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A Reading Nook, and Book 20: Lexicon

Those who know me may have noticed that, in the past six months or so, I haven’t shut up about my plans for my reading nook. Sorry. (I’m not sorry.)

If you’ve done it at all recently, you may remember that looking for a place to live is an incredible pain in the ass. I don’t know if having a deadline makes it harder–the “starting a job in this area on this date so need to be moved in by then” thing is kind of awful, and it seems like it might be easier if you could say, “You know, I’d like to buy a new house,” and start looking and not having any pressure and when one shows up that you like, you take it. I’m way oversimplifying. My point, though, is that the deadline means you have to hurry up and find something, and if it’s not perfect, well, you can’t be too picky because you’re limited to what’s available right now. And something better may show up, sure, but it also may not, and by then you’ve missed your chance.

When we were doing the housing hunt, it started like that. Every place we looked at had this “ehh, we could live with it” aura around it. And then Mike sent me a link to this one house on Craigslist. I went through the pictures thinking it wasn’t bad–two floors, two full bathrooms, a yard, and space for guests, and then. And then there was this room.

It’s a little bright orange room, shaped like an L, with the bottom of the L a bit wider than the top, which is more like a hallway–only slightly wider than the twin bed that’s in it in the picture.  Right at the very top of the L, right over the bed, is a big window with a pretty hardwood frame. I immediately fell in love with the house, and I responded to Mike, “It has a reading nook!”

When we went to look at it, we discovered that it also had other desirable features, one of the most important of which was a door leading to the stairs so we could keep our cats separated, but I was mostly excited about what I was absolutely set on making into my reading nook, especially when I saw that the very bottom of the L featured a huge built-in bookcase that wasn’t visible in the pictures.

We moved. We settled. We unpacked a bit, then got sick of it and stopped. We started working. We unpacked more. Life was happening. I was still talking about my plans for my reading nook, but a little part of me was worried that I’d just never get around to it, and the adorable little introvert cave that I dreamed of would never actually happen.

But for my birthday, Mike got me the thing I needed to get excited about it again: A Yogibo! And it arrived about a month early, so I had this giant purple bean bag chair sitting under a blanket in the living room, taunting me. So when I finally got to bring it upstairs and curl up in it and read, I knew where I had to go next.

Ikea.

Mike had never been to Ikea before. He was actually rather anti-Ikea, having very little experience with anything from there that wasn’t the absolute cheapest stuff they have that college kids get because they can’t afford the one that’s $20 more, and my bookcase, which is awesome but a pain in the ass to put together. Not complicated–just annoying. So it was incredibly entertaining to see how excited he got about everything.

Anyway, two weeks later, I finally had my dad install the thing that involved putting screws in the wall (which I’m sure I could do, but I’m not remotely confident in my ability to do it neatly), and my reading nook is complete!

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You can kind of see the tiny black foot on the left side of the picture, which is a giant T-Rex fossil wall decal that I got from Target because I’m an adult. I couldn’t get both it and the rug in the picture.

It’s just the coziest, comfiest little place! Books I own but haven’t read or really desperately need to re-read are currently living in the little side table, which is on wheels so I can pull it out and access the books in the back easily. And the Yogibo has two covers–the purple one shown, and a bright green waterproof one that I can take outside with me if it’s the right kind of nice day and I’m feeling extra motivated.

So if I never update this blog again, it’s not because I haven’t read anything. It’s because I don’t want to do anything but curl up and read in my little reading nook.

And speaking of books to curl up with:

Book 20: Lexicon by Max Barry

(If you actually follow this blog [so, Mom], you may have noticed that clicking the books always takes you to places to buy them. Up until now it’s always been Barnes and Noble, because while I hope people support independent bookstores, I hate hate hate the other big online book supplier and would much rather B&N get people’s business. However, it was recently brought to my attention that there are a few indie bookstores out there that do have pretty great online shops, so I’ll be linking to those from now on. Anyway! Moving on.)

THIS BOOK! THIS BOOK. OH MY GOD THIS BOOK.

I take notes when I’m reading. It just helps me remember the book, and if there’s anything specific I want to mention here, I can jot it down and then look later since I know it’ll take me forever to get my post up. My first note for this book was: “I’m on page 12 (which, I mean, the story started on page 3, so really page 9) and I’m already completely addicted.” My second note for this book was: “And I was so completely addicted that I didn’t take a single note. Oops!”

You look at the things it says on the cover, things like “An NPR Best Book of the Year,” and you think: “I’m sure this will be good, but it will also probably be dense and overly pretentious. I should find something fast to read after this, because this will probably take a couple of weeks to get through and I’ll need a literary cleanse.” And you are horribly wrong, because you didn’t notice the thing that said “thriller,” and you didn’t really get that sometimes NPR isn’t super pretentious and wants a fun read with an extra layer of depth to it if you want it.

The premise: We already know words have power, but how much? In Lexicon, a group of people has discovered that every person has a string of syllables that, when uttered to them, makes them completely suggestible. Once you figure out someone’s words, you have 100% power over them–they’ll do anything you tell them, no questions. And what’s more, this group has figured out a series of seemingly innocuous questions–Are you a cat person or a dog person?–that divide you into one of 228 categories and let them know what your words are. These people are called Poets, and one of the Poets has gone rogue.

Lexicon follows the story of Emily, who is taken from the streets where she lives to study with the Poets because of her skill with words, and the story of Wil, who is kidnapped by poets in hopes that he can stop the rogue Poet who threatens the world.

