What I’m Reading, April 2016

Getting this review post up early so I don’t have to think about it later, as things are getting way busy in Sushiland right now. Here goes!

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer: Damn. I’ve struggled to pay my bills and buy food before, but I’ve never been destitute. This book tells the story of the truly destitute, those who live on just two dollars a day, an amount many of us could easily spend on random crap. And it tells the tale well, striking a balance between the history of welfare and other assistance programs and the sometimes horrifying stories of the people living in such poverty. There were tales of 20 people in one house, collecting tin cans and donating plasma for extra cash, and one little thing that sent everything spiraling downward. All of these tales were well-told and made me feel simultaneous sympathy for the families and anger at the broken system. (5 out of 5 empty fridges)

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates: I am so glad this book is over. The premise sounds neat: a game among college kids with the final round played 14 years later. But besides that, the entire story was disappointing. The characters kept making a big deal out of the Game, especially when someone quit. The story also switches between past and present tenses a lot, which led to a lot of confusion. And there was no real resolution to any of hte storylines, which frustrated me. If the book is boring, all I can ask for is a resolution, and I didn’t get even get that. (2 out of 5 consequences)

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe: I love this book. It takes hard ideas like space and life and explains them using only the ten hundred most used words, making them easy to understand. The idea works really well and got a lot of laughs from me through the book. And yes, I wrote this using only the ten hundred most used words, just like in the book. (5 out of 5 simple things)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: I read this book starring a main character with OCD since I’m currently trying to untangle one of my own novels starring a main character with anxiety. This book didn’t disappoint. It was well-researched and didn’t just clutch to the classical OCD tropes. One thing this book did well was create a voice for the main character, not just in her head but in her interactions with others as well (such as her so-called popular friends). I wish the last hundred pages or so would have explored more of the big plot twist, but besides that, no major complaints from me. (4 out of 5 poems)

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp: Opportunity, Alabama. 10:05am. Gunshots. The majority of this book takes place over the course of an hour, told from four points of view, with all the narrators connected to the shooter in some way. I appreciated the diverse cast, even for rural Alabama, as well as the distinct voices of each narrator, something a lot of authors have trouble getting right (and therefore I usually dread when seeing multiple narrators in novels). (4 out of 5 points of view)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: I listened to this book, expecting to get a lot out of it. But honestly, this book was kind of dull. While I enjoyed learning about the people who helped the Wright brothers achieve flight (like their sister Catherine), this book wasn’t as deep as I had hoped. The prose itself was good; I just wish the book fleshed out more of the story behind the brothers. (3 out of 5 flying machines)

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck: I have very mixed feelings about this book and would rate this book very differently depending on what parts of the book the asker is most interested in. The concept itself was fascinating; to tell the truth, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of traveling the entire Oregon Trail. The book bounces between the history of the Oregon Trail and the author’s trip on the trail with his brother, all while weaving in stories about the author’s life and being haunted by his father on the Oregon Trail. While the story of actually traveling the trail was interesting, the historical bits and the parts about the author’s family ghosts were not of interest to me. I do like history, but maybe I wasn’t as interested in the personal aspects simply because I had no real connection to the author. Overall: Just tell me about traveling the trail! (3 out of 5 covered wagons)

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: Let me guess, the title got your attention too. I’m all about remote work and self-employment and generally not letting a job dictate your life, so reading this book seemed like a requirement for me. Ferriss does a good job of breaking down why to adopt such a lifestyle to start with, as well as taking steps to make it happen. There are concise steps, as well as questions and actions to take at the end of each chapter. One thing this book could have done better was to take into account some of the barriers to entry that Ferriss probably didn’t see. A lot of the businesses described in the book required a lot of money and time in the beginning, and for people desperate for both, spending money to make money often doesn’t work. Despite this, the book makes some excellent points and I’ll be referring to his site for other resources. (4 out of 5 mini-retirements)

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella: I picked up this book since I’m currently working on a novel about a teen with an anxiety disorder, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book in the beginning. At first the book felt tedious and continuing the book was a chore. The mother was over the top, believing everything the Daily Mail says and trying to get her son to stop playing video games, and I nearly stopped reading because of her. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Even though I don’t have anxiety to the extent that Audrey does, the anxiety portrayal didn’t seem too far off, even if it was tedious to read at first. While the romance was cute, I was definitely sighing to myself at the idea that the romance was a cure-all. Still, this was a fun read, despite covering some heavy topics. (4 out of 5 rhubarbs)

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr: When this book was good, it was really really good, but when it was bad it was horrid. Maybe I should have read a physical copy instead of listened to the audiobook. Maybe it didn’t help that memoirs aren’t my favorite genre to start with, or that I haven’t read any of the author’s other work. Whatever the case, I found this book to be just eh. While it made some great points on how we interpret the things we experience, a lot of the book was kind of boring, despite being about writing. (3 out of 5 made-up incidents)

