Category Archives: Books

The Ticket (a sestina)

Last week for school, I wrote a paper on the postal service reform of 1840, and how the postal service in the Victorian Age parallels what the internet is for our age. I won’t bore you with that.

This week I wrote a bunch of stuff about Isabella Beeton, who wrote The Book of Household Management, the full title of which is The Book of Household Management: Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort. I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like this awesome. It reminds me of the Emily Post Etiquette books. I have read some of The Book of Household Management (you can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $2.99) and there is just something so fascinating about how specific the guidelines are for a woman’s behavior, duties, and role in society.

But, I actually have a whole second class too, which is a writing class, called Studies in Place & Setting. I’ve been worried that I’m neglecting this class a little bit, because the Victorian era class is taking up a lot more of my time (see above). But I think that’s the nature of the two different types of classes. (Also, I’m a little jealous of people who take classes without also having a full time job, and/or a 2 1/2 year old running around.)

Anyway, for Studies in Place & Setting, this week we were asked to write a creative piece about someone who loses something or someone, tangible or not. I decided to write a sestina, which is one of my favorite poetry forms. This is basically the first draft of it.

The Ticket 

Lydia hitches her bag up onto her shoulder
And makes a break for the turnstile. The train
Is coming, moving faster than seems safe,
As it hurtles into the station. She skids to a stop
On the platform, the train a wall of silvery gray
Blurring in front of her, like all the friends she has lost.

The doors slide open. The riders look lost,
Fitted in like puzzle pieces, shoulder to shoulder,
Just another Monday morning commute, slate gray
Like the sky outside the windows of the train.
Lydia gently shoves her way in, looking for her stop
On the map above her head. She feels safe

Among these people. Lydia thought safe
Was the last thing she’d feel, essentially lost
In a big city. Her parents had tried to put a stop
To her leaving home. Her mother had cried on her shoulder
When Lydia boarded that Amtrak train,
Leaving that little town of black and white and gray.

She maneuvers her hand into the cool gray
Interior of her purse, checking that her ticket is safe.
She knows she needs it to get off the train.
But her biggest fear: the ticket is lost!
Not in her purse, not in her pocket; her shoulder,
The one not stuck against the wall, starts trembling and won’t stop.

The people lurch as one as the train heaves into its stop.
Lydia feels like her skin is struck gray.
A man stumbles into her, briefly touches her shoulder
As passengers exit around her, their tickets clutched safe
In their fists. Lydia thinks for a second of the lost
Opportunity: the job interview waiting just off the train.

She is still standing there as the punctual train
Doors close, and the beast rumbles out of Lydia’s stop.
She thinks of all the things she’s willingly lost:
Her parents, most of her accent, the horizon-wide gray
Skies of home. That limitless sky made her feel safe.
Anyway, she was never sure about taking this job onto her shoulder.

There is always another train home, and a gray
Farmhouse at some nameless stop. She holds this safe
In her heart, the lost ticket suddenly a weight off her shoulder.

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Sleep Talking 32: The Snake

I’m currently reading Augusten Burroughs’ A Wolf at the Table, which is a memoir about his father, and I know some people have had issues with the story because he starts with “memories” from when he’s a toddler, but you know what, I’m okay with that. But it’s a hard read, because all he wants is affection and love, and his mom has some problems with her mental health, and from what I can tell so far, his dad is insane and possibly dangerous. I keep telling Drew, “You have to be a loving father. You have to give him lots of attention.”

Anyway. I was reading last night, and then I turned off the light, and Drew said,

“Did that snake come to bed with you?”

I said, “What?!”

And he said, “The snake. On your shoulders.”

EXCUSE ME? Ew! And for the record, NO.

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The Correct Way to Work a Holiday Gift Exchange

Tonight is our work holiday party, complete with yankee swap gift exchange. In honor of this tradition, I thought I would reuse this blog post from a few years back, which basically sums up my priorities and my wisdom in one anecdote.

Originally posted on Dec 14, 2011.

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Alternate title: My Shameful, Gleeful Secret.

