What I’m Reading, May 2017

May was a relatively light month for reading, a term used loosely since I still read ten books. I don’t even have NaNo or Camp NaNo to blame for this; I’ve just been concentrating on other things this month and trying to make better use of my time. (She says while checking her phone for Magikarp Jump training points.) Here goes!

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: I wanted to like this book. (This is becoming a theme lately, isn’t it?) The truth is, I loved the last 20% of the book, but reading the first 80% to get there was a huge, confusing drag with not much actually getting resolved in the end. I might read the next book or two, but I won’t actively seek them out. (3 out of 5 security badges)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: I listened to this book, an overview of humanity from our pre-Homo Sapiens days to how humans developed things like agriculture, currency, science, and empires. The book also goes beyond humanity on to what we could do with all the things we’ve created. Could we wipe ourselves out? Could we become immortal (or amortal, as the author puts it–that is, immortality barring things like catastrophic accidents)? Can we become cyborgs? There are some parts that could have been less Eurocentric, but overall this was a good read. (4 out of 5 humans)

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Oh man. I stayed up past my bedtime to zoom through the end of this book. I’ve read and loved Flynn’s other two books, and this one was no exception. The characters popped right off the page, fascinating as ever, from the main narrator Libby Day to her brother who was serving a prison sentence for murdering his mother and two of his sisters (minus Libby). The pieces of the mystery came together beautifully and gave depth to the story. And the writing, oh the writing, the way Flynn really gets the reader inside the characters’ heads. The only thing I have to add is that the inside of Flynn’s head must be a really disturbing place. (5 out of 5 murders)

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins: I listened to this book. I like memoirs and love languages (not too surprising, considered French was one of my college majors), so this book seemed like a natural read. Personally, I found the discussion of the history of language and culture way more interesting than the author’s own experiences with her life in French. The books switches back and forth between the two, with her own stories wandering away from the point frequently to the point where I often found myself wondering if some of the later stories had a point. Still, this book left me wanting to get back into French and linguistics, which is never a bad thing. (3 out of 5 translations)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: This is the final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, and it is great. As usual with Schwab’s writing, the tension starts at 10 and works its way up even further, the characters change and grow so much throughout the course of the book, and of course the writing itself gives me something to aspire to. This was a wonderful conclusion to an already-great series, and if you haven’t read them already, you need to. (4 out of 5 Inheritors)

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer: I listened to this book. The late 19th and early 20th century are one of my huge gaps in US history, in part because that part of my AP history course consisted of me being out on frequent field trips and extracurricular outings. This book helped to fill some of those gaps with the familiar (and unfamiliar) figures while not being too dry. Even though this book was a little hard to listen to at times thanks to all the characters and events, it was still overall well-done, and I got a lot out of it. (4 out of 5 imperialists)

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel: I listened to this book, which tells the story of a man who lived in the woods of Maine without interacting with anyone for over twenty years, not even to let his family know he was still alive. The author does a good job of capturing the story and the character of hermit Chris Knight, who faced a lot of challenges in order to live the way he did. These challenges led some people to become skeptical. How’d he live out in the woods so long without suffering much from the consequences of Maine winters? Or without getting sick or suffering major injury? Spoiler: in the end, it was theft from the cabins in the area that ended his adventure. (4 out of 5 cold nights)

The Shining by Stephen King: I read this book because I apparently own the sequel. This is my second King novel, and I just couldn’t get into it. The writing is good, but there’s not enough going on in the first half of the book and too many flashbacks, making the last quarter of the book come out of nowhere. Still, this is early classic King, so maybe I’ll like the sequel better. (3 out of 5 bad feelings)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: I listened to this book, which tells multiple stories at once. There’s the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells would eventually become the HeLa cell line used by many scientists today. There’s also the story of Lacks’s family left behind after her death, particularly her daughter, who bonded with the author over the time when this book was written. And then there’s the story of the cells themselves, from the Guy lab to the questions posed by informed consent and profiting from cells and other body matter. The book takes on a lot but does it well, weaving the stories together so there’s not too much to take in at once, even in the science chapters. (4 out of 5 cell lines)

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis: I read this book for my library’s book club and finished it fifteen minutes before the meeting started. (Good thing I live five minutes away, right?) I’m still not sure what to make of it. The book plays with a lot of ideas: free will, alternate history, robots, servitude… it sounded like something I would love. But while the last quarter of the book flew by, I still had to slog through the first 300 pages with really dense writing and slow storytelling. This may have something to do with the fact that I was reading this book a chapter at a time instead of zooming through the book, but even then, reading it chapter by chapter was a slow process. This book is the first of a completed trilogy, and thanks to the end I’m interested enough to pick up the rest of the books… just not in a huge hurry since my to-read list with deadlines is haunting me. (3 out of 5 clackers)

What’s next? I started listening to Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till today. I also plan to start reading The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz tomorrow or the next day so I can count it for the library’s summer reading challenge and because it’s due back at the library in a week. Let’s get on that, self.