Room by Emma Donoghue: I read this via recommendation and for my library’s book club, and finished the majority of the book in an afternoon. While the book deals with some dark stuff (the mother and kid are trapped inside one room, for crying out loud), having the kid narrate the story lent some light and hope to the story that wouldn’t have been there if the mother narrated it. Sure, there were a few unrealistic parts, and the book could have benefited from another round of editing, but overall the story got my attention and was enjoyable despite the darkness. (4 out of 5 Sunday treats)

Up next: I’m listening to Big Magic and reading How to Bake Pi and am enjoying both of them so far. After that, who knows? I’m technically ahead of my Goodreads challenge to read 250 books this year, but that lead turns into being almost a month behind after taking NaNo into account. Here’s hoping for another BSC binge on my quest to finish the series.

Feeling like I’m not good enough at anything

If you’ve known me for awhile, then you probably know that I have more interests than time[citation needed]. I read like there’s no tomorrow, I write like I’m running out of time, I dabble in math and languages and code and techy things, I obsess over everything involving NaNoWriMo, and on and on the list goes.

It doesn’t feel that way at times. Most of the time, to be honest. The days of assuming I’m the smartest in the room are long gone, left behind in the small town I grew up in. This isn’t a bad thing; leaving that small town was one of the best things I ever did for exploring a world where I was no longer a special snowflake. But while I got to know people with talents I definitely don’t possess, I also experienced the feeling that they knew a lot more about these things than I did.

There’s a name for this: impostor syndrome. It’s more common among high achieving women and members of minority groups, and the idea of not being good enough at a thing can prevent someone from pursuing an opportunity that they otherwise have the experience for. I’ve experienced impostor syndrome in various situations: applying to jobs, calling myself interested in a field, saying I work in the tech startup world when I’m not a developer… the list goes on.

But there’s not a name (that I know of, anyway) for what I experience: being interested in so many things but not knowing a lot about those things. Sure, this could be considered a form of impostor syndrome. I can’t help but find things interesting. It’s part of who I am. This results in a lot of dabbling and learning a little about a lot of things, then hoping that knowledge sticks when I start dabbling in different things. But when it comes to sharing knowledge about those things, I find that just knowing a little bit about a thing isn’t enough; everyone else seems to know more than the few nuggets of knowledge that I possess.

Shouldn’t I use this opportunity to learn from these people who know so much more about the topic? Yes, and I often do, even if I forget some of the new information afterward. But then I meet people who know a lot about a ridiculously wide variety of things, which makes me question my ability to claim that I enjoy a diverse array of interests, the people who are so good at retaining and pursuing a lot of things. I aspire to be like them in their pursuit of interesting things.

Sounds like a personal problem, right? Believe me, I know. The logical solution is to stop comparing myself to everyone else, for Baty’s sake. But I’m working on it, both pursuing more things and embracing the things I am interested in and know a lot about.

Writing Hiatus, Revisited

Regular readers and Twitter followers may recall my writing hiatus in February. Since I’ve been writing again for almost a month, let’s revisit that hiatus month.

Thankfully for my sanity and for my memory’s sake, I continued to allow paper journal writing, along with book reviews so I wouldn’t have to squeeze out what little I still remembered from those books a month later.

The writing hiatus worked; I wrote just under 5k overall in February. While this puts me behind in reaching my overall goal for 2016, I need “only” 25,000 words per month for ten months, which takes into account October’s likely lack of writing and November’s megawriting. At first, I found myself standing to the side as everyone else was talking about writing. Dreams of editing some novels, coming up with new ideas for this site (don’t worry, I wrote most of those down), and venturing into new types of writing filled my mind as I kept reminding myself of the writing hiatus. It didn’t help that most of my Twitter community consists of writers. I swear, following a bunch of writers on Twitter when you’re on hiatus is like still going to the bar after you’ve quit drinking just because your friends are there.

As for the guilt, I felt a little guilty at first for not writing, as you might expect. But as the month went on, I occupied myself in different ways. Playing some games. Reading a book a day at some points. Wishing spring would arrive faster. Wondering if I was a real writer since I didn’t miss writing at some points.

The problem is, I’ve barely pursued any of those ideas since then. That’s in part due to this month being about five times busier than a typical March, along with many more life changes than usual. (Most of them good, so don’t worry too much about me.) I’m a little behind on reaching my 25,000 word goal for March, but not so far behind that I’m concerned about reaching that goal.

