Thursday, January 26, 2012

that time i remembered how to read

From the time I submitted my final paper for Foundations of Library and Information Science until the spring semester officially began on Tuesday of last week, I had just over five weeks to live life on my own terms without assignments or quizzes or articles or textbook chapters or discussion boards.  A significant amount of that time was eaten up by holiday preparations and the holidays themselves, which were, despite a case of strep throat and just over a day lost to a stomach virus, uniformly lovely.  But just as noteworthy in blogging terms as Christmas baking and parties and presents was that during my break from school, I rejoined the ranks of readers, consuming six books.  Let me tell you about them, please.

Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The circumstances:  Since I started my expanded teen gig back in the fall, I've been feeling not so cool about the fact that I don't read much young adult fiction these days.  Additionally, every time I think that, I want to punch someone over the name young adult fiction.  So when I got tired of being the only person in the world who hadn't read this trilogy and when my long-time stooge (non-internet friends will know her as Sam the page) offered them to me in audiobook format so I could listen to them on the way home for Christmas, I knew my time had come.  I actually got a head start on them by listening to the first one as I did some holiday baking and then consuming the second in day I spent languishing in my bed of sickness.  And because I couldn't wait any longer, I polished off the third a few days later several day before I began my trip home.

The verdict:  A few disks into Hunger Games (because I didn't actually read them with my eyes, I have no concept of the number of pages or chapters), I thought to myself that I could totally understand the mass appeal of this book--but it also seemed a little formulaic to me.  And then a disk or so later, I acknowledged that I too had been sucked in, formulaic or not.  I really enjoyed the first one, and I was eager to see the story develop in the second . . . but that's when the hopelessness and futility started to make me itch.  I would still say that I liked Catching Fire, but things were starting to fall apart for me, and by the time I started Mockingjay, I was worn out by the misery.  Much like my final verdict on watching Lost, I can only handle characters I've grown to care about being miserable for so long before self-preservation kicks in, and I have to remove myself emotionally from the story.  That happened here.  And in case you are wondering whether I was rooting for Peeta or Gale (and yes, I just had to look up how to spell their names on the internet), I was rooting for everyone except Katniss.  She was my least favorite.  Maybe I was rooting for Haymitch most of all.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The circumstances:  After the Hunger Games saga, I was in the market for something else to listen to on my drive to Kentucky, so I explored some options.  What I really wanted was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it was the January selection of my online Peeps book club, but there was a hold list at the library, so I went with the coworker recommended Magicians instead.  I also got the book itself in case I got four hours into the story and wanted to keep going while I was at my moma's house and not in the car.  I listened to it all the way home, but never felt the need to crack open the book while I was in Kentucky.  I put another four hours into it on the way home, and I was still waiting for something to happen.  When I got back to work, Jonathan had started listening to it as well, and though I was further ahead, we shared a similar feeling that something was lacking, but I forged ahead and finally finished it on a lazy Saturday.

The verdict:  I hated the person who narrated the audiobook which I'm sure influenced my overall experience, but I just didn't enjoy it.  At all.  I tried to--I kept expecting for it to click with me as so many people had extolled the greatness of the book, but I never got it.  I don't recommend anyone ever reading this book (least of all you, my dear imaginary readers), but if you think you might someday read it, go ahead and skip down to the next paragraph to avoid some spoilers.  The book is about this teenager who gets accepted to a magical college (leading someone to mistakenly tell me that the book was like a grown-up Harry Potter, which is the most insulting thing anyone's ever said about Harry).  The kid is completely unlikable (even worse than Katniss Everdeen) and profoundly unhappy to boot.  But when he discovers this magical world waiting for him, he's sure that he's figured out why he's been unhappy.  And then he's unhappy being magical.  And then he's unhappy some more.  And then later, he's unhappy.  Also he's obsessed with this series of books he read as a child where a family of English children are sent to a manor in the country side and discover a portal to another world where animals talk and there's a wicked queen to defeat and they become royalty.  The land is governed by wise,moral and very stately rams who might as well be named Aslan, because my goodness, it's such a blatant rip-off of the Chronicles of Narnia that I wanted to scream.  And then it ends badly and the most likable character dies and it just gets worse from there.  The dumb kid (who's in his mid-twenties by the time the book actually ends) never stops whining and wallowing in his own unhappiness, and there's actually a sequel (and a third book coming soon) and a movie to be made of the mess, but I've washed my hands of it all.  Don't ever read this book.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

