Why I rarely boycott things

If you’ve spent much time on Twitter and Facebook, you’ve probably detected a pattern. Heck, maybe you’ve been involved in it. It goes something like this:

* Some company (or one of their executives) does something objectionable. This thing can range from supporting a politician with views that don’t align with their own to donating to causes that don’t support progress to saying something in an interview.
* People call for a boycott of that company or product
* Occasionally the person or company involved will apologize
* What then?

Sometimes these boycotts are effective. But unless there’s a truly compelling reason, I can’t take part–not with a good conscience, at least. For one, I would have to know the political and social views of every single company and executive whose products I use. Looking around right now, that’s a lot: Apple, Google, Samsung, HP, NaNoWriMo, my headphones, my USB drive… And I’m not even writing this from home, where even more companies and products would stand out.

Then you get even more into the nitty gritty. I bought those headphones (and my extra phone batteries, and who knows what else) on Amazon. I don’t remember where I bought the laptop I’m typing this on, but it was surely online somewhere. My phone carrier is Verizon. I bought my laptop bag from the NaNoWriMo store, but another company likely made the physical bag. The individual parts for my devices were made by different companies, many of them overseas, possibly with worker exploitation and child labor. The apps on my devices were made by various companies, from the big ones (Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Fitbit, my bank…) to small companies and even individual developers (some of the games I’ve downloaded, for instance).

In order to boycott with a good conscience, I would have to analyze the political and social views for every single company that makes the things I use. Analzying all these views is a job in itself, one I don’t have the time or inclination for. Boycotting one maker would make me feel anxious for not knowing the views of all the companies whose products I use, not to mention some companies and executives are tight-lipped on these topics. Taking a “guilty until proven innocent” approach doesn’t work either; after all, some companies never speak out on current issues, even if their executives personally have an opinion. Life is short; I can’t just wait for it.

One answer, of course, is to boycott only when it’s practical. This is something I noticed when former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had (personally, not on behalf of Firefox or Mozilla) donated in support of Proposition 8 in California. This tidbit got out a few years later, causing some people in my circles to stop using Firefox for this reason alone. But a lot of nontechnical folks don’t know he also created Javascript, a language that is used on almost every website (including this one). Good luck with boycotting that. The problem with this approach is that boycotts weren’t meant to be practical. One great example of this is the bus boycotts in Alabama in 1956. It definitely wasn’t practical for the boycotters to stop riding the buses; many of them walked miles to and from work (not to mention other places) for a year as a result. This is why the conservative attempts to boycott Hamilton after the election haven’t made a difference; it’s easy not to buy tickets when they’re sold out months in advance.

Here’s another question: what happens if the company or maker apologizes for their actions? It’s easy to miss the apology; after all, much of contemporary media concentrates on the breaking big stories instead of updates. Does the apology make everything okay again? Is it okay to go back to using that company’s products again if an honest apology is issued? What if an apology is issued and then five years pass with no further incidents? Is it okay to judge forever based on that one stain?

I don’t have good answers to any of these questions; if I did, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I can’t stop you from boycotting whatever you want, so one more thing:

If you do continue to boycott companies based on their views or actions, I urge you: please don’t take your anger and frustration out on the people at the bottom of the corporate ladder. They just work there, and sometimes they don’t have other options. It’s easy to say they do; after all, they could quit and find another job, or find another publisher for their works. These actions take time and resources that could be directed elsewhere. Your actions would be better directed elsewhere too.

What I’m Reading, January 2017

January was a busy month for reading! I’m zooming toward my goal of 100 books with relative ease. Maybe I’ll up that goal sometime.

Without further ado…

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett: Yes, I finally started reading the Discworld books. Even though multiple people told me not to start at the beginning (or at least not to let the first book put me off), I ignored them and did it anyway for the sake of experiencing the books as they came out. While I enjoyed Pratchett’s writing and humor, the first book was difficult to follow, with lots of characters being introduced at once. Even if the first book may eventually become my least favorite, I plan on continuing the series. (3 out of 5 Luggages)

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett: This is the second half of the story begun in The Color of Magic. It contains just as much of Pratchett’s great writing and is much easier to follow than the first book. From my understanding, these two books are the only ones that serve as two halves of the same story, so be sure to read these books together. I did enjoy this book enough to request the next book, which begins a new series within the series. Can’t wait. (4 out of 5 spells)