So now what? My Camp NaNoWriMo project is primarily Wikiwrimo updates; like last year I’ll be counting characters instead of words for my project. Since this worked out well last year and I still have a lot to do on Wikiwrimo, Camp will kickstart my efforts. This seems like a good idea for a yearly Camp project, with the second project consisting of whatever else I feel like writing. Let’s get back to writing all the things.

What I’m reading, March 2016

Another month, another post on what I’m reading. I probably won’t finish another book by the end of the month based on my schedule right now, but we’ll see. For now, have some reviews.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: I tried to like this book. I really did. But the story just didn’t grab me, and this was partly due to the writing style of the book. Six points of view, lots of blocks of dialogue without indicators to let me know who’s speaking, and confusion between what was happening in the past versus the present. I remember having the confusion problems while reading Bardugo’s last series as well, so I know it’s not just this book. Still, I’ll be skipping the rest of this series. (3 out of 5 heists)

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari: I listened to this book, and I’m glad I did. Ansari is really funny and acknowledged that yes, I was listening to the book when he described the occasional chart. While this book was well-researched and explained many of the aspects of finding love in the digital age, the funny snippets were sometimes too much. Just tell me more about the research already! Still, it was a solid read and gave me a lot of things to think about re: seeking love, especially with the “ooh shiny” period of a relationship ending and turning into a companionate love. I’m gonna go reflect on that now. (4 out of 5 minutes before replying to that text)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Someone on Twitter told me this book was terrible, and I went into the book with this knowledge. Sure, they’re only one person, but I found myself disliking this book immediately. While I love Rowell’s YA work, this book read like the first draft of a knockoff HP fanfic. The book also suffered from “is something going to actually happen?” syndrome. Despite all this, I managed dto finish the book and was very relieved after hitting The End. (2 out of 5 Humdrums)

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters: I listened to this book, an autobiography of activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself in his NYC apartment a few years ago. For those who don’t know, this was the guy who was going to trial for downloading a zillion JSTOR academic articles. The story itself spans much more than Swartz’s life; several chapters are devoted to the history of copyright law in the United States. (Did you know copyright law once dictated that copyrights were good for only 14 years? I didn’t.) This format made for an interesting listen, one that didn’t just tell Swartz’s life story but also provided context for his role and actions regarding copyright history. (4 out of 5 copyright laws)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: Here’s a conversation I had multiple times while reading this book on my Kindle.

Someone notices me reading. “So what’s the book about?”
Me: “How the entire system around the war on drugs is disproportionately targeting black men.”

Definitely not the answer they were expecting. This book was very well researched and written, providing historical context while making a convincing argument and providing solutions. It’s a dense book, but if you’re at all interested in social issues, go read this. (5 out of 5 drug charges)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: This book stars 26-year-old Louisa Clark, who has never really explored the world beyond her hometown. The economy is terrible, she’s still living with her struggling family, and everything seems okay until the cafe she works at closes. Louisa gets a new job working with a quadriplegic, which changes the way she sees the world forever. I meant for this book to be a nice fluffy book to read after the mass incarceration book, and while most of the book made for light reading, there were some parts that were definitely not light and fluffy. Not perfect, and the plot was pretty predictable, but still an engaging read with relatable characters. (4 out of 5 jobs)

The Ex by Alafair Burke: I am terrible at picking out light fluffy books. This book has been described in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which isn’t completely off. But this novel concentrates more on the legal parts of the case investigation, as the lawyer, an ex of the main suspect, narrates the whole story. While there are some predictable parts, the twists along the way made this book a one-day read. (4 out of 5 pieces of evidence)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: Suzy’s best friend died right before seventh grade, leaving Suzy to put together the pieces of what happened while grieving. Suzy becomes convinced that it must have been a jellyfish sting (things don’t happen for no reason, after all) and goes on a journey to figure out what really happened. This book captures the mind of a middle schooler really well, making me think to how I would have reacted to such a thing as a preteen, while showing a whole world of wonder in the process. (4 out of 5 jellyfish)

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto: I listened to this book. This book started out dull and remained so for much of the book, then turned more interesting when he started talking about the 20th century. To be honest, I wish he could have told the older history of Amsterdam as well as he narrated the 20th century. A little more info on how Amsterdam and the world influenced each other would have been useful as well. (3 out of 5 tulips)

Rising Strong by Brene Brown: I listened to this book. While the first half of the book was really interesting and made many excellent points on rising strong after a struggle, the last half read more like a memoir, and a rambling one without not much of a point. Sure, the author is a professor of social work, but a lot of the qualitative research seemed to stem from her own experiences, and we all know one person is just one data point. Next time, I’d rather skip the personal stories and get to the point. (3 out of 5 rumbles)

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z Packer: I read this book for my library’s monthly book club. The collection itself features people of color (mostly female) as the main characters. As with many short story collections, the story quality is inconsistent. While the prose itself is good, the stories felt incomplete. Most of the stories ended abruptly, leaving me with a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of each tale, but not enough to want more. It was like reading a chapter from several novel ideas and seeing what would stick. (3 out of 5 cups of coffee)

Family and keeping in touch

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is family. I grew up surrounded by family and attended family gatherings for everything ranging from Christmas to birthdays to Fourth of July. We would cram the whole family into my grandparents’ kitchen and living room and garage, pretending to get along while eating enough food for a small army.