Wikiwrimo’s Regional Directory Challenges

I founded Wikiwrimo almost seven years ago when all I had going for me was some spare time on my hands. A year or two in, I introduced the regional directory as a way to keep track of regional histories, from MLs to stats. While Wikiwrimo’s contributors and I have gathered a lot of information on 600+ NaNo regions, there’s still a long way to go on a project that may never be complete. There’s only so much one person can add to Wikiwrimo about regional histories and cultures; that’s why one of the biggest things you can do for Wikiwrimo is write a little bit about your region, especially if you’re not in my region.

Chances are good that I am the only person outside of NaNo HQ interested in such minutiae of maintaining this directory, so writing all this information down is mostly for me to outline all the challenges bouncing around inside my head while figuring out next steps to take. But hey, maybe you’ll find it of interest too. Continue reading

Creating My Own Social Life

I’ve previously discussed how hard it is to make friends as an adult, and I’ve even asked the Internet for advice on making friends as an adult. Besides the usual “how?”, there are a couple of challenges in making friends as an adult: one, I have to get up, get dressed and leave the house, which can be hard to do when it’s cold outside and I might be walking to my destination. And two, some of these meetup groups are established groups where everyone knows each other, which is one of my major sources of social anxiety.

Let’s do something about this. I made a declaration on Twitter last month:

That’s roughly once every two weeks. I can manage that, right? That still gives me every other weekend to be lazy or do things that other people initiate.

So what counts? A social event meets the conditions of the declaration if it meets at least one of the following conditions:

  • I attend a meetup or event where social interaction is a primary focus. This can include (but is not limited to) meetups for anything from board games to science, group running events, and more. Going to events like festivals or concerts where social interaction is nice but not essential does not count unless the second condition is met. Howerer, I may make an exception if I find myself socializing with someone else at the event beyond small talk.
  • I invite them (and not the other way around) or attend alone. I added this condition because I am horrible at inviting people to do things with me. This is in part because I don’t have a car and many of my local friends live in the suburbs, so impromptu get-togethers are less likely to happen.

There’s a lot of room for what ifs and figuring out if something counts under these conditions. What if someone invites me to something I was going to go to anyway? What if I like a meetup group so much that it finds its way to my regular social calendar? What about NaNoWriMo events? I don’t have solid answers to the first two questions yet; if they come up, I’ll figure out an answer then. As for NaNo events and write-ins, I probably won’t count them, but that could change. Besides, I’m usually more social than usual during NaNo’s main event season. Funny how that works.

I’ve completed this challenge for April (and for March as well, come to think of it). Among other things, I invited a friend to an author event and chatted with people for awhile after a free yoga event. I’ve also attended social events where I didn’t do the inviting. As for May, I’m not sure what I’m going to yet, but there are a few game groups nearby I haven’t checked out yet and plenty of stuff happening in this city. I’ll figure out something.

Anyone else want in on this challenge?

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017: Aftermath

The first Camp NaNoWriMo session of 2017 is over, and I completed the challenge with 30 hours (1803 minutes).

This year I went with something completely different, even considering my past unusual projects for Camp. Planning, an unusual adventure to take considering I’m usually a pantser when it comes to writing. I discussed the reasoning behind my Camp project in a previous post, and all that reasoning still stands.

So how’d my planning turn out? I got a lot of planning and research and character development done during Camp NaNo, but none of these plans are complete. The Anxiety Girl novel still has a huge blank for the middle of the book because I decided to kill one character before the story starts (the main character’s grandmother, who died during the story in the first and second drafts) and decrease the role of another (the main character’s father). One major problem with this novel is that my main character isn’t well-formed enough for me to figure out what she really wants. She’s undecided about almost everything, doesn’t know what she wants in life, and is generally a passive person. This makes for a boring character and a boring book, something I’m still working to solve.

The other big project I did planning and research for is my parallel worlds novel that I’ve been dabbling in since 2010. I’ve been putting off the research and planning ever since finishing the second draft due to complications in figuring out parallel worlds and photography and the overall plot. But at some point I was just putting these things off with no good reason, so Camp NaNo gave me a chance to dig into this novel and figure out more of the science and story behind these parallel worlds.