I couldn’t put this down. I probably read it in a day and a half. I really liked Barry’s writing (this is the first book of his I’ve read, though I can’t wait to read more). I especially liked how there’s a bit of a mystery to it, as there is with any thriller, and he lets you figure it out yourself (so you feel smart), but not so far ahead of when he tells you that you feel like he’s insulting your intelligence by acting as if you wouldn’t have figured it out already. You figure things out just about as the characters do, which means he doesn’t do that thing where he withholds information that the main POV character knew and you feel cheated afterward.

This is a great piece of science fiction. On the one hand, it was the type of thriller that I just couldn’t put down–a fun story with a bit of a mystery and no time to breathe. On the other, it really makes you think about words and the power they might have. We already know that certain people are more persuasive than others, while others are much more easily persuaded, but how far could that go? With everything we’re learning about the human brain, it’s beginning to seem more and more like a computer–could there be some sort of command code for the brain? Okay, probably not like this–it’s a little too magical to feel realistic. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t wondering what segment I’d be in, what my words would be, if I’d be the right type of person to join the Poets. (I don’t think so.)

Of course, when you think about how brains work, and how language works–I say “tree,” and that makes your eardrums vibrate in a certain way, which carries a signal to your brain, which releases or moves or something some chemicals that then make you think “tree.” Right? (My neuroscience is a little rusty.) But if I scream “run,” your ears do the same thing–they vibrate–but the signal they carry this time causes a very different chemical to be released. So maybe it’s not quite as unrealistic to think that there might be some sort of sound that could make someone more suggestible. I mean, people persuade people to do things all the time, right? Completely ridiculous things. Maybe they know something we don’t.

Am I getting a little paranoid?

So: Should you read this book? I think it has a fairly wide range of appeal. If you like fast-paced dystopic fiction, definitely! If you’re interested in words and want a fun story, definitely! If you like thrillers like Gone Girl and wouldn’t mind a little science fiction in your reading, definitely! And if you read it, you should let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Coming Soon…

21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1 by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 2 by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 3 by Michael Scott

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A Completely True Story, and Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild

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People keep asking me how my move was.

Unfortunately, most people who have asked this have asked via text message, where it’s difficult for me to respond with more than a few words. “Not bad, hired movers–still unpacking, though!” It gets the gist across, but it leaves out a lot. So: It was stressful, and it sucked, and it killed a part of me I will never get back.

My name is Rachael, and this is the story of how I died.

For most of the move, nothing happened. Nothing at all. We packed, we cleaned, we hired movers to do all the hardest parts for us, which is absolutely the way to go if you’re in a situation where it’ll be reimbursed (which, fortunately, we were). We had this great plan for the Official Moving Day: The movers would get there. I would go on a coffee run, since they probably woke up around 5am to get there when they did and it seemed rude not to offer coffee. (Only one wanted coffee, but that was okay.) Then we’d load up my car and I’d head out, taking our cat, Zoombini, with me. Mike would take the other cat, Chloe, when he left later on, since Chloe’s less likely to get in the way or bolt out the door.

Some important backstory that I should share with you at this point: Zoomy is loud. She’s not always loud, but if she is displeased or impatient, you know about it. We’ve taken her to the vet a few times and she just yells for the entire 15 minute drive. She hates the car. When she hears a can open, she’s sitting right by the counter (or sometimes trying to jump onto the counter) making more noise than you’d think is reasonable for a cat to make. For this reason, I wanted to give her some Benadryl before the drive. I figured, she’ll sleep, and when she wakes up she’ll be somewhere new, it won’t be as traumatic for her! And she’ll be quiet, so it won’t be as traumatic for me!

But we couldn’t find agreeing sources telling us how much Benadryl to give a cat, so Mike found something online that said you can put a blanket over the cat carrier and, like a bird, they will think it’s night and go to sleep.

At the very worst, we figured, how long could she possibly yell for?

So of course, as soon as I start the car: MROWWWWW! MROWWWWW! MROWWWWWWWWWW!

I put the blanket over her carrier. It becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t going to work. It’s July, and the air conditioner in my car is pretty good, but I can hear her panting between MROWWWWWWWWWs. I didn’t even know cats could pant.

MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant* MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant*

This wasn’t going well. I pushed the blanket off. She kept panting. I tried reaching my finger into the cage to rub her head, but she pulled back. She’d have none of that.

At this point, I’m about 15 minutes into the drive and I’m already looking for a phone pole to crash into. Two hours and 15 minutes to go.

I decide to sing to her.

We sing to our cats at home. We take whatever song is stuck in our head, or playing in the background, or on the TV, or whatever, and make it about them. Occasionally that means some loose semblance of lyrics constructed that describe the cat, but mostly, it’s singing their name to the tune of the song. I don’t know if this is a normal thing people do–in fact, I’m sure it’s not–but they seem to like it.

I search my brain for some songs that she’d be familiar enough with and might comfort her. I’ve been on a Joss Whedon kick lately (okay, I’m always on a Joss Whedon kick), so I go with some Dr. Horrible. I go through “A Cat’s Gotta Zoom when a Cat’s Gotta Zoom,” “With my Zoomcat I will Hug my Cat,” and “I Cannot Believe This Cat.” Nothing’s working. I continue the Joss Whedon trend by trying out some stuff from the musical episode of Buffy (“She will Zoom Through the Fire” and “Let Me Hug My Cat”).

Nothing’s working. I’m sitting in my car trying to think of anything that I might sing to her regularly enough that she’d recognize it. I try Disney (“I’ll Make a Cat out of Zoom,” “Let Her Zoom”). I try Broadway (“Zoomycat,” to the tune of “Popular”).

Nothing’s working. I try turning the air conditioner up, thinking maybe she’s really hot, but the extra noise just seems to freak her out more. The MROWWWWWWWs become MROOOWWWWWWWWWWs, and she’s suddenly also bodychecking the side of her carrier. This is not better. This is worse. I turn the AC back down.

