Archive for the ‘books/movies/music’ Category

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Day 26 – Books I have read

November 26, 2011

As I have written about before, one of my goals for the year was to read as many books or pages as I did in 2010, 126 or 31,358 respectively.  While I am still clinging to hope that I can make the pages goal happen (7,361 pages to read during the final 35 days of the year), I think the books won’t happen unless I head into the library and do some damage to the picture book section (48 books left to read).  Although thankfully, I finally made it to the top of the holds list at the library for the most recent Game of Throne book, which totals 1,367 pages, so that should help bump up my numbers.

Two weeks ago I wrote a little bit about both Game of Thrones and The Magicians. So I thought today I would include little snippets about several other books that I have read recently and enjoyed:

Eat, Pray, Love, the famous memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert of her year spent eating in Italy, meditating in India and finding love in Bali, wasn’t high on the list of books I thought I would enjoy reading. Wary of the some of the critiques I had heard of it in regards to the privilege Gilbert demonstrates on her travels, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. However I had already read Gilbert’s sequel, The Commitment, and had been highly impressed with her writing style and very compelling voice. In the end I was glad that I gave Eat, Pray, Love a chance, seeing as Gilbert does a wonderful job of remaining aware of her own follies and creating warm inviting environment that pulls the reader in. And given my own love for travel, this book was a great inspiration to start planning my next trip.

Written by the renowned gay sex columnist, The Commitment is Dan Savage’s memoir of how he and his partner of 10 years wrestled with the idea of marriage. Hilarious and occasionally over the top in it’s biting humor, I enjoyed Dan’s well reasoned approach to contemplating both the overarching idea of marriage or committing to spend one’s life with another and the over-arching issue of gay marriage.

A 27 year old librarian living in Missouri accidentally kidnaps a young boy whose runs away from his controlling parents. A fascinating road trip novel, that deals with both the highs and lows of librarianship and the greater issue of mid twenties angst, I enjoyed this amusing and well-written story.

Probably my favorite of my recent reads, this story is both set in Seattle and narrated by one of the best voices’s and perspectives I have encountered, that of Enzo, the golden retriever owned by a wannabe race car driver Denny Swift. Enzo tells the story of Denny’s triumphs and defeats and his own role in helping his owner fulfill his life long dream. I highly recommend this one.

I am a little late to the David Sedaris game, but this one was a great introduction to this hilarious writer. Whether it is stories of making a living as a performance artist, learning French or a father who hoarded food, Sedaris reliably makes you laugh with self-depreciating and gloriously bizarre stories. I love the short story format and read this on a couple of bus commutes, however fair warning, don’t read on a bus unless you are cool with laughing loudly in public.

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Day 14 – Monday Links

November 14, 2011
  • A video of people laughing made entirely out of YouTube clips (via Kottke, as per usual)
  • The trailer for Hunger Games is out!  While I have some reservations about how this movie will turn out, I really enjoyed the fast-paced dystopian books and so of course I am super excited.
  • Speaking of things to watch, I recently watched an episode of a new TV show called Grimm, which was not that great (modern day world includes actual monsters that special detective who sees things has to hunt down), but that lead me to find Once Upon A Time, which reminds me strongly of the graphic novel series Fable.  Basic concept is fairy tale characters in the modern world, except this time they don’t remember their past lives, but remain stuck in time waiting for the long lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming to save them all.  It is highly addictive and available on Hulu, go watch! Plus as a major bonus it stars Ginnifer Goodwin which I have loved since she played the nerdiest girl on the old TV show Ed.
  • Finally I just loved today’s XKCD that matches your favorite map to your personality type.  I think I am a Robinson, which one are you?
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Day 12 – Some thoughts on The Help

November 12, 2011

I know most of the buzz around this book has come and gone already, but seeing as I finally got it too read last month on my iPod Touch, here are my belated thoughts on this both widely popular, but somewhat controversial book.