Completing Camp NaNoWriMo with planning and tracking by hours was difficult in its own right. One thing I learned quickly was that sure, I can write 5,000 words in an hour if I’m pressed for time, but I can’t do an hour’s worth of work in 30 minutes. My goal averaged out to an hour a day over the course of the month, which I kept up with for the first week. But as the month went on, I fell behind. I was busy, I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer screen and think through a full hour of plotting and research, and sometimes those ideas just wouldn’t come. Sometimes I’d poke at character traits or plotlines and have no idea what to do with them. Other times I’d find myself switching between projects, trying to find some kind of plot hole I could fill in or some setting quirk to add. Falling behind meant playing catchup in the last week, often to the tune of planning for several hours at once over the last weekend.

But I did it, I won, and those novels are a lot closer to the third draft. Overall, I’m glad I embraced planning and research for Camp NaNo. I’m trying to keep the momentum going for as long as possible, although not necessarily at the rate I was working at during camp. That’s the only way these books will get written, after all.

What I’m Reading, April 2017

April feels like a light month of reading for me, but in reality I did most of my reading with my ears instead of my eyes. And boy, was there a lot of listening.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christoper McDougall: I listened to this book, which is one part stories of the Tarahumara (a tribe of distance runners), one part analyzing why we get running injuries and how to prevent them. As a runner nowhere near being able to run ultras (yet?), the stories of some of the toughest ultramarathons in the toughest locations in the world drew me in and occasionally made me want to start training for some of these ultras. The characters are memorable, and the stories are educational and entertaining. I just wish there were more about the science and culture of running through history. (4 out of 5 ultramarathons)

The Barefoot Executive: The Ultimate Guide for Being Your Own Boss and Achieving Financial Freedom by Carrie Wilkerson: I listened to this book, narrated by the author. Truth be told, this book just annoyed me. I got tired of hearing all about Wilkerson’s personal life without its applications to starting her own business. Look, I’m sure losing a hundred pounds and raising a special needs kid has its challenges, but without telling me what this has to do with starting a business, I can’t bring myself to care. There’s a little bit of practical advice in here, but most of it is buried under the same material over and over again, which is only made more annoying by the chipper sound of her voice talking about profits. (2 out of 5 profit margins)

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet: This book took over a week to read, and I’m not sure why; it’s not a thousand-page tome, and I enjoyed reading it. Maybe I was savoring the prose, the character studies, relating to being the first in the family to go to college, remembering what life was back in 1999 and 2000, even though I was in middle school, not college. It’s a powerful book, one that you might like if you like character studies as opposed to plot driving the story. (4 out of 5 new environments)

Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time by Bill McGowan: I listened to this book. I’m a wee bit awkward when it comes to conversation, so this book turned out to be really useful in picking out speech traits that I need to improve. Whether you’re giving a speech, an interview, or just trying to get away from that one person who won’t stop talking about their fungus, there’s something in this book to help out. Even better, most parts of the book can help you in other areas of communication, so don’t neglect a section just because it doesn’t sound relevant to you now. If you’re seriously looking to improve your speech and communication skills, I recommend buying a physical copy of the book so you can mark it up and refer back to specific parts as needed. I may do this myself. (4 out of 5 speech tips)

Northbounders: 2,186 Miles of Friendship by Karen Lord Rutter: My friend’s mom wrote this children’s book, a tale of hiking the Appalachian Trail from the dog’s perspective. Copper’s point of view is perfect for the voice of a children’s book, and seeing the hike through the dog’s eyes lends a (and okay, some explanation of what’s going on so Copper–and the reader–will know what’s happening). Since I’ve read my friend’s entire blog while he was hiking the trail, I was already familiar with a lot of the stories (and was there for the end). True to the style of a children’s book, there’s a summary at the end of each chapter (state) of what happened and main takeaways. Example: don’t mess with skunks. Sadly I wasn’t the first to rate and review on Goodreads. Alas. (5 out of 5 mountains)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: This is one of those books I somehow made it through childhood without reading. This book tells the story of an orphan girl who moves from Barbados to a stern Puritan community in Connecticut. She hates everything and only feels like herself in the meadow when she visits an older Quaker woman. Unfortunately her relatives don’t take well to this as that woman is seen as a witch to everyone else. I wish I had read this book as a kid, but I enjoyed it as an adult. This is a great example of a book that shows a children’s book can be just as well-written as adult lit. (4 out of 5 witches)

