23 January 2015

Review of Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Title:  Not That Kind of Girl:  A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"
Author:  Lena Dunham
Publishing Info:  Random House, 2014
How I Got This Book:  I purchased a copy and I may have a Kindle copy as well...

Thoughts:  I did a midway review of this book back in November, over at Broke and Bookish.  I was thoroughly enjoying the book at that time and just had to say something about it.  The book was perfect for me at the time because it is a bunch of essays, which are pretty easy to get through time-wise and don't require a ton of concentration--important things when you are sitting up at the hospital with someone most days of the week.  I finished yesterday because I was again up at the hospital with someone and wanted something easier than a novel to read.

I know that there is a ton of controversy swirling around this one with the rape and molestation essays.  However, when I look at the book as a whole, I felt like I was talking with a good friend about stuff I would talk about with a friend.  I love Dunham's conversational tone.  She really opens up in her essays and I greatly appreciate her honesty.  Plus she kind of puts a humorous spin on things that aren't really that humorous, which is something I totally do, so I appreciated that as well.

My favorite essays were her lists of what she learned from her mom and dad.  Particularly the list of things from her mom.  These two essays got me thinking about things I've learned from my parents, both the conventional and the unconventional things.

I also liked the parts where she talked about being fresh out of college, in her mid-20s, trying to figure out what in the hell she was doing with her life.  I could relate to that 100,000,000%.  Maybe even more.  She said the things I would love to be say.  She composed emails to people telling them off in her book.  It was great.  She was/is like me, but published.

The thing I liked the most about this book was that it made me feel not so alone, not so distraught, not so confused.  Things will be OK eventually.  It just takes time.

I still highly recommend this book.

22 January 2015

Books from 2013 that I Still Haven't Read

I recently did a Top Ten Tuesday on books from 2014 that I meant to read, but didn't.  As I went around my shelves pulling books, I realized that there were quite a few from 2013 that I wanted to read but still hadn't gotten to either.  I decided that it was worth a post as well.

1.  The Most of Nora Ephron  I've read most of this one.  It does a fantastic job of pulling together pieces from throughout Ephron's career, both in terms of timespan and breadth--it has journalistic pieces and her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally and the entirety of her novel Heartburn.  She was absolutely fascinating.  She saw so much and wrote about it so well.  Definitely a career to envy.

2.  The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan  I've started this one before.  I know that it looks at different marriages and relationships and shows how they are all different.  One of the early stories/scenes/characters was kind of off-putting to me, so I need to push past that because I really want to read this one!  Plus I love the cover.  :)

3.  A Life of Barbara Stanwyck:  Steel True, Volume One 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson  I was SOOOOO excited when this biography came out.  I love classic movies, though I haven't seen anything with Stanwyck.  From the jacket description, it sounds like she lived an extremely interesting life.  Can't wait to learn more!

4.  Lexicon by Max Barry  This came with my first BookRiot box.  I don't know much about it at all.  On its surface, it doesn't sound like a me book.  But I can't help being rather fascinated by it.  I need to just dive in.

5.  Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt  This family just sounds crazy.  The family it depicts sounds crazy.  It definitely brings to mind that it doesn't matter how you feel, it only matters how you look.  It would be nice to delve into someone else's crazy so that mine looks less so by comparison.  At least, I hope it looks less so...though my life has reminded me a lot of As I Lay Dying lately.

6.  One Summer:  America, 1927 by Bill Bryson  All I really have to say about this one is "yes, please!"  I loved Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.  I love reading about the 1920s.  I love Babe Ruth (I've been wanting to rewatch the first few episodes of Baseball lately).  I think that this will be an awesome read!

I think I'll feel better about my life if I can just get through these six reads from going on two years ago.  Maybe not.  But there have been some really awesome books coming out in the past few years and I just want to read them all.  Where should I start?  You know, once I have a free moment...

20 January 2015

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie--2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get to

I am so happy a freebie came along!  I really meant to and wanted to write on this topic last week, but I was camped out on the couch watching NCIS, doing my best impression of a foghorn (thank you, annual sinus infection!).  I had a wonderful time going around my room pulling books for this list.  So much great writing has come out lately that I could literally take a bath in it!  Or something like that.  There is a lot for me to look forward to reading...the trick is picking one to settle down with!

1.  Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells:  The Best of Early Vanity Fair, edited by Graydon Carter  I am really excited about this collection of articles from Vanity Fair that span the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.  So much excellent writing and so many excellent topics to write about during that time!