Finally, I realize what I sing to her most often: TV show themes. No specific TV show or anything–I just usually sing the theme to her.

I try the Doctor Who theme. Zoom-EEEE-zoom….ZOOOOOMY zoom….ZOOOOOOOMY zoom, zoom zoom zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

Sherlock. ZOOMY! Zoomy-zoom-zoom-zoom ZOOMY! Zoomycat zoomycat zoomycat zoomy zoomy zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

I’m grasping now. What else has an easily sing-able theme?

New Girl? Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoom cat! MROWWWWWWWWW!

Big Bang Theory?

Zoom zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom zoom zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy–ZOOM!
Zoomy zoomy zoom, zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom,
ZOOMY ZOOMY ZOOM!
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom zoom.
ZOOM!

……

Silence.

For the entire time that I sang the Big Bang Theory theme song, and about 5 minutes afterward, Zoomy is calm. She is quiet. She is kind of panting because it’s hot in the car (I try the AC again and the silence breaks), but she is quiet. And I am happy.

…..mrowwww….

MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

The silence lasts about five minutes, at which point I begin to wonder: Will it work again?

I sing again.

Silence.

And five minutes later, MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

I endure the yelling for a couple of minutes. It’s really only been about 40 minutes at this point (an hour and 50 minutes left!) and I’ve already done this song twice.

I try another song again. No luck.

I sing the Big Bang Theory them again. Silence.

We developed a pattern. I would sing, and it would buy me five-ish minutes of silence. At this point, her patience would run out and she’d start yelling again. I’d put up with it for as long as I possibly could, and then sing The Song again. I have never hated a song more. I begin to fantasize about the next time I’m at home watching TV and the show comes on and I throw the TV out the window.

Toward the latter part of the drive–probably the last half hour or so–the silences started getting a little longer. I glanced over, and she’s squatting in her carrier, tense, her eyes closed and her mouth open. She looks like she’s given up and is just waiting to die.

Inevitably, she starts yelling again, and I start singing again. I am wishing death on every person who has ever been involved in The Big Bang Theory. Zoomy is quiet, and I am grateful, now, for those very same people.

Finally, I get to the new house. I bring Zoomy inside. I set her up in one room with her food and her litter box, open the windows,  and close the door. She is hiding under something.

I look around. The house is perfect. It’s sunny, and warm, but not so hot that I’m uncomfortable. The gardens are gorgeous. I have a swingset. I go sit on it.

I realize, then, that I died. I have died, and this is heaven. At some point between the 15th and 30th rendition of “My Cat’s Name Over and Over to the Tune of the Big Bang Theory Theme Song,” I snapped and drove the car off a bridge.

I’m surprisingly okay with this.

Until, of course, I look at my arm and realize I have driver’s sunburn, because I broke my #1 Rule of Summer (never go outside without sunscreen) for the entire drive down. I’m not dead.

I hear a faint mrowwwww come from the house.

Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

From a story about my cat to a book about cats.

I like to take book recommendations from people I care about. If someone I like really loves a book, chances are, unless it sounds truly horrible, I’ll give it a shot. I figure there are two things that can happen. I could love the book, too. Maybe they have similar taste to mine, or they just have a feeling it’s something I’ll love. That’s a great outcome. But at the very least, even if I don’t love the book, I get to know that person better. It gives me a little bit of insight into them, what they like, what matters to them (and since I like buying books as gifts, what I should get them for Christmas).

So one day, I was at my dad’s house and there was this book on the table. It wasn’t Into the Wild, it was much later in the series. I look at it and laugh, because (a) the cover is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and (b) it’s exactly the type of book I imagine Mia, my 11-year-old stepsister, would love.

At dinner, I ask her about the book. I always ask kids about books if I can. It makes for much more interesting conversation than “Soooooooo are there any cute boys in your class?” or “Oh my GAWD your HAIR is so CA-YOOOOT” (I hate myself right now), and there are much better things to talk about than boys and physical appearances, and I think it’s nice for kids to know that.

This book, though. Mia’s eyes lit up, and I knew this would be The Topic of Conversation for the Night. Never mind that my brother is with us, freshly home from Afghanistan, with crazy war stories. No, I asked about a book about cats. Everyone is pretty okay with it. Mia launches into a description of the books.

“These are the best books ever! It’s about these tribes of warrior cats that live in the forest! There’s Shadowclan, they’re evil, an’ there’s Riverclan an’ Windclan an’ Thunderclan an’ they’re the good guys!” She opens the book to show me a map. “See, Thunderclan lives here, an’ Shadowclan lives over here, an’ this here, that’s the rock where they have meetings! An’ that’s the thunderpath, and these are the houses where the twolegs live, and that one’s where Firepaw comes from! They’re sooooooo good!

“WAIT! LET ME GO GET YOU THE FIRST BOOK!”

So I sit, working on my dinner, and begin to question my decision to ask Mia about a book about cats.

She returns and gleefully shoves a book into my hand.

“You’ll love it! It’s soooooo good! An’ when you finish it, you can borrow the second one!”

At this point, I’ve accepted my fate. I’m reading the first book. But.

“Mia,” I say, “I’ll read this one, but I might be a little too old to read all of them.”

“Oh, but once you read the first one, you’ll have to read the rest! They’re just soooo good!

So I take home Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (which, as I soon learn, is a nom-de-plume for a group of five people who write the Warriors series together). I hope it will offer me insight into Mia’s mind, but I doubt it’ll offer me anything I couldn’t figure out from the fact that she’s 11 and her favorite movie is still (I believe) The Lion King and she likes to roar.

She’s the coolest kid.