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker: I listened to this book, which tells a history of food and flavor and how the flavors of food have changed over the last 60 to 70 years. This has led to spices and other artificial flavors being added to foods, often adding more calories and making us crave more of that flavor. While his thesis is well-argued, his solution is not practical for many people. He suggests seeking out fresher, less processed foods. This problem isn’t unique to his book; most of the food books I’ve read have suggested this. Still, this is a good read with research I hadn’t heard before. And now I want to ask my dad about how food tasted when he was a kid compared to now. (4 out of 5 Doritos)

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Even though this book suffers from several things I hate in books–instantly falling in love, little coincidences everywhere–I still enjoyed this book. Why? The characters. I enjoyed getting to know Natasha and Daniel and exploring the little things that made them well… them. Their hopes, their dreams, their natures and how they take in the world. Since one of the novels I’m working on for Camp NaNoWriMo is more of a character story than a plot-driven tale, this book was a good one to read in order to study how characters can be fully explored. (4 out of 5 insta-loves)

Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime — from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by Brian Krebs: I listened to this book. While hearing about the spamlords and connecting some of the events to things I’ve heard about in the news was interesting, the book also had its dull parts. There was also a lot of information about Krebs’s personal life that I found kind of boring: his time on the Washington Post and all the not-so-juicy communication with the spamlords, among others. I can tell the author is a blogger; some of the content would have worked well as a blog post, but as a chapter in a book, not so much. If you’re interested in cybercrime history, you might like the informative parts of this book. (3 out of 5 spam messages)

The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey by Linda Greenlaw: I tried so hard to get into this book but just couldn’t. The prose itself wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel a connection to the author or the cast of characters, not to mention I cannot stand fishing. It takes a lot for me to abandon a book and it usually happens about once a year, but here we go. The 2017 abandoned book. (no rating)

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier: I listened to this book, and it is lovely. I already knew a little bit about big data and tracking before reading this book, but this book still added to my knowledge. More impressively, this book got technical without getting so technical that only security experts could get something out of this book. It’s well-written and engaging, and if you have even an inkling of interest in data and surveillance, you should read this. (5 out of 5 bits of data)

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller: I listened to this book, and ugh. I was ready to dismiss this book as some legitimate findings mixed in with some BS, but then it got worse. The authors claim that there are three attachment types in adult relationships: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Sounds okay so far, but the authors use the most exaggerated cases to show these types in action. The anxious types are exactly what you’d think of from a stereotypical clingy partner, the secure types don’t have any kind of worries at all in a relationship, and heaven help you if you’re an avoidant type because the way they’re characterized in this book reeks of emotionally abusive partner. There are a few good parts, such as the quizzes to help you figure out what type of partner you are, but otherwise, skip this book. Read something less exaggerated instead. (2 out of 5 potential partners)

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers: I listened to this book, which is a memoir of living with faceblindness and growing up in a really messed-up family. When the book began and Heather mentioned a family secret, I was expecting something much more lewd than what had actually happened, like maybe Heather’s husband was once married to her mother and she didn’t recognize him because of her faceblindness. (I’ve read too much fiction, I know.) But no, the actual secret was quite dull in comparison. The story didn’t flow too well, either, and there was a lot of jumping that was hard to follow while listening to the book. I learned a lot about faceblindness, but I wish the story were more about faceblindness or growing up in a messed-up family because the two combined didn’t mesh together all that well. (2 out of 5 unrecognizable faces)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This is the YA novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and… damn. I read this book in one sitting, stopping briefly about halfway through to heat up some soup for dinner and keep reading. This book is wonderful, the author is wonderful (seriously, I met her at an event here in Atlanta a month or so ago), and everything in this novel is just spot-on–the characters, the prose, the realness of the book, the significance of the events, everything. There were some parts that made me stop and think “Would that really happen?” but then realized that this was my privilege talking and yes, these things really do happen. Stop reading this review and go read the book for yourself. (5 out of 5 protests)

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman: I listened to this book, which is a tl;dr of a traditional MBA program. The author first makes the case that you don’t need an MBA to succeed in business. He has a point, although some people go into these programs for other reasons. What Kaufman does instead is give an overview of most of the business and psychology concepts you’d hear about in an MBA program. Since this book is a summary, there is much more breadth than depth, and Kaufman acknowledges this. But there’s enough material here to give you a taste of what you’re interested in, as well as resources to continue your studies in the area of your choice. (4 out of 5 business plans)

