State of the Sushi, Pre-NaNo 2017

Wow, how on Earth is August almost over? I swear I was just cursing Rump’s position in the White House… wait. I’m still doing that. Then how has so much time passed? I don’t know, but here’s a general update on what has been going on in my life, partially swiped from my phone on my way home from the eclipse.

tl;dr Things are good overall (minus the world being what it is right now) and no really how on Earth is Nano so close? Cue screaming.

Work. This is the part that people care about when they ask what’s new. But I got a new full-time job! One where I have to work in an office and everything! I started in mid-July and like it so far. It’s a very small company with only two other people working full-time (and that includes the founder), and the environment is casual, so it’s a good fit overall so far. I’m still doing occasional freelance work, but I am not working 60-hour weeks. I do find myself doing a lot of the freelance work on weekends, which can be exhausting and which cuts into the time spent doing well, everything else. I’m definitely giving up the extra work in November because I have to sleep sometime. (Trust me. I’ve done 300k while working full-time and the result is not pretty in any way.)

NaNo. Cue my freaking out over how NaNo is two months away. NaNo stuff deserves its own post, but the short version is I won Camp NaNo in April and July, have more ideas for my third drafts, and started fundraising for this year’s Night of Writing Dangerously. (That’s a link to my fundraising page if you’re so inclined.) I’m also updating Wikiwrimo in preparation for the site relaunch, and there is a lot to update and not much time to do it. Hey, at least I finished the biggest project early–2016 region and ML updates.

Non-NaNo writing. Hoooo boy, I definitely haven’t done much of this. Even my paper journal has suffered, which is a problem when I have more going on and rely on the journal as stress relief. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do to use my time more efficiently here.

Reading. I reached my 2017 goal of 100 books read just before starting the new job and it’s a good thing I did. My listening has declined only a little since starting the new job, but my reading has taken a huge hit. To give you an idea, I didn’t finish reading an entire book for two weeks after starting the new job. Considering my fiction TBR list is longer and I have a really hard time listening to nonfiction, this is a problem.

Running. This one took a hit for a few weeks after starting the new job. Once I got a running pack, I started running to work a few days a week. Three miles, only a few minutes longer to run than to take the bus, and a shower in the building? Yes, please. Unintended consequences of run commuting: I use the work shower almost as much as I use the shower at home, and thanks to being out of town for the eclipse there was a space of over a week where I didn’t use my home shower at all. Whoops.

Travel. I’ve been to a few new places this year: Asheville, NC (for a VIP beer tour at New Belgium), Athens, GA (okay, this isn’t new, but I hadn’t been there in years, so I’m counting it), and Charleston, SC (for the eclipse). I got to see almost all of the partial eclipse, but a storm and clouds rolled in just as totality was about to happen. Even funnier: this was at an atheist convention. I’m also planning to go to San Francisco for NOWD in November and nudge nudge my fundraising link is here.

Social. Hahahahaha. I went to Momocon and a fountain pen social group sometime in the spring but besides that I haven’t been too great at socializing.

Anything else? I think that covers the big stuff, but ask away!

Sushi and the City: A Love Story

I grew up in a small town in Georgia, one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and people would recognize my name because they knew one of my relatives.

Growing up in this small town always left me wanting more of everything: more excitement, more freedom, more adventures. My inability to drive only compounded this desire, as I was (and still am) bad about asking for rides to things, and there was nothing within a reasonable and safe walking distance from my parents’ house. (While the public library, one of my favorite places, was a walkable distance away, that route also involved a large road without sidewalks. I walked it once. Never again.)

Field trips to Chattanooga attractions happened regularly throughout the years, as that was the closest city (albeit a small one) to where I grew up. Once a year or every other year came field trips to Atlanta, these field trips becoming more frequent in high school thanks to FBLA state conferences and a French class field trip to see a play or a French art exhibit. And every time we entered a large city for a field trip, the excitement only grew to the point where I knew beyond a doubt that I needed the city life.

I moved down to a small suburb of Atlanta for college. Even though this suburb wasn’t the city, it was still an easy and short trip to the city while still possessing many of the characteristics that I love about the city: infrastructure, public transit, a cute square with lots of businesses (and let’s be honest, great food), all a short walk away from the college campus. I had the best of both worlds: a big city and a small town that was built like cities should be.