This book surprised me. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It was every bit as cheesy as you expect a book about four clans of warrior cats who rule the forest (which, if you look at the map, is really more like a small wooded area between some houses), but it was still much better than I expected. It worked well as the beginning to a series–I remember reading books as a kid that were the first in a series but solved every single problem by the end. This book didn’t do that. It left questions up in the air, which had me almost tempted to take Mia up on her offer of the second book. (Almost. I’m 26 years old.) I didn’t see the traitor immediately, though I did see him long before the book revealed him as such–however, even then, I didn’t figure out his treason right away. I just knew I hated him.

And that’s where it really surprised me. I felt something for one of these characters.

And later on, when the character I could have sworn was the  eventual love interest for the main character died, I was shocked. THIS IS A KID’S BOOK. YOU CAN’T KILL THE PRETTY AND SYMPATHETIC MEDICINE CAT. YOU JUST CAN’T.

But they did, and it really upset me for a minute, before I said to myself, Rachael, this is a kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest. Calm yourself down. (But to be honest, it still feels like a betrayal.)

END SPOILERS.

So even though it had lines like “Unsheathed claws glinted in the moonlight,” I liked this book more than I thought I would. The one thing that really bothered me was the prophecy at the beginning and how it plays out. The clan leader hears a prophecy that only fire can save their clan, and as soon as a bright orange cat (or rather, “kittypet”–a cat who is a human pet) shows up, she invites it to join their clan against all tradition and advice of her clan members and renames it Firepaw. I would have preferred for someone who hadn’t heard the prophecy to have renamed Firepaw, because it felt like cheating the way it happened.

For the most part, this book went the way I expected it to, and if “kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest” sounds like something you’d enjoy, I recommend it. I can imagine these being really fun beach reads if you’re the sort of person to go to the beach.

I made some predictions after I finished this book, and the next time I saw Mia, she confirmed that every single one of them does, in fact, come true. I, therefore, will not be continuing to read the Warriors series, but I look forward to future updates on the goings on in Thunderclan whenever Mia reads a new book. And even if it didn’t offer me some great new insight into her mind, I’m glad I know what she’s reading, and I’m glad I know they’re not quite as ridiculous as I expected.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

 

The Free Time Delusion, and Book 16: The Round House

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I know in my last update, I promised more updates soon. And I fully intended to have more updates soon. I thought, I’ll be unemployed! I’ll be packing and moving and unpacking, but it’s not like I won’t still have tons and tons of free time compared to when I’m working, right? Right? I will have so much time, I figured, to read and blog and read more and it’ll be awesome.

Well. You may have noticed that that post was almost a month ago, and I clearly haven’t written anything on here since. So I have come to the conclusion that I was deluded.

My delusion, though, was not that I would have free time. Free time, I have. And I have free time because I look at the still-enormous pile of boxes in our new living room and think, no rush. I got the kitchen unpacked, which was the most important thing, because it sure felt like we went two or three weeks without eating vegetables. Books, well, I have enough unread books that I either didn’t really pack or have bought since I got down here that I’m not so pressed for reading material that I need to hurry up and figure out right now what I’m doing with all my 15 boxes of books. Where do they go? How do I organize them? This house has a bunch of built in bookshelves, so I have options. Do I separate by genre? Do I put all the books that make me look smart on the first floor where guests are more likely to be? Do I just put everything in one place and use other shelves for things that aren’t books? What do you put on a shelf besides books?

The struggle, as they say, is real.

So if I’ve been putting off unpacking, what have I been doing? Well, I’ve been reading, so I was at least right about that–I actually just started book 28, so I have some serious catching up to do, blog wise. I’ve been exploring. We now live on Cape Cod, which is just absolutely beautiful. We’re right near the beach, right near an adorable little downtown, we’ve got the best fish and chips joint right near us. We’ve got two cute local bookstores that I’ve explored and a few more that I haven’t yet (you know, because I’m still unemployed, and going into a cute local bookstore inevitably means buying at least two books). Since we got the kitchen mostly unpacked, I’ve been cooking, and enjoying our wonderful little kitchen with room for absolutely everything. I have always loved cooking, but a bad kitchen just ruins it.

And, well, this is where I feel kind of guilty, the space where I could–should–have been blogging. Because when I’m done with all that, I’m exhausted. I’ve been exploring and cooking and kind of unpacking, and it’s summer and it’s warm (not, thankfully, disgustingly hot) and humid and I want to turn my brain off. So, well, I discovered that we now have HBO, and I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, which I previously had only seen Season 1 of because I didn’t have HBO. I’ve read the books, and I love the books, and it’s been long enough that the fact that I read and loved the books isn’t ruining the show for me–I’m not really having any “oh my god it so did not happen like that” moments. (Well, okay, a few.) And then, watching Game of Thrones makes me want to have some epic swordfights of my own. So. I’ve been playing Zelda. To be specific, replaying Twilight Princess.

What? I like games.

And this last weekend, I was down with my mom pet-sitting at my aunt’s house. I love doing this, because we’ve been going to the same place for so long that there’s not a whole lot of new stuff to do, so we can sit around and relax and read and not feel guilty about it. I meant to blog while I was there, I did, but when I finished book 26 (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and asked my mom which of the three books I brought with me I should read next, she selected Gone Girl, because she’d read it, and she figured I’d get through it while we were there, and she wanted to know what I thought. She was right–I got through it while I was there. Damn that book was hard to put down.

So now, here I am, finally convincing myself to use my free time to actually post an update.

Book 16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This was absolutely one of my favorite books I have ever read.

