Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Results: Four Book Challenge

It took me a few hours shy of one week to finish the four books I chose for my challenge. Normally it would have taken me a couple of weeks per book to read all of them (of course keep in mind I was challenging myself).

I didn't rush the reading of any of the books, just switched between them when I got bored. I did try to read during times when I don't normally (i.e. at work), but this was mainly because I would read on the train to work and then get into the plot and want to keep going.

In addition, there wasn't a single day during the week that I didn't read, despite being very busy most days. I attribute this to a lack of boredom in what I was reading. If I wasn't in the mood to read about the crazy English kings and queens of old, I'd read crazy childhood stories instead.

Plus, the stories were in different genres and therefore different enough for me to read them all and not confuse the plots - a problem my father brought up when I talked about my challenge. He also asked me when I was publishing my research on relay-reading. Haha.

So on to the reviews. The four books I chose to read were:

  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Houssini (Fiction)
  • The White Princess by Philippa Gregory (Historical Fiction)
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling under pseudonym (Mystery)
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Nonfiction)

I started off my reading the first chapter of each book to get a feel for the writing style. I finished the Houssini in two days with some breaks to read more stories in the Sedaris (this was the last book I finished because I interspersed reading the stories with reading long sections of the other books) and a few more chapters of the other two books.

I am an avid lover of fiction, and Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are two of my favorites. I wasn't surprised by the style of And the Mountains Echoed. It started off right away with a folktale. I was a bit confused by that because we hadn't been introduced to any characters yet, but I figured it out once the father started naming the children. Houssini tends to weave tales through time, so that you don't get a whole picture and people aren't connected until the ending. Each of the perspectives was it's own life story, yet they were so intertwined with these people that only us readers had met - it made me think about the lives that I touch and those that touch me without me even realizing. People you pass every day or that you grew up with are living parallel lives to you. They could be meeting your best friend for coffee or end up in the hospital where your neighbors' daughter works as a nurse. You just don't know. Anyway, that is the global takeaway for me. As always, Houssini uses Afgan history and settings and compares the generations before and after war and insurgency. I wouldn't say the book is extremely happy, but it is comforting.

I thought that The White Princess was going to be the hardest for me to read because English history is not my strong suit, not to mention everyone has the same names and my Kindle screen is too small to see the genealogy chart. However, I found it quite similar to books I read as a kid by Carolyn Meyer, only obviously meant for adults. The history mixed with fiction, assumptions, and guesses is convincing. It is a good thing I don't know a lot about English history or the story might have been ruined by what I know to be historically proven. But I don't, so it was entertaining and informative. The book very much immerses you in the politics of being a woman, a queen, a king, and a person of the court. There is a lot of pressure expressed by the story to not show feelings and keep information in the right hands. It is not a love story. I would call it a fear story in fact. I can't imagine how exhausted Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VI, they don't mention her number) might have been allaying the intense paranoid fears of her husband. He never sat comfortably on the throne, and that is mainly because he listened to his mother instead of his wife.

The Cuckoo's Calling started out slow, but I ended up finishing it about the same time as The White Princess because the mystery was so well done. I had literally no idea who the killer was until the end. Usually with mysteries I can figure it out, but the detective kept us in the dark. I was also distracted by the interesting characters Rowling creates. This is what I define as her style. She makes full and complete characters with histories and makes you feel lots of emotions towards them. I think people often discount her non-fantasy writing (probably why she wrote under a pseudonym) because they expect it to be fantasy, but she's not a one-trick pony. Her skill is in the details - that is what made us love Harry Potter so much. I also like that her stories show real pain. This is especially true of her non-fantasy work. She shows the gritty reality of losing a leg in Iraq, being the adopted child, ending an on-again, off-again relationship for good, and going broke doing something you love. All this and it touches the plot but doesn't define it - no one character or problem gets front billing. It's just life and the crappy things that happen.