Every trip into Atlanta was a source of excitement, no matter how frequently I ventured into the city. In early college, Atlanta still felt new to me. But even as the city grew more and more familiar, the excitement never faded. The collective energy, the ability to be anonymous and yet part of a smaller community at the same time, all grew on me.

Paris was the next major city I visited as part of a trip in college. Despite the jet lag from the nine-hour flight, the excitement from visiting a foreign country, not to mention one of the places I wanted to visit more than anywhere on the planet, was almost palpable. Besides falling in love with the language and Paris itself, I had also fallen in love with French history, particularly the French Revolution era (both for France and the United States). I was in love, and that love still remains to this day.

And then there’s San Francisco. 2011 marked my first trip to San Francisco, the first time I had travelled in any significant fashion in two years. This trip was for the Night of Writing Dangerously, and not only was I going to the event itself, I had also planned a trip to NaNoWriMo HQ in Berkeley almost immediately after landing in the city. Good thing I didn’t have much luggage.

Don’t get me wrong, I like smaller towns. I attended college in a suburb of Atlanta that, minus the skyscrapers, still had many of the traits I love most in cities. I’d live there forever, to be honest, if only for all the restaurants and shops and a bookstore and library right there. I can say the same for Berkeley, California (home of NaNoWriMo HQ) and other similar towns.

It’s easy to say that the main source of my city excitement was due to entering a new place, or at least a place I don’t frequently visit. Of course I was excited to see these new places. But even being in a large city that I’m familiar with brings a feeling that is difficult to replicate.

Cities bring infrastructure and history and easier ways to get around than in a small town, absolutely. But cities also represent excitement and experience and a place to truly become part of a community, to find a home within a home. Cities represent freedom, something I didn’t have much of when living the small town life. In a large city, I can be myself and totally anonymous at the same time. I can introduce myself as Sushi without batting an eye in the right circles.

When people rush past me and I look up to see skycrapers, I truly feel alive. Even if I’ve been to that city a zillion times, even in the city I live in now, looking around and up outside and taking in the buildings gives me a thrill that few things can top. I still get excited when heading back to Atlanta and passing all the skyscrapers and familiar landmarks, even though I’ve made that trip a zillion times. Even though this city is so familiar, the excitement builds up in the same way that entering a new city would. When that excitement is gone, I know it’s time to go somewhere else.

What I’m Reading, July 2017

Another month, another set of book reviews. This month marked a definite change in my reading habits because I started a full-time job mid-month–a job that involves putting on pants and going to an office! Thank goodness I passed my reading goal before starting that new job. To give you an idea of how much this new job (and occasional freelance work) is wrecking my reading time, I’ve read only one full print book since starting that job. For comparison, I’ve listened to multiple books, which makes me curse my inability to listen to fiction.

Onward to the reviews!

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: This is the third book in the Raven Cycle series, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. It’s a good thing I had the fourth book already checked out because by the time I finished the third book (which didn’t end on a major cliffhanger!), I was so ready for the last book. (4 out of 5 blue lilies)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater: This is the last book in the Raven Cycle series. I’ve enjoyed reading them all, and the finale is no exception. I was a little disappointed in the way Stiefvater treated the whole dying part, but all in all, a good end to a good series. (4 out of 5 true loves)

A List of Cages by Robin Roe: Note/spoiler: this book contains depictions of child abuse. With that out of the way, this book tells the story of Adam getting reunited with his former foster brother Julian. I liked the brotherly friendship the two of them have, something that’s not easy to find in contemporary YA lit. However, the first half of the story went really slowly, and Adam has a lot of friends, making for a lot of characters that are hard to tell apart. This book can be hard to read, especially in the second half when things get heavy. (Fun fact, I was reading this book on my front porch while waiting on my ride, and they showed up at the end of a chapter where the sad and horrific factor was up to eleven. Yeah, I could use something else to think about for awhile.) (3 out of 5 Elians)

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace: This is a poetry collection I had been meaning to check out for awhile. Even though I don’t read much poetry, I enjoyed and appreciated this little collection, which consisted of lots of free verse poems about the author’s own experiences. The collection is divided into sections centered around themes that build upon each other, with the last section addressed to you, the reader. (4 out of 5 free verses)

The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic by Ganesh Sitaraman: I listened to this book, which makes the argument that compared to older countries, America was more economically equal when it was created and that the government created as a result relied on relative economic equality. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and we just need to look around to see the economic inequality in this country. The author’s premise is that political inequality follows from economic inequality, so as the middle class dwindles and more money goes to the very wealthy, the people in power will consist of those with money. The author defends this argument well while weaving in some historical context; it was really interesting to hear about trends in policy for business and for the middle class over the years. (4 out of 5 rich families in power)