2.  The Georgetown Set:  The Establishment Elite Who Waged--and Won--the Cold War by Gregg Herken  I love learning more about Washington at the height of the Cold War.  I think that there was a lot of interesting intrigue surrounding a group of extremely smart and rather glamorous people.  OK.  I admit it--I love the Kennedys.  Whatever.

3.  Jet Set:  The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years by William Stadiem  I'll admit, on the surface this one really doesn't sound like me.  I'm not super into aviation.  Yes, flying is my preferred mode of transportation and I would love to jet on over to Europe.  It was seeing Sinatra's involvement with this movement that really kind of sealed the deal.

4.  The 40s:  The Story of a Decade by The New Yorker  I love The New Yorker.  It's my favorite magazine, though my track record with actually finishing them in the week that they came out is not so hot.  But I am really looking forward to this collection of article about the 40s.  It covers a wide variety.  However, unlike the first book on this list, this one is arranged topically, as opposed to chronologically.  I like seeing how different forms of organization work or don't.

5.  Lucky Us by Amy Bloom  This novel is about the quest for fame and fortune that takes the readers around 1940s America and Europe, but not so much to the war bits.  Two sisters, jetting around.  I think it sounds like a lot of fun.

6.  The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis  This one just sounds really interesting.  Seeing all of your flaws displayed very starkly before you, how do you react?

7.  The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman  This novel is about the intellectual set of 1950s Manhattan.  It reminds me a lot of The Georgetown Set, except fiction.  I have really started to embrace my love of thrillers, even though I haven't actually read very many.  I love that "WTF?!" moment when the big twist comes that sets your understanding the story so far on its head, but also makes the story make complete sense.

8.  Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique  My explanation of why I am looking forward to this novel is going to make little sense:  the description of the setting reminds me of a hotel in Orlando that I absolutely love.  A family in the Caribbean in the early 1900s that must make its own way.  It sounds fantastic and I've heard wonderful things.

9.  Yes Please by Amy Poehler  I love reading books like this.  Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham (all of which Poehler references in her introduction, FYI) wrote books about their journeys and struggles with being females in the business.  I love reading about their badassery and hard work.  It inspires me.

10.  Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar  I recently picked this up on an impulse when I went into the store to buy something else.  I don't know much about Virginia Woolf (the more I think about it, the more I should have put Mrs. Dalloway on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list), but I am really excited to learn more about her through the life of her sister.

There were almost as many books I picked up with the idea of adding them to this list only to realize that they came out in 2013.  Where is all of the time going?  Things need to slow down so I can get to all of the new releases, plus all of the old stuff, that I want to read.  Maybe for the next freebie, I'll do a list of the 2013 books.  :)

Have a great Tuesday!

19 January 2015

Review of Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness One Celebrity at a Time

Title:  Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me:  The Pursuit of Happiness One Celebrity at a Time
Author:  Rachel Bertsche
Publishing Info:  Ballantine Books, July 2014
How I Got This Book:  I purchased a copy on my Kindle

Thoughts:  This was a really fun read.  My first of 2015.  My first completed book in I'm not sure how long.  I can't remember when exactly I first heard about this book, but it's been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time.  I really can't even tell you what made me decide to read it the other day, but I am really glad that I did.

At its most basic level, this book is about Bertsche's quest to create some sort of framework for her life.  She's a writer who works from home.  She found herself working out maybe twice a week, feeling sluggish, and maybe even borderline depressed.  I can totally relate to this.  I'm only working parttime, which some weeks equates to five hours.  On a good day, I'll stay in my yoga pants until almost lunchtime before putting on jeans and a t-shirt of some kind.  Sometimes I'll get the exercise bug.  Sometimes I'll get the writing bug.  Basically, things can be a little bleak.

Bertsche found herself doing what most of us do--looking at celebrities and thinking about how put together and perfect and happy they seem.  So she created a project for herself where she would take on a new celebrity and aspect of their lives for a month.  For instance, Jennifer Anniston's body or Sarah Jessica Parker's wardrobe or Tina Fey's work ethic, plus eight other celebrities.  To gather her information about what to do, she looked for direct quotes from the celebrity herself, like the mention of a favorite cookbook or style ideology, or from an approved secondary source, such as Anniston's yoga instructor, Mandy Ingber.  Once she got her information, she copied the celebrity as best as she could on her budget--this was important because celebrities have personal chefs and can afford $500 purses, but Bertsche found a way to make it all work for her.