Thanks to a combination of my dad and his brother’s seven-year age difference and my dad’s remarriage and fathering my brother and me ten years after his first child and my uncle’s two daughters, my younger brother is the only person near my age at these family events. The aforementioned previous generation of children had their own children very young, staggering my family’s generations so that besides my brother, the family members closest to my age were more likely ten years apart. As a kid, this gap felt unusually wide.

As I’ve grown older, most of these family connections have dissolved for various reasons. I’ve learned that life is short and that staying in touch with the ones I love is more important than ever; you never know when someone leaves forever. This should be a good enough reason to reach out to family on my own instead of waiting for them to talk to me. I still think of how I could have kept in touch with my grandmother more regularly, and I ate lunch with her every day when we lived almost next door to each other.

Even though my parents and brother aren’t bad relatives, for some reason I find keeping in touch with my family to be unusually difficult. I’ve already written about my difficulties in maintaining contact with friends, but family communication is a whole other can of worms altogether. I’ve come up with a few reasons for this.

We don’t have much in common. I’ve always been the black sheep of the family thanks to my interest in books and school, and none of my relatives shared these interests with me. As a child, I devoured all the books I could get my hands on, from encyclopedias to medical books to things actually written for kids. Heck, I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. To be fair, despite the high expectations, my family praised and encouraged these interests.

I am terrible at small talk. Not much else to say here, but small talk is one of the banes of my social existence. I’m fine with short conversations with strangers, such as chitchatting while a cashier rings up my stuff. But with people I know, or when the length of the conversation is unknown? Forget about it. This point goes back to not having much in common with my family, but there’s more than that. One small example: I hear a lot about my mom’s work and her coworkers when I talk to her. But working remotely with very few coworkers means these stories are few and far between.

I feel like I’m constantly being judged. I know rationally that they’re probably not; my family just cares about my well-being. But I still can’t shake the feeling, which is why I find myself limiting what little I talk about to start with. That’s just how I am. I didn’t tell them about the last person I dated because of this judging, even though I’m well into adulthood and we had dated for over a year.

My family thinks I’m busy. This is a reason my mom gave for not being in touch with me more often, or for coming down to visit me–I still owe her a trip to the big Asian food store, among other things. And while it’s true that I do have something resembling a social life, I also have a lot of interests that don’t automatically scream “Hello, I am socializing!” For instance, I’m writing this post from a new coffee shop in my neighborhood as an attempt to combine writing and exploring my own figurative backyard. But sometimes I need that unstructured alone time to write and read and pursue other projects without interacting with other people.

I’m not sure what to do when I visit. I always bring my laptop and phone (and now Kindle) when I visit them, but I don’t really do anything when I’m up there. I eat meals with my family, sure, but the rest of that time doesn’t really resemble family bonding time. It mostly consists of everyone doing their own thing, but with one more person around. But since my parents’ house is very familiar, I find getting anything done to be difficult.

Sure, they’re on Facebook, but… We already know how I feel about Facebook. I can see the case for Facebook: it makes communicating with family and friends easy… when you actually see their updates.

I guess my question here is “What frequency of family contact is normal?” Should I feel like a bad person when I don’t stay in touch? And while the obvious solution is to suck it up and keep in touch, what else can I do about this?

Trail Magic 2016

One of my friends hiked the full Appalachian Trail in 2013 and has been doing trail magic (kindness with no expectation of anything in return on the trail) for a weekend ever since. He’s tried to get me to come along in the past, but I always had plans that weekend and couldn’t go. That changed this year, so I packed my stuff and we set up camp and magic at Dicks Creek Gap, in northeast Georgia near Hiawassee.

Dicks Creek Gap sign

Dicks Creek Gap is about a week into the northbound trail experience, so we were meeting some of the hikers who had left on the early side of the traditional departure date. For many hikers, this is also their first break from hiking. Quite a few of them were planning to take zeros the next day to resupply in town and avoid the predicted rain for Sunday.