The circumstances:  By the time that I got home from my holiday trip, this audiobook had come in for me--plus I bought the paperback as a little present to myself, so I was ready to give it a whirl so I could attend book club for the first time since we started it back up--and so I could go see Daniel Craig as I have a strict policy about not seeing movies if I haven't read the books.  I listened to about a third of it, but the names were confusing without being able to see them, so I switched to the print version.  I started it on a Saturday evening and finished it before bedtime on Sunday with plenty of time to spare before book club on Monday.

The verdict:  It's a slow start, and the Swedish names can be a bit confusing, but once I got into it, I was hooked.  The mystery bit was intriguing, and I found the main characters really interesting, and although it ended up being fairly graphic and brutal in places, I thought it was well worth the read.  I still haven't seen Daniel Craig, but I'll get to that eventually.  My enjoyment of this one made me place holds on the remaining two books in the series, but so far I haven't made a start on them yet.  Maybe during spring break . . .

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

The circumstances:  I saw Peep Martha the morning of book club, and she warned me that I might get the chance to choose the next book since I was showing up at chat and hadn't had a turn picking yet, so I did some research that day so I would feel prepared.  I was looking for something that would be a light change of pace form the intensity of Dragon Tattoo, and everything I knew of this book fit the bill, so I picked it.  So with only one more week between me and the start of the new semester, I decided to go ahead and try to make a dent in it, so that I'd be prepared for our February book chat even if my classes did try to kill me.  Luckily, in that week, I had another trip to Kentucky, but this time I would be a passenger--and be traveling twice as far to get to Pinkie's birthday party, so there were plenty of reading opportunities along the way.

The verdict:  I laughed out loud at the book enough in the car that my moma wants to read it.  I'll have to warn her about Julie Powell's potty-mouth, but even with her propensity of dropping the f-bomb enough to make me blush, I really enjoyed it.  It was often insane and sometimes unintentionally sad, but it was still a delight.  And now I get to watch the movie--which I always thought looked cute but was unavailable to me because I hadn't read the book.

Since the start of my semester, I've also read a few gems such as the back cover of Bossypants by Tina Fey, which had me in fits of hysterical laughter, and two chapters in The Neal-Schuman Library Technology Companion, which is a real page-turner, let me assure you.  Next up is a couple chapters of Information Representation and Retrieval in the Digital Age.  I'm pumped about that as you might imagine.  It was a joy to be back in the land of the pleasure reader for a while, and I'm determined to not let so much time pass before I sneak back for another visit.  In the meantime, for those of my faithful followers who are not hip-deep in library textbooks, what are you reading?

Friday, January 6, 2012

approximate rhyme is disgusting and other disproportionately strong reactions

I was thinking today about the crushing guilt I feel over my lack of blogging, and then I considered all the things that are wrong in the world that I'm not fixing and even the things that are wrong in my own life that I overlook with very little consequence, and I decided it was stupid to feel guilty over something so trivial as blogging.  My blogging doesn't save the world, and it's foolishness and wasted time to expend energy or prolonged thought or worry on my lack of posts in the last quarter of 2011.  No one cares, and even if a few imaginary readers have given passing thought to what has become of my work dramas or burger hunts or haikus or even the long-lost open letters, their worlds kept spinning without those crucial updates from me--and will continue to do so even if I never post again.

So I'm no longer allowed to shoulder the burden of entertaining you all.  I'll write or I won't, but I refuse to allow what is a small concern to a very limited number of people be blown out of all proportion because of my own sense of self-importance and secret need for martyrdom.