As she went, she learned a lot about celebrity worship (though I hate to use that word, I just can't think of something better) culture and the how and why behind regular people's desire to emulate certain aspects of their favorite celebrities.  Since the 1970s, celebrities have had more and more of an impact on culture and are frequently looked at as role models.  Most of this is a carefully crafted image through the use of publicists, but nowadays more celebrities are conscious of how they impact others.

Through this quest to get her shit together and be happy, Bertsche was struggling with fertility issues.  Throughout the book, she would say "I know it seems crazy to try to get my life together when it's going to be interrupted soon enough by a baby."  But by the end, she says that her efforts to get her life together helped her deal with the ongoing fertility struggles and the ability to adapt to the changes she faced when she finally did get pregnant.  She rarely had a perfect day where she did every single thing she was supposed to do from working out to getting dressed to eating at home to spending time with her husband to working, but she did what she could and felt good about it.  Certainly much better than she did on the days when she hit snooze on her alarm several times (or reset her alarm for a couple of hours later), stayed in her yoga pants all day, and ate junk.

I totally understand what she means.  I am the happiest when I am the busiest, when the opportunity to sit and read for an hour or watch a couple of episodes of NCIS or otherwise be lazy feels like a luxury.  Periodic boredom is a gift.  Regular boredom is a curse.  Like Bertsche, I've had a lot of unstructured time over the past few months.  I really appreciated reading about this journey to creating a framework.  I can totally relate to looking to celebrities for inspiration on haircuts, outfits, exercise, and so on.

I'm not going to come up with my own list of celebrities to emulate for inspiration, but I am interested in applying some of what Bertsche learned to my own life.

I actually tested it this morning.  Initially I set my alarm for 7:00, but I wound up getting up at 7:30.  It's OK.  Then I made my coffee and hopped onto my computer to do a little work, like Tina Fey.  I put on a comfortable, cute outfit that made me feel good, like Sarah Jessica Parker.  I finally inquired about my friends' ETA and found out that they were going to be quite a while.  No matter.  I used the opportunity to do some cleaning, hit my yoga mat (doing the DVD of Anniston's instructor), and write this book review.  I feel good that I was able to use the unexpected delay to accomplish some things I needed to do as opposed to sitting pissed off on the couch, trying to read or watch TV that I really didn't want to be watching.  Now the plans have changed again (actually, they got canceled), so I'm trying to come up with some other way to constructively use my time, again like Tina Fey.

I'm not at the point quite yet where I can truly settle into a routine because I don't have a job that has set work hours nor do I have a job like Bertsche where I set my work hours.  My hours fluctuate on a daily and weekly basis.  But if I make a plan and a to-do list the night before or even first thing in the morning, I can get a lot more done that I think I can, particularly when I make the effort to sneak in some progress during downtimes, planned or not.

15 January 2015

Final 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List

Adam over at Roofbeam Reader hosts the yearly TBR Challenge.  Rules and more information can be found over here.  I signed up for it last year and epically failed.  I think I abandoned all hope of finishing in, like, February.  I want to try to do it again.  I think I was a bit too ambitious when I created my list.  I chose some truly mammoth and difficult books to read!  Initially, I was going to split it up and choose four classics, four non-fiction, and four easier fiction.  Then I got a better idea.  I feel like I missed out on some truly great or at least truly important books in high school for reasons.  Such as I was an imbecile.  So I'm going to throw some of those onto the list and also add a few that I just can't believe I haven't read.

1.  1984 by George Orwell  This was on the reading list in, I think, the 10th grade.  Why didn't I read it?  I think something was off-putting at the beginning and I just kind of let it go.  Sci-fi and dytopian stories really aren't my thing.  But it's totally one of those books that you're just supposed to read.  I know--there aren't any books that we're "supposed" to read, but I think it's required reading nonetheless.  So many references are made to it in our culture.  It's time.

2.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn  I remember starting this one in high school for class, but I really cannot recall why I stopped reading it.  Aside from Puritans being total buzzkills about...well, everything...with their making sure that nobody anywhere at any time has any fun for any reason and if they do appear to derive even a modicum of pleasure out of anything, then they must know immediately that they are going straight to hell, I think I would like this book.  Or parts of it.  Like the forbidden love part and the living outside of society part.  I don't think I can go through that door description again.