I feel I should qualify this. Most of my favorite books–I mean, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you maybe have a sense of the types of books I read. I love fantasy. I like science fiction quite a bit. The Harry Potter series, obviously. Anything by Neil Gaiman. A bunch of Terry Pratchett. Zelazny. Even the classics that I’ve loved have had elements of fantasy in them–The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula are my favorites. And Susan Cain’s Quiet deserves a place on the list–it’s a nonfiction book about the power of introverts, and reading it made me feel like I’m normal, which was oddly empowering.

So to be a work of literary fiction with pretty much no elements of the supernatural (I say pretty much because…well, we’ll get to that) and make it onto my “favorites ever” list, that’s saying a whole freakin’ lot.

I never even would have picked this up, not in a million years, if it hadn’t been a book club book. A woman gets attacked, coming of age, blah blah blah…no thank you. But it was a book club book, so I did pick it up. And I started reading it, and then I almost immediately put it back down and read something else and skipped that month’s book club meeting altogether. Because what I did not realize was that when the back cover said a woman was attacked, it meant raped. Not robbed at gunpoint, or knifed, or anything friendly like that. And this, honestly, is probably one of the reasons I read so much fantasy. Once you get into realistic literary fiction, you start having to deal with problems in your books that people have to deal with in real life. I’m much more the type of person who likes to pretend real-life problems don’t exist whenever I can. I ignore the news as much as I can because it’s just too depressing, and I’d prefer for my fiction to–okay, I can’t say “not be depressing,” because let’s face it: A whole lot of fantasy is pretty dark. But I prefer it to be dark and depressing in a way that, deep down, I know is not even remotely possible. As soon as something happens in a book about which I can say, oh, yes, something very similar happened to this friend of mine, I shut out emotionally. So rape is usually off the table, with, what is it now, 1 in 4 women having actually gone through it? Why should fiction have anything to do with the real world?

So, yeah. I almost put the book right back down and picked something less horrific. For example, this may be the perfect time to introduce myself to some Lovecraft.

Why didn’t I put it down? Well, there was the fact that it was a book club book, but it’s not like I hadn’t ever missed a meeting before. To be completely, totally, 100% honest, I kept going because I had already written it on The List. The List is something that I have in the very beginning of the Moleskine notebook that I’ve been taking all my reading notes in for the past year. It’s a two-page spread, and I numbered the first 50 lines of this two-page spread. For some reason, it wouldn’t have been okay with me to just number as I went. This way, I can more easily visualize my progress, which is great! But if I decide immediately, as I almost did with this book, that I’m not actually going to read it, then my whole list gets messed up. I have to cross it out and then cross out and re-write every single number after it. The whole page would just be a mess, and since that would have been unacceptable, I kept going.

And at first, it was okay. It was clearly very well-written, but I was too worried that I’d hate it to realize how good it was. But as I kept going, I realized that even though the book starts with a rape, and the events of the book take place because of the rape, it isn’t about the rape. It’s not a Rape Mystery, as I originally thought it might be. It’s not even about the woman who was raped. It’s about her 13 year old son.

When a mother is raped, what happens to her kid? In this case, he has to grow up. He has to grow up and face the real world and learn how to take care of himself fast, because his mother had PTSD and couldn’t help him.

One of the things that I loved about this book was that the age and gender of the narrator had absolutely nothing to do with the intended audience. This wasn’t a book about a middle-aged woman for middle-aged women, or a book about a 16 year old girl for teenage girls, or a book about a 13 year old boy for tween/teen boys. It’s a book about a 13 year old boy for adults, definitely not intended for or even appropriate for a 13 year old boy. I loved that it put me in shoes so completely different from my own, shoes that I could never even think I could wear, and forced me to wear the shoes and identify with the shoes and understand the shoes and think of the shoes as equal to my own. It challenged me and dared me in a way that I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve been challenged in before. I was absolutely blown away. I threw it across the room when I finished it.

Every character in this book felt real. Each of them was three-dimensional and inherently flawed; every single one of them had been through shit. It takes place on a Native American reservation in the 1980’s, so even if characters hadn’t personally been through shit, they dealt with all kinds of prejudice from the outside world, and even the young boys were aware of that. (That’s another thing I liked. I don’t like when people dumb down teenagers, acting like they can’t pick up on anything. They do, and Erdrich knows that.) The teenage boys will remind you of the boys you knew as a teenager, and if you had the good fortune to be a teenage girl, you might be a little shocked at some of the stuff that apparently goes on in a 13 year old boy’s head.

Now, I promised earlier that I’d talk about the elements of the supernatural in this book. The time for that has come. As I mentioned, it takes place on a Native American reservation, and Native American mythology is, accordingly, very important to the story, albeit in a purely metaphorical sense. There’s no point where any supernatural characters actually show up, but learning some of the mythology ends up being incredibly important to Joe’s personal development. It helps him understand what’s going on, and it helps him understand himself a bit more.

This leads me to my Funny Story About This Book. As I mentioned previously, numerous times, this was a book club book. Now, at the beginning of each meeting of Book Club, someone would ask, “Did anyone not like this book?” It’s a good question. Not everyone’s the same, and it usually makes for some interesting conversation, debate, deeper understandings, etc. So we started this meeting with that same question. Did anyone not like this book? And two older women raised their hands, and when pressed for reasons, one of them simply said: “Well, does she always write about…you know…Native American…stuff?” She was clearly incredibly uncomfortable just being at this meeting, and any time someone mentioned another one of Erdrich’s books as being worth reading, the woman would ask, “Does that one have…Native American stuff?” As if we can’t all tell that she’s just a horrible, racist bigot. (The other woman who raised her hand seemed to agree at first about the “Native American” part, but eventually it seemed more like she just couldn’t get into the more mythological aspects, which is slightly more acceptable than the tone of voice Woman #1 said “stuff” in.) So an important lesson, dear readers, is that if you’re horribly racist and your book club reads a book that takes place on a Native American reservation, you should probably just not go to the meeting.