A Passage to Shambhala by Jon Baird and Kevin Costner: I read this book for my library’s monthly book club, and unfortunately this book was a bit of a dud. The book takes place during World War I and is told in alternating prose and graphic format. While the art was great, the alternating storytelling method made the story itself hard to follow. The characters were also hard to distinguish in the art since the images weren’t in full color, but this could be a personal quirk of mine instead of an actual complaint. Despite my worries that I’d be the only one at book club who disliked this book, everyone disliked it. Whew. (2 out of 5 WTF moments)

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: I wanted to like this book because hello, bookseller! Bookstore on a boat! In Paris! Main character going to find themselves! If there were math in this book, I’d say it were written for me. Jean Perdu is a bookseller who believes some books are remedies for what ail us, but he can’t seem to find a cure for his own ailments of the heart. After finally reading a letter from his lover who left him years ago, he heads south in order to make peace with his past. Good premise with interesting secondary characters, but the execution was disappointing and felt cobbled together and predictable. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the book was translated from German. If you like sweet predictable books, then you might like this. (3 out of 5 book barges)

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu: As I’m writing this review, I’m switching between this site, Twitter, IRC, email, Godville, and tracking a package out for delivery. This book delivers a compelling history of all the attention merchants trying to grab our attention, from commercial breaks to reality TV to Internet ads, and how we’ve been fighting back: adblockers, not paying attention, and the like. If you’ve ever wondered about how we’ve come to accept all these distractions in our lives, read this book. It’s a fascinating read. (4 out of 5 distractions)

What’s up next? I’m currently listening to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Strangely enough, I’m not reading a physical copy of anything and haven’t in several days due to being busy with other things. Time to change this.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017, Week One: Adventures in Planning

If you’ve been following along on Twitter, you may recall that my Camp NaNoWriMo project is planning for 60 minutes a day. To be specific, figuring out plot, character, and pacing for three of my past NaNoWriMo novels: the pumpkin novel, the parallel worlds novel, and the anxiety girl novel. (Surprisingly, the last one is the only one without a pending title.) I’ve been tracking my progress via minutes, which has turned out to be the most useful metric for this type of project–tracking words is nearly impossible, and tracking hours makes it hard to track partial hours. Tracking minutes has also been useful since most of my progress has happened in chunks of less than an hour, usually in sessions of fifteen to thirty minutes.

Why planning? I hate planning. I’ve always been that kid who wrote the first draft of a paper, then outlined it whenever a professor asked for an outline. I’ve tried planning for novels before, trying to figure out scenes and key events in a story, but this usually results in me staring at the paper or the screen and saying “I could stare at this paper and figure it out or I could just write the freaking thing.” Or “Who cares what color the character’s eyes are? There are too many options? How can I choose just one? Can’t I just write the thing and figure it out that way?” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which route I’d take instead.

So I avoided the planning process. Even the times I attempted to plan something, I’d quit a few minutes later and never come back. And then I’d go right back into pantsing my way through a new first draft (or the occasional second) out of a vague concept, even if it’s like pulling teeth at times. (But then again, what act of creation doesn’t involve some teeth-pulling at some point?) This method isn’t a bad one in itself; for me, it works great for the first draft, and occasionally for the second, provided I reread the first draft before attempting a second draft. But since I base the second draft off my first draft, both of them are still disorganized messes that require lots of time, attention, and focus to turn those messes into something less messy.

Therein lies my problem. I now have at least three past NaNo novels that I’d like to see developed further. I’ve completed first and second drafts for all three of them (and an adapted screenplay for one of them, RIP Script Frenzy). But since I took the same approach to both of those novels, I wound up with two messes. Messes with some salvageable gems, sure, but messes all the same. If I’m going to continue working on these novels, I need to take a serious look at what I’m doing so I don’t screw up the next version as much. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for camp: figure out characters, events, pacing, and everything else a novel needs so I can write a third draft that I can use as a base for editing.

Most of my time so far has been spent on the anxiety girl novel. This isn’t surprising since I worked on this novel most recently of the three (2015 and 2016 NaNoWriMo). I did switch over to working on the other two projects a few days ago after getting stuck on planning for Anxiety Girl, but the next day I went right back to that novel with more inspiration than ever. On Wednesday night I found myself still full of ideas after half an hour but knew I needed to go to bed if I was going to get a reasonable amount of sleep that night. Alas.

Those flashes of inspiration are finally coming back. I remember that joy: the joy of coming up with an idea and furiously searching for some way to scribble it down. The small notebooks with the occasional page of novel concepts and character ideas. I used to have these flashes of inspiration for past novels, but for some reason they stopped. I don’t know what happened, but over the last few years, I rarely found myself getting excited over ideas and scribbling them down. Maybe it’s because I’ve been concentrating so hard on word count for the last two or three years. I don’t know.