A Most Curious Murder by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli: There really is a cozy mystery series for everything, I thought when discovering this book. As far as cozy mysteries go, this one is eh. Newly divorced Jenny returns to the tiny Michigan town she grew up in, and then her mom’s little library gets destroyed… and then the murders start. While I liked the character interactions, the plot seemed to lag and moved really slowly. I’ll probably skip the rest of these little library mysteries. (3 out of 5 little libraries)

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which was written by the same guy who wrote Moneyball and The Undoing Project, both of which I really liked. This book… eh. The book is supposed to be about high frequency trading and the people behind it, but this book was way heavy on the people at the expense of explaining the topics surrounding HFT. Which is fine in a book where the target audience is assumed to know at least about the topic. However, Lewis’s books are targeted toward a general audience, so this kind of thing doesn’t fly as well. I found myself confused throughout a lot of the book and not coming away with much more understanding of HFT than the none I started out with. (3 out of 5 programs)

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif: I listened to this book. Damn. Go read this. Okay, the real review: this book is about Manal al-Sharif, a female Saudi activist who grew up by modest means, formerly embraced fundamentalist Muslim culture, and despite being smart and educated, faced obstacles that make American women’s issues look like small play. The entire book was truly eye-opening, especially since it takes place relatively recently instead of the hundreds of years ago that one might expect. (5 out of 5 automobiles)

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt: I listened to this book. Raise your hand if you’re surprised I read this. *looks around, sees no hands up* Yeah, me either. How could I resist such a delicious topic? While this book took awhile to really get going, the going got really interesting a few chapters in. One thing I found really interesting about this book was the studies across a variety of cultures and not just using one part of the world for all of cannibalism’s history. I definitely want to learn more about cannibalism now. (4 out of 5 friends-not-food)

The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett: I listened to this book. The title had me hoping for tales of the Silk Road and its variants and all the other stuff you can find in the underbelly of Tor. While some of this content was there, the book concentrated a lot more on topics like camming and 4chan. If you only stick to cute cat photos online (and I don’t blame you), you might learn something new from this book. But for someone as jaded about online culture as I am, this book did not live up to the description. (3 out of 5 trolls)

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi: This was my library book club’s selection for July (which I didn’t attend this month because I hadn’t finished the book and because of the new job mentioned earlier in the post). It turned out that I shelved this book on Goodreads awhile ago. As fascinating as the premise was, I didn’t like it as much as I thought. I’m not sure why, but I found it hard to keep track of everything that was going on. Granted, this may be due to reading it in occasional 20-page bursts over the span of two weeks. I’d still read something else this author writes in the future, but this book wasn’t for me. (3 out of 5 water sources)

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper: I listened to this book, and now I want to learn everything about dictionaries ever. This book discusses topics like how definitions get written, how those definitions can change over time, and how dictionaries and their contents have shaped society. Lines like “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” come to mind here (and yes, this line was mentioned in the book). There was just enough memoir to answer questions like “How does one become a lexicographer anyway?” but not so much that it detracts from the words. If you’re a word nerd like me (and let’s face it, there’s a pretty good chance you are), go read this book. (5 out of 5 definitions)

What’s next? I started reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins yesterday and started listening to It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd today. I anticipate these posts becoming far shorter in the coming months. If only there were a way I could read instead of sleep. Come on, modern technology, get on this!

The Freelance Life

Note: I’m no longer working freelance jobs as my primary source of income. Considering how much I struggled in the slow business times while freelancing, this is a definite yay. But someone asked for this post many months ago, and I wrote it and then forgot to post it. So just replace a bunch of the present-tense stuff with past tense.

I’ve mentioned casually in the past that most of my day job involves freelancing. Basically, I’m not an employee of any company, but companies hire me to work on various projects.

As you might expect, I get questions about this somewhat regularly from curious folks, people who want to do the same thing, and my family–often the same questions. What’s it like to work from home? How do you get started building your own gig? Do you really get to work while sipping a cocktail on the beach?

Good question. Let’s try to answer them. Continue reading

Let’s talk about spoilers (and anxiety)

I have a confession, Internet. Okay, I have a lot of confessions, but one in particular stands out today.

Getting spoiled isn’t a big deal for me.

There. I said it.