And thus concludes my write-up of book 16! Has anyone else read it? I’d love to hear what you thought. And if you haven’t, you really, really should.

Here’s what’s coming up soon!

17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

The Blahs, and Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars

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Am I the only person who’s been feeling blah lately?

Whenever summer comes around, it seems like everyone I know is super excited about all the great weather we have, the prospect of going to the beach, shorts and flip flops, and all the other stuff that summer apparently means to most people. I guess I’m the worst kind of person, though, because as soon as it breaks 75 degrees, I find it disgustingly hot out. I can’t stand the idea of spending a day at the beach–the sun, the sand, the seaweed–it’s all too much for me. And I’d much rather wear jeans and a hoodie than shorts and a tank top. I’m just not made for summer, I guess.

It doesn’t help that we’re moving soon. I just put my work schedule for the week up on my refrigerator planner (which is the best invention ever, by the way) and it’s forcing me to think about the fact that Friday is my last day at my super-awesome job, because as much as I love it, I would have to be literally insane to try to make a 2.5-hour commute work. And no matter how hard I try, I can neither figure out how to apparate nor convince my boss to set the shop up on the Floo network.

So moving means leaving my job, which I love; my friends, whom I will miss; and this town, which I have grown fond of over the past three years. It also means needing to hunt for a new job, which could be difficult and stressful; having to make new friends, which is terrifying and will likely take a couple of years; and needing to adjust to a whole new area that I’ve only been to a few times before. Also? There’s no Target. How are there still areas with no Target?

Moving also means packing, which, surprise! We’ve barely started doing. And that’s okay, because after Friday when we both finish work, we’ve got about a week and a half before Moving Day, and that’s more than enough time to pack up our small apartment. What’s not okay is that everyone keeps asking me, “So you’re all packed, right?” Because, no, we’re not, and we shouldn’t be, because if we were, then we’d have nothing to do during that week and a half–there would be no packing left to do, and all our stuff would be packed so we wouldn’t have any way of entertaining ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t start having a panic attack every time someone asks.

All this stuff combines to make me feel a little depressed and much more anxious than usual, and that then starts making me feel weird physically, and I basically want to curl up and sleep until I’m magically all settled into our new house and bestowed with an awesome job and group of friends. So I’m trying to focus on positive things. Like, if it takes a while to find a job, I’ll have a lot of downtime to read in my awesome new reading nook in my house! And we’ll have a nice yard, and we’ll be near the beach, so if I want a change of pace I will have options for reading outside! Maybe I’ll get a job at a bookstore and be able to get an employee discount on books! There might be an awesome book club in the area where people actually read the book and I’ll meet people who like books!

And since that entire list of positive things to think about boils down to “hooray books,” does anyone have any ideas about other things I might be able to look forward to when moving? Because as great as books are, sometimes they are just depressing and not helpful when in a funk. Which reminds me, I have a book to write about.

Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yes, thank you, I will take the non-movie cover.

Okay, first, can we very quickly talk about how this book came out in 2012, but the paperback just came out a couple of months ago? I don’t think I’m alone in greatly preferring to read paperbacks. I don’t know what other people’s reasons are, but I have wrist issues, so holding a hardcover for long periods of time gets frustrating. I therefore find it ridiculous that they seem to be waiting longer and longer to release the paperback versions of popular books. Are they hoping we’ll cave and buy the hardcover and they’ll make more money? I, for one, refuse to cave. Unless the paperback is only released with a movie cover, which at first this seemed like it would be (despite what Barnes and Noble’s website will have you believe, there is a paperback that looks like this one).

If you’re reading this and you don’t know what The Fault in Our Stars is about, I would like to thank you for making my blog the first thing you look at after you crawled out from the rock you’ve been living under. I’m flattered! But seriously, you know this, right? Two teenagers with cancer fall in love and go on an adventure and it all ends in tragedy and pain because, duh, it’s John Green. So I’m just going to go ahead and fill the rest of this post with SPOILERS if it’s alright with you.

REALLY, IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS AND DON’T ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP READING HERE.

The big spoiler was spoiled for me early on, long before the paperback version came out and I actually read the book. Unfortunately, in this situation, it did actually kind of spoil the book. Before I read that Augustus dies, everything I had read let me sit there believing that oh, well, Hazel has terminal cancer, and John Green likes to kill off main characters, so I mean this is pretty obvious right? And I would have gotten thoroughly attached to Augustus and thrown the book across the room and cried when he ended up being the one to die. Instead, as soon as he was introduced, I knew what was going to happen, didn’t let myself get attached, and was just waiting for him to get sick again and eventually die.

My whole experience got screwed up because of that spoiler, and because of it, the book that everyone seems to think is the greatest thing John Green has ever done ended up being tied for my least favorite of his books. Don’t get me wrong! I loved it. Like the media and about 80% of teenage girls, I’m a little in love with everything John Green. It’s just that I loved Paper Towns a lot more, and Looking for Alaska a whole lot more. The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines are tied, oddly, since they’re the two of his books with the fewest similarities. (I haven’t read Will Grayson, Will Grayson yet. I think that’s slated for book 25. We’ll see where that falls in the lineup.)

