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Halloween Reads 2017

I am so happy it’s time for this!

I spent most of September (re)reading Stephen King’s IT. I forgot how long it was and how tiny the type is. Given that I just gave 1100 pages to Stephen King, I think I’m going to try out some other authors for October. (Although if I have time I’ll crack open his latest, Sleeping Beauties, and see how that goes.)

I’ve collected a list here that I think is reasonable for a month. Some short stories, one play, and some classics.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Free on kindle! And apparently also free to read online here. (The only one I’ve finished so far.) This is a classic that I haven’t read since college. It was nice to revisit, although a little spooky how much I identified with the main character?

 

psycho

Psycho by Robert Bloch

I have a long relationship with this movie, but only recently realized it was based on a book. I couldn’t find this at the library so I ended up ordering a paperback copy of it, because I think real horror fiction is always better in mass market paperback form.

 

“The Thing on the Doorstep” by H.P. Lovecraft

Also free to read online here. I actually bought (?) the complete works of Lovecraft when I first got my kindle, because it was one of those “$3.99 for everything!” sales, but I’ve never gone back and read any. I heard this story referenced in a podcast (see below).

stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is fantastic. This is basically an excuse to read a Sarah Waters book. They’re weighty but they’re worth it. I read her book The Paying Guests earlier this year and loved every minute of it. I don’t really know anyone else reading her books, but I don’t know why that is. She’s amazing at character development and plot.

 

woman in blackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Now a major motion picture with Daniel Radcliffe! I’ll take the book though, thanks. Anything with the subtitle “A ghost story.” Great cover too.

 

Getting Away With Murder by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth

Did you know Sondheim wrote a straight play? It ran for 17 performances on Broadway. The characters are named after the seven deadly sins. I saw this and couldn’t NOT buy it. Now I can’t wait to start reading. (Can I convince the higher ups at work to do it next year? Probably not.)

daughters

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives by Sarah Weinman

Amazon calls this collection “Fourteen chilling tales from the pioneering women who created the domestic suspense genre.” The stories were written in the 1940s-1970s. Sold.

 

 

 

Additionally, I started listening to a podcast called LORE, about the frightening history behind common folklore. The episodes are 15-20 minutes long, and the creator picks a story and goes into the history of it. It’s entertaining and spooky, and the length is great.

And of course, the scariest thing I’m doing this year is watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Terrifying stuff.

See previous year’s reading lists here:

2016
2014
2013
2012

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Popsicle prompts: Non-conforming gender roles

For my birthday, Drew gave me a jar of writing prompts on popsicle sticks. He made them all up. It was really sweet and really creative and I feel bad for thinking at first that he got the idea from pinterest. I should know better. He doesn’t look at pinterest.

Anyway, tonight I pulled out “Non-conforming gender roles” and wrote for 15 minutes and this is what happened. (Unedited.)

==

Lulu walked out the darkened doorway and into the side alley, a narrow walkway between two brick walls. She tried not to let any of her bags touch the walls as she moved toward the street. The alley smelled like wet garbage and urine, and something sweet. A grate in the sidewalk directly in front of the alley released thick white steam into the air, and Lulu skirted it, not wanting to inhale it, not knowing what it was.

She looked up at the apartment building, searching out the window on the sixth floor. She wanted to see if Jonah had left the light on, or if he had already turned it off and gone to bed. She wasn’t sure whether he was seven or eight windows in from the side—but most of the lights in the windows were off, anyway. It was after midnight, and a school night, after all.

She turned right at the next block and started walking toward the subway. She was carrying more bags than usual—her regular work bag, a small purse, plus a tote that was growing heavier by the minute. The train was only a few blocks away but she didn’t look forward to climbing the steps to the elevated platform. The escalator at Jonah’s stop was always out of order. Her feet were aching from the long day, but at least she knew she’d get a seat on the train.

She and Jonah had known each other for almost a year now. He was a college student, working his way through school at Fordham. She liked him, and thought he had a bright future ahead of him. She didn’t like that she was now old enough to think in terms like “bright future ahead of him.” She found Jonah incredibly attractive, which was useful, given the nature of their relationship, but when she was with him, she just felt herself growing older and older every minute. She wasn’t crazy about that feeling. She was only 32 and it seemed unfair that her lover made her feel geriatric.

Her phone buzzed with a Venmo notification. She glanced at it—a payment request from Jonah. Right on time. He must have sent it from his bed, right before he went to sleep. She felt sort of bad for keeping him up so late…again. She knew he had class early on Wednesday mornings. She clicked through to confirm payment of $250. She liked to pay him right away so they would stay on good terms. And, if she was being totally honest, she didn’t love seeing the Venmo notification icon on her phone any longer than necessary.