3.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou  This book was from the 11th grade.  I do remember why I stopped reading this one, but I don't want to talk about it.  I did get busted for reading the Sparknotes during class discussion and the teacher told my mom during parent conferences and my mom and I had a come to Jesus meeting about it.  I was supposed to read the book after that talk with my mom, but didn't.  So I'm gonna go ahead and get on that one.  Plus I've heard that her storytelling capabilities are just amazing.

4.  The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers  I've started this novel a couple of times.  I truly love McCullers's descriptive sentences.  She does an amazing job of creating a time and a place and her characters come to life.  I can't remember the last time I attempted to read this one, yet I still find myself wanting to hug Mick Kelly and tell her it will be OK for unknown reasons.

5.  The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison  I've never read anything by Toni Morrison.  I can't believe it.  So I'm going to amend this this year by reading this novel.  I started it a couple of days ago (totally legit because it's after 2015!) and really do like it.  Once I have a bit more funds, I would like to purchase a physical copy because I think it's one I just need to completely mark up.  (Ooh!  I have a 20% off coupon that I should use to buy this!)

6.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville  I am reading this damn book this year, come hell or high water.  Seriously.  This has been my white whale for such a ridiculously long time.  I bought the shirt from Out of Print Clothing and I won't let myself wear it until I finish.  So it's just hanging in my closet, with the tags still on, judging me.  This is happening.  If nothing else, this is what I want to happen this year.  (OK, that's not true; there are a lot of things I want to have happen this year, but I really want this to happen in addition to other wonderful things happening)

7.  The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas  I am a francophile, but I've hardly read any French lit.  I'm going to try to change this.  I've heard that this is a pretty plotty book and is on the easy-ish side.  Plus Milady de Winter is supposed to be pretty badass.  Chris O'Donnell is pretty foxy, so I can rewatch the movie after reading this one.

8.  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray  This one has always been such a turnoff because Becky seems kind of like a bitch, but I have to admire how she makes her way in the world (not necessarily her methods, but the fact that she makes her own way).  I think this one will be a good personal challenge.

9.  Light in August by William Faulkner  Honestly, I own almost all of Faulkner's books, yet I've only read two of them.  This one is often talked about as a masterpiece, so I'm gonna go for it!  Technically, this is another one from high school, but it was a part of the elective summer reading.  I chose to read the war books (All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch-22, and The Things They Carried) instead of the Oprah Faulkner three-pack that came out that summer.  Frequently during the first couple of springlike days, I drop everything to reread As I Lay Dying (favorite memories from college are skipping class, throwing open the windows, and reading this).  I should probably branch out a bit.

10.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson  I don't know a whole lot about the plot of this one, but I've heard wonderful things about Robinson's writing that I really want to just dive on in.  It's not terribly long, but I get the feeling that it is quite dense.

11.  John Adams by David McCullough  I've heard so many good things about McCullough and think it's a good time to finally pick up this meaty biography.  I don't know a whole lot about Adams, so this is probably a good opportunity for personal growth.

12.  Catherine the Great:  Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie  I don't know anything about Catherine, but she pops up quite a bit in conversations about strong women.  Let's do this.

1.  Emma by Jane Austen  I have always been reluctant to read this one because Emma seems like kind of an annoying busybody, but I keep hearing a lot of good things about this novel and I think it will be good for my patience.  So I'm going to try to push myself.  Plus I've only read one Austen novel and should really try to read more.

2.  Reading Lolita in Tehran by Agar Nafisi  I really admire what these women did.  I think that the ability to read what I want when I want is something that I take for granted.  I watched an NCIS last night about Afghan women who had to go into hiding because they didn't want to partake in an arranged marriage at 13 or they were beaten for kissing a boy and that really stuck with me.  So I think it would be good to read about women who risked it all to read what they want.

I know.  I said no reading lists this year.  Can we say that this is focusing my reading a bit?  :)

05 January 2015

Bout of Books 12.0--Sign up and Day 1 Progress

One of my goals for 2015 is to read more.  The weeklong Bout of Books Readathon is a perfect way to do that.  The basic goal for the entire week is to just read more and to interact with other bloggers.  You can set other goals for yourself as well and create lists and whatnot.  I haven't done much reading this year (all five days of it), so I think joining in will be a good way to get going.

Though it's not required, here is a picture of the books I'd like to reach for first.