Of course, it might not have been entirely the spoiler’s fault. I found the characters in The Fault in Our Stars less relatable than his other characters, which I think may mean I failed at reading it. I didn’t relate, and I didn’t get attached–I was so afraid they were going to die that I kept them at arm’s length, which–

SHIT. John Green, you win. Okay. I see what you did there. Because, really, of all the characters in John Green’s books, Hazel is probably the one I should relate to. Of course, I don’t have cancer, but I can understand depression. I totally get the whole life revolving around a book thing. I understand being really introverted. I even completely agree with her philosophy as Augustus describes it in his eulogy for her: I see all these people who think they need to do something of enormity with their lives, that they need to be remembered forever for their lives to have mattered at all, and I simply don’t get it. I write, and if I eventually write something that people will remember, well, I don’t think I’d want that to be too big a deal (okay, let’s be honest: Van Houten is the most relatable character ever). But if I got hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t be lying in the hospital thinking I was going to die and worrying that I didn’t matter, because I know I matter, and the people who would remember me are enough. (Then, of course, the surgeons would come over and fix the small thing that was wrong, and I’d get a cast, and everything would be okay and I’d live, because there’s still a whole lot more I want to do before I’m really okay with dying. I’m not saying that dying would be okay with me–just that I wouldn’t be worried about mattering and being remembered.)

So as relatable as Hazel was, I didn’t relate to her. I kept her at arm’s length because she had cancer and I didn’t want to get hurt if John Green ended the book in the middle of a sentence. I hid behind mild annoyance at her refusal to be a little bit introspective and realize why what happened after the end of her favorite book mattered so much to her. “Come on, Hazel,” I was thinking, “you obviously just need to know that the people who care about you will go on afterward. Talk to your parents. They can give you what you need.” I also had the, “Come on, Hazel. It’s a book. Nothing happens after. Books just end.” See? I told you Van Houten was relatable.

END SPOILERS

All this being said, I really did love The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t think my sudden mid-blogging epiphany is enough to move it above Looking for Alaska, but now, at the end of this post, I’m tying it with Paper Towns instead of An Abundance of Katherines. And I devoured this book. As in, I read it in five hours, curled up on my couch waiting to drive down to my mom’s. I went and saw the movie within a week of it coming out, and though I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved the book, I did cry more.

And so we come to the big question: Should you read this book? And the answer isn’t complicated: Yes, you should. It’s incredibly sad, but that’s okay. Read it, then think about it, and think quite a lot, because if you read the spoilers, you’ll realize that it took me until halfway through this post to get what I needed from this book out of it. And I think that that’s something that sad books have over happy ones: They generally contain something that we need to read. That’s why they hurt so much. We may not need it immediately, and I think at least part of the reason Looking for Alaska still outranks this one in my mind is that I needed the lesson from that one immediately, whereas the lesson I took from The Fault in Our Stars is one I’ll hold onto until it becomes a bit more relevant, which will hopefully not be for a very long time.

I’ve talked before about how much I love John Green, and in my last post, I discussed the importance of YA lit. So before I finish, I have to add one more thing. Remember the Madeleine L’Engle quote I used? No? Here it is again:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Fault in Our Stars does exactly that. Can you imagine reading a “cancer patients in love” book for adults? Every time I try, it just seems like it would be overly pretentious, preachy, and/or saccharine. For young adults, it worked. It gave teens something they didn’t have yet, and adults a way to think about things in a way that we usually don’t have to. I believe that this book will help people connect and relate to their loved ones with terminal illness, whether that illness happens now or 30 years from now. And I think it gave kids with terminal illness a chance to relate a little more to something in pop culture and maybe feel a little more normal, though of course, I have no experience in that and may be way off base or even possibly offending someone (sorry). In all, it’s a worthwhile read, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

Coming Soon:
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson

60 Hours! And Book 10: The Office of Mercy

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I’m way behind right now.

I’m behind both in that I am not nearly on track for the book-a-week thing I was aiming for when I started this project (thanks, 1Q84) and behind in that I finished The Office of Mercy about a month ago. Oops. Sorry. I’ve been busy.

See, the thing is, I work full-time at a candy store. One of those little, local, mom-and-pop everything-is-made-there types of candy stores. And I love it. I absofreakinlutely love my job. People sometimes look at me funny, because I went to college and got a degree and I’m pretty darn smart, so they think I’m crazy and/or lying when I talk about how much I love my job. Like I’m supposed to hate it just because it’s retail and therefore not a “serious grown-up job.” But I really do love it. I love the people I work with. I believe in the product we sell (I mean, who doesn’t believe in amazingly good, locally made, fair trade chocolate?). I love being able to discuss book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series with the store manager and the guy who signs my paychecks (though not well, since they both just finished it and it’s been a few years for me). So, if my boss says I can go in early, I do, not because I want a slightly bigger paycheck, but because I really love being there and feel good putting in a little extra to help the company out. And if they need someone to stay late, if I’m available, I’m there.

What I’m trying to say here is, basically, that with Easter being tomorrow and me working the job that I do and loving it as I do, I’ve been working a lot. A whole lot. I’ve had one day off in April so far, and I spent it apartment hunting–not relaxing. Exciting, but not relaxing.

And I just got home from the first 60 hour week I’ve ever worked. And I went a little insane from the sleep deprivation/amount of caffeine I was consuming in order to function fully. Mike went to get food last night and when he got home, he found me curled up on the couch crying over fictional characters because, well, sometimes when you’re really really tired and crashing from the caffeine you had that day and you see a picture of Rose Tyler or Kevin Tran, you just “can’t even.”

I may never work a 60 hour week again. I don’t know exactly where my life is headed from here–Mike and I are moving quite far away for his new job this summer, so I won’t have another holiday season at the candy store. And I’m sad about that, because it really is a lot of fun. We stayed open a little late today to let the stragglers get their last-minute stuff–I mean, if we can stay open, I’d feel bad depriving some kid of his chocolate bunny, you know?– and they absolutely did not believe us that we weren’t itching to get home/did not resent them for coming in so late. We were standing behind the counter like, no, we’re good, really. We love being here. And they said, no, we’re in the business (retail, I guess?), we know how it is. And my boss and I just kind of looked at each other, like, why does no one ever believe us?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get across here is this: When I’ve been home over the past month or so, I haven’t really had much energy left, so I haven’t been writing. And, sadly, I haven’t been reading much, either. My brain is kind of tired. I have a few days off next week, though! So I can catch up a little.