Jonah sent her a quick “thx!” text, with a kissy face following. Lulu’s heart thumped a little at that. And a little more at the message that followed: “C U next week I hope!” She knew that their relationship was purely business for him, but she was sure he had to like her at least a little bit. She was nice, she was friendly, she tried to ask him how school was, or whether he was still fighting with his roommates. She was clean and she always brought a change of clothes to his place, so she wasn’t in the same work clothes she’d been wearing all day. She felt like she cared about his pleasure too—she wanted him to enjoy himself, just like she was, even if it was technically a job for him. She figured, I enjoy my job, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t also.

As she hauled her bags up the final flight of stairs to the platform, she looked back, at the sliver of Jonah’s building she could see. She knew his light was out but she still thought about sending him one more text, a “Sweet dreams” or an “I had fun tonight” or an “I can still feel you.” She knew it was a stupid idea. She was still staring at the cursor on a new text, debating what message would make him smile and maybe even respond, when the train pulled up, and she got on. Then the doors shut behind her and the train swept her away.

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Read Harder Challenge 2017

I am extremely motivated by checking things off a list, and Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge is set up so that each book equals a checkmark. Every new tick mark is like a little rush of accomplishment.

The Read Harder Challenge is 24 categories of books to read through the year, with the intention of expanding your reading horizons. This year’s list was an especially tricky one, with some categories being multi-layered (I’m looking at you, “A collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.”) For the 2016 Challenge, I made a point of reading one book for each category (although they expressly say you can double or triple up if you like), and I wanted all the books to be ones I hadn’t read before.

For 2017, I decided to let some books double up, and allow a couple books I’ve read before. (One category, “A book you’ve read before,” kind of required that.) But I decided I wanted all the books to be written by women. This was mostly easy, although “A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author” and the above-mentioned poetry translation didn’t offer a ton of choices. The poetry book, in fact, I couldn’t find anywhere besides on Amazon being sold by a third-party, and I shelled out like $17 for it. But it felt nice this year to be making the conscious choice to search out and read books by women.

This was a good group of categories and I loved this experience. I can’t wait for the 2018 Challenge.

First book I crossed off the list:
Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta
At the start of this challenge, I had planned on doubling or tripling up as much as possible. So I picked a book that was both a collection of stories by a woman and also a story by an immigrant, with immigration themes. This was a lovely and inspiring collection of stories.

Last book I crossed off the list (no one will be surprised by this):
Forward by Abby Wambach
Finding a book about sports by a woman was mildly challenging. This memoir was a super quick read, and engaging enough, although I felt like it got a little braggy at times. But I guess when you’re telling your own story, you have to talk about your thoughts and opinions.

The book I wish I had been able to include:
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
This is one of my favorite books this year, but by the time I read it I didn’t have a category for it. This book was brutal and hard to read, and I legit cried at least three times. But I would still shove it at anyone who reads. It’s beautiful.

Favorite audiobook on this list:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I know I’m not saying anything new here, but this story is so important, and the audiobook performance was stellar. Five stars.

Other standouts:
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (also audiobook…great performance!)
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (I read a couple Sarah Waters back in New York, but forgot how much I like her writing and how devourable it is)
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang (second one checked off the list…a funny and touching story of a family trying to hold it together)

And now, without further ado, my Read Harder Challenge 2017!

And yes, I know it’s only August. It’s the checkmark thing, I’m telling you. Next year I won’t double up on anything.

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First day of TK

Today was B’s first day of transitional kindergarten. For those of you not steeped in this the way we have been lately, transitional kindergarten is like a bonus year of California public school if your kid’s birthday is between Sept 1 and Dec 1, making them ineligible to start kindergarten this year. It’s great, because it’s at the school he will now theoretically attend through 5th grade. His class actually happens to be a TK/kinder split, so he’s really getting a good introduction into the public school system.

This is us waiting outside the classroom this morning, and keeping the attitude light and playful:

He went inside, put stuff in his cubby and found his desk with his name on it. Then his teacher collected all the kids and went through the process of getting them seated on the rug in a circle. Once all the kids were seated, he passed out nametags to everyone, and we waited until B had his, and then Drew and I snuck out. (We were definitely not the last parents out of the room. I’m also proud that we didn’t film the entire circle ordeal, because it took forever and wasn’t super interesting.)

When I picked him up from after care, he was building this “fire fighting machine.” He was at the same table as the son of a coworker of mine, which was cool. If they were friends it’d be nice because her son did TK last year, they’re at the same aftercare, and we live close to each other.

He said he had a good day. He said at circle they practiced good listening, and near the end some kids didn’t listen, and got in some trouble. I asked if he was one of them, and he said, “Um no, not me.” I believe him because he sucks at lying, but I’m still curious.

This has been quite a week. B has clearly been anxious about the transition from his preschool to this new school, and he’s been showing it in a quiet, subdued attitude, needing extra cuddles, and getting really upset over things that aren’t really things. I feel for him. He reminds me so much of me. Over the last week, I haven’t wanted to talk to anyone, I’ve gotten mad at Drew upwards of six times over things that aren’t really things, and I’ve cried at least once a day. At least.