And with that giant imaginary weight lifted from my shoulders, I can give attention to other ridiculous reactions that I have to things.
  • Approximate rhyme is disgusting.  
  • Combining chocolate and peanut butter is an evil plot to ruin my life.
  • Someone touching my ears will literally kill me.
  • Grown people who use chat or text language on facebook are dead to me.
No, really, I feel this strongly about all these things.  Why?  Because reacting strongly is so fashionable right now.  Have you noticed this?  No one can just have an ordinary like or dislike or preference or mild annoyance.  Everyone reacts in superlatives, and I'm just as bad as anyone, but sometimes at least I catch myself at it and attempt to dial back the manufactured drama of every little thing being the absolute worst or best.  Because honestly?  One two things in the world can be the absolute worst and best, and assigning disproportionate reactions to marginally important things diminishes the value of everything.  Plus it's the most annoying thing in the world--so stop doing it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

arm-twisting and birthday wishing

A certain cousin, scholar, theologian, and #1 blog fan who turns a year older today has been nagging me to write about his birthday for a year.  And besides the fact that I don't love doing the expected, it takes away the specialness of writing about him out of the overflow of love and friendship I have for him if he's asking for it.  But I think we can all safely acknowledge that this little blog o'mine will have breathed its last by this time next year--it's been sputtering out its dying gasps for months now--so if I don't write about CST1BF today, it won't happen . . . and imagine the sort of tragedy that would occur if I never acknowledged my five favorite things about my #1 fan . . .

So today, under duress, I present the birthday blog of CST1BF.  As I've been preparing it's come to my notice that many of the things I like most about Mac are traits that I also possess, so it may turn out in the process that I talk about myself more often than normal--but you're long since accustomed to me talking about myself too much--and that's something Mac would do too if he were writing this, so it seems too fitting to edit out.

So in some sort of order, here are the five best things about CST1BF:

5.  He loves lists and favorites.  A conversation with Mac often includes discussions about best books or movies or characters or super heroes or foods, and I love (usually) to evaluate what I like and why and attempt to rank them.  It's one of the reason I do five favorites on birthdays, and probably the reason that Mac is so anxious for me to quantify my regard for him through this list.  It's something we have in common that can spark lengthy conversations and healthy debate, and it's also a great way to get to know someone or learn more about them. For all that Mac claims that he'd rather talk than listen, these top five list conversations that he orchestrates end up being a brilliant way to get other people to engage in conversation, and I'd say at least part of the time, he's paying attention and learning about other people--and not just waiting for his next turn to talk.

4.  The other day Shane lost a set of keys in the watch pocket of his jeans--lost them so completely that he retraced his steps to two previous locations to search for them before I made him empty his pockets completely to find the missing keys.  When that happened, I called it a MacMac, who as I've mentioned tends to be a bit scattered, a trait she passed down to her son and to a certain blogging niece.  Mac is disorganized, a bit careless, sometimes clumsy, and often seems physically like this barely controlled whirlwind, and most people reading the past few sentences are wondering where the nice favorite thing part is . . . but that's it.  I love that he's kind of a mess because I'm a mess too.  The fact that he still manages to function in most ways like a normal human despite these tendencies that we share gives me hope and makes me feel more normal when I'm wondering why simple tasks become so complicated in my hands.  Misery loves company, so I'm glad I've got Mac to understand and sympathize when I'm at my MacMac-iest, and I hope that I can do the same for him.

3.  In the past year, I've many more occasions than normal to hear Mac teach, so I've been reminded often how good he is at what he does.  I'm ashamed to say that it's still sometimes surprising that my younger, former punk-kid cousin has serious theological chops, but he's great, often intellectually stimulating, challenging and still accessible.  For someone like me who's been churched all her life--including four years of college-level Bible classes, it can sometimes seem like I'm hearing the same sermons and ideas over and over--and even when Mac's presenting something that I've heard before, his style has a way of engaging me anyway.  That's a big deal to me, and I love him for it.  And it makes me prouder than just about anything else he does.