The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics by Robert and Ellen Kaplan: I’ve read and enjoyed one of Robert’s books before for a class in college. While this book contained a lot of material I already knew, it also gave me a chance to explore math from different perspectives, especially in geometry. (Did I ever mention that geometry was the bane of my college existence? Because it really was, even with a wonderful professor.) This book does get challenging at some points, especially for someone like me who loves math but hasn’t done much of it in awhile. I’d recommend it if you have some background in math and proof-writing because you will have to fill in a few blanks yourself… or at least consult the appendix where the bigger proofs lie. (4 out of 5 infinities)

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner: This is a children’s fantasy book from the 60s, and to be honest, I found it rather boring. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid, maybe not, but I’m leaning toward no. This book has a lot of characters that blend together, and there’s not enough in the plot to keep me interested. (2 out of 5 stones)

Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 6th Edition by James Henslin: This is an introductory college textbook, and an old one at that; this version was published around 2006. Reading this textbook made me want even more, especially regarding events of the past ten years, but that’s not the fault of this particular edition. I would have loved to see more than a passing mention of LGBT+ families in the family area, as well as more about sexual orientation and gender identity in general. Overall, this book has gotten my feet wet in sociology, and now I just want to read more. Time to get in touch with my friend the sociology grad student. (4 out of 5 social norms)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: This book features two storylines, one of a Jewish girl during World War II in Paris and another of an American woman living in Paris in 2002. This was also the book where I complained on Twitter about using font changes to indicate a point of view change. That aside, this book was pretty good. Even though this book isn’t a historical novel, it did use real events such as the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris. However, If I had known before reading that this book was originally written in French, I might have attempted to track down a French language copy. (4 out of 5 family secrets)

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson: I listened to this book. If you recognize the author’s name, it’s probably because she’s awesome on Twitter or you know her from Matilda or as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home. I admit it, I was a big Matilda fan as a kid, but I like Mara even better as an awesome Twitter person. This book is her version of the “Where are they now?” articles that occasionally pop up about former child actors so the press doesn’t have to do it for her (and get the facts wrong while they’re at it). She tells stories of her childhood, her experiences on the sets of films she acted in, boarding school, college, mental illness, and much more, all with a candid and refreshing writing style and humor. There are also a couple of letters written to Matilda the character from Mara herself on how Matilda the character has shaped her as a person, as well as how Matilda has shaped how other people recognize her. If you liked Mara in any of her other work, you’ll like this book. (4 out of 5 performances)

Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World by Al Pittampalli: I listened to this book. You’ve probably heard someone accuse someone else of flip-flopping or changing their mind. Heck, you might have been the person doling out the accusation. This book makes a strong argument that we learn and grow by listening to the perspectives of others and changing our mind when the evidence demands it. This is a mindset I’ve tried to embrace in my adult years, so maybe I’m biased here. But this book does a good job at showing examples where leaders did change their mind when it came to making a product or adding a feature and how that decision affected the business. One of the standout examples here is Amazon getting into the ebook business, where Jeff Bezos convinced one of his executives to lead the ebook business, which led to creating an ereader that changed how we consume books. (4 out of 5 convincing arguments)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett: This is the third book in the Discworld series and the first book in the Witches storyline. While I enjoyed the prose and the overall storyline, I found this story hard to follow and connect the dots from scene to scene. That could have been me, though; I’ve been pretty distracted when it comes to reading lately. Not sure where to go next when it comes to this series; I may come back to it when I’m not sure what to read next, but I’m not in a rush to finish all the books. (3 out of 5 spells)

Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts: I listened to this book, which discusses how we answer questions like “Why is the Mona Lisa the greatest painting ever?” by listing traits that we’ve decided on because this painting contains these things. It’s a compelling read, and I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about logic and thinking and research. If you haven’t put much thought into this way of thinking before, you’re likely to have your view changed in some way. (4 out of 5 biases)

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong: I listened to this book, which talks about the various microbes in our bodies and how they contribute to the greater thing called life. This book isn’t limited to human microbes and how they fight off diseases, but also goes on to include microbes living in animals and how these microbes are studied on germ-free creatures. It can get a little dense at times (especially when listening to the book and taking everything in and then a loud truck drives past you, causing you to miss the last paragraph… not that this has happened or anything), but for the most part this book is still accessible to a wide audience. (4 out of 5 microbes)

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: I’ve been meaning to read this book for awhile and finally managed it. This book tells the story of a teenage girl who is allergic to just about everything, who doesn’t leave the house as a result… and then falls in love with the boy next door. Even though this book seems implausible in some parts and I’m still not sure how to feel about the twist at the end, this book had my attention from start to end with its engaging story and interesting (biracial!) main character; I would have read it in one sitting if a friend hadn’t arrived at my house halfway through. I just wish there were more to the ending, though. (4 out of 5 allergies)

