s to logical endings. What are some of your favorite trilogies? (Books, tv miniseries will count, films)

 

 

Mixing mediums to mixed success: books and the movies

Recently, I listened to a podcast that discussed great books which turned into decent movies. Nick Hornby, by all appearances, is the poster child for successful author with novels that easily translate to film. His books High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy have all been made into movies that received high praise. I rather enjoyed About a Boy, but I have to say that the book version of High Fidelity was much better than the film.

And why is that? What makes a good book into a good, or even great, film? About a Boy had fantastic casting, so that’s part of it. But it also had a clipped pace and solved the “inner monologue” problem that characters in books get to use with abandon by having Hugh Grant provide the narration, which was not overly used. High Fidelity, on the other hand, practically had John Cusack speaking to the camera in every frame, which became bothersome and resembled some kind of tricky filming gimmick that I didn’t quite believe. And I didn’t like the woman cast as Laura, so the love story was a wash for me.

In fact, casting does play a big part of the whole success/non-success of book turned movie. I couldn’t bear to watch any of the Harry Potter movies because the actors cast as Hermione, Harry, Ron, etc, didn’t match the character versions from the book and my imagination. Hugh Grant, however, was perfectly placed as the half man/half boy selfish singleton living the carefree life in London. Renee Zellweger was born to play Bridget, in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

On rare occasions, a movie can even outshine the book version. The English Patient comes to my mind as an absolutely boring slog-fest of a novel, but roared and came to stunning life as a film. James Bond movies are another example of so-so stories that take on a life of their own on the big screen. Again, casting is key.

And sometimes a movie and a book come together as one and do the hard job of complimenting each other nicely. “Gone Girl” the novel I loved, but I was very skeptical of the movie version at first. If you’ve read the book, you might also wonder how they pull off the “big reveal” without it being too obvious or too cheesy. I thought the book was a wonderful interpretation of the book. The casting director responsible for putting the actress who played Margot deserves a medal. Her chemistry and relationship with her fictional brother, Ben Affleck, was key to the story. And Rosamund Pike… I can’t say enough about how much I love Rosamund Pike. The movie had big shoes to fill, and some folks I know were confused by the ending. Why would a man STAY with a woman like that? Here is where the book is a better narrative. You get more insight into Amy’s troubled and broken relationship with her parents, and you also get a clearer image of Nick “the people pleaser” who cannot let go of his hero/needs to be loved image. But the film Gone Girl did amazing things with Amy’s diary sequences and flashbacks, which made the whole movie for me.

And then there is the question question of interpretation. Obviously, a movie is a director’s (and screenwriter’s) adaptation of the fictional work. It can’t, as a visual medium, follow a book to the letter. Some crucial parts and minor characters will be reimagined, or left out altogether. The podcast crew I listened to pointed to the inconsistencies in American Sniper the film versus “American Sniper” the memoir. Here, the story deviated wildly from book to movie. “Gone with the Wind” is another novel that led to a loose interpretation in the movie version. Most notably, Scarlett O’Hara is missing some kids from her first husband. How much or how little gets changed depends on the type of story the director wants to tell. Radically changing details by no means is indicative of faulty storytelling in the novel form that gets “cleaned up” in the film version. But I do think books tell better linear stories than film. Books fill in the gaps with reminiscing, backstory, and small scenes with characters that are not pertinent to the overall arc. Trying to capture all of this in a film, going from point A to point B and following the exact path of the book, makes for a boring, by the numbers, movie.

Some of my favorite book to film adaptations:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The English Patient
  • About a Boy
  • The Graduate
  • Forest Gump (a nothing book that turned into a wonderful film)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary
  • Fried Green Tomatoes

Any others that I’m missing? What do you think?

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway…A feast, indeed.