Despite knowing about my work holiday party, and the “yankee swap” type gift exchange, I didn’t remember to buy a gift until the day of the party. (Also despite browsing at Macy’s over the weekend, picking things up and wondering if they were appropriate for a holiday gift exchange.)

On my lunch break I ran to Target to pick up some boring stuff and also look for a gift. On the drive there I decided to buy a book, because I’ve talked about books with several other people here, and I thought that would be a nice diversion from the numerous bottles of wine that I was sure would be there.

I looked through the book section, but there wasn’t really much of interest. There was a wall of trashy teen romance, a wall of trashy adult romance, a wall of trashy thriller/suspense…and then I saw a single copy of Stephen King’s recent collection of novellas: Full Dark, No Stars.

I know of at least two other people in the office who like Stephen King, and he’s pretty mainstream, so I thought it would be a better gift than, you know, Twilight or The Chocolate Cat Caper or something like that. (Although, I also thought about getting Dollhouse, the book “written” by the three Kardashians.)

So I bought the book and wrapped it in a little bag, and told no one except Jonathan what it was. I deposited it under the tree at the holiday party and waited for the gift exchange to begin.

Soon I started feeling like I needed to leave the party soon – later that night Drew, Erin and I were going to a screening of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and for a minute or two I wondered if I could get the present back out the door if I left before we started the swap.

But then we all settled down and the fun began, and I’m glad I stayed, because it was super fun. The entire thing (there were around 30 people participating) took about 90 minutes.

I was number 26 in the lineup and I had decided I wouldn’t just select my own gift, even though Full Dark, No Stars was one of the few Stephen King books I didn’t own. When my turn came, I stole a set of balsamic vinegar and olive oil from someone else, and I was very happy with that steal. After all, I could always go back to Target and buy another copy of the book.

In a few more turns, a girl sitting next to me selected my gift, and once she’d unwrapped it, she looked less than enthusiastic. No one seemed to want to steal it either. Perhaps I had completely misjudged this group – and neither of the people who I know like Stephen King were at the party.

In another few turns, the hostess of the party stole my balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and I made a snap decision to steal Full Dark, No Stars. Which I did. That girl opened another present and seemed much happier with it. No one stole the book from me after that.

When I got home, I told Drew the whole story and then displayed the book, and he said, “Well, I guess that worked out perfectly.”

And it did.

Merry Christmas!

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Disney Project 2014: Treasure Planet

Movie: Treasure Planet

Release year: 2002

Yet another non-musical! I think I’ve seen this one time before, and it was in my adult life. However, we don’t own it, so I was delighted to find it was available for streaming on Netflix.

Treasure Planet: A retelling of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but set in the future (?), on a planet where aliens come and go freely and space travel is the norm. Young Jim Hawkins wants to get out there and see the universe (and maybe find his dad who abandoned them when he was a kid?). When a turtle-looking alien delivers an orb-shaped treasure map to him before dying, he and his mother and this dog-faced professor barely manage to escape with their lives, heeding the words of the turtle, “Beware the cyborg.”

As far as I know, it’s a pretty faithful retelling of Treasure Island, although once I thought about it, my only knowledge of that book actually comes from the Alvin and the Chipmunks episode where Dave tells Alvin, Simon, and Theodore the story and they find themselves reenacting it. So I guess you could say I’m not super familiar with it. This did make me consider choosing Treasure Island for my book club, but I think I might just do that on my own. I like Stevenson’s other stuff so I think that this would be a fun read.

I’ll be honest though – I do miss the princess movies.

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Fun fact: This is my 500th blog post!!

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Halloween Reads: 2014

How many times does it take to make a tradition? Three? Well in that case, welcome to my annual “What To Read for Halloween” post. (See 2013 and 2012 here.) Don’t be scared, but there may be some spoOoOoOoky rereads…

(That doesn’t really make sense.)

Happy October! This is the only time of year I get excited about reading a certain genre to match the time of year. (Well, I also like chick lit during the summer.)

Here’s what I’m reading for Halloween this year!

a kiss before dyingA Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. I have raved about him before. He’s amazing. This book is great for rereads. So much fun. Ira Levin. ❤ ❤ ❤

 

 

somethingwickedSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read this one in a couple years but it’s PERFECT for Halloween, so I’m going for it.