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable: This book was one of my prizes from the public library’s reading contest last summer, and I just now got around to reading it. This book tells the story of an ordinary writer named Benjamin Constable (yes, the name of the author, although this is fiction) whose friend appears to have died and left him with a puzzle to solve. This puzzle takes Benjamin all over Paris, through some underground tunnels, and across the ocean to New York City where the friend grew up. Along the way Benjamin learns more about his friend than he had ever known before… but how much of it is true? Sure, this book is implausible in parts, such as the woman who volunteers to tag along on Benjamin’s New York City adventures, but it still kept me reading, which matters more to me than a little implausibility. (Besides, look at reality right now.) (4 out of 5 puzzles)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: I listened to this book (and still haven’t seen the movie, whoops). As a math nerd who likes diversity and history, this book had my attention from the beginning. If you’ve seen the movie, you already know the basic gist of this book, but in case you haven’t, this book tells the story of several black women who worked as mathematicians and computers through World War II and afterward to the space missions. This was a time when black women were considered suitable for this role because it didn’t require as much thought, but these women turned out to be as capable as any of the men, sometimes correcting the errors of the white men. Since much of this book took place in Virginia when segregation was still in place, that topic was also addressed in this book; from guessing a person’s race based on their education to the segregated bathrooms and lunch areas. Whether or not you plan on seeing the film, if you want to learn more about history and space, read this book. (4 out of 5 equations)

The Radical King by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West: I read this book for my local library’s book club. This is a curated collection of MLK’s more radical speeches and essays, the ones where he spoke on a much broader range of topics than civil rights for blacks. There are essays about economic injustice and his opposition to the Vietnam War, all connected to the bigger goal of equality for all. Cornel West serves just to provide commentary; the bulk of this book consists of King’s writings. I recommend taking in each essay slowly so you don’t lose track of the big picture presented in King’s message. (5 out of 5 speeches)

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan: I listened to this book. I haven’t read Pollan’s more well-known book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but despite that I didn’t have any trouble following this one. Pollan answers the question “Well, what SHOULD we eat?” in this book, while also sharing some history behind nutrition and how our food choices have changed over time in comparison to other parts of the world. For instance, if a food product makes a health claim, it’s probably not all that good for you. The book isn’t perfect, but it does make you think about food and how we eat. (4 out of 5 fresh vegetables)

How I got into politics (now with more resources!)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks (and if you have, is there room for one more under there?), you probably know about the dumpster fire that has been the United States over the past couple of weeks. In my circles, this has filled my Twitter feed with even more politics than usual, as well as

Awhile back I wrote about why I’m not an activist. I originally wrote that post in July, when I was still optimistic about having the first female president of this country and hoped against hope that the electoral college wouldn’t give us the first billionaire president instead. We know how that turned out.

So what has changed since July, when I originally wrote that post?

It’s not the fact that the orange man has no political experience, or that he was selected by the electoral college despite losing the popular vote, or the part where he is technically keeping some of his campaign promises so far.

The first problem is that so many of those campaign promises were terrible to begin with, and well, I know a little bit of history. World War II was a huge fascination of mine as a teen, and it still is to this day. Given current events, I can’t stand silent and watch these atrocities, especially when they directly affect me or someone I care about. In situations like this, silence is consent.

You know how most people won’t act on something until those things are so awful that suddenly they can’t stand by ignorant anymore? That’s what happened here, both for me and lots of others around me. There’s a reason MLK expressed his disdain for the white moderate in the civil rights movement; sure, a bunch of these people probably admired the efforts of the activists, but they didn’t care enough to contribute. This attitude has returned with a vengeance with the 2016 election and aftermath. I used to be this person, but after seeing the consequences firsthand, I can’t be that person with a good conscience anymore.

This leads to another problem: there’s so much horribleness going on that it’s easy for one thing that requires a call now to get lost in the sea of news and memes and fake government agency accounts. My Twitter feed has turned into Politics Central, but the volume of my feed has made it nearly impossible to sort out what’s being voted on when or what has already been voted on in Congress.

In the interest of keeping track of all the resources I’ve found over the past few weeks and since a few folks have expressed interest in learning what I found, here are some ways to stay involved in current events without being overwhelmed by it all.

Do a Thing – This newsletter arrives on weekdays, and each newsletter featuers a cute animal plus a small action you can take to be a more engaged citizen that take less than five minutes or cost less than five dollars to complete. Not all of the actions are activist things; some of them are actions to help out the earth and beyond. If you skip a day or five, that’s okay; I know I have.