David Sedaris is my favorite one-trick pony. I like him a lot, mostly because we share a similar dark, mean humor, but everything I've read by him is about his childhood. His childhood is very interesting and I love reading about it, but sometimes I wish he'd branch out a bit into fiction fiction. But heh - write what you know right? Me Talk Pretty One Day is a themed book of short stories that focuses on poor communication, from lisps to parental distance to French class. It is funny, and dark. I found myself wondering if Sedaris has any positive memories from his childhood. This was a good one to alternate with the others since there was no plot to follow. You could read one story and be done. I think he needs to put a timeline in there though, because he did a lot of shit in his life and it's super hard to follow where he is in time. I think he does a fine job depicting his days wandering from job to job, especially as a creative person. This is a character that many people of my generation can relate to, as we grew up hearing that we could do whatever we wanted with a college degree, and now our college degrees aren't worth very much, especially if they are in a creative field.

Now that I've sat with these books for a week I feel prepared to move on to another set of four. I wish I'd done this when I was doing my 50 book resolution from that year. Even with a break every other week I could have read 100 books. Please, try this method yourself. Maybe I will one day publish research about relay-reading, or maybe I'll keep it as my own personal belief that I will one day share with students and my own kids. I think if I was still 8 years old, I could probably read 8 books a week just because as kids there is more time in the day and the books are shorter. Of course I'm lucky that I have a passion for reading and am able to do it (Thanks Dad!). That's a whole other strategy for another post. Enjoy. Read.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Four Book Challenge

Since my epic New Year's Resolution from 2013, I've not been particularly enthralled to read anything besides what my book club suggests. However, the other day I spent hours poring over book summaries and reviews on and I made four lists: To Read (Fiction), To Read (Nonfiction), To Read (Historical Fiction), and To Read (Mystery). Those are my four favorite genres. There weren't many good fantasy or scifi on there (work on that goodreads!).

Now what to do with these lists. How to tackle such an extensive amount of books without repeating myself. One or two books from each list were calling to me, luring me into submission. So I have a plan.

I'm going to do a reading relay race to see how fast I can finish one book from each list. Every time I get bored of reading one of the books, I will switch to another to keep me reading and keep it fresh. After however much time, I will have read four books.

I'm hoping for some amazing record like two days or something (personal best, what what), but life does have a way of getting in the, well, way. This is a good time to try because my boyfriend is going on video game vacation for the next week to forever (give or take). I have at least one Saturday with zero plans and one modestly bare Sunday as well.

I invite my limited readers to join me in challenging yourself to relay books you've been putting off reading. Psychologically, it really helps to switch your attention when you start to get bored. It increases motivation and prevents people from taking long unnecessary breaks. I used to do this when I read textbooks in college because it kept me from falling asleep or having to reread the same sentence fifty million times - believe it or not I'm one of those crazy people who literally did all assigned readings in college AND mostly read all the optional reading as well, all the while my peers were telling me it was impossible. Relaying is the way to go my friends.

Anyway, wish me luck and I hope you try it out. See you after for a massive four-book review and challenge summary :). Off I gooooooooooooooo. Fade to quiet because I'm trying to read damnit.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April Showers

Mkay so I dropped the ball a ton this past month and a half. This month I am working on dedication. Specifically, dedication to all the things I've dropped the ball on.

The only thing I did right this past month was start a diet, so now I'm going to add 30 minutes of exercise, three days per week, to keep up the momentum. I did exercise a little thing last month, but now that the weather is getting nicer, I can run and also use the gym to mix it up, plus adding fun things like yoga and hiking and climbing into the mix.

Mike showed me this cool application, RunKeeper, which tracks mileage, time, and pace on your phone, and it let's you know as you are running (or doing a bunch of other exercises that are on there) how you are doing so you can adjust.

In November my family is doing the Across the Bay 10K (Go Team Overachievers!) so this will help with preparation and just getting myself back into a good healthy exercise routine. Plus exercise makes me happier and less stressed.

Another part of my month of dedication is reconnecting with my friends and family. Things get a bit self-centered when it is cold and rainy and you're super tired from work. It's a lot easier for me to do that too as the weather gets nicer because people just generally do more stuff. Plus much of what I like to do is outdoors (and I prefer to do it with others) and my friends tend to like that stuff too. This will probably entail a lot of different activities fit to particular friends or family members, so I won' get into it.