It gets harder to reread books as I get older, I’ve found. As a teen and in my twenties I read and reread books over and over again- up to 3 times or more. But now, I don’t find the same joy the second time around when I revisit a novel. Not so with A Moveable Feast. I think I read the book for the first time only a handful of years ago, and I liked it. I reread it for a Reading Challenge that I’m finishing up from winter 2014 and thought it an absolute delight. I found new themes and passages I don’t even recall reading before. Was I in a fog when I first read it? I do know that I was going through an extremely bad spell at my old job. Perhaps the book just didn’t resonate back then.

Hemingway is difficult to enjoy. I completely understand why someone doesn’t “get” Hemingway. His prose is sometimes stilted and there doesn’t immediately appear to be any point or through line to his writing. His short and precise sentences can easily be mistaken for those of an amateur, and no one can ever accuse Hemingway of “showy” writing. I am, by no means, a Hemingway expert. I’ve only read three of his novels: The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and A Moveable Feast, now twice. For Whom was a slog to complete, although in the end I found the novel haunting and emotionally rich. The Sun… was one of my favorite novels in my early twenties. While in France on a year abroad, I gave a short presentation on the novel for one of my French classes and declared the book one of the best I’d ever read. The professor wrinkled her nose and asked “Why??!!”.

But his gift is for creating “the truest sentence there is”. Hemingway strove to deliver stories and novels that spoke to simple truths. He believed florid and overly descriptive writing danced around the truth. I wonder if A Moveable Feast is his most honest work. However, I do believe that the honesty and simplicity in his writing is what turns most people off. He’s a storyteller, but he’s not a showman. When you compare his writing to that of Fitzgerald’s, his contemporary and also featured in A Moveable Feast, there is a striking difference in styles. Fitzgerald’s work is vivid and colorful while Hemingway’s is earthy and stark. The Great Gatsby, a book I also reread in 2014 and loved anew, is wonderful. It’s a feast in its own right, but it does make Hemingway’s work look plain by comparison. There are parallels to draw with both authors, however. I can’t say which writer is better; they speak of truths in their own ways.

Here is an example in A Moveable Feast of a delightfully truthful statement:

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

What an opening paragraph, and only 3 sentences! Everyone has experienced that one “perfect day” that occurs right at the end of winter. The weather is neither cool nor hot, and flowers start to bloom. Folks stroll outside, holding hands, with a careless ease for the first time in months. Life seems limitless and good. And you don’t want to run errands or meet friends for drinks or be indoors in any way. You want to enjoy the sunshine and the warmth and the beginnings of something. I’ve felt this, have you? He captures that sentimentality without all of the fluffy adverbs and over explaining. I know exactly what he means. He captured a mood in its most simplistic form. This is truth.

What I most enjoyed about the novel this time around that I didn’t particularly catch on the first read, is that Hemingway is writing about becoming the author Ernest Hemingway as we know him. Written only a few years before his death and published just before he died, this is a nostalgic novel. He’s writing as though he is a young man just learning his style. Paris is his muse. I’d like to believe he looks back on this period with extreme fondness- it’s the beginning of something, which he is writing about towards the end of his career and life.

And I encourage everyone to also read Paula McLain’s wonderful The Paris Wife, which is a fictional account of Hem’s wife Hadley during their Paris years. On my first read I thought Hadley had gotten such short shrift. She’s barely in A Moveable Feast, this is true, but on my second turn I found her evermore present within the pages. Apparently she and Hemingway were on friendly terms right before he died. Perhaps this is also his small love letter to her, or perhaps not, but I was moved much more by their relationship on this read.

His experiences with F. Scott Fitzgerald were also more vivid on the second read. When I opened my used copy of the novel, I noticed this inscription, written in ink, that I hadn’t seen the first time:

Ward- Maybe you’ll identify with Fitzgerald.