Weekly Action Checklist – This is one of the more accessible and well-rounded guides I’ve found. Even though it comes out weekly instead of daily, the weekly documents are well-written and centered around a variety of issues. You can take action on all of the issues and divide them by day or choose one or two. No matter what you do, you’re making a small difference. One thing I like about this newsletter is that it includes good news so not everything is doom and gloom.

What the Fuck Just Happened Today is a daily email newsletter summarizing the day’s political events. There’s usually a lot of material, but it is skimmable. Honestly, I’m surprised this domain wasn’t already taken.

5calls – This guide focuses on five calls to make every day and which topics to call about. My main beef with this is that it often encourages you to call people who aren’t your congresspeople, such as committee chairs and ranking members. I’m not sure how effective a call to them would be if they’re not already representing you. I also wish the site would show you all the calls to make about a particular issue at once instead of making you flip through them. Still, this site is useful in sorting out what to call about right now, as opposed to what’s still in committee.

Indivisible Guide – I read this back when it was a Google doc and finally found it again thanks to someone on the NaNoWriMo forums. While this guide focuses more on organizing local groups and getting involved in your local political scene, there are also sections on calling your congresspeople and scripts to use. Figuring out what issues those are is outside the scope of this guide, so I’d use this as a supplement with one of the other resources if you need info on what to call your representatives about right now. This guide is written by former congressional staffers who know what works to bring about change and what doesn’t.

Resistance Manual – This site is a wiki containing information on issues, phone numbers for your congresspeople, as well as more local resources as well. Information is added by users like you, so go add something for your state if that info isn’t already there!

Countable app – I haven’t used this app yet, but I know people who use and like it. It shows what issues need to be acted on right now, as well as who to call about them.

If you’re like me and you keep forgetting which issue you contacted which representative about on which day, I recommend keeping track in some way. Whether this is an activism notebook, a spreadsheet, or even a Word document, this will ensure you don’t call one senator six times about opposing Betsy DeVos and not calling anyone else about any other issue.

And finally, remember to take care of yourself as well.

Got any other resources? Send them my way! I’d love to check them out.

Why I’m not an activist

Note: I wrote this little ramble back in July 2016 and didn’t think to post it until now. As you might have guessed, a lot has changed since then. Look for a post addressing that in the next week or two.

There are a lot of issues plaguing our world today. I see it all over my Twitter feed: people talking about whatever social issue they’re passionate about, whether they’re sharing news articles on a current relevant social issue or saying that members of the majority group (whether that’s male, straight, white, able-bodied…) should shut up and listen, or saying “if you’re X, you should Y”, or whatever else goes on in social justice Twitter.

Unfortunately, sometimes that discussion turns not just to yelling about these topics, they also turn into yelling about these topics into the echo chamber that is their followers. Let’s face it, we tend to follow people who are like us, and the same applies to other people choosing who to follow online. Since we tend to follow people who are like us, we tend to see updates and news articles that reaffirm our existing beliefs instead of challenging them and making us think in different ways. When our beliefs are affirmed more, then we continue to build our firm belief system, making us less open to new ideas.

See, I don’t like this yelling. Sure, I’m not an exception to surrounding myself to people who are like me, but I also don’t like people yelling and generalizing–about any topic, not just social justice. I have my reasons: I’ve found that it’s harder to reason with people who are only yelling their views instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. And to be honest, when people are yelling, you practically have to yell back in order to get your voice heard in the conversation. I don’t like to yell my thoughts and views. When everyone’s yelling, only the very loudest get heard.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to yell in order to be heard. I don’t want to throw out generalizations just because that’s the lowest common denominator. It’s not the discussion on these issues themselves that bug me, not in the slightest. Discussion and action lead to change, and I’m glad to listen to (and occasionally contribute to) constructive discussion. When the discussion becomes destructive, that’s when I exit. It’s the call-out and dogpiling culture that has made its way around some parts of the activist and social justice community. Things like “You have no place to discuss X” or “You’re not part of this group, so your voice doesn’t matter” have no place in a constructive discussion.

Hearing things like “Ugh, men” (or white people, or straight people, or…) also grates my nerves, and these are not uncommon occurrences in the social justice community when a member of some majority group says something racist or sexist or misogynistic. This bugs me for several reasons. People who pass as the target of the comment but are not members of that group become targets, even if the speaker doesn’t intend it.

A large source of my anxiety stems from what people think of me. On the Internet, this is more magnified than ever as every tweet and blog post and status update can elicit a reaction from someone else, positive or negative. And because of the way so-called activists pile upon others for accidentally saying one thing without thinking, that causes even more anxiety for me. I don’t want to be dogpiled on just because of one comment, even after apologizing and moving on. It doesn’t matter what you say; someone is always going to find it offensive of *-ist or problematic. I know that. I just don’t want to be a target even after moving on from that.