They are:
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
London Fields by Martin Amis
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Nature and Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Careless People by Sarah Churchwell
Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill

And my iPad in case something on there seems more promising.

I also ordered a few books, which will arrive today and tomorrow, so I might reach for one of those as well.

Basically--anything and everything is fair game.

What are my goals for this readathon?
  • Finish Nobody Is Ever Missing--I'm about halfway through and I feel pretty "meh" towards it, but I can't stop reading it for some reason
  • Read Shopgirl--it's a novella and I think it might be helpful for the novella I'm writing
  • Read two essays from the Emerson
  • Make progress on one of the nonfiction tomes
  • Make progress on one of the other novels
  • Interact with other bloggers
  • Update here, on Twitter, and on Instagram daily

But really--my three main goals are the interacting with other bloggers, updating my various social media outlets, and just reading more in general, regardless of what book it is (though it would be nice to make more progress on fewer books than to read a bit of each book).

Happy reading!

04 January 2015

2015: The Year of Getting My Shit Together

I'm going to go ahead and call 2015 the Year of Getting My Shit Together.

I had a nice break the second half of 2014.  In July, I got out of a bad relationship, quit a job I hated, and I moved home.  Things were looking up.  Then my papa's health really took a nose-dive.  I took the next two months completely off from anything other than sitting in the hospital room with him almost all day almost every day.  My family needed me more than I needed to be doing anything else.  And that was great.  I felt so fortunate to be in that situation, where money wasn't a huge object.

Then at the end of September, I realized that I really needed to start doing something else.  So I got a part-time retail job, which was great.  I was getting some money and I had something to occupy a good bit of my time, but also allowed me to spend plenty of time with my family.  Again, I felt fortunate to be in that situation.

Now, as 2015 is dawning, I feel like I need to be doing something more with my life in all areas.

While I am not 100% sure what I want to do career-wise, I AM positive that I worked pretty hard at school to earn all of my degrees, so I can be doing a bit more for myself.  I am 27 years old.  I'm not near the end of my working years by any means, but I don't want to sit out too long from doing something that matters to me.  I don't know if this will necessitate getting another degree or merely changing to a different kind of work environment, but I am ready to start looking.

I've also been thinking a lot about health lately.  I lost 25 pounds just by changing my eating habits over the last few months.  It's amazing what not eating a bunch of crap will do for you physically, mentally, and emotionally!  I still have 10-15 more pounds that I would like to lose, but I am not going to stress about it too much.  More than anything, I just want to be healthy.  That means I need to continue eating better and start working out.  I'm not talking anything crazy.  I have no aspirations to do those IronWoman competitions or become a body-builder, but I think I would benefit in more than one way from starting to run and doing yoga.

I spent some time this morning cleaning my room.  I still haven't gotten fully unpacked from moving home for the summer after my freshman year of college, let alone from moving out of my apartment two years ago and moving entirely back home in July.  Today's work was mostly cosmetic--making my walk-in closet a walk-in closet again and cleaning up a couple of piles.  It's amazing how quickly things can get out of control when the room isn't completely clean to begin with.  In the past I've tried to conquer it all at once, which is exhausting and overwhelming, so I need to break it up into smaller chunks and work on it over the course of several weeks.

I wrote about my reading and writing goals last week.

As with any goal or personal improvement project, it's mostly a matter of making the time and making the work a priority.  I feel so much better for the whole day when I get up early and get the hard stuff out of the way first thing, when I'm not tired or stressed or defeated by the day.

Last night I did something new for me.  I got out my lovely planner (pretty sure that's the correct one) and actually did some goal planning.  Nothing fancy.  But I listed out four major areas (technically five, but the last one was "other") and wrote steps of completion/subgoals.  I actually thought it out instead of just diving in without a plan.  I like having it recorded in a specific place so that I can check back in throughout the year to see how I am doing.

My next step is to read Adulting:  How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown.  It started as a blog where the blogger asked for and reported people's advice on how to get their shit together in various aspects.  It doesn't call you to be perfect, but it will help you at least act like an adult in some respects.  It's mostly humorous, but has some good, worthwhile advice in there.  I've started it before, but didn't finish.  I'm going to start from the beginning and just go and take notes along the way.  I mean, I am kind of run down today with my annual sinus infection, so I don't really want to do much of anything, but I can do this and still count myself as being productive for the day.

So away I go!