I understand why other people get upset at hearing major spoilers. Maybe knowing the plot twist ending ruins things for them, and that’s valid. People can take in their media however they want. But if they’re reading an online article that’s clearly about a given book or movie or whatever and then complain about getting spoiled, well, that’s on them. It’s like complaining about mixed nuts containing nuts.

In fact, even if someone does reveal a twist, that doesn’t spoil everything. It doesn’t explain how the characters got there, or how the story developed, or even why the twist is such a big thing in the first place. A good story will surprise me with the circumstances that lead to the ending. This discovery is part of the experience for me, and this doesn’t change with knowing end details of a story.

For me, spoilers are a source of anxiety. Not the idea of spoilers themselves, but the idea of accidentally ruining something for some stranger. Has this person watched or read whatever I’m talking about? Heck, sometimes I haven’t seen or read whatever I’m discussing, but I know about it through Internet osmosis. I once posted a tweet showing off my newly-acquired TARDIS notebook. Someone replied with “Spoilers.” I hadn’t watched the show at all at the time and genuinely thought I was spoiling something. It took awhile to realize this was an element of the show (and specifically, one of the characters) and not a genuine spoiler.

But what is the statute of limitations on a spoiler? I once accidentally revealed the big death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to someone who hadn’t read that far… two weeks before the seventh book came out. Considering those past two years were filled with discussion on this death and its impact on the seventh book, I’m impressed that he managed to avoid finding out for so long. I know people who get upset over spoilers from ten years ago, not to mention ten days.

And what’s the proper etiquette about publicly discussing spoilers in public forums, anyway? On sites like Twitter, you can use a hashtag. That way, people who don’t want to be spoiled can use a client like Tweetdeck to mute that hashtag. But this assumes people have enough characters remaining in a tweet to include the hashtag, as well as remember to use it in the first place. It also assumes everyone has a way to mute that hashtag or keyword, which isn’t necessarily true.

So is the solution to avoid talking about the thing publicly? Of course not. Word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of getting the word out, and for good reason: people want to talk about things they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy). While private messaging–whether through Twitter’s DMs, email, or instant messaging) is an option, it leaves out the fun in discovering who else likes the thing you’re talking about. When someone jumps in on a Twitter conversation and I discover they like the book or movie or whatever, this creates another bond between that person and me, along with another person I can make joking references to about that book or movie or album.

And even bigger: What IS a spoiler, anyway? I keep thinking back to that tweet about someone not knowing Hamilton gets shot in the end. (To be fair, this is kind of understandable for someone not familiar with American history.) Are trailers spoilers? What about the circumstances of the story? Heck, even competition shows and sporting events can have spoilers–who got eliminated, who won, what someone sang or cooked or danced to. Math can have spoilers, for Baty’s sake. Yes, there are more infinities and more geometries, and the complex numbers aren’t the end.

There is so much media out there that if I tried to avoid spoilers, I would be avoiding almost everything with the remotest chance of revealing spoilers. I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings books or a bunch of those so-called classics associated with high school and college literature classes. I haven’t read or watched all of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read everything by Shakespeare (nor do I particularly want to, to be honest). If I’m never going to consume that media, then why stress about spoilers? There are bigger (and smaller, let’s be real) things to worry about.

This isn’t your invitation to spoil me on everything ever. Yes, I know Rosebud is the sled and Han shot first. But I can’t live in fear of avoiding spoilers, nor in fear of spoiling someone else.

Night of Writing Dangerously on a budget, revisited

One of the most common replies I hear when discussing NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously (NOWD) is “I’d love to go one year!” with “one year” meaning “some vague time in the future, likely when they have the money and time to do so”.

While I’ve estimated my budget for my first Night of Writing Dangerously, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the topic with more budget specifics (and for a longer trip). I did my best to save every receipt; where that fails, I have my bank account history and my occasionally unreliable memory.

Want an idea of how much money to set aside for a NOWD San Francisco trip? Keep reading for my experience. Note: All of these prices listed include all applicable taxes.

Or if you want to add to my fundraising page, you can do that right here. Continue reading

What I’m Reading, June 2017

It’s the end of a month and beginning of a new month, so you know what that means: book review time. I read a lot in June. As in, I’m pretty wowed by how much I read this month. While it may not be enough to win my library’s summer reading challenge, I’m very close to my total from last June and July (minus all those Baby-Sitters Club books, of course), so I’m happy with that.

I’m also two books away from completing my 2017 reading goal of 100 books. I may have a book problem.