We arrived on Saturday morning and had plenty of food on hand for the hikers: grab-and-go items like bananas, oranges, honey buns, Blast’s chocolate bar stuff that is somewhat healthy yet tastes very unhealthy and delicious, assorted candies, and a few other things I’m not thinking of. Plenty of sodas, beers, and bottled water stocked the coolers. Make-your-own chicken and veggie kabobs and salad made up the lunch and dinner food. Breakfast burritos and pancakes happened in the morning (with beercakes on Monday), all on MacGyver’s barrel grill. Both nights concluded with a hobo campfire and roasting marshmallows on the grill, along with lots of talk about materials that went over my head since my chemistry knowledge ends at high school chemistry. We made smores out of Thin Mints on Sunday night, which you should do immediately if you like Thin Mints and marshmallows.

MacGyver brought a bluetooth boom box, and since the area had no mobile connection, we were limited to music on our phone. And since I was the only person with more than a few songs on their phone, I got to subject everyone to a selection of my musical tastes. This also meant listening to the occasional Hamilton track. I may or may not have skipped “It’s Quiet Uptown” to save myself from crying in front of everyone. This also meant I couldn’t take too many pictures because the music stopped whenever my phone was more than a few feet away from the boom box.

Blast brought a big charger so hikers could recharge their devices, along with a projector and sheet for movies after the sun set. No one else stayed with us on Saturday night, so we watched 180ยบ South, a documentary about climbing a mountain in Patagonia and probably some stuff about surfing too. (Not kidding there–there were so many random shots of this old guy surfing.) And on Saturday night, Soup and Daniel stayed with us and we watched Easy A.

We also brought a lot of games and played several of them with various groups of hikers. Two rounds of Cards Against Humanity happened, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. We also played some Spyfall, and I was never the spy. Most of the entertainment was simply sitting around and talking about everything and anything.

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We woke up to rain on Sunday morning and were tempted to pack up and leave, even if that meant packing everything up in the rain. But we stuck it out, and I’m glad we did; the weather cleared up for the rest of the trip, and Blast, MacGyver, and I wound up staying an extra day, both to get rid of all the food and to stay in the mountains a little longer. It involved a ten-minute trip down the road for me to change a Monday appointment with Comcast, but staying the extra day was worth that to me. (Even if they’re now not coming over until Friday and the intermittent Internet problems have gotten worse. But that’s another story.)

On Sunday evening Blast, MacGyver, and I corrected the fact that we were on the trail and hadn’t hiked any of it, so we hiked a mile or two up the mountain, taking in the view before getting to a campground. One of the hikers we met was camped there, so we stopped and chatted with him for awhile before heading back down.

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Another idea that came out of the weekend: a hiker version of Cards Against Humanity. Black cards like “How am I upholding my trail reputation?” and white cards like “Pink blazing” and “23 hikers in a U-Haul”. There would also be a PCT conversion kit, like the Canadian conversion kit for the regular game. This is going to happen.

But now I’m home, showered, and enjoying flush toilets and running water again. (Not enjoying my intermittent Internet connection, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Sarah, Jetta the black lab, Astro, Soup, Daniel, Hans, B Hiker, and everyone else we met this weekend (sorry, I’m bad at learning lots of names at once), meeting you was a lot fo fun and I hope your thru-hike is everything you wanted to get out of the experience. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to join your ranks in a few years.

What I’m Reading, January-February 2016

Ever since I took the writing hiatus in February, I’ve been spending a lot of that time reading. In particular, I’ve been continuing my quest to finish the Baby-Sitters Club books (mostly in between reading Shakespeare scenes, let’s be honest), and I’m now at the point of reading a book a day on average so far in 2016. I probably can’t keep that up for much longer, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?

Never. Onward to the reviews!

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I read her first book and enjoyed it. I listened to this book, and to be honest, I didn’t like it as much. Enough of the humor felt forced and well, not funny, which made me think “Okay, we get it” on a regular basis while listening to the book. Considering how funny her last book was, this one didn’t hold up as well. (3 out of 5 meetings with the president)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: You’d think the biography of someone who lived over 200 years ago and didn’t get much recognition over the years would be a boring read. You would be oh so wrong. This biography was very well done, and I found myself talking about Hamilton’s life (and okay, the musical and the differences between the two) almost nonstop to anyone who would listen. (Seriously, ask pretty much anyone who has had to talk to me over the past couple of weeks.) The best part? The author has written a George Washington biography that has found its way to my to-read list. (5 out of 5 Federalist papers)

Fairest by Marissa Meyer: This is a short novel that tells the story of Queen Levana and how she came to be the evil queen, and it made me feel for Levana as more than the evil queen. The book also provides some insight into some of the unanswered questions of the Lunar Chronicles universe. I only wish this book had been longer, as there were so many instances where I wanted to know more, whether from a particular scene or about what happened in those time lapses. (4 out of 5 glamours)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova: Feelings. So many feelings. This book shows the decline of a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 50. The entire book is told from her point of view, showing what’s going on in Alice’s head the entire time, and it’s hard to read sometimes. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I had to set the book down regularly to calm down because the intensity of what was going on in Alice’s brain was too much to handle. (5 out of 5 memory lapses)