Yes, staying in a small bubble is bad for many reasons. But sometimes bursting that bubble causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Fitbit, fitness, and me

I joined the fitness tracker revolution pretty late, in part because until the last couple of years, I didn’t really care about getting healthy and staying in shape. Why would I? I was young and thin and surely didn’t have to think about that stuff until later.

Then a few of my friends started getting into fitness and health. This happened around the time I realized that at 28, I wasn’t getting any younger, and to be honest, I was in terrible shape. I’ve talked about my adventures in running before and using a mobile app to track my distance and stats. But as more and more of my friends started getting Fitbits and discussing things like steps and distance and pulling ahead of another friend in a challenge, I started to feel left out. I wanted in on these challenges and badges as well–because if anything motivates me, it’s competition.

One of my friends had somehow acquired multiple Fitbits, so a few months ago he gave me one to test and see if I liked it. It arrived in the mail early on a Saturday morning where I had walking plans for the afternoon. I put it on a charger and let it charge while running around the house and finishing chores.

After finishing those chores, the Fitbit was charged enough for me to go on an afternoon walking outing, so I activated it on my phone’s Fitbit app, strapped it to my wrist, and headed out the door. I walked over Fitbit’s default goal of 10,000 steps that afternoon, getting this experiment off to a good start.

Over the coming days, my friends invited me to challenges. I earned badges for walking up so many flights of stairs and walking so many miles and taking so many steps in a day, which motivated me to do more to see what the next badge was.

Since many of my friends have Fitbits, this means our conversations occasionally turn to this bit of fitness equipment, especially when we’re comparing steps and distance and how we’re doing in our challenges. It can be a little obsessive sometimes, such as when I’m less than a hundred steps away from the next thousand, and oh come on, I could do that easily.

That 40,000 step day came from this way of thinking. I spent the day walking a seven-mile path (one way) and found myself at just over 38,000 steps upon arriving home. Knowing that I was unlikely to get remotely close to 40,000 steps in a day for a long time, I walked around the neighborhood until finding myself within a few hundred steps of 40k, then walked home and let my pattering around the house take care of the rest.

I’ve won fewer challenges than I would like thanks to being friends with some hardcore walkers. But for many of these challenges, seeing that I was within just a few steps of the person above me was enough to get me up and moving just to overtake them. The same has happened for comparing my weekly totals to those of my friends.

Fitbit has turned fitness into a game, and I am 100% okay with this. If friendly competition and statistics are what it takes to get me off my butt and moving around, then I will embrace it.

The release of Pokemon Go has added another element of my fitness regime. Since eggs are hatched through walking around (just like in the video games), I’m more motivated than ever to make my steps count. I make sure the app is open when walking around, even if I don’t intend to stop and catch that CP 10 Rattata in my path, because that distance walked will count toward hatching whatever is in that egg. (Porygon, Charmander, and Tentacool this morning for the curious.)

Just don’t play Pokemon Go while running on a hill. I learned this one the fun way and got the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

Thirty

Well, here we are. Thirty years ago I entered this world. My parents had no idea what they were getting into.

I was going to write some kind of deep post on ambition and existence, but I got all my freakouts over turning thirty out of the way before turning 29 last year, so there’s not much use in repeating that. Just think, in a few years the infamous midlife crisis is going to happen, so you may get to read even more of the same! Won’t that be exciting? (Not really.)

Cheers, y’all. Here’s to another thirty years (and beyond!) of making the world suck less.

What I’m Reading, December 2016

Here we go, all the rest of the books I read in 2016.

The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski: I found this book in one of those little free libraries if I remember right. The book struck me because it features a main character who has shown up in my recent novels: young women who are bumbling through adulthood because they have no idea what to do with their lives. (Sound familiar, self?) This book tells the story of a young woman who sets out to complete someone else’s to-do list. A couple of items are already crossed off, but the other items consist of things ranging from brave (go braless) to confusing (make Buddy Fitch pay… who is he?). While the story was a fun light read, some of the character development was way off. The main character acts about ten years younger than her age, and some of the romantic elements come from out of left field with little previous development. (3 out of 5 lists)

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer: I listened to this book, and if you read this book, I recommend you do the same; the author herself reads the book, and there’s plenty of her own music between sections. This book reads more like a personal memoir than the guide I was expecting. That’s not a bad thing; Palmer tells her own story of letting people help her in her career. The book isn’t perfect, but it does show us makers that we don’t have to do it all ourselves. (4 out of 5 fan interactions)