-John

Maybe Ward was using this book as an intervention? I have no idea what he really means, but I had to laugh. Fitzgerald is portrayed by Hemingway as a complete mess- talented, yes- yet on the verge of becoming a full-fledged alcoholic with a less than sane wife. Hemingway supposedly locked heads with Zelda Fitzgerald on more than a few occasions and you do get the sense that he doesn’t like her here. But you also get a sense of his admiration of Fitzgerald and perhaps even envy. Maybe this jealousy pushed him into becoming a novelist, rather than a short story writer? In my reread, I thought his relationship with Fitzgerald was fraught with boyhood rivalry, but there was a tender almost loving way in which Hemingway cared for and encouraged Fitzgerald. Is he feeling guilty in his later years that he didn’t do more? Fitzgerald obviously plays a very prominent role in Hem’s life, otherwise he wouldn’t get a whole section devoted to him.

The title of the book and the opening quote are my favorite:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feat.

Hemingway and his wife Hadley are dead broke in Paris, but never hungry, neither physically nor emotionally. And Hemingway is never lacking for stories. Paris feeds him. Throughout the entire novel he is almost never sitting still, unless he is in a cafe writing. He’s either walking along the Seine, skiing in the Alps, visiting Gertrude Stein’s apartment, or striding off to the bookstore Shakespeare & Company. Even when’s he writing there is a sense of movement, as if Paris is passing him by like an old theatre diorama. People he knows and friends filter in and out. The seasons change before his eyes. Delicious food and drink passes before him in an endless array.

Sure, you could make the argument that the novel is not very exciting. And speaking of “very”, for a man who shunned adverbs the word “very” shows up in almost every 4th line. His stroll down memory lane in Paris is leisurely at best. There is no real conflict and if I had to make a complaint, I say that his breakup with Hadley could have been explored with more depth. She drifts away in the last chapter and is replaced by his second wife with only a small explanation. This is also why The Paris Wife makes such a good companion piece to the novel: we get to see the before and after and all the in-betweens of their relationship, which is missing from A Moveable Feast.

But again, this novel is about Hemingway the author finding his voice and his place in the world as a writer, not about the breakup of his marriage. I admire that although A Moveable Feast is somewhat of a memoir it does not have the trappings of a linear account of his life from point A to point B. It is clear that Paris remained a magical time in his life for many years. I, too, have felt the magical pull of France. Having lived in Bordeaux for a year in college and returning to France only 3 years ago, it still holds an almost mystic and revered place in my heart.

I hope that the mysterious “John” didn’t take offense to Ward’s gift of this book. I hope he took away some of the lightness and wonder from it that I did, all of Fitzgerald’s heavy drinking and Hemingway’s womanizing aside. I think it’s a novel that gets better with age and experience.

And if I ever need to go back to Paris, I don’t need to travel far. I just need to open a book.

 

2014 Book Challenge Results- 50 Books Read!

I did it! I met my goal of 45 books read in 2014 and went ahead and read 5 more. Actually, I’m glad I over shot my goal because there were a few books I couldn’t (and refused) to finish.

At the bottom of the post is my reading list for the year, but I wanted to take a moment and point out some highlights from my year of books.

BEST OF 2014:

  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon. I know, I know. I’ve talked about this book quite a bit. It made me fall back in love with books. After a long slump of reading ho-hum fiction, along comes this sweeping epic that truly moved me and sparked my imagination into high gear. What more could a reader want?
  • The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. Give Elizabeth’s fiction a chance. This is one mother of a book. Gilbert’s astounding attention to detail and research is mind-blowing. She is an excellent storyteller. And while the book does have its slow (and even slower) moments, I really appreciated the main heroine and all that she stood for.
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe. Why, you might ask, is THIS book on a list? Let me tell you that I was skeptical, too. I thought I was in for a juicy and gossipy light-hearted ride, but instead was treated a tender and insightful memoir that was actually quite inspiring. I have to hand it to Rob Lowe, he’s incredibly intelligent and hardworking. I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt before I read his book.

WORST (or most disappointing) OF 2014:

  • Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin. Could be one of the most pretentious, overblown, and dullest novels I have ever not finished. I usually finish all of my book club picks, but this one was next to impossible to see all the way through. I nearly fell asleep on the road while listening to it, and so the book became a dangerous driving hazard. I know there are folks out there who rave about this novel but not me.
  • The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian. So disappointing. He’s normally such a beautiful writer, but his latest book fell flat with a thud. Read his The Skeletons at the Feast in place of this novel.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple. God, such a turgid book. I don’t even know where to start with how much my expectations were destroyed after reading it. Marketed as somewhere between a humorous satire and (supposed) tender look at mental illness, the novel just comes off as mean-spirited and trite. A complete disappointment.