What else is happening? It’s Camp NaNoWriMo time, and I plan on researching and planning for 20 hours on my parallel worlds novel.

Anyway, here we go: the reviews.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson: This book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till’s lynching in 1955 Mississippi, as well as the trial and events following the murder. While the beginning (particularly the part on Carolyn Bryant’s story) was a little slow, the story of the murder, trial, and politics surrounding the trial had my full attention. The author does a good job at connecting the dots of the murder while weaving in big-picture context of the politics and life in 1950s Mississippi. Read this book, but be prepared to be enraged and saddened that stuff like this is still happening. (4 out of 5 uprisings)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Man. This coming-of-age book featuring a high school senior, his close friends, and his gay adopted Mexican dad is just beautiful. Sure, there’s not a Point A to Point B plot, but the characters make me wish they were real (well, that most of them were real) and the overall storyline and writing are beautiful while still showing the realness and rawness of being a teenager. And best of all, there’s no romance within the main teenage trio. Side note: Can I have Sal’s dad, please? (5 out of 5 yellow leaves)

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: This is the first book of Baldwin’s that I’ve read, chosen while I was browsing at the library. I wanted to like this book so much, but then… I couldn’t. There didn’t seem to be much of a connection between the narrator and Giovanni, nor with the narrator and Hella. The characters feel like they were put together out of nowhere, with little connection between them. While I enjoyed the prose itself and the narrator’s stories of his past, the present was much less riveting, and it didn’t help that Giovanni was an insufferable asshole. (3 out of 5 drinks)

Find Me by Laura van der Berg: I really did not like this book. The premise sounds interesting enough, but the story moves at a crawl, with no real motivation to keep reading. The characters and plot are ill-developed, and the ending is really disappointing. I managed to finish this one, and boy was I thankful when it was over. (2 out of 5 diseases)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: This was a NaNoWriMo novel! That was enough to get my attention, especially one as well-known as this one. It’s a sweet YA romance featuring a high school senior from Atlanta being shipped off to boarding school in Paris. That’s enough to get my attention. While the story starts off slow with an annoying (and occasionally not so bright–how did she not know Paris was a film hub?!) narrator Anna, it picks up quickly once school starts and she starts meeting the other characters. And now I really miss France. (4 out of 5 cinemas)

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo: Much like with the previous book, I thought I wasn’t going to like this book based on the beginning–Mattie, 30, pregnant, broke, and jobless, takes off from Florida to Gandy, Oklahoma to claim her part of her grandmother’s estate. But once she gets to Oklahoma, she talks to people and discovers that her mother just disappeared, as well as learning (a little at a time) about her mother and grandparents. The characters were well-flawed and felt real to me, and the story kept me wondering what would happen next. (4 out of 5 family histories)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: After zooming through the last few books, this one took awhile to slog through, and not just because a paragraph could easily take up two pages. No, I couldn’t get into Clarissa Dalloway getting ready to throw a party that day and all the switches in points of view, telling about other characters and their pasts. This isn’t the first Woolf selection I’ve read, but I think I’m good on reading Woolf now. (2 out of 5 parties)

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us by Richard O. Prum: I listened to this book, which talks about how ornamental traits that have no other purpose have evolved–in other words, beauty. It was a long and dense read, but I rather enjoyed it. If the external speaker on my iPod touch worked, I would have blasted the section about duck sex in retaliation to the guy listening to a religious video without speakers. (4 out of 5 birds)

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven: Yes, another YA romance, this one featuring Jack, a face-blind high school senior and Libby, a high school junior known for being so fat she once had to get cut out of her own house. Yes, really. Oh, and Libby is just now starting back at a regular school after being homeschooled for so many years. Despite the lack of chemistry on Jack and Libby’s part, the main thing that bugged me about this book was the lack of developed stories among Libby and the rest of the supporting cast. Come on, she hasn’t been in a regular school in years, but she immediately jumps back in with old friends and new ones (who barely show up in the story)? But I enjoyed Libby’s love of dance, and I have to admit, their actual date was pretty adorable. (3 out of 5 unrecognized faces)

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World by Anne-Marie Slaughter: I listened to this book, and I’m still not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. It’s a very broad introduction to network theory and politics, but it does the network theory much better than integrating that with politics. Still, I do want to keep learning more about these topics. (3 out of 5 networks)