I have been doing a good amount of reading and writing, and I did start applying for a grad school program (shhh don't tell anyone) way far out in the future, but I guess some good stuff has happened. I really did focus solely on work this past month, and everything else came second. But I'm in a groove now there so I can start branching out a bit. And the best part? It's lighter later = more time to do stuff.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about Spring.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Fun

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, it's freaking crazy in Maryland right now. It snows and then it ices over the snow before snowing some more and then it half melts and causes rivers of ice on the roads and then it's fifty degrees and sunny one day and then it's windy and freezing again. No wonder everyone gets sick when they move to MD - no one can survive the super fluctuating temps.

Anyway, now that February is more than half over, I've decided to update my blog. It seems like it's been forever since I wrote my last post. The quality I have been focusing on for February is balance. Starting a new job and accustoming myself to work life has left me very unbalanced, so I am allowing a bit of flexibility again for February and trying to learn to balance life and work and fun.

Starting with the reading. So I finished Ender's Game and it was really good - recommend to anyone. We had book club for Handmaid's Tale and Becky made this amazing food that made me want to die in a good way. We mostly talked about what we liked and didn't like about the book and then what our world would be like if we enslaved the men like the men enslave the women in the book, picking out names for all the types of people. Meanwhile I started reading a biography of Walt Disney by Neil Gabler which is huge so it's a slow go but very interesting - and I hate biographies so that's saying a lot. Then I finally got Divergent and read through it in two days then through Insurgent and halfway through Allegiant. We're discussing on Monday - and it will be faction-tastic. Turns out I am Abnegation and Erudite, with a little Amity. If that doesn't mean anything to you, you should either take this quiz: or this silly one: OR read the books and decide for yourself. I also started reading Dune. Just the first chapter while my friend Tommy gets settled so we can discuss what we think it'll be about.

I'm not sure what my fun planned event this month is, other than Toby's birthday party this Saturday. My puppy is turning one! I'm all melty. I was so excited to plan a playdate for him and all his cousins and friends at the doggy park. They will run around and be crazy and it will be awesome. Then cupcakes and doggy treats for humans and canines alike! After the party some of my friends and I are visiting College Park (my alma mater) for a girl's shopping outing and Bagel Place. That evening is my Little's 24th birthday party at La Tasca and then dancing at The Mad Hatter, both of which should be super fun. So yeah I guess that is going to be a really fun event day for me, and pretty balanced as well.

Still not taking those classes...but considering alternatives.

Anyway, see you in March for an update. I think March's quality is going to be romantic, as my boyfriend's birthday and Men's Valentine's Day (3/14, for those of you who don't know) are both in that month.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Birthday, the Books, and the Best Job Ever

Okay so one week at my new job under my belt and I finally have time to write about my birthday party.

I trained for my new job last Friday, the same day as the party. As this was my first time taking the Marc train, of course I got on the wrong train home, in the freezing rain, with no time before the party to chill. I was rescued by the best knight with the best night, but I ruined his amazing surprise. Never go to Seabrook, MD. Just don't do it. Even the CVS is sketchy. No offense to the Seabrookians, but you guys are super creepy.

So I was late for Honey Pig, my girlfriends about 90% through their meal by the time I got there, but with many people yet to arrive. Honey Pig is Korean BBQ - large quantities of meat are cooked on what looks like an upside down wok at your table. The duck was fantastic and whatever that sauce I poured over my sticky rice...delicious. After we terrorized them with 15 separate checks (only a small exaggeration), we headed next door to Centennial Cue and Karaoke Bar.

I had looked this place up many times, and somehow it got mixed up in my mind with the Korean BBQ, and so I had been Googling Centennial Que and Karaoke Bar, when of course it is a pool room. If you've never done this, you should make a point to get a private karaoke room with your closest friends. It is not like listening to the bums of College Park sing in Applebees, nor is it like open mic night where everyone can sing. It is loud, and you can only sort of hear yourself, and your friends are all there singing too. It's fantastic.