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick: I’ll be honest, I mostly read (okay, listened to) this book because my library’s ebook system recommended it. Honestly, I would have liked this book a lot more if the narrator/author weren’t such an asshole. It didn’t help that every time he referred to a woman in the book, he referred to her as a girl. Ugh. Learning about phone phreaking and early hacking techniques was interesting, yes, but it didn’t get around the fact that the narrator’s real talent was in manipulating others and being proud of it, even if just for the lulz. (3 out of 5 phone hacks)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown: I was not a fan of this book. While a lot of the book was written for people in the workplace who are struggling from doing too much, some of the stuff applies to one’s personal life. Thta doesn’t excuse repeating a lot of the same points ovre and over and dividing everyone into essentialists and non-essentialists, as if essentialism is the one true way. Your point. You made it. (2 out of 5 ways to say no)

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll: I did not like this book. The main character has what seems like a perfect life working at a NYC magazine, but she’s hiding a secret from her past, which gets revealed as someone from that past comes into her present life. The story alternates between the present and the past. Fine premise, but the characters were annoying (especially the main character and her coworkers), and the writing was stunted and awkward throughout almost the entire book. The book could have used another round or two of edits, and combined with the annoying characters, its only saving grace was that it was short. (2 out of 5 first world problems)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) : This is another Cormoran Strike novel. While there are some slow parts and lots and lots of talking, a lot of those scenes gave us insight into Strike’s and Robin’s pasts in this novel, which helps flesh them out as people and not just for plot advancement. And that cliffhanger at the end! (4 out of 5 severed body parts)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I got about 80 pages into this book before giving up on it. The premise sounds interesting: following some art camp kids throughout their adult lives. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters in what little I did read, and nothing really happened in those eighty pages. Well, that’s a partial lie. A couple of things did happen, but the characters were so distant that I couldn’t relate to them at all, nor could the author’s writing keep me wanting more. (did not finish, unrated)

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland: I listened to this book, and If you’re looking for a guide to implementing scrum, this book isn’t for you. There’s a little bit in the appendix about implementing scrum, but this book by one of the scrum founders isn’t a full-on guide. If you want to learn about the value of embracing smart and achievable goals that you can even apply to your everyday life (especially with to-do, doing, and done lists), then this is a good book to get you started. (4 out of 5 to-do lists)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Truth be told, besides the premise (which even then reminds me of things like Hunger Games), nothing really made this book stand out. The main character is an assassin who has been working in the salt mines, and then she gets to compete against a bunch of men for her freedom. The writing was awkward and unclear at times, the characters were boring and whiny, and of course there’s a freaking love triangle. That said, the book did keep me reading until the end, so I’ll give it credit for that. (3 out of 5 tests)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Ove is your typical grumpy older man whose life gets turned upside down when new neighbors move in. While his grumpiness is overemphasized in the beginning, he doesn’t stay that grumpy for the whole book, plus you learn a lot about Ove’s past and why he’s so grumpy in the first place. Beautiful story that has me wanting more from this author. (4 out of 5 interruptions)

Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano: I listened to this book, which offers ideas (and pure speculation on the last chapter or two, although the author does acknowledge this) on why our brains, as complex as they are, can’t deal with numbers or memorization all that well. The author explains these ideas from a biological basis, so if you’re looking for a cultural perspective, you’re bound to be disappointed. With that in mind, though, the author makes his points well while not going too far astray. (4 out of 5 brain bugs)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I listened to this book, and damn. Sometimes that’s all I have to say about a book because it’s so well done. This book is written as a letter to Coates’s teenage son and discusses race (particularly being black) with historical context. Go read this. (5 out of 5 letters)

Richard III by William Shakespeare: I read this book for my library’s book club, marking the first time I’ve read Shakespeare in four or five years. I did appreciate this book a lot more after the book club, which was filled with a bunch of Shakespeare scholars. While the metaphors in this book were particularly well-done and the portrayal of Richard as a jerk was spot-on, there wasn’t much else that stood out about this book. (3 out of 5 kings)

Up next? Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, and after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll start reading through my stack of to-be-read books.

Stay tuned: my writing hiatus is almost up, and that means I’ll have actual content to post here.

Taking a break from writing

I’ve discussed feeling less into writing than I have in years past, and the idea of taking a break has come up over and over again, both in the comments of that post and in reply to tweeting about these feelings this morning.

So this is it. For the month of February, I’m taking a break from writing.