George by Alex Gino: This is a really sweet book about George, a ten-year-old trans girl who is struggling with being seen as a boy all the time. All she wants is to be Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web but she doesn’t get the part because only a girl can have that part. But… she is a girl. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to let George be Charlotte after all. This is a great book to get kids thinking about LGBTQ+ topics, but it’s also good for teens and adults. (4 out of 5 school plays)

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman: I’ve been tryign to read more short fiction (not that you’d believe it from what I’ve been reading lately), and Gaiman’s latest short story collection got my attention. It seems like I’m the only person I know who didn’t adore it to bits and pieces. Sure, there are some good stories; I like the one about the made-up girlfriend, which appears pretty early on in this collection. But for some reason a lot of these stories fell flat to me. It’s not because of the prose itself; Gaiman is a good writer. But maybe it was because I was reading while trying not to be distracted by having my family around over Father’s Day weekend. (3 out of 5 disturbances)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I’ve been meaning to read this series for ages, and I’m glad I didn’t put it off even longer. Blue is a non-psychic who lives with psychics, and she’s always been told that if she kisses her true love, they’ll die. Then she sees a spirit as the soon-to-be-dead walk past, something that shouldn’t be happening for non-psychics. She finds out who this boy is, meets his friends, and joins them on their adventures. The first thing I did when I finished this book was check out the second one on Overdrive… and then curse the fact that my library’s Overdrive doesn’t have the third book available. (4 out of 5 ravens)

80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower by Matt Fitzgerald: I listened to this book. The general idea is that 80% of your workouts should be done at low intensity, while the other 20% should be done at moderate to high intensity. This means you’ll probably be running longer and for more miles, yes, but you’ll get more out of it. While a lot of the examples he gives are for elite runners, there’s still a lot to learn for casual runners. I haven’t had a chance to implement everything the author suggests, but I did go on a run a little more slowly after finishing this book and found myself able to go farther and longer than at my normal faster pace. (4 out of 5 slow runs)

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: I read this book for my library’s book club. While the prose is beautiful, I found the story itself to be confusing. There are several points of view divided into sections, but within those four sections there are multiple perspectives, shifts from the past to the present and back again, and more narratives that are hard to piece together, especially with the large cast of characters (heck, this book includes a family tree at the beginning and a glossary at the end). While there is theoretically a plot, it’s lost in the shuffle as the story shifts from era to era. (3 out of 5 iloks)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This is book 2 of the Raven Cycle books, and it did not disappoint. There’s plenty to keep the story going while building the relationships between the characters and ramping up the suspense, as well as answering the question of the last few lines of book one. Thank goodness I planned ahead and had this book ready to read. (4 out of 5 dreams)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I read this book in one sitting (well, minus a brief break to grab a snack), and it’s a light YA romance that still stands out. The book stars Dimple and Rishi, two Indian teens who find themselves at the same computer camp in San Francisco. The main characters are huge nerds in different ways, Dimple is fierce, Rishi is a lovable dork, and I found myself rooting for both of them at the same time, even when they hated each other at first. There are a few plot elements that felt like they were just thrown in there to make other stuff happen (the talent show? seriously?), but the book deals with some big issues like racism, social class, and gender while still being a fun read. (4 out of 5 spilled drinks)

Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart by Sheryl O’Loughlin: I listened to this book, written by the former CEO of Clif and Plum Organics. The author talks frankly about topics that entrepreneurs need to know about but often ignore: building relationships within and outside of your business, dealing with investors, making time for family, and even mental and physical health. These topics often go ignored when talking about business, but O’Loughlin tackles them well without making the book a pure memoir. (4 out of 5 team members)

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser: I wanted to like this book. It is, after all, supposed to be one of the best books on writing nonfiction out there. I enjoyed the sections on mechanics and finding your voice, despite thinking Zinsser would hate much of today’s writing if he were still alive. But the third section–discussing writing for humor, business, technology, and other topics–made me want to quit reading altogether. There were plenty of examples, but not enough information on what made those examples good. I skimmed most of those example texts and attempted to get to the point. These sections should have been their own book instead of trying to cram all that content into 20-page chapters. (3 out of 5 adverbs)

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman: I listened to the author narrate this book, which is one part memoir, one part tell-all about all the vacation boyfriends she had during her single days. It was funny for awhile (she is, after all, a comedy writer), but the story eventually settled into more of the same stuff happening over and over again. I get it. You slept with a lot of guys and partied hard. Get to the point. (3 out of 5 vacation boyfriends)

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?