I started out the night singing Hey Ya with my girlfriends, because Erin and I used to shake it like a Polaroid picture literally every day after school in 12th grade trying to dance as crazily as we could...I'm pretty sure we maintained our lovely figures that way, because we would often walk to Weis and get zebra cakes and oatmeal cream pies and then eat all of them while watching SNL reruns...

So anyway, lots and lots of Shoji shots later (Korean wine which tastes like pure liquor), with lots of songs I do and do not remember under my belt, our time ended and my friends went home :(. I'm pretty sure I sang with everyone at some point (some against their will), so it was definitely worth the price. After a failed attempt to play pool with my girlfriends and several more Shoji shots later, I went home.

I remember this night as fantastic, and refuse to remember it as anything else. And I was not hungover in the morning, thank you very much.

Okay so to go backward in time, this was also, if you recall, my first day of work. I get nervous on days like this and I can't sleep until my alarm goes off, so I woke up early and decided to get energized. I have a horrible love-hate relationship with running, but it does energize me, so I put on my new running shoes and started stretching. As I jogged to the gym, my feet came out from under me and I landed on the palms of my hands and my hips. Of all the days for there to be a thing layer of ice over everything in Laurel, it had to be the day I was meeting all my new coworkers. Now I have horrible bruises and cuts on my palms and of course I still run on the treadmill in the gym so I'm super sore - then I wore heels all day and danced all evening at karaoke.

But anyway. I made it to training day all right, fell immediately in love with the Marc train, and then slipped in the lobby of my new office building trying to pick up candy because we get candy on Fridays. Amazing.

The whole day was a series of back and forths to desks and lunch and different ways of saying goodbye to Anna (my predecessor) and hello to me and trying to remember how to document POs and having Anna be amazing and tell everyone I'm going to be great even though she might have been the only one who believed that.

After training day, skip past karaoke to Monday, I had my first week of work as Administrative Assistant to the D.C. office of The American Academy of Ophthalmology (which is really hard to spell, by the way). I made a total of five recognizable mistakes. I figured out three things completely on my own. I asked my boss Christina probably five million questions. I filled out more paperwork than I ever want to fill out again in my life but probably will have to...

It's a great job. Everyone is nice. It is a lot of work and busy, which I love, but not so challenging that I feel like I won't figure it all out eventually. The two hardest things were getting up early and wearing uncomfortable shoes. Imagine being on vacation for two months sleeping in nearly every day and then suddenly having to wake up at 6 am. Ugh. And first order of business when the paycheck comes in and the bills are paid is buying more comfortable shoes. Aerosoles anyone?

Now I will talk yet again about my love for the MARC train, because it gives me time to read instead of stressing in traffic. I had finished Cartwheel which was alright but made me not like teenagers very much, and I realized that I might be the only person I know who hasn't read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (he is less insane during this one then elsewhere like when he wrote Enchantment which I still love but was all about his crazy religiosity).

The book is fan-freaking-tastic. If they are no longer teaching it in schools, then they are dumb. It needs to be right alongside Animal Farm, 1984, and Brave New World. I think about this book before I go to bed at night. Even just the psychology of it, without the science fiction part, is great. Ender has such a well-written inner voice from childhood to adolescence. I can't believe this book was deprived of me in high school.

For my birthday, I got three books I'll be book clubbing with my bestie in the Navy - Dune, 10th of December, and Cat's Cradle. Then my girlfriend book club is discussing Handmaid's Tale and then moving on to Divergent.

I haven't had time to figure out which classes I'm going to take, but it might have to wait until Spring, as I'm still getting accustomed to my job. I need some yoga in my life though.