I picked up The Office of Mercy on an impulse in my local bookstore. There’s this one person who works there whose staff picks are always amazing. “Ryan.” I had been looking over some of Ryan’s recommendations, and I’d followed a few and they had always been great, so when I saw this I grabbed it without a second thought. I had one of those staff-picks-brain-crushes on this Ryan person. So when the cute female cashier told me that she had just finished this book, I said something like, “Oh, yeah, well Ryan’s recommendations are always great so I had to pick it up.” And I’m really glad I didn’t use a gender pronoun, because she then says, “Oh, I’m Ryan!” And I suddenly felt extremely awkward and was glad I hadn’t mentioned my crush.

I’m struggling with how to categorize The Office of Mercy. It’s a dystopia, and I wouldn’t quite call it YA, but it’s definitely bordering on YA. YA-adjacent. Natasha, our protagonist, lives in America-5, one of numerous large underground communities that were built after a devastating apocalyptic event that destroyed most of Earth’s population called The Storm. She has been working at her dream job in the Office of Mercy in her community for a few years now, but she has doubts about the work they do “granting mercy” to surviving tribes of the Storm–and (small spoiler) as you learn very early on in the book, “granting mercy” means “killing with bombs.” She has been taught from a young age that life outside the America-5 is too horrible to be worth living–too filled with disease, hunger, loss, and suffering, and that it is cruel to force them to continue to live in these conditions, but there isn’t any way for their community to sustain potential additions to their population–and besides, the people of the tribes are barely even people compared to them. They’re more like animals. Death is the only way. Natasha’s doubts are understandable, but what will she find when she goes outside?

And I want to say, “holy crap this book was amazing!” Because I liked it. I really did, I enjoyed reading it, and I liked having a 24 year old female protagonist instead of a 16 year old female protagonist, mostly because I can’t quite identify with a 16 year old female protagonist simply because I’d feel really weird saying I identify strongly with a fictional 16 year old. But The Office of Mercy didn’t quite pull me in the way other dystopias have. There were a few spoileriffic things that bugged me, and I’ll get into those spoilers now, so if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about The Office of Mercy that made it not quite click for me. I’ve read a bunch of YA Dystopian Lit, and I’ve always really liked it, but it’s not like there’s ever a series that doesn’t have at least a couple of things that bother me. I’m not going to get into details because no one deserves to have things spoiled that aren’t even the things they mean to be reading about, but it’s not like I thought the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the Matched series, the Uglies series… hot damn, I read a lot of YA Dystopian stuff. Anyway, it’s not like I found them all to be flawless. So I have a few ideas:

1. Maybe I’ve read too much dystopian lit. The current trend is at least somewhat formulaic, so I find most of the book pretty predictable, and then by the time I get to the end, the big twist that makes it different from the rest stops being “Wow, I never saw that coming!” and becomes “Oh, there’s the twist they threw in to make their stand out from the pack.” In The Office of Mercy, I liked the big twist ending/”thing the author did differently” a lot. The society wins. The society’s never won before that I know of–it’s always basically a story about how a teenage girl successfully leads a rebellion. But Natasha isn’t a teenager, and her attempts at rebellion are unsuccessful. And not only does society win, but they win her. By the end, she absolutely believes that she’s doing the right thing when she blows up her erstwhile allies. And I liked that. I thought it was really cool and different. But by the time I got there, I still wasn’t quite hooked enough to… care, I guess.

2. Perhaps it was too short. Everything I listed up there was at least a trilogy, so maybe adding some bits and drawing it out longer would have given me more time to get fully absorbed in the story. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe I just would have been annoyed because it’s not like I’m going to leave a series unfinished, but god this one is boring. I don’t know.

3. It might have been entirely that the romance sideplot pissed me off. Natasha’s love interest, Jeffrey Montague (yes, Montague, I rolled my eyes so hard) is two generations older than her. She’s 24, he’s 43. At the beginning, I got the sense that she was reading too much into a relationship that he saw more as a father-daughter type friendship–it was clear that he was a mentor of sorts. But then when he eventually returns her affections, it made me uncomfortable, especially when you find out that he saved her from a sweep and brought her in to the community. And, okay, I didn’t just roll my eyes at the last name. I actually stopped reading and found a pen and wrote down in my reading journal: “I’m really, really mad that Jeffrey’s last name is Montague.”

4. It could have been the numerous things that didn’t quite make sense. They were eventually explained, but I spent too long being bothered by them to have enjoyed the book as much as I could have. For example, no one is born. No one has kids, no one has parents. When the government decides that they’re ready to support it, they artificially create a new generation of babies in a lab. So why do they have last names, and why are their names so race-specific? Like Raj Radhakrish–that is clearly not a name that was randomly selected from the same pool as Jeffrey Montague. And it eventually explains that people are given names that are associated with the primary ethnicity of their genetic makeup in order to keep culture alive or something, but that just seemed kind of flimsy, like someone was reading the book and said “hey why do these people have such racial names or even have last names at all?” and the author made something up and threw in a line to explain it because she liked the names she had come up with.

5. Possibly, the stakes just didn’t seem high enough. Even when Natasha’s personal ties to the tribes were explained, and this is where I think it could have used some expansion, I didn’t feel her personal fire. I felt a general desire to fight for something and not the burning need for revenge. And maybe that’s why she