What I’m Reading, April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017, Week One: Adventures in Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Reading, March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is home? What is a hometown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Political What Ifs

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

This tweet sums it up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp NaNoWriMo approacheth

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Reading, February 2017

Hello March! February was a good month for reading, with 19 books read this month and 35 total books read this year. Although I encountered a string of disappointments at the beginning and end of the month, I did enjoy most of February’s books. Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: Several of my friends have raved about this book, including one who specializes in children’s literature, so I went in with high expectations. It’s a cute mystery that takes place around Christmastime; twelve-year-old Milo just wants to have a peaceful winter break, but then all kinds of guests appear in the inn his parents run. Milo then finds himself solving a mystery about missing items and hte house itself with the help of the cook’s daughter Meddy. I enjoyed the beginning and end (including the twist at the end), as well as Milo, Meddy, and his parents, but the side characters mostly fell flat to me. (3 out of 5 stained glass windows)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley: I listened to this book. It would have resonated more in 2010 when it was released as opposed to now when everything seems like gloom and doom. Author Matt Ridley tries to argue that the world is getting better and will continue to get better. He does this well in the first few chapters, but then his arrogance starts to show. His argument also doesn’t take into account world governments and corruption that frequently block innovation and world progress, something that has been rearing its ugly head more frequently over the past few years. Mostly I just found myself bored while listening to this book. (2 out of 5 global changes)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande: I listened to this book. I wanted to like this book since I enjoyed Being Mortal, but it turned out to be more about the stories of checklists’ impact as opposed to the history of the checklist and its research. I would love to read a book about how checklists can, say, improve medical procedures, which some of the book does touch on. Hint hint. (3 out of 5 checklists)

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: This is an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. In this novel, Lady Catherine wants to open a bakery with her friend/servant Mary Ann, but her parents want her to marry the king and become the Queen of Hearts. Then the Joker comes in, and the two of them enter a secret courtship while the King is attempting to court Catherine. This is a well-written tale that maintains all the whimsy of the original Wonderland while adding Meyer’s own style. Also, I want a Jest of my own now. (4 out of 5 white roses)

Lemons by Melissa Savage: This book doesn’t come out until May, but I obtained an ARC through my book club. It’s 1975. Ten (and three-quarters)-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt has just lost her mother and is sent to live with her grandfather (who she has never met) in the woods of California. She befriends fellow kid Tobin and they start investigating Bigfoot sightings together. This is a really sweet story set toward the end of the Vietnam War, even if I did predict the ending pretty early on. (4 out of 5 Bigfoot sightings)

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes: I did not like this book. The characters are shallow, embracing just about every stereotype about popular kids out there. The story seems to float from event to event instead of containing a cohesive storyline. Also, I kept reading the main character’s last name as Dragonair, which amused me more than the actual story did. At least the blessedly short story kept me intrigued enough to read to the end. (2 out of 5 Bunza Buns)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: I listened to this book, which was read by the author. This memoir about her life in the lab is beautifully written, and it deals with other topics like mental illness and childbirth. Some of her stories about trees and soil make me realize what I love so much about math: that moment when it all comes together after agonizing over a single problem for weeks. Other sections are raw and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and you can hear her emotion as she reads some of her own words. If you like reading about science and scientists, or even if you just like touching stories, pick up this book. (5 out of 5 experiments)

Homeland by Cory Doctorow: This book is the sequel to Little Brother, which I read and enjoyed in 2014. This book, however, is not as good as its predecessor. That said, it’s still a decent read, with a story set against the broken economy and the Occupy movement as well as more up-to-date tech references. While the beginning felt slow and implausible in parts, the ending was abrupt and left a lot of loose ends untied. Did Joe Noss win the election? What does Marcus do after the events of the story? What happened in all the time in between the events of the story and the epilogue? I did enjoy the essay by Aaron Swartz (RIP) at the end, as well as the cameos by the EFF team and Wil Wheaton, though. Of course Wil is DMing a campaign. (3 out of 5 rooted machines)

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes: I listened to this book, which discusses the growing unequal distribution of wealth and how we got here in the first place. Even though this book was published in 2012, the content is still timely; in fact, its message is more applicable now than in 2012. This book provides a history of meritocracy and details how it has broken down over the years, with the elites losing touch with middle America and failing at, well, everything except getting even richer. Examples in this book range from steroids in baseball to admissions tests for elite schools. Everyone needs to read this book, especially those high up on the socioeconomic ladder, for the only way to fix this and bring about more equality is for the masses to work together in a democratic fashion. (4 out of 5 billionaires)