But I do know some of that joy in writing is starting to come back. And I can only hope that it’s ready to hang out for awhile.

Coming later this month: things I’m good at when planning and things I need to work on

What I’m Reading, March 2017

Here we are again, the end of another month, the beginning of another book review post. I’ve read 50 out of 100 books for this year, including one reread for book club. I may have a book problem.

Since Camp NaNoWriMo starts here in five minutes and I may actually be awake for a midnight start, I’m just gonna stop blabbing and let the reviews stand for themselves. Let’s go.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris: I listened to this book. As much as the atheist part of me wanted to like this book, I couldn’t take it seriously. Harris seems to be much more against Islam than the other Abrahamic religions, to the point where this stance got in the way of his arguments’ strength. The book got a little weird toward the end, the last couple of chapters consisting of some useful tenants of various Eastern religions, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the book at all. If you’re interested in the topic or the author, I recommend his Letter to a Christian Nation, which was written in response to this book: it’s shorter and written better. (3 out of 5 nonsensical beliefs)

Hidden Harmonies: The Lives and Times of the Pythagorean Theorem by Robert Kaplan & Ellen Kaplan: I wanted to like this book. I really did. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the book I did like, especially the parts that go on to develop aspects of the Pythagorean Theorem that I didn’t already know about. My main complaint is that the book was kind of all over the place; one chapter would be accessible to non-mathematical readers, while the next one might be hard to follow even for someone with a lot of math knowledge. This mathematical whiplash made the book hard to follow the overall theme underlying the book despite having seen a lot of the material before. I’d love to see the first half or the second half developed into its own book, but the two halves together made for the mathematical content escalating really quickly. (3 out of 5 proofs)

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: I loved Nelson’s other book (I’ll Give You the Sun), and while I enjoyed this one as well, it didn’t hit me in the feelings quite as hard. This book leads us through Lennie’s life after the sudden death of her older sister, including a (dun dun dunnnn) love triangle. Despite the love triangle, the characters are delightfully quirky, the teens actually act like teens, and there are so many elements of the story that fit together well. Well worth the read. (4 out of 5 poems)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson: I listened to this book. It didn’t win me over at first due to sounding like a tough guy version of a self-help book, but I’m glad I kept listening. Beneath the “uh, no shit” advice, there are also nuggets of advice in the book that made me rethink a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately, like my pursuit of more and how we tend to care about the wrong things. Despite the title, the book isn’t about how not to care, but how to care about the things worth caring about. While some of the content isn’t universally applicable, there’s something in here for anyone who cares to look a little deeper. (4 out of 5 fucks not given)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab: Yes, I’m finally reading this series. And yes, I intentionally delayed starting the books until the last one came out just so I wouldn’t have to wait a year for the last book. That said, I really liked this book. The characters and worldbuilding (parallel magical Londons!) are complex and immersive, while the prose itself is beautiful. There are a few slow parts, especially before the main characters Kell and Lila meet, but still, I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book. (4 out of 5 black stones)

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: I listened to this book. I grew up in the backwoods of the southeastern US, which made this book a particularly enlightening read. While this book surveys the history instead of going indepth about any particular aspect of the history, it still does a great job at summarizing the history of white trash stereotypes in America. That said, I would have loved to hear more about white trash perspectives from the people actually living this life, as opposed to the elites who appealed to poor whites for one reason or another. All in all, worth picking up to read (or listen, even if it is fifteen hours long). (5 out of 5 country hicks)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance: I listened to this book, coincidentally right after finishing White Trash above. I could see a lot of my own family in his tales; even though my family never went through some of the most extreme horrors that his did. While this book is touted as part memoir, part social and historical analysis, it’s definitely much more of a memoir than an analysis. But it’s an interesting one, with things that I hadn’t realized in my own life before (I remember figuring out financial aid forms and some of the quirks of the higher classes and not even considering some of the more prestigious colleges, just like Vance did). I have to say, this book would be a lot less interesting without Mamaw in it. (4 out of 5 hillbillies)

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach: This is the first Mary Roach book I’ve read, and it wasn’t that bad. This book takes you through the weird curiosities of the digestive system, from your mouth to your rectum. On the way, Mary Roach tells stories about topics such as smell affecting our taste, sampling pet food, smuggling items in the butt, and dying of constipation. While the first half of the book dragged a little bit, the second half, featuring the lower section of the digestive system, more than made up for it. I wish this whole book were about butts. (See also: things I never thought I’d write in a book review.) Roach also manages to tell all these tales with a sense of humor that indulges all of our inner twelve-year-olds. Worth a read if you’re interested in pop science or physiology. (4 out of 5 uncoated kibbles)