I'll need to reroute this blog soon, as it is becoming very journally, and I'm not a huge fan of that - but I'll still need to update month to month. See you, at the very least, in February.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Oh January


Signing up for classes: Yoga and Ceramics
I've taken an AACC class before, about a year and a half ago. Somehow I'm supposed to remember a seven digit ID number or I can't reregister for noncredit classes. They won't reset the password or the ID number, so I have to do to AACC to prove who I am and register for the stupid classes...I'm a little frustrated they don't have a better system. Most likely I won't even get the classes I want now. Bummed.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale
Today I finished the book we are reading for book club even though we aren't meeting until January 29th. It was a good book and I think there will be a lot to discuss, so I'm not going to review it here and ruin it all. Perhaps I'll update after we meet. Just a hint, read past the end of the part where she stops talking; there is a weird analysis of the recordings that I can't tell the seriousness of.

Birthday Weekend
Thursday - Victoria's Gastro Pub w/ my bestie in a snow storm, then Community premiere
Friday - Dinner at mom's, tuna noodle casserole and pumpkin pie...noms
Saturday - D.C. w/ my bf, National Zoo and then District Chophouse for dinner
Sunday - Dinner at dad's, chicken parmesan and tortellini...noms
This is the life! But not so good for my I'll start next week :).

Still no jobs, but looking forward to Tuesday-ish, when people have gotten through their absurdly long todo lists and have time to look at resumes again! I'll keep you posted.



Also, I started watching Doctor Who...I'm so behind the curve but it's a good show. Still reading and writing. Still haven't signed up for those classes.

Most amazing day of January is coming up this Friday - my karaoke birthday party! Fourteen people are coming so far and oh goodness gracious there will be singing. Stay away from Ellicott City this Friday evening, because you will hear me, and you will not like it :).

Friday, January 3, 2014

This, My 25th Year

Resolutions are important to me, as evidenced by my previous years' posts. This year, I have waited to talk about my resolution until the post coincides with today, my 25th birthday. I want to emphasize how important I think this year is going to be and therefore, why this resolution is so special.

This year, I am going to better myself. These past two years I've tried in small ways: writing every week, reading 50 books, concrete things that can be counted and forgotten. Instead, this year I'm going to be a bit more vague and a bit more interesting. The reason? A quarter of my life is ending, I am transitioning into adulthood (and have been and will be for a few years), and I am wholly unsatisfied.

I have proven that my resolutions can last a year, so now I'm going to focus on quality...lots of qualities in fact. I want to change things! Therefore, each month of this year is going to be dedicated to a different quality (patience, humility, etc). I've talked about Ben Franklin before, and I will mention him again, to explain that I will not be giving up something each month as he did and adding on as I go. Instead, I'm going to dedicate each month to doing something different.

There are a lot of parts to this so bear with me:

External Monthly Structure:

One day per month will be dedicated to planning and executing an awesome event for myself and my friends. This could be, as it is this month, the celebration of a birthday (my birthday karaoke party), or it could be a volunteer day at Habitat, going out to a bar with my girlfriends, etc.

Each season will have a structure as well, in the form of a class. I'm taking some AACC continuing education classes - nothing serious. These include Yoga, Ceramics, Writing, etc. I like structured things and it doesn't get more structured than I paid for it so I'm going to go even if I'm not feeling up to it. Classes are separated by season, so two per season-ish gives me a good extra structure.

Internal Monthly Structure:

Each month has a quality attached to it. For example, one month might be perseverance, where I might write for thirty minutes each day. Another month might be peacefulness, where I do yoga each morning before work. The quality won't be determined until the beginning of the month. I will track each month on this blog.

Each entry will detail the class I am taking, the event or day I am planning, and the quality that is the focus of that month.

For January, I'm going easy on myself and picking hope. This month is dedicated to finding a job and getting comfortable with the daily tasks. In this I hope to find value, but until then it is just a hope. I am trying to sign up for a yoga class and a ceramics class. There are some issues with the passwords, blah, blah. I'll keep you updated on those in a later post. My birthday party in a week is going to be the planned day for this month. We are eating at Honey Pig and getting a private karaoke room at Centennial Que and Karaoke Bar for a couple hours.

Anyway, I'll see you in the next January post. The method and underlying point to this resolution will reveal itself as the year goes on. Explaining it now seems like a giveaway :).

Happy New Year! And Happy Birthday to MEEEEEE!!!