2.  Mac is hilarious (did you really expect me not to mention humor?), and not just because we are a lot alike.  We do have similar senses of humor, but he is definitely more into shock value and skating the edge (or barreling over it) of inappropriate humor, and thanks to the previously mentioned clumsiness, he's a boundless source of physical comedy as well.  He makes me laugh, and there's nothing wrong with that.

1.  When I write these things it eventually always comes around to love . . . and my Mac tribute is no exception.  Mac has a big, soft heart, and he shows it in how he treats his family and his friends and his students.  He loves and values and cherishes.  He spends time and gives great hugs and doesn't forget to say the words to express that love. And for all that and more, I love him right back.

Happy birthday, buddy.  I hope I did you justice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

harry potter haiku #8

Just when you thought your dreams of a haiku-less existence were finally coming true:

Some dragon smuggling
(Hagrid's a bad influence)
leads to detentions

I solemnly swear that this is the last Hagrid-bashing I'll do for a while.

Forbidden forest
something's killing unicorns
centaur saves Harry

Stay tuned because sometime in the next year I'll finish the first book and move on to Chamber.

Monday, October 17, 2011

gcabh round 2: arkansas burger company

When last we met the intrepid burger explorers, they were replete with their first burger hunt success at Frostop.  On the heels of that delicious and entertaining experience, the next locale on our burger adventure was going to have to bring it. On the recommendations of many, many people we know, our adventurers braved the wilds of midtown to face the Arkansas Burger Company. Could it live up to the hype?

The experience:  Once again the three natives in the hunt were late, and our bearded scout (CST#1BF) had to face the unknown alone, drinking tea and making what I can only assume was a very intimate connection with our waitress.  All I know is that by the latecomers arrived, she was throwing around the terms of endearment like there was no tomorrow--and no wedding ring on his hand.  Apparently she loved him so much that she her endearments could not be contained, and the rest of us got the "sweetie, baby, honey, sugar-puddin', love muffin, angel face" treatment too.

We ordered our burgers and criticized Shane while we waited for them to arrive.  Actually CST1BF was the only one criticizing him.  I was probably criticizing Jess because that's what I do for fun.  And then the moment of truth.  The burgers arrived.  I made the ravenous beasts pose for pictures before they fell upon their food with abandon.

Hey, is that a pickle spear?  Score.

Modeling food and sleepy faces.
Jess went with the onion rings.
We'd had our food for less than a minute by this point.  
The scattered remains of our carnage.

The results:
From CST#1BF:  The more I think about it, the more that I think the hamburger at ABC was better than the Frostop burger.  The meat had some kind of spice in it that was fantastic.  I didn't really notice it until I got to the end of my burger and was mostly eating bun and meat without toppings to overpower the flavor, but Jess was right when she said, "This meat is good."  The fries were also very good, though I was completely underwhelmed by Jess's onion rings.  I liked the variety of burgers available, but Frostop still had more options, but ABC had a pickle spear.  
The atmosphere and experience at frostop was better, but ABC was great too.  I'm glad that they're on different sides of LR so that I can have an excuse to eat both in the future.

9/10  A great burger.  

From Jess:  (Oh, that's right.  We lost Jess at ABC--it was her final stop on Burger Tour 2011.  She will have no say.  We'll miss you, burger-eating friend.  Sorry you weren't up for the challenge.)

From Shane:  lots of chewing--but no commitments on burger ranking yet.

Ellen's opinion:  I think the fries were on par with Frostop, but the ABC burger was definitely better.  I had a bacon cheeseburger in both places, and while both were delightful, the ABC meat was superior, and I had cheddar cheese which is a personal favorite.  I'll give it a 9/10.

Clearly, I'm very behind on my burger-blogging.  We've been to two more places since ABC.  Eventually, you'll hear about them, imaginary readers.  In the meantime, approach Arkansas Burger Company with caution.  The food is definitely worth it, but the deliciousness is apparently capable of swallowing up your dining companions.  I miss Jess.