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal: I listened to this book. While a lot of this book consisted of telling stories about animals and their intelligence, there’s some analysis as well that more knowledgeable (or just curious) people would enjoy. I probably would have gotten more out of this book if I had read instead of listened to it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the analysis of these experiments: for instance, that we frequently judge animal intelligence on human intelligence. If you have little knowledge of animal intelligence, you might like this book. (4 out of 5 animal tests)

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: This book is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, and it’s just as good. Four months after the events of ADSOM, Kell and Lila haven’t seen each other and excitement is afoot for the Element Games. Think Triwizard Tournament, but with more competitors and actual battling. Everything I said about the first book still stands. Now time to get my hands on the third book. (4 out of 5 elements)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I read this book for my library’s book club. This is a rare reread for me, but since I read it for a women’s studies class in college ten years ago, there’s still plenty of material that I forgot about and got to re-experience just like a first read. Offred’s story as a handmaid (a young woman capable of reproduction) in what used to be the Boston area shines some light on what an extreme religious world could look like. Some of the things that could lead to such a world are already happening–permission for abortions, laws trying to outlaw abortion beyond a certain point, waiting periods, conservative Christians trying to push their morality on everyone else. I still love this book, even if the timeline is a little confusing at times. That just adds to the tale, though. (5 out of 5 handmaids)

All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera: I listened to this book, which traces the story of the 2007 real estate crisis. The authors go back thirty years to explore events big and small and the consequences of those things. There’s a large cast of characters in this book: CEOs with idealistic dreams who eventually succumb to the profits in subprime lending, government staff who ignore the lending market, executives jealous of the success of competitors and wanting in on the fun. Overall, this is a good survey of what caused the financial crisis. Pick it up if you’re even a little bit interested in the topic. (4 out of 5 subprime loans)

Watership Down by Richard Adams: I know a few folks who label this book as one of their all-time favorites, but I couldn’t get into it. Sure, the rabbits and their adventures were cute, the prose itself was good, and I grew to like Hazel and Bigwig in particular. Overall, though, I couldn’t find myself really wanting to know what happened next. This book would have been a lot easier to read in hard copy, where I could flip back and forth to remember what a Thlayli was, as I kept thinking this was the name of a new character. Still, I’m glad I read this book, as it had been on my to-read list for years. (3 out of 5 rabbits)

Armada by Ernest Cline: I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Ready Player One, but in the end I just couldn’t. The voice of protagonist Zack Lightman, a high school senior and world-class gamer who has to save the world from aliens, is spot on. The plot itself is interesting, just very rushed. This book would have benefited from better pacing (way better pacing), a more cohesive plot, more background, and way more character development. If you’re new to Ernest Cline, read RPO first, then set those expectations aside for this book. (3 out of 5 alien invasions)

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff: I listened to this book. Or rather, I’m still listening to this book because I have about twenty minutes left in it, but I doubt my opinion will change with those last few minutes. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a self-help book designed to help you make the most out of your career. Sure, a lot of the advice is obvious (Show up to work? Who would have guessed?), but his advice breaks down to four things to build: people you know, skills, grit, and hustle. There are also exercises throughout the book to make the most of each of these. I admit I didn’t do these exercises due to listening to the book. If you know absolutely nothing about building a career, then sure, read this and do something about it. (3 out of 5 career jumps)

Where is home? What is a hometown?

I have a complicated relationship with the word “home”.

The idea of home is ingrained in our society. Sayings like “Home is where the heart is” and “Make yourself at home” and “Home sweet home” have wormed their way into our culture, all of them bringing both the idea of home and the search for a home closer to us.

It’s easy to say that the place where you live is home. While this is an accurate meaning of the word “home”, the word means so much more than that. There’s a cultural significance to claiming a place as home, as claiming a place as home means claiming that place as part of yourself: past, present, or future.

The question “Where are you from?” is a loaded one for me, as it can mean different things in different contexts. When surrounded by people who don’t live in the same geographic area as me, the question “Where are you from?” often means “Where do you currently live?” To which I easily reply with where I currently live. Easy peasy. No real issues there.

But sometimes “Where are you from?” can mean “Where were you born and raised?” To which I begin my answer with “I grew up in”, careful not to say I am from that small town that almost all of my immediate family still calls home, because doing so would show that I still claim a connection to the town of my childhood, a connection that isn’t there, never was there.