 

 

haunting-hill-house-shirley-jacksonThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I was going to read this last year but spent the entire month getting through two epic Stephen King* books. I tried to make this year’s list a lot more manageable and I will put this one near the top of the list. Concise, creepy, and way better than the movie it spawned, The Haunting of Hill House has been known to keep me up at night in the past.

200px-DeathtrapPlayDeathtrap by Ira Levin. Speaking of manageable books, this one is actually a play. Nominated in 1978 for the Tony Award for Best Play, this play within a play has been done all over – and is actually being done this month at Center REPertory Company in Walnut Creek. Check it out!

 

GraveyardBook_01-1024X768The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It comes highly recommended, and I’ve loved the Gaiman stuff I’ve read before. With a name like “The Graveyard Book,” it should be ideal for Halloweentime. Plus, it was only like $6 for the paperback on Amazon. Sold.

You may have noticed…I don’t have any Stephen King on this list! Shocking, I know, but it’s okay. There’s always next year! (Or November.)

Happy Halloween!

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The anti Christ-figure

Lately I’ve been obsessing over two TV dramas: House of Cards (which has two seasons out on Netflix and if you’re not watching it right now you should be) and Game of Thrones (which is in its fourth season on HBO and if you’re not watching it right now you should be).

They’re both political dramas, although Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world while House of Cards is set in good old Washington, DC. Let me get one thing straight: I do not care about politics. I don’t understand most of politics. The very word “politics” is boring to me. But these two shows are not just about politics. They are about manipulation, psychology, and (best of all) psychosis. They are about bad people doing terrible things for their own gain, and yet we tune in over and over again because we JUST HAVE TO KNOW what’s going to happen next.

One of my favorite characters on Game of Thrones is Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger. I recently referred to him as “the Frank Underwood of Westeros.” Frank Underwood is the main character on House of Cards. It had just occurred to me at that moment how similar they are.

anti-christ figures

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen)

Both of these guys are ruthless. They both want all of the power, right now, and will do whatever it takes to get it. But they’re not rash – they both have well-thought out plans, complete with backup plans, and backup-backup plans. Often, you think they’ve been foiled, only to find out later that they were just playing the other characters like well-tuned instruments.

Both of them have done (and will, I’m sure, continue to do) horrible things. Often, they’re doing these things to other characters who are genuinely likable. And yet…I still love both of these characters. I bafflingly, disproportionately, love them.

Is it just that I have a fondness for the character who somehow knows all, sees all, and masterminds all? For the guy who is always three steps ahead of the other guy, somehow even leading that other guy by the nose, making him think he’s making his own decisions, and then BOOM. Sorry, other guy.

I used to think I loved the Christ-figure – those Gandalfs, Dumbledores, and Aslans. They are also seemingly omniscient, and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of everyone. They are good guys, and they often come back to explain their sacrifice, to commend others for their sacrifices, and to bring the whole thing together in a happy (ish) ending.

Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Dumbledore, and Aslan

Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Aslan, and Dumbledore

Was it just that I hadn’t yet been introduced to the anti Christ-figure (not the “anti Christ”-figure, I want to be clear about that – just the anti- “Christ figure”) that I didn’t realize how much more interesting these characters could be? I mean, I cheered when the deceased Gandalf the Grey came back as Gandalf the White, sure I did, but was it really so surprising?

The good guy is more predictable than the bad guy. And the Christ-figure is the most predictable at all. We pretty much know the life lesson we’re going to learn from those guys. Stand up for your friends. Do unto others. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Love conquers all. Do the right thing. Stand your ground in the face of evil. Don’t give up on good. It’s kindergarten stuff at its core, whether you’re facing down the White Witch or the cyber bully or He Who Must Not Be Named.

The bad guys – the anti Christ-figures – are infinitely more interesting. What BS crazy thing are they going to do today in the name of getting one rung higher on the power ladder. They wouldn’t possibly – no one could – OMG DID YOU SEE THAT??