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir: This is the second book in a series, and I loved the first book. I enjoyed this one as well, though it took awhile to get into (partly because I read the first book last year). I have only one request: More Helene, please! So… when does book three come out? (4 out of 5 run-ins with the Commandant)

Thomas Gray in Copenhagen: In Which the Philosopher Cat Meets the Ghost of Hans Christian Andersen by Philip J. Davis: I borrowed this book from one of my college math professors. The illustrations are adorable, but the story doesn’t quite hold up. There are oddities that come out of nowhere and bits that feel like a lecture rather than a story (and an oddly-placed one at that). As cute as the concept was, I wasn’t a big fan. (3 out of 5 philosopher cats)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I’ve been meaning to read this for years, and it has sat on my shelf for several months. This book consists of a series of interviews with people involved in the zombie war. As a result, the book is divided into sections. Some characters reappear throughout the story, but it was hard to tell the characters apart even while figuring out which character was which. This and the fact that there isn’t really one big overarching story arc, just a bunch of little arcs that had a habit of ending unexpectedly, are my major complaints about the book. That said, I did enjoy the individual stories, even if they didn’t fit together as well as I would have liked. (3 out of 5 interviews)

Make Way For Dragons! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: I picked this book up for its ridiculous cover, which turned out to be misleading. The female character described as blonde is a secondary character, there are no skateboards, cats are only mentioned in passing, and much of the book takes place in the mountainous parts of California. That said, I enjoyed reading the book. Sure, there are infodumps and there’s not much to make you care about the characters in the beginning, but once the main dragon character meets the main human character, it’s game on. (4 out of 5 dragons)

The King of Taksim Square by Emrah Serbes: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and I’ll be honest. I did not like this book. The plot meanders all over the place throughout the book, often jumping from one thing to another and barely holding my interest enough to make me continue. The main character barely has any redeeming traits, and even his love for his sister is, well, kind of creepy. The storyline about trying to make his sister Internet famous barely holds its own worth in the book, but the same can be said for much of the content. My first reaction upon finishing was “What on earth did I just read?” (2 out of 5 moonwalks)

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow: I listened to this book. I took a probability theory course in college as part of my math major and found it frustrating thanks to not being able to tell if an answer was right; I worked many problems to discover a probability of, say, 0.26 when the answer was 0.28. This book felt like a very condensed version of my college probability class condensed in 250 pages, so if you’re looking for an entire book about randomness, this isn’t it. The reading does get dense at times, but not so dense that you want to give up; there are plenty of historical tidbits as well to keep you entertained along the way. (4 out of 5 coin tosses)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: Of all the books I expected to suck me in, I did not expect a horse biography to make me read all 400 pages in one day. The nonfiction work is paced and structured a lot like a novel despite being nonfiction, with well-developed characters that I actually cared about, a pace that made me unable to put the book down, and a buildup that continues throughout the entire book. Damn. (5 out of 5 races)

Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab by Melissa Plaut: Apparently this book is based on a blog, something I didn’t know until reaching the About the Author area at the end. Anyway, this book details the adventures of a young white woman driving a cab in New York City; those two years happened to come before GPS was in every vehicle ever, making the story even more interesting. The book mainly consists of short tales, in part because it did start out as a blog. There are heartwarming moments and moments when I wanted to smack the passengers. While this book has received some mixed reviews, I enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t as deep as it could have been. (4 out of 5 yellow cars)

Why Does Popcorn Pop? by Don Voorhees: This book is just a bunch of trivia bits about food, and I’m okay with this. While some of the trivia bits were more interesting than others, and I really wish there was more on the actual food chemistry, this book did scratch my itch in the food trivia field. And let’s be honest, it helped me clear out my physical to-read pile too. (4 out of 5 kernels)

Time Station London by David Evans: I like the premise of time travelers trying to make sure things like Germans winning World War 2 doesn’t happen, although it’s been done before. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t bring much to the table. While the plot was interesting enough and having a Native American main character (whose main plot wasn’t about being Native American) was pretty neat, the characters weren’t very well fleshed out, and so much was going on at once that following along got really confusing at some points. I probably won’t seek out the rest of this series. (3 out of 5 time wardens)

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher: This is the fourth book in the Dresden Files series, and I enjoyed the first three. I was also told that the fourth book was when the series got really good, but this book didn’t do it for me. The plot and characterization was good, but there was a lot going on and I found myself really confused about what was happening in the second half of the book. (3 out of 5 faeries)

Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss, and Life–With a Soundtrack by Ben Greenman: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and I’m having a hard time finding much good in this book. The concept could have worked out really well, but the book fell flat in just about every way. The essays feel like first drafts, like the author knew what he wants to say but was having a hard time tying everything together, so he just threw everything together and hoped for the best. Unfortunately this didn’t work out so well, and most of these essays are about his life with some tangentially related musical thing so he could say the essays were about music. (2 out of 5 music essays)

Death Masks by Jim Butcher: Okay, this is when the Dresden Files series starts getting good. Even though the beginning is a little hokey, the overall plot is strong and multifaceted, while still maintaining the action of the past series. It was also nice to see some of the characters from past books again. (4 out of 5 shrouds)

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher: This one feels a little deeper than the past books as we find out more about Dresden’s past as well as Murphy’s past, all while taking on a mystery brought on by Thomas. There’s just one thing I’m confused on. A porn set? Really? (4 out of 5 revelations)

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson: I listened to this book, which tells how innovation happens. I already knew a lot of the stories and how screwing up and cross-discipline discovery, and this book didn’t add all that much to my knowledge or a new way of looking at these things. (3 out of 5 innovations)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This book is so damn beautiful. The past and present are woven together seamlessly and made me want to know more about the entire family. Everyone’s hopes and desires are complex and make sense and the prose is so beautiful and touching that it had reduced me to tears over the last 20ish pages. (5 out of 5 unfulfilled dreams)

What’s next for 2017? I’m planning on finally starting the Discworld books in 2017, among many other things.

2016 Goals Revisited and 2017 Goals

Last December I made a list of things I’d like to do before my 30th birthday in early January. (The 7th, if you like keeping track of these things.) How’d I do?

Read 250 books. Check! I finished this one in October, and I’m ending the year with 275 books read. I also finished reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series, which is where over half those books came from.

Write 500k words. Check! 250k of those words are from NaNo, as planned, and I sailed past 500k total for 2016 at the end of November. I also reached 2 million lifetime November NaNoWriMo words this year. I forgot about redrafting something outside of November, although I did write a second draft for NaNo this year.

Continue running/staying in shape. I fell off the wagon a little during NaNo, but for the most part, I consider this a success. As for the quantifiable goal, I ran six races, including four 5K races (one in April, two in May, and one in October where I beat my personal best by two minutes), one 5-mile race (April, where I got third in my age bracket), and one half marathon (December).

Decrease my debt. I don’t have actual numbers on this yet, but I have paid everything on time this year (that I know of), so I consider this a success.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. Check! And had the time of my life.

Travel somewhere new. I went to a new Georgia mountain in March, Washington DC in June, a cabin in a new-to-me North Carolina town in November, and a few Bay Area suburbs that were new to me in November. Check.

Take a class of some kind. I dropped the ball on this one. Oops.

Be awesome. Looking at all the above accomplishments, I’d say this one wasn’t a failure at least.

Despite 2016 being a dumpster fire for many people, this year was a good one for me on a personal level. I accomplished a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve settled into a nice groove when it comes to work and paying my bills in a timely fashion.

So what would I like to do in 2017? Let’s see.

Sushi’s 2017 Goals

Read 100 books. Yes, this is way less than my 2016 total, but I currently have no plans to read entire children’s book series in 2017… yet. I’ve read at roughly this pace for the past couple of years after subtracting the BSC books, so this should be challenging but doable.

Start editing a book. This can include a rewrite of an existing book.

Publish something. This can be a short story, an essay, or even a novel, but I do want to have something published by the end of 2017.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. This is going to stay here forever, let’s be honest.

Travel somewhere new. I’m not particularly well-traveled, so this stays on the list.

Learn basic Korean. My mom keeps talking about going to Korea to visit some of her family. I don’t want to go to a new place and not speak the language, so getting started on learning the language will be my 2017 mission.

Stay employed and decrease debt. Because this has been a challenge some years, it stays.

Begin training for a marathon. I was considering running a full marathon in 2017, but most of the ones I could get to easily are in March (meaning lots of winter training) or October/November (NaNo season and summer training). Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for years, and while I could theoretically start training now for a March 2017 marathon, I’d much rather do a little more winter training so I can learn to adapt first. In either case, something has to give, and I need to figure out what.

You might notice that there’s no yearlong word count tracker on the goal list like there was in 2016. There’s a good reason for that: I want to concentrate more on editing than pure output this year. Tracking all my writing this year has taught me a lot, but now it’s time for more dedicated, refined writing practice.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be even better, both for me and on a worldwide scale.

My First Half Marathon

One of the many things on my bucket list is to run a marathon. I’m not alone in this respect; many people list this as a bucket list item, but very few actually go on to do it. But when I started taking running seriously, I started realizing this goal could eventually become a reality. Then I started doing some work on a website devoted to half marathons, and come on, working on a half marathon website was kind of silly when I had never actually run one.