One of the strongest critiques I heard before reading The Help was the frustration that the story of black maids serving white families, only drew the attention of the public when it is written by a white woman. This same scenario is mirrored within the context of the book itself; as the plot revolves around one white woman, who begins to write the stories of the black maids who serve the white families in her town. As Kelly from Mocha Mama so eloquently points out, there are many many books about this issue written from other perspectives which have remained unfortunately unread.  For more great commentary on The Help, check out two of her posts about the topic and racism in general:
This is not really about cake
Talking to my friend Leahpeah

This whole conundrum of a white woman writing the story of black maids, also strikes a strong point with me because as a white liberal woman, I have heard and used the phrase “voice for the voiceless” several times in my life.  Be it in reference to protests against the formerly named School of America, or in the broader context of working as a VISTA to bring about an end to poverty.  How would I feel if I had to turn to a man to help bring attention to my experience as a woman?  But yet, how does one work to end an oppression when you are intrinsically a part of the oppressors?  In the book, I maintained a vague irritation with Skeeter Phelan (the white women writer), who out of her own frustrations with the limited expectations available for women in her community, stumbled upon the idea of talking to black maids.  While she does evolve throughout the book, she never seems to entirely comprehend the risks that the black maids take in order to talk to her, or the possible dire consequences they face.  But yet, without her interest and help, the stories of these particular maids would never have known to a broader public.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, this book occurs during some of the big moments of the Civil Rights movement – the brutal slaying of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a dream” speech, sit-ins, horrible lynchings and backlash against black activists who dare to speak out against oppression.  In many ways I liked how these events were portrayed both as they might have been experienced by an average unaware white woman and also as the more involved connected black maids.  However in this world of huge separations, inequality and racism, I am left pondering how anyone could think that the issues of racism are no longer relevant.  The world described in The Help is not one from the safe time of “long ago” or “far away”. This was the world experienced by possibly you, your parents or perhaps (if you are quite young) your grandparents.  The issues, scars, anger and pain of this type of world don’t fade overnight.  In the story one of the characters ends up in prison after turning to crime to steal the last $50 she needs to send her sons to college.  Think how an event like that would effect not only those individuals, but the next several generations of that family.  Yes, I do believe much has been improved in regards to race relations in the US, but the idea we don’t all still bear the scars of it can lead to some scary assumptions.  I think one of my concerns when reading a book like The Help is that the reader’s response will be less “Wow the issues of racism are still so relevant and we still have so much work to do to get rid of the many forms of oppression” and more “Wow, look how bad things were for black people in the South (not WHERE I live) during a time long ago (not WHEN I live).”

Another issue I had with the book was the way that instead of focusing on the systemic issues caused by limiting the expected capabilities of black women to solely domestic work for privileged white women, the book tried to cast the worst issues of racism around, “Hey it’s just a few bad folks”.  Much of the book revolves around the villain character, Hilly Hilbrook, who seems to be the source of all bad racist ideas (separate bathrooms for the black maids, Skeeters banishment from white society after she is caught carrying civil rights brochures).  This technique of focusing on a few bad seeds makes it much easier to find redeeming qualities in a system intrinsically discriminatory towards people based on the color of their skin.  It also gives white people another way to say, “oh but I don’t do those horrible things that Hilly did, so I am not a part of the problem”.

In the end I feel like my issues with The Help revolve around its tendency to both seem like it was telling a new untold story of oppressed people  (a frequent mistake by white liberals – myself included) and also somehow managing to gloss over the harsh realities of racism then and racism now.  Obviously not every book of fiction needs to be a social justice call to action, but I feel like this book could have used a little more bite and emphasis on the systemic basis of racism and less on the individualized solo racist.  I should also say that even with all my reservations about the book, I did find it an enjoyable book and I should also admit that it brought an era of US history to greater light for me (seeing as I haven’t actually read many of the other perhaps more accurate descriptions of black maids serving in the South).  I especially enjoyed the character of Minny, who often expresses her deep-seated anger at the world and is also scathingly honest, sometimes to her own detriment.  So if you haven’t read The Help I would recommend doing so, but perhaps with a couple of grains of salt.

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Day 5 – post-modern versions of fantasy books from my childhood

November 5, 2011

It seems recently I have been reading several post-modern versions of two of the most foundational books from my childhood: Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia.  The post-modern Lord of the Rings, is of course A Song of Fire and Ice series (also known as Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin and the post-modern Chronicles of Narnia is Magicians by Lev Grossman.