What I can write:

  • anything for work, because I like acquiring currency
  • my paper journal, since that’s how I vent and generally feel better about life
  • book reviews, so I don’t forget about the book by the end of the month
  • Wikiwrimo, just in case I get the hankering

Anything else is a no-go, which includes fiction and this blog. Any posts you see from me in February were written last month, so this blog won’t be totally neglected. And yes, I can jot down ideas that come to mind so I don’t forget them before March. I just can’t start writing those things until March arrives.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I can hear my brain saying. “You haven’t been writing any fiction since November, anyway, so the only thing you’re really cutting out is the blogging.”

Well, yes. You’re right, brain. But the point of this exercise is to forgive myself for not doing these writing things. I find myself feeling guilty when I’m not writing or editing a work of fiction, even if it’s not what I want to do right then. It’s time to let those feelings go.

Besides, doing something is much more exciting when it’s not allowed.

What will I do instead of writing? That’s such a good question that I don’t have an answer to it yet. I guess we’ll find out.

See you in March, writing.

How to make friends as an adult

I’ve never been the best at making friends, even as a kid or college student when I was around people all the time and ran into people spontaneously and regularly. I was always the perosn on the fringe of several friend groups, the person who knew almost everyone but had few true friends, people I would hang out with regularly outside of school and go spend the night with and invite to birthday parties. I had very few of those friends before high school, and most of my high school friends were older than me. No wonder I started taking college classes early.

After high school and college, the spontaneous and regular interactions happen far less often. Unless you’re in some kind of program that keeps its communities in tight-knit groups, making friends after school is a challenge.

I’m not alone in feeling this way, something I discovered when asking Twitter and Facebook how to make friends as an adult. One of the most popular responses (even though I explicitly asked for places outside of work — after all, I work remotely and don’t have many coworkers to speak of) was through work. This doesn’t surprise me. It’s a similar situation to being in school: you’re around a lot of the same people for eight hours a day with opportunities to chat and get to know each other.

Some of the other responses, for the curious:

  • Meetups for whatever you’re interested in. Some of the things suggested to me include board game groups, writing groups, book clubs, runs coordinated by running stores… and the list goes on.
  • NaNoWriMo events (so basically how I’ve met almost every current friend of mine)
  • Church. Doesn’t work so well for me since I’m not religious, but it definitely fits the regular interaction bill for those who are.
  • Volunteering. I enjoy volunteering at events, mostly because it means people can approach me instead of the other way around. And I can usually give them answers!
  • Going to concerts and other performances. I’ve seen some of the same people at shows and am still in touch with a few show folks.
  • Community theatre and improv. I’ve been wanting to take an improv class for awhile. This may have to happen.

One thing I’m surprised weren’t mentioned, not even once: conventions and conferences. I suppose this falls under meetups, but in my experience conventions are a different beast from a regular one-evening meetup.

My problem isn’t with meeting people. Once I convince myself to get dressed and leave the house (a challenge during the winter months like now) I can go to meetups and board game groups and NaNoWriMo events and volunteer at shindigs all I want. I can make casual conversation and only come off as a partial weirdo.

My problem is with reaching out to those people and making other plans and starting to extend our friendship. Heck, I still find it hard to initiate plans with existing friends, and I’ve already gone through the effort to become good frinds with them. This is more anxiety at work than anything else in situations like these.

So once I’ve met those people… then what?

What I’m Reading, December 2015-January 2016

I definitely exceeded my original goal of reading sixty books in 2015. So much, in fact, that another BSC book binge put me at 202 books read in 2015.

Now we’re several weeks into 2016, and my goal for the year is to read 250 books. I’m counting the remaining 150 BSC books as part of the big yearly goal so I can finish the series this year.

I’m not going to review each BSC book because let’s be honest: a lot of those plots are ridiculous, especially as the series goes on. But I will mention my progress in these review posts so you can know how far along I am (and maybe read along with me? A Sushi can dream). Current status: 80 BSC books (including mysteries and super specials), 66 Little Sister books, 146 total remaining.

Here goes!