I never had that reaction to Aslan allowing Jadis to shave and humiliate him, I’ll tell you that.

So today I’m singing the praises of the guy who’s in control, the guy pulling the strings behind the curtain, the guy looking out for numero uno, even when it means stepping all over numeros dos through ciento. Because he’s keeping things interesting. Let’s give that guy a round of applause. (Just as long as he stays on our TV screens, fictional, and far away.)

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Throwback Thursday: Public Transpo

In honor of my new routine of taking BART to work, I’m throwing back to an NYC subway post from my LiveJournal. This post hails from Feb 23, 2009.

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I just need to marry someone who has good vision coverage…

This morning on the train a manly man got on and stood next to me. While glancing over his shoulder (bored) I noticed he was reading a paperback copy of In Her Shoes. This delighted me secretly and I admired him for his casual reading of chick lit on a crowded New York subway. Glancing over again, I saw one of the chapter headings: “A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw.” Hmm, that doesn’t really sound like Jennifer Weiner. I squinted closer at the book title in italics on the top of the left-hand page. Up From Slavery. (It’s the autobiography of Booker T Washington. I looked it up on Amazon.)

I think I might need a new contact prescription.

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10 Books That Are Important To Me

This thing was going around on Facebook, and One Classy Dame tagged me to do it, but I felt like it deserved slightly more space and thought than just a Facebook status or note.

Then I forgot about it for a month.

But I remembered. And so I thought I would share with you 10 books that have been important in my life.

Dollanganger01_FlowersInTheAttic1. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. I found a copy of this book in my grandma’s house when I was about 9 years old, and it set me on a course of trashy romance novels, from which I’ve never fully recovered. I’m sure I would have turned out to be an entirely different person, had I not discovered these types of books. I certainly wouldn’t have been the sixth-grader who took them to school so my friends could also read the trashy parts. (Yikes.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery / Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Two wonderful books, particularly for young girls, written by excellent female writers. I was deep in my VC Andrews phase when my parents got me a copy of each of these books for Christmas, and I remember being vaguely disappointed. (I’m really sorry, Mom and Dad!) But then I read the books, and I liked them. I reread both of these books in 2013 and they’re even better than I remembered.

3. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. The first time I’ve ever liked a book and a movie adaptation, as separate things. It happens rarely…but it happens.

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Okay, this is kind of a long story but bear with me. When I was younger, we made a lot of movies. Not exactly home movies, because it wasn’t stuff like birthday parties and Christmas morning. We would make movies for class projects or just for fun. And I remember making some kind of movie, where I – as a middle schooler – was reading The Grapes of Wrath to my little brother, who was at that point maybe…10 years old? I have no idea what this was for. And we kept cutting away to show the clock ticking forward, and I’d be further in the book, and my brother would be more and more bored. And finally by the time I read the last lines, I think he was gone maybe? Or just asleep? I don’t remember. Anyway, at the time of making that movie, I tried to read The Grapes of Wrath, and I was SO BORED. Then, in my junior year of high school, we read it in my English class…and I loved it. I couldn’t understand why, just a few short years before, I hadn’t gotten into it. So, to me, this book is a solid representation of growing up and maturing.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s held a spot on my favorite books list for the last, like, 15 years. Barbara Kingsolver offered me an eloquent way to express the feelings I was having about faith in high school. I printed out a quote from the book and had it stapled to my wall along with everything else in the world that I thought defined me. (The “it” in the first line is the Bible, by the way.)

photo (7)Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to not print in an artsy font.

6. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. My first exposure to nonfiction humor. Before that, I assumed “nonfiction” meant “history book” or “book on how to refinish a dresser.” David Sedaris, a gem in and of himself, opened up an entirely new world of reading to me.

7. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The first time I ever cried while reading. You know what I’m talking about.

8. You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen. I don’t know anyone else who’s read this book, and I don’t remember how I found it, but I’m obsessed with it. The writing is incredible, it’s gorgeous to read, you just know she labored over crafting every sentence. Plus, the plot is enthralling. (I actually just discovered there’s a movie coming out this year, with Emmy Rossum and Hilary Swank, and yes I’ll totally watch it.)

9. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth MD. I read a bunch of parenting books when I was pregnant, to prepare myself, and then I read a bunch of books on dealing with an infant, when I had an infant. This was the first book that I got partway into…and just had to toss out the window. There was so much BS in it, and I figured I had two choices: I could either throw it all away, or I could go crazy trying to follow all these rules to have the perfect child. This book represents my revelation that you read some books, you talk to some people, you do what works for you. And everything will be all right.

10. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I know…it’s cheating. But these books (all seven of them) feel like family to me. Like, I know there are some minor plot holes. I know that some people have complaints about them. I know they’re totally overexposed. And I DON’T CARE. To me, they are perfect. I have all these memories: of reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and realizing this was something great; of sitting, waiting for the mail when the fifth book was coming out, and reading it all in a day; of Drew declaring his intention to read them all out loud to me once I was pregnant. (For the record, we are on the seventh book – it’s slower going now, but we’re still making progress.) These books are ingrained in my adolescent and adult life…and I’m proud of that.

HP collectionA set of hardcover for posterity; a set of paperback for actual reading; and some spares.

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Out with the old, in with the new

I have a dilemma.

I’ll back up a bit. I was at Barnes & Noble the other day, and their 2014 planners were 50% off. I picked up a cute polka-dotted one, but then I stood there thinking, “When was the last time I even used my planner?”

I just pulled it out of my purse. It’s open to the week of October 28.

I love scheduling things and all, but scheduling is so much more straight-forward when you do the same things week after week. My planner was extremely useful when I was juggling three part-time jobs and making sure that I could get to all three of them, and also trying to coordinate seeing shows around the Bay Area. Now that I just go to the one job, and I don’t go out anymore, it’s a lot easier to keep straight in my head where I’m supposed to be. (Answer: work. If not work, then go home.)

Also, Drew and I had a wall calendar this year, which we actually used. And that makes more sense, since it’s accessible to both of us.

I guess my purse planner has been replaced by a combination of kitchen wall calendar and iPhone calendar…which I hate to admit, but there it is. The thing is, I can put appointments into my phone, and they’ll show up on my work calendar as well! Which is very helpful.

So, I guess I don’t have a dilemma, so much as I have a sad fact to face: 2014 is gonna be the first year in many years that I don’t bother buying a planner for myself.

Even though it was $4 at Barnes & Noble, and very cute. Did I mention it was covered in polka dots?

But I didn’t buy it. Instead, I bought the board book version of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which I later discovered Drew has never even heard of. So I think it was a good choice. (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom also has polka dots on the cover.)

Happy New Year! Let’s raise a glass to 2014 and to moving on, however (un)willingly we do so.

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ISON as we know it

The other day, my dad asked me whether I’d heard about this comet. I had, in fact, just noticed the super bright…star? Venus? incredibly slow-moving plane? in the sky that night.

My dad was not super clear on the specifics of the comet, so I had to do a bit of googling. And here’s what I’ve concluded:

1. The comet’s name is ISON.

2. In the next month, it will either a) fly around the sun and away again; b) melt to oblivion when it gets too close to the sun; or c) crash into the sun.

3. I probably don’t have to be afraid of it.

4. But I still wish people wouldn’t say things like, “There is absolutely, positively, 100% no way that ISON will have any effect on earth.” That just seems like asking for trouble.

Because here’s the thing. Comets remind me of a book called Life As We Knew It, written by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It’s a YA novel, so naturally it’s the first of a trilogy. A trilogy about a regular, everyday comet that crashed into the moon, and surprisingly, knocks the moon closer to the earth, which interferes with the tides, volcanoes, etc etc etc. I had such anxiety while I was reading this series, which is all told in diary entries. From the characters realizing something is wrong, and rushing to the grocery store to stock up on canned and nonperishable food, to volcanoes covering the earth in a layer of ash so no food can grow, to a terrible, terrible scene in an elevator…this series gave me super bad dreams. I still think about the story all the time (obviously).

I so wish we had a pantry that I could pack with bottled water and canned goods. I’m sure this is nothing. But still.

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