Both Chronicles and LOTR have a strongly developed sense of right and wrong, heros that follow the traditional troupes of quest, chalenge, doubt and eventual defeat of evil.  Almost all the characters in these books are also easy to label good or evil.  Even the traitor Edmund in Chronicles, is brought to a full redemption by the end of the first book and it is only the seventh book that introduces the idea of a battle you can’t win.  Which fittingly enough is easily redeemed by the gorgeous heaven that awaits the heroes and their loved ones.  In LOTR, evil is also, conveniently,almost entirely non-human in origin: orcs, trolls, nazgul, uruk-hai, etc and you can tell who all the good people are because they either make it through the battles, return from the dead or after giving into temptation they die in self-sacrificial ways to regain their sense of honor.

The Magicians and Game of Thrones take a very different approach to similar themes.  For instance Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy that brings together a sense of impending doom (in this case Winter instead of Mordor) with richly detailed descriptions of a whole world of lands, languages and cultures.  Except in Game of Thrones, fighting to uphold honor, bring justice or defeat evil are no guarantees for the success or long healthy life of characters.  In fact is just the opposite, as the vast majority of characters who seek the greater good end up in a variety of horrific fates.  And too top it off the “bad guys” are fully fleshed out characters with damaged pasts, complex motivations and a high level of unpredictability.  Also unlike the zoomed out sweeping battlefield violence of LOTR, Game of Thrones is bloody, in your face violence that ravages whole towns, women, children and the vast majority of characters.

As for The Magicians, it’s basic plot line draws strongly from Chronicles with a touch of Harry Potter, except once again for most of the book there is no fiendishly evil villain or all powerful figure/god of goodness. Instead the main character Quentin gets invited into the world of magic, only to find magic is much more hard work than innate talent.  Also magic, unexpectedly doesn’t give the people who wield it a renewed sense of purpose, in fact just the opposite.  Knowing that you can with very little effort live a life of incredible priviledge and ease, leaves Quentin feeling unmoored and lost.  However, The Magicians truly becomes the post-modern Chronicles when Quentin and his friends encounter Fillory, a fictional land that had formed the setting for a series of children’s books.  In the Fillory books, the children had stumbled into the magical land of talking animals by accident and discovered a mystical land full of noble quests, just waiting for humans to come and rule, looked over by two god-like rams.  During the course of the Magicians, Quentin has long secretly wished that Fillory actually existed and believed that traveling there would cure him of his great unhappiness and fill his life with meaning.  Yet as this book unravels, the issues of what it takes to find meaning in life for each individual continues to play itself out as Quentin and his friends discover the huge cost of seeking adventure with good intentions.  Also similarly to Game of Thrones, The Magicians takes a much more harsh look at sex and violence, sprinkling both into the book in such a way that makes it clear this is no fairy tale for children.

Overall, despite the violence and tragedy of these books, I ended up enjoying the chance to visit epic fantasy worlds or get another take on the idea of a magical world full of talking animals.  However they are also both books that at times anger me, depress me or frustrate me, but they also cause me to think and question the world around me in interesting ways.  While I still believe in many of the tropes of Chronicles and LOTR, that good is worth fighting for, that there exist divine beings and that evil will ultimately be defeated; I enjoy how Game of Thrones presents a more realistic portrayal of the muck and pain of living in a medieval era fantasy world and The Magicians brings up some important questions about how the abilility to do magic would effect one’s worldview and philosophy.

Have any of you read any of these books? If so what are your thoughts?

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[Insert obligatory statement about not posting for a while]

September 24, 2011

So life has continued at a rather quick pace since I last posted anything here.  Routines have been created – wake up around 7am, shower, breakfast, run to catch the 7:53 bus, transfer, get into the office somewhere between 8:30 and 8:40, drink coffee or tea, desk time, meetings, chatting, planning, lunch, desk time, desk time leave work around 5pm (or sometimes earlier, since I make it in half an hour early), catch the bus, wait in exasperation for my second bus (and if the weather is nice give up and walk home), get home around 6:15 or so, make dinner/eat dinner, get sleepy, chat with Alex, read the internets, read my books, hang out with housemates, sleep.