Mosquitoland by David Arnold: I went to his PG-13 panel at the Decatur Book Festival this year, which prompted me to check out his book. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and it’s pretty good. Mim’s bus trip gone terribly wrong leads to an adventure featuring interesting characters and a plot with a clear objective (or Objective, as Mim puts it). The characters and plot work well together, and while there were a few things that didn’t make sense, I enjoyed this book and would read more from this author. (4 out of 5 tubes of lipstick)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell: I wasn’t a big fan of Blink but decided to try this book out for some reason. There’s one thing Gladwell doesn’t seem to get: correlation is not causation. He seeks out only the stories that fit his hypothesis while ignoring the ones that don’t. My reactions ranged from “Well, duh” to “Have you considered doing more than cherrypicking stories?” I know he’s not a psychologist, despite his books dealing with some psychological concepts, but ergh. (3 out of 5 opportunities at the right time)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: I wanted to like this book. I really did. Come on, the main character is half Korean like me! But the entire plot felt contrived and some things just did not make sense at all. That said, I did like Lara Jean’s close relationship with her father and sisters. That’s not something you see a lot of in contemporary YA, and those relationships are portrayed well. (3 out of 5 love letters)

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher: This is the third book in the Dresden Files series, around the point where my friends told me the books really start getting good, and it didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading almost the entire book on Christmas Eve, sitting on the porch of my brother’s house and enjoying the weirdly warm weather, and kept telling myself “One more chapter…” and wanting to know what happened next. Solid read, and I’m now more motivated to read through this series faster. (4 out of 5 ghosts)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Wow. This book got off to a slow start, but the prose is so gorram beautiful that I didn’t mind. Teenage me used to write lots of blog entries and journal entries based on book quotes, and if this book were around back then, it probably would have been a favorite of mine. I’ll probably have to go back to my teenage roots of using book lines to inspire my writing. If you’re a contemporary YA fan, you owe it to yourself to read this book. (5 out of 5 sand sculptures)

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg: I tried so hard to like this book. The magic system of folding paper was fascinating, but I found the story itself to be lacking. The main character wasn’t very interesting, and the plot itself was simple but confusing at times, not to mention a lot of the plot elements weren’t believable. I hear the rest of the trilogy is better, but I’ll pass. (2 out of 5 folds)

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio: I really enjoyed this book. The story of a teenage girl discovering that she’s intersex could have gone terribly. The author tells the story well, with realistic characters that made me actually feel for some of the people in the popular crowd the main character hangs out with. (Can you tell I wasn’t popular?) I’m glad this and other GLBTQI+ stories exist because they not only help people find themselves in fiction, but they also expose everyone to stories that aren’t our own, showing that human experiences are wider than we can ever experience. (4 out of 5 checkboxes)

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris: I wanted to like this essay collection (or as the book itself says, Essays, Etc.). Sedaris is a talented and funny author, but this collection falls short. While some of the stories were right on point and I loved a few of them, some of the others fell flat. The random bits of stuff at the end of the book didn’t add much to the overall collection, either, and neither did the last couple of essays. This is my biggest mixed feeling about essay collections in general: the essays didn’t really have anything tying them together. (3 out of 5 owls)

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan: I listened to this book, and let me tell you, I love food. This should be unsurprising since I go by a food name. Anyway. This book was moderately funny, but not as funny as I expected considering it was written by a comedian. While some of the observations were spot-on (cakes are for happy occasions, pies are for funerals, for instance), a lot of the book was just making the same point over and over. And while I’m sure the fast food obsession is slightly exaggerated, it got old after awhile. (3 out of 5 cheeseburgers)

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley: I wanted to like this book because come on: code breaking a story in 18th century France. That’s my jam. But in the end, not much really happened. The story alternates between an amateur codebreaker in modern-day France and an 18th century young woman, and half of the modern day stuff consisted of summarizing what happened in the diary that the main character is deciphering. The story took forever to get going, and by the time things did start happening, I had already lost a lot of interest. Honestly, I would read a whole book on the modern day characters without the diary aspect of the story, but all the going back and forth with the name changes in the historical parts were confusing and dull. (2 out of 5 ciphers)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: Don is a genetics professor with many Asperger’s traits, and he’s on the hunt for the perfect wife. Rosie is on the hunt for her real father and hopes Don can help. While this story definitely isn’t perfect, I did find myself simultaneously laughing and groaning at some of Don’s actions (especially with his attempts at romance). Despite figurative facepalming at some of Don’s thought processes, I still enjoyed reading this story and have made a note to check out the second book in the series at some point. (4 out of 5 DNA samples)

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman: First, no, I haven’t watched the TV show. But this book still grabbed my interest, and I found myself listening to the book when looking for something to occupy my time while showering or doing chores or running or whatever else I do where I can listen at the same time. The audiobook was well done, from day one to the final release, and I particularly getting to know the other characters and their stories. Even though there’s a some whinging on how a “girl like her” (code for white, educated, middle-class, strong support network) could wind up in prison, the book was overall well written with cohesive storylines and yes, some humor. (4 out of 5 months in prison)

What’s next? I’m in the process of finishing the last 200 pages of Alexander Hamilton (Yes, the biography that inspired the musical) and listening to the last hour or so of Why Not Me?. After that, all those holds I suspended while tackling the 800-page biography will start to come in. Who knows what I’ll read next?