So I signed up for the Jeff Galloway 13.1 Half Marathon, a walker-friendly half marathon right here in Atlanta. Last Sunday morning, I found myself willingly standing in the cold, bundled up and waiting to run thirteen miles outdoors in December. Hey, it sounded like a good idea back in (much warmer) May when I signed up. Continue reading

What I’m Reading, October-December 2016

Per usual, I didn’t read too much over October and November because I’m busy writing and posting on the forums and traveling during that time. Still, some books did get read (or okay, listened to). Here are those books.

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth: You know how some people have that stick-to-it-ness that keeps them working on something long term? That’s what this book is about. It looks at what makes people stick to things (called grit in this book) and how you can teach grit, both to yourself and to children. I see a lot of myself in these stories, although I know I have a long way to go in sustaining my grit. (See: my novel editing and my college GPA.) This is a great book to read if you’re struggling to stick to something or if you (4 out of 5 big tasks)

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow: I shouldn’t have expected too much out of this book. Here, I’ll sum it up for you: make something and get it in front of someone big. Snow talks a lot about finding a mentor but hardly discusses how to find one, nor does he address how some people have an advantage to start with (see: privilege). There’s so much that could have been addressed in this book but isn’t, and this book suffers because of it. (3 out of 5 Oreo tweets)

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin: I listened to this book. Despite being tired of screaming politics, this book was a refreshing break from contemporary US politics. This book discusses the Supreme Court and how it has changed over the last few presidencies–specifically during 1994 to 2005 when the court remained the same. Despite keeping the same nine people, the court–along with politics in general–started becoming much more partisan than it already was, something we’re seeing the consequences of now. But the book does a good job of introducing the reader to each justice and showing off the court from the inside, with inside stories that don’t resort to gossip. I’d love to read a book about the latest decade of the Court. (4 out of 5 rulings)

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett: I listened to this essay collection. I have a confession to make. Besides Good Omens, this is the first thing by Pratchett that I’ve ever read. Like many essay collections, this book contains some essays that are spot on, while others fell flat for me. I found the essays about the writing life and his adventures in Alzheimer’s disease to be the most interesting overall. I do wish there were a little less overlap; some really specific topics came up in multiple essays, which really confused me when trying to figure out if I had already listened to that one. Even if you’re not a superfan of Pratchett, you can find something to like in here. (4 out of 5 black hats)

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer: I listened to this book. As you might have guessed by the title, this book is about rape, specifically a series of rape cases a few years ago in Missoula, home of the University of Montana’s Grizzlies. The story gets pretty graphic; I’ve never experienced anything like the women in this book and I still had a hard time listening at times. Still, the book does a great job of telling the story, as well as connecting the various parts: the community within the town, the various incidents, the trials, and the aftermath. This book will make you feel and think and get angry all at the same time. (5 out of 5 trials)

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber: I listened to this book. Even though the book started slowly, it grabbed my attention soon enough with the stories and histories of food as well as the influence of a food’s environment on that food’s taste and quality. As fascinating as all this was, the book doesn’t pay much attention to the economics of paying attention to how your food is grown, which interests me even more than the topic of this book to start with. Still, I’d recommend this book for the foodie/environmentalist in your life. (4 out of 5 foie gras dishes)

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by BrenĂ© Brown: I listened to this book, and it just didn’t do anything for me. I went into this book expecting research, not loads of personal stories like what the book actually contained. This is something I should have expected since I listened to her other book as well, but oh well. I didn’t find anything new in this book since a lot of the material seemed to be common sense. But maybe you will. (3 out of 5 vulnerabilities)

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse: Yes, that’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the basketball player. This was November’s book club selection, and I have mixed feelings about this book on Sherlock’s older brother. While the prose itself isn’t bad and there are some funny moments, the story itself is a bit out there and convoluted. Granted, I read the first half of the book two weeks before the second half, so some of it was hard to follow because I had already forgotten what had happened. Still, the book itself didn’t grab me at all. (3 out of 5 mysterious deaths)

Death’s End by Cixin Liu: Here we go, the final book in the trilogy. I don’t have much to say except Oh. My. Baty. This book, much like the rest of the series, brings up so many questions and parallels to today’s world, sometimes to the point where I wonder if Liu time traveled to now when he was writing this book and then noped out because this is 2016 we’re talking about here. This book also makes me appreciate The Dark Forest more when it was previously my least favorite book in the series. I need more people to read this series so we can talk about it. (5 out of 5 dimensions)