As for the work itself, I am enjoying it for the most part.  I think it helps that I don’t really miss my old job (the people yes, the job not really).  I like the routine of riding buses (I am reading so many more books now, especially with discovering how well it works to read library books on my iPod) and working in an office with adults.  Sometimes it can get frustrating when the end objectives don’t always seem clear, but I really like my fellow VISTAs and I am excited about our goals.

If you check out my Flickr stream from time to time, you can see that I have been up to some fun things including a train ride around Mt. Rainier with Alex’s family, gone to a church related young adult potluck, numerous happy hours with co-workers and new friends, made blackberry jam, granola and a carrot cake for Alex’s birthday, a celebratory after party with co-workers for the United Way Day of Caring, a weekend at Alex’s grandparents’ lake cabin with friends. So in case you missed them, here are some pictures from the past few weeks:

Heading to potluck on a bridge over Aurora Ave

Downtown Seattle from Fremont

Alex turns 27

Alex and his birthday carrot cake

Happy Hour sunset

Taken from the back deck at Captain Blacks on Capital Hill

Mandi and Elissa get their groove on

Dance party

Stephen, Elissa and Mandi

Stephen, Elissa (my fellow VISTAS) and Mandi (co-worker) at the after party for the Day of Caring

View of downtown Seattle from the stadium

Beautiful Seattle

The gang

Alex and his friends from high school at the lake cabin

Alex and I

Alex and I standing in front of a train

Three generations of Petersons

Alex, his father and his grandfather - on a train

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Updated goals for after grad school

June 14, 2011

Back in November of last year when I was doing NaBloPoMo, I wrote this post about things I wanted to do after grad school.  I figured 5 months past grad school it might be a good time to check in and see how I am doing on those goals (original in italics, update in regular).

sew myself a new dress (this will require both setting up and fixing my sewing machine)

So this one I have made absolutely no progress on, however I have been reading Mena’s blog over at Sew Weekly and I have been really inspired by her.  The pattern I really want to try is Macaron by Colette (or perhaps the Crepe, also by Colette).  However the two big hurdles for this goal are clearing off my desk/work table enough to set up my sewing machine and of course figuring out if my sewing machine works at all 🙂

date more (I have talked before about online dating, but haven’t tried it much since earlier in the summer, so time to try, try again)

While I don’t get to go on as many dates as I would like with him (silly long distance), I would say being in a relationship with Alex pretty much knocks this one out of the park 🙂

take a photography/design/art class

I done nothing so far on this one, however I did take pictures for a 50th wedding anniversary and just lots of pictures in general.

read more! (I know it seems like I do this a lot already, but the freedom to read whatever I want in whatever order I want is a little intoxicating)

As I mentioned the other day, I am behind on this one, but oh so excited about catching up this summer!  This weekend I read a childrens’ book called Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, another volume in the graphic novel adaptation of The Stand by Stephen King and started Maise Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear a mystery set in 1929 London, England.  But I am really going to have to pick up the pace if I want to catch myself up to last year (126 books) by having 60 books read by the end of June (alternate page goal requires reading 6,000 pages by the end of this month).

exercise more (I have yet to find a regular way to fit exercise into my life, despite many attempts over the years, but I really like the way I feel afterward and want to feel stronger and be an even better Boundary Waters leader this coming summer, so that is definitely a goal)

While I am not actually going on the full fledged Boundary Waters trip, like I originally thought (the group was all boys and I was wary of breaking up the male-bonding potential).  However I am instead doing Paddlethon, which is the extremely awesome, extremely arm-numbing attempt to paddle either 30 or 50 or more miles in one day.  My lovely friend Steph will be joining us and we will be paddling to raise money for Wilderness Wind.  An excellent camp that works to provide spiritual, ecologically aware, accessible wilderness experiences for a range of individuals and groups in the Boundary Waters, Wilderness Wind is a pretty incredible place and I have been on around 6 or 7 trips and each time I go I leave refreshed and amazed by the joys of hard work in the great outdoors.  As a part of Paddlethon, I will be trying to raise $500 to support Wilderness Wind, so if you feel like helping out, here is the link.