Being biracial, the question can also mean “Where are your ancestors from?” or “What is your race, because you don’t look like a typical white person?” I’ve taken to answering this question with “Atlanta” or “Here” if I’m already in the city, just to be a smart aleck, especially if I’m not in the mood for further conversation. It’s true: I am from here. Besides having a Korean parent, I can’t claim much connection to being Korean or being from there. I don’t speak a word of the language. I’ve never been to Korea. I was raised with completely Western attitudes toward life and culture. Truth be told, the only Korean in me is biological. I’m from Korea in the same sense that French fries are from France.

My mom frequently asks me when I’m coming home when we talk on the phone, and truth be told, I never have a good answer for her–both for the “when” part and the “home” part. I’ve mentioned this before, even though I know exactly what she means: when am I going to make the trip up to visit her and my dad and brother. And truth be told, I’ve told Mom this before. I’ve never felt like I was from the town I grew up in. The small town, where almost everyone lives and thinks the same, was never a place where I truly belonged. It was a place that did the opposite: made me feel like I stood out for being different, made me want to get out of there at the first opportunity. The town of my childhood never provided that.

Home is supposed to be the place where you belong, where you feel perfectly comfortable being yourself. The town I grew up in has never been that place for me. Discovering a community where I truly belong has provided more of that home feeling than my childhood town ever has. Home may not be wherever I’m with you (whoever you may be), but for me, home is more of a feeling than anything else.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Political What Ifs

The problem with being a writer and reading a lot of dystopian fiction is that I keep thinking of what would happen if some of those tropes were applied to current events, particularly in the United States. There are the serious what ifs that echo history; I think you know what I’m referring to here. But then there are the sillier, tropier ones.

This tweet sums it up:

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with. And if you ever write these things, let me know, but not right now. Reality is depressing enough as it is.

What if the hero of the story is some poor intern at the National Park Service? Her love interest would be an Environmental Protection Agency intern, and they would bond over nature and science. When they both get demoted (yes, demoted) at their internships, they get together and plot the fall of the government from within.

What if the hero has been an activist for awhile and then, just as the orange man is about to take the oath of office, jumps in and interrupts the oath? This and the resulting chaos mean the president never takes the oath of office. Then what?

What if there’s a parallel universe where Clinton is president and David Bowie and Prince and Carrie Fisher and all the other awesome celebrities who died last year are partying it up? And what if these universes are connected somehow? Instead of seeking refuge in another country, people would seek refuge in another universe. (This is going to be one of the universes in my parallel world novel. It has been decided.)

What if someone freed Melania by crawling into the exhaust pipes in Trump Tower? Or what if Barron went exploring in them?

What if humanity managed to colonize another planet and the rest of the world went there, leaving Murica to burn?

What if there’s a White House love triangle going on? Mango Man/Bannon/Spicer, anyone?

What if the zombie apocalypse happened? How would that affect how government agencies communicate? (Come on, you knew this was coming.)

What if we have to destroy all of the orange man’s horcruxes before the presidency ends? (Come on, you knew this was coming too.)

Camp NaNoWriMo approacheth

March has arrived, bringing with it pleasant weather, Pi Day, and the countdown to Camp NaNoWriMo.

This year I have no idea which project to pursue. Over the past couple of years I’ve worked on Wikiwrimo updates and blog posts for this site during Camp NaNo. This year, I started working on Wikiwrimo updates earlier than usual (gasp, right?), and while my list of possible post ideas is growing, I still haven’t posted all of last year’s posts yet. Oops.

So what now? So far my main idea is reworking the novel I rewrote for 2016’s NaNo. I have two separate first drafts, with the second version containing some major changes from the first version. The question here is what to do with this. Do I create an outline for the third draft? Do I create that outline now and then write the actual third draft? I’m leaning toward the former despite my inclination toward pantsing, simply because I can’t just keep cranking out new drafts forever. Eventually I need to sit down with what I’ve written and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to make the prose shine (because I assure you the prose does not shine at the moment). Next month can be that time.

I can’t back out now, though–I’ve already joined a cabin for this session of Camp. Last year I joined cabins with a mix of people I already knew and people I didn’t; while this was a fun experience, it also meant that I would chat with the people I knew elsewhere. My original cabin plan for this Camp NaNoWriMo session was to enter an randomly assigned cabin; however, that changed when someone from the NaNo forums invited me into their cabin unprompted. Why not? I thought and clicked Join. Randomness can wait for the July session.

What about you? Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this year?