Tomorrow he won’t go to extended care, and I’ll just drop him and pick him up at the classroom. It’s weird not seeing his teacher (just seeing the aftercare teachers at the end of the day). But it’s the first day. There are also things that I am still unclear on, but I’m hoping they’ll all get ironed out. We’ll get there. And by the time we have to do this with H, it’ll be a snap.

It feels like such an accomplishment to get through the first day. So I’m just going to take that feeling of pride and accomplishment and run with it.

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March

The other day I was driving Spike to her Oma and Opa’s house for the day. It’s close to my work, so about a 30-minute drive from dropping off Wilson at preschool. She’s been a terrible sleeper lately – takes forever to fall asleep, wakes up in the middle of the night, gets up early. We hope it’s molars.

Anyway, she fell asleep in the car, so I took that opportunity to listen to some Falsettos. I was listening to “Trina’s Song,” which I have quoted here before, and which is unfortunately still 100% appropriate in today’s world. The second half of that track is “March of the Falsettos,” which was always a skip track for me on the original soundtrack.* But I let it play, and then when it ended, Trina has a little reprise finishing off her part of the song, but before she could start singing, this little voice from the backseat goes, “Again.”

So I played it again. And again.

And then today, in the car, while Wilson was asking for the first King George song on the Hamilton soundtrack, Spike started asking for “March,” and I had to go back and forth between Hamilton and Falsettos to keep both kids happy. “Had to.” I “had to” make my kids take turns between two awesome musicals.

Finally Wilson came around to “March” and they were both asking for it. And both singing it. And tonight after I put them to bed I stood in the hallway outside their room and listened to them both sing, “March, march, march of the falsettos!” I could cry.

I thought about pulling up a video for them but worried it might weird them out. But I can’t wait to show them the filmed version one day.

march

*Actually…”Trina’s Song” was a skip track too on the original cast recording. I think this is a case of the revival recording being better than the original. I do like the staging of the revival version. (I can’t believe I’m admitting that in print.)

 

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The missing purchase orders

I think I experienced a glitch in the matrix today.

I had three sheets of paper to copy: two invoices and one filled-out and signed purchase order. I took them to the printer and put them through the top tray, where it scanned and copied them into the top output tray. I picked up the three sheets and walked next door to drop off the originals with our bookkeeper.

While I was standing in his office, I looked down and realized that the three sheets I was holding were not my copies – but were three completely blank purchase orders. I stood there for a minute, trying to figure out how that could have happened, then went back next door to the copier. Sitting on top of the machine were my copies.

But I was just next door to the copyroom, and I didn’t see anyone go in or out. And when you print to the copier from your computer, it uses a different output tray, so I don’t know where the blank POs would have come from anyway.

So the only thing I can think of is a glitch happened, and someone tried to fix it by hurriedly putting my correct copies in a place I would find them. And now that I think about it, I set those blank POs down somewhere but I don’t remember where (back on the copier?) so I probably couldn’t find them to prove my point even if I tried.

It’s just weird, is all I’m saying.

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Babysitters for Rent

I woke up in the middle of the night with this brilliant idea: to do a comparison of the characters in Rent with those in the Babysitters Club books. In my mind, I was like, Ohmygosh, this TOTALLY scans!! Here’s what I had:

Mary Anne / Mark: Because Mary Anne is the club secretary and keeps track of everyone’s appointments and jobs and classes, and Mark sings, “Why am I the witness / And when I capture it on film / Does it mean that it’s the end and I’m alone?”

Kristy / Tom Collins: Because the entire BSC series is based on the idea that Kristy has these big great ideas, and Tom Collins reprogrammed the MIT virtual reality equipment to self-destruct as it broadcast the words “Actual reality – act up – fight AIDS.” Also, it’s his idea to open up a restaurant in Santa Fe.

Claudia / Angel: Because if any BSC member was gonna show up somewhere dressed in a sexy Santa outfit, it would hands down be Claudia, and Ann M. Martin would still find a way to work it into the text that she has long black hair and almond-shaped eyes.

Jessi / Mimi: I think this is mostly because they’re both dancers, although Mimi mentions hearing the Spanish babies cry, and Jessi has a baby brother named Squirt, and I’m almost positive she’s heard him cry.

This is where it starts falling apart, although there’s still something with Stacey / Benny, in terms of elitist New Yorker hovering above it all. And probably Shannon Kilbourne is Alexi Darling? Shannon just gives off that vibe.

As the BSC’s Chief Alternate Officer, a totally made-up and basically pointless role, Dawn sort of reflects a Maureen sensibility, where she doesn’t really have a job but manages to be in the middle of all things. Which leaves Logan and Mallory to duke it out over Roger and Joanne…I’m leaning toward Logan as Joanne, the smart one with a life outside of babysitting/performance art, while Mallory, who won’t stop whining about being the oldest of eight kids, having curly red hair, and having to wear glasses and braces, is sort of like Roger whining about…having AIDS?

So it doesn’t 100% scan. But I bet I know some clever people who could help me sort out the ones that don’t quite make sense…yet.

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