Anyways, exercise didn’t happen as much as I would have liked during the “spring” (in quotes, because it was cold and rainy enough to put that label into severe question), but being active is always easier in the summer, so basically I will give this goal a renewed attempt during the coming months.

start the job hunt (okay this is not a fun goal, considering I kind of hate that whole process, but is definitely on my list of things I need to do post graduation)

Well if we take this goal solely at its word, than I have totally met this one.  I have applied to 12 or so different positions, had 5 interviews, written 15-20 essays, revised my resume, scanned in 2 transcripts and 1 teachers’ certificate, collected 3 reference letters and applied for 4 different Americorp programs.  In other words searching for a job is at LEAST the equivalent of the work for one graduate course, possibly two.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t actually resulted in any jobs being obtained.  But, I just had an interview for a really awesome Americorp position in Seattle, so I am trying to keep up the “something will work out” attitude.  However feel free to send any spare “good job getting vibes”, my way. 🙂

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Books I have read recently

March 28, 2011

Despite feeling in many ways that I have been in a 2-3 week of non-productivity slump (i.e. I still do things, at least the things that have to be done, but nothing else beyond that), I realized the other day that the plus side to that is that I have been doing a lot more reading.  So what better way to feel like I am actually doing something productive, than by writing a post about good books I have read (while thoroughly procrastinating on things like committee work, church work and job applications).

Blackout (and the sequel All Clear) by Connie Willis

While the middle section of this dragged a bit (in a very similar way to how the first section of its sequel dragged), this was a highly enjoyable look at the lives of British people during World War II. Whether it was piloting tiny, barely functioning boats to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, enduring over a year of constant bombing on London, flying rocket bombs along the coast or dealing with evacuee children, three time-traveling historians learn the realities faced by average folks dealing with one of the most violent times of the past century. Technically this book is in the science fiction genre, but a better description might be that of historical fiction due to the way 1940s Great Britain is brought to life. My only other warning is that this book ends rather abruptly and if, like me, you were unaware there is a sequel, it can be rather frustrating at first. But have no fear, there is a sequel, All Clear, at it is everything you will hope for after reading Blackout and more!

The Good War by Studs Terkel

Continuing my unintentional theme of World War II, I spotted this book while weeding the 940 section of the library and was reminded that I had been meaning to read it ever since I found out that Max Brooks had based his World War Z on Terkel’s style of oral history vignettes. While quite a lengthy book, it is perfected edited and each person’s story both stands well on its own and contributes to a broader narrative. Lacking any fundamental statement about the nature of war, Terkel instead chooses to let each person’s story speak for itself. Sometimes comic, sometimes sad, but always told with dignity, these stories help bring World War II to light as both a global tragedy and a complex event that took place differently in every person’s life. Highlights include the story of one of the Andrew’s sisters who helped deliver the news of victory in Japan to soldiers in Europe waiting re-deployment, a soldier who ended up marrying the widow of his dead war buddy, a survivor of some of the worst racial violence carried out against African-American soldiers by the U.S. army and many many more. I have to admit I did skim a few of the stories in the middle when they got to be a bit more about the politics of the World War II era, but those were only a few and I overall highly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II or just looking for some great stories about very ordinary people.

An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorjan

I found out about this book on NPR and found it to be a perfect bookend to my World War II theme. A slim memoir, Adorjan tells the story of how her grandparents, Holocaust survivors, committed suicide together after the grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal illness. In their seventies, but still quite active, the couple had been devoted to each other, but never told open with their children or friends about the horrors they had experienced together. A simple, slow-moving story, Adorjan doesn’t offer conclusive answers or compelling narrative, but just a simple look at a couple, who when faced with the idea of separation, choose to end their lives together. Bittersweet and fascinating, I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I would.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

After getting over my World War II kick, what better to read than a quick YA book about more ultimate tragedy. Mia is seventeen, when she and her entire immediate family are in a horrendous car accident on a snowy morning in Oregon. With her family gone and her own body trapped in a coma, Mia must decide if life is worth returning to. This book greatly appealed to the 14 year old in me, who used to contemplate the worst tragedies that could happen to my normal little life (like many teens, I often wondered how I would deal with various earthquakes, tornadoes, deaths of loved ones, zombie apocalypses). Told in a straight-forward, but sensitive and well-thought out manner, Mia must face the question of how much life is worth when surrounded by such great pain.