The Crashers by Magen Cubed: I’ve seen the author around Twitter, and a friend recommended this book to me. This book tells the story of five people who come together after surviving a crash and discovering they have superpowers. From seeing the future to strength to speed, these five people deal with their superpowers while juggling their own falling-apart lives. While I enjoyed the book, I wish there were more of an explanation of how exactly the characters got their powers, not to mention what happens after they beat the bad guy. (4 out of 5 superpowers)

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their decade of researching decision making together. While I was familiar with many of their research topics from previous reading, hearing the story behind their discoveries made this book a narrative and not just a textbook, which in turn made the book even more enjoyable. (4 out of 5 heuristics)

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion: Don and Rosie are married and living in New York City when Rosie becomes pregnant. This prompts Don to research everything he needs to know in order to become a father, but in the process he finds himself losing Rosie as well. While I didn’t like this book as much as I did The Rosie Project, the sequel is still enjoyable. It could have used one more round of editing and rewriting, but besides that, the book makes me love Don and want to shake some sense into him at the same time. (4 out of 5 buds)

Buck by MK Asante: I read this book for my library’s book club. I hadn’t heard of MK Asante before reading this book, which tells the story of growing up in inner city Philadelphia. MK also has to deal with his father leaving, his brother going to jail, and much more that I won’t get into here because spoilers. Asante’s writing is interspersed with rap and hip-hop lyrics throughout the book, sometimes even in the middle of a scene, and toward the end his own lines start playing this role. Asante’s tale is raw and full of emotion while showing his own maturity and perseverance. (4 out of 5 bucks)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: I listened to this book, which tells the story of evictions in Milwaukee while showing what the tenants and the landlords alike have to go through, all to shed light on how and why evictions are becoming more and more common. Desmond does this by following eight families and two landlords (spoiler: he lived among them while doing some of the research), noting just how easy it is to evict a tenant, how many very poor families spend closer to 100% of their income on rent compared to the recommended 30%, and how easily unpaid rent can accumulate. Heartbreaking and too real. (4 out of 5 evictions)

Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author. Even though I had never heard of the author (who has worked at Simon & Schuster, Albert A. Knopf, the New Yorker, and other places I’m not thinking of), this book sounded interesting at first because of the title. How could I resist a book like this? Pretty easily, it turned out. The author admits he’s much more of an editor than a writer, and it shows. While hearing about some of the celebrities he had worked with was interesting, this book was definitely written for his family and friends, as there wasn’t much general interest in some (okay, a lot) of these stories. Listening to this book feels like listening to your family patriarch telling you stories about their entire life, except you sometimes care about those. (3 out of 5 long stories)

Human, Beware! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: Yes, this is the sequel to Make Way for Dragons. While I was pleasantly surprised by that book, this one was a huge disappointment. I’m not sure where to start with this, except there wasn’t much I liked about this book at all. Mostly I was left confused, trying to figure out what on earth was going on and why it was happening because what did happen made little sense. The author has a really weird thing about getting the main character naked; she was ten in the first book but an adult now. (2 out of 5 dragons)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author, and as expected, it is hilarious. The author tells his stories of growing up mixed-race toward the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Even though the stories are consistently funny (like his stories comparing white church, mixed church, and black church), the insights and depth are also there, something that doesn’t always happen with humor or memoir. I learned a lot while listening, not just about apartheid but about life in general as well. Go read it. Note: there are a few scenes involving partner violence and child abuse. (5 out of 5 pirated CDs)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Despite loving Lois Lowry, I never read this book as a kid. How I managed this, I still don’t know, but I fixed this on Sunday afternoon. What was I waiting for? I would have loved this book as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. Not much else to say here. Go read it if you haven’t already. It won’t take long. (5 out of 5 handkerchiefs)

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths: I listened to this book, first while hiking on Friday, then while riding back home from Asheville last weekend, then finishing it while walking around this week. This book has a lot of computer science in it, but everything is explained well, even for people with no computer experience. And don’t let the computer science part scare you–most of the book applies those principles to decision making and psychology. If you’re interested in a multidisciplinary approach to your learning, read this book. (4 out of 5 big decisions)

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.