BIG SURPRISES:

  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Well, the joke is on me. I went on to read this book fully expecting to hate it. I was curious as to why the novel was garnering so much attention that I had to read it, but as I’m not a huge fan of YA novels I put my snob face on. The snob face was promptly wiped away. This is a sneaky book. While it’s not the best piece of literature out there and features some fairly unbelievable characters, it’s a heartbreaking and ultimately well-written story about kids with cancer. And one I think most teens would benefit from reading.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt . A reread that I’m glad I reread. For a true crime novel, it reads more like a biting and zesty article in a gossip rag. Better the second time around.
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think everyone should reread this novel every ten years. Its tone and imagery evolves as one matures. I love this book so much, and I can’t wait to read it again and again. It’s lost none of its charm since I first read it in high school.

AUTHOR OF THE YEAR:

  • Ms. Gillian Flynn gets my vote for one of the best mystery/thriller writers out there, especially in the female writer category. She is unapologetically gross- and not for the shock value, either. Flynn captures the dirtiness and scumminess of human society in the most realistic way. Her heroines are anything but heroic, but nor are they tragic figures. They are raw and flawed women with scratches and scars, yet are somehow at the same time likable and repulsive characters. I can’t wait to read more of her stuff.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • I’m glad I gave myself permission this year to not finish books that didn’t speak to me. I saved a lot of precious time.
  • I need to be more discerning about choosing audio books. Some of the narrators are just awful and do not do the books any justice.
  • I will not do any reading challenges in 2015. While I do like to see how many books I can read in a year, and I love discovering new authors through a variety of challenges, I find that time-wise I become almost maniacal about getting through a large amount of books in short time periods. I don’t think I enjoy the books as much. Plus I want to finish some of my longer series, such as Outlander and Game of Thrones, and those hefty novels take up so much time.

Behold the 2014 book list! Here are my categories:

  • YES: This book changed my life in some way and hopefully it will change yours. Or I just really enjoyed it.
  • VACATION READ: We all need books that can sustain us for long periods when we are sitting on a beach or in front of a fire in a log cabin. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but will hold your attention for more than a few hours, while still allowing you to relax. (I may even put YES and VR together, mean yes it’s great AND good for vacation).
  • NO: I just didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth my time. Doesn’t mean someone else might not love it, but I would never hand this book to another and say “You gotta read this!”

(I apologize for the format below. I tried copying and pasting from Goodreads, which was a mistake).

Happy reading in the New Year, everybody!

 NO
VACATION READ
YES, VR
NO
YES
NO
YES
YES, VR
NO
YES, VR
YES
VACATION READ
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES, VR
YES
NO
YES, VR
YES (hesitantly)
YES, VR
NO
VACATION READ
NO
NO!!
NO
YES (hesitantly)
YES
NO
YES
YES
YES
VACATION READ
YES
VACATION READ
YES
YES
YES
YES (Hesitantly), VR
YES
YES

 

2014 in review (per WordPress)

Good to know- my book reviews appear to be the most read posts on my blog. I will make that a focus for 2015!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 950 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

I will never be a wood worker…. and other musings to close 2014.

Wow… I had this as a draft and never published. What a way to start 2015!

 

 

The other day I listened to a podcast featuring an old interview with Nick Offerman (of Parks and Recreation fame). Turns out Nick is a part-time wood worker. He owns his own wood shop and has crafted furniture and canoes for a long time, often supplementing his acting career before he made it big.

Needless to say, I was inspired. How great is that, I thought? Hey, maybe I can get into woodcarving. Or woodcutting. Or whatever you call it…. Hey, maybe I can intern there?! I can discover a life-long passion for working with wood!

I have never worked with wood. I don’t think it’s even entered into my consciousness before that I would ever want to carve a chair. But somehow, Nick Offerman’s having a unique skill that provided him with a living in the down years spoke to me. I needed that kind of passion.

I looked on his website. He has a whole list of FAQs on what his woodshop is and isn’t. A) He’s not going to give anyone a job B) A really cool hand carved desk costs $4,800 C) You can take woodcutting lessons at Off the Saw in downtown LA.

I went to that website. I looked at the $200 plus wood cutting package (all supplies included) that will teach you the basics of woodcarving/cutting, and at the end you get to walk away with your own hand carved cutting board!

And that’s when I realized I would never, EVER be a wood worker. No matter how inspired I am about someone else’s success and journey, it’s not mine. Nor should it be.

What I mean to say is, I found myself near the end of 2014 grasping at straws.

This hasn’t been the best year of my life, though I’ve got plenty going for me. It’s been a frustrating year, emotionally and professionally. A year of little surprises and big disappointments. I have to admit I spent 2014 mostly confused. I lost myself and the best part of me somewhere during the year.

I’ve got to get her back in 2015.

I do want to share a few people who have rocked my world with some of their postings:

Megan Stroup, “A Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” took an amazing journey this year and her blog gets better and better with each post.

James Altucher has some incredible insight and writes frank and revealing stuff.

I’m really digging Chris Guillebeau‘s mission. He mostly writes for the traveler, but we are all travelers in some fashion aren’t we?

I’m sorry for not posting more blog posts this year, and I’m even more sorry that I wasn’t able to read more blogs written by some very talented people. This is a year where I feel like I let down my friends.

But I am hopeful for 2015. One of the things I can’t fault with this year is my growing relationship with my husband. I love him. I want to love him more.

Chris Guillebeau writes a great Year End Review. Here is my brief submission:

What went well in 2014?:

  • Started my new job. Got a raise! Reached some professional goals and realized a few new strengths.
  • My first year of marriage did not end in tears. Realized that I love being married.
  • I’m about to pay off my student loan. Financially, this was a great year for me.
  • Joined a writers group. I found a bunch of supportive and amazing writers and it feels like home.
  • Broke through some of my acting blocks. Found my voice!
  • Got to spend time with my family. We have a much better relationship now than ever.
  • Went 2 months without any sugar. Lost 3 pounds and slept better.
  • Started working with a trainer and getting in better shape. Actually RAN not walked a 5K.
  • Began to learn German. Abandoned it for now, but I started!
  • Got to work on the Rejane Project again and the show was a success!
  • Read 49 (and possibly 50 before Thursday) out of my projected 45 books for the year!

What didn’t go well in 2014?

  • Fear went haywire this year. I received some negative feedback and I personalized it. It’s haunted me for about 6 months.
  • A lot of past karma came back my way this year… I have to work on my professional relationships.
  • I don’t think I was the best friend I could be this year. I didn’t have the emotional capacity or time to spend with many friends.
  • Our wedding year in 2013 and new job meant less time for travel.
  • My French has suffered greatly. I’m not able to keep up much practice.
  • There are many things I wanted to accomplish by the end of the year: Finish my wedding album, get new headshots, publish a few of my essays, revamp my blog… I didn’t get to them. I feel let down.
  • I didn’t get to participate in as many Buddhist activities with my group as I had wanted to.

Goals for 2015:

  • Looking over my past year, I see that I’ve got quite a bit going on. I need to simplify. Can the headshots wait and perhaps I spend some more time with friends? Maybe I need to stop worrying, let the laundry sit for a while, and spend that time more wisely.
  • I need to work on being a better friend and wife.
  • Have fun. Don’t think I made room for that in 2014.
  • Travel for pleasure.
  • Stop saying “You have to do this or that”. Everything is a choice.
  • Love myself more.
  • Forgive myself  a lot.
  • Stop waiting for permission… just do it already!
  • Love where I am in this moment. I’m on a journey, and I need to stop living like I’ve already parked it somewhere.
  • Write. And write some more. Maybe submit for publication!
  • Get better at goal-setting. (seriously, though, I’ve never been good at goals).
  • “This is the year I…” Every year I’ve said this. 2015 is TBD!

Thanks to everyone who read my posts this year. It’s an honor to have an audience of readers who love books as much as I do. More to come.

Cheers!

Audiobook Wars Are ON!

When you sit in the car as much as I do and are a huge reader, nothing saves the day like an audiobook. I currently subscribe to Audible.com (Amazon owned) and am always amazed at how many audiobooks I actually go through on a monthly basis. I have to force myself to adhere to the once-a-month free credit I get with my subscription (one book/month for $14.95) because let’s face it: $27 for an audiobook is really expensive. Between $18-$30 is the average cost for a DISCOUNTED audiobook on the site.

What gives??!

Imagine my delight when I came across this news item announcing Scribd audio books only carry a $9.99/month subscription fee with unlimited access. I can read 5 audio books in one month and only pay $10? Yes, please! And suck it, Amazon!

Oh, but wait. There is a catch.

Surfing the titles on Scribd I discovered that Scribd doesn’t have publishing rights to certain books and therefore cannot carry those books and audiobooks. And when I say “certain” books, I mean virtually all the titles in my GoodReads “To Read” pile are not available. Amy Tan? Nope. Donna Tartt’s “The GoldFinch”? Not available. Any books by Geraldine Brooks? Only one title.  Neil Patrick Harris’ new memoir? Yep, not there.  The list went on and on.

To be fair, there are good books available on the site but if it’s a new book- and a popular one by a prolific author- forget it. Why  should I be restricted as to what I want to read? I want to read what I want to read WHEN I want to read it. By the way, those books I mention above were my top picks and I struck out on all four. I don’t want to have to spend my time searching for a book I really want to read, only to find that it’s not available and then settle for a second choice instead. Not worth the $10/month, in my opinion.

So Amazon is remaining top dog in the digital e-reader/audiobook subscription battle for now. Is it the online behemoth that is to blame or the publishing contracts? You decide. Us readers are the ones who end up with the (expensive) bum deal.

2014 Reading Challenge Check-in

Whoa, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any books for 2014. My apologies. I am now a creature to the 405 traffic situation to/from work.

In other news, I’ve started taking a writer’s workshop. I simply want to learn how to write- creatively or not- better.  Hopefully I can translate my new fangled writing skills into more blog posts, but for now here are some book recommendations.

I LOVE getting book recommendations, which is part of the reason I joined a book club years ago. I crave new books and new authors to explore. I will often recommend books to others, but they are usually the ones that were so incredibly life-changing. It almost hurts me to loan out a favorite. I almost usually never get it back. However, I can’t prevent myself from sharing the love!

Below is what I’ve read so far out of the 45 books I’ve earmarked to read in 2014. I am at a solid 39/45 so I’m on track to maybe even beat my proposed record! I’m recording what I’ve read but also whether I am recommending it or not. In lieu of book reviews for the blog, I’ve been done some shortie reviews on Goodreads and that has sustained me for now.

Here are my categories:

  • YES: This book changed my life in some way and hopefully it will change yours. Or I just really enjoyed it.
  • VACATION READ: We all need books that can sustain us for long periods when we are sitting on a beach or in front of a fire in a log cabin. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but will hold your attention for more than a few hours, while still allowing you to relax. (I may even put YES and VR together, mean yes it’s great AND good for vacation).
  • NO: I just didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth my time. Doesn’t mean someone else might not love it, but I would never hand this book to another and say “You gotta read this!”

 

 NO
VACATION READ
YES, VR
NO
YES
NO
YES
YES, VR
NO
YES, VR
YES
VACATION READ
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES, VR
YES
NO
YES, VR
YES (hesitantly)
YES, VR
NO
VACATION READ
NO
NO!!
NO
YES (hesitantly)
YES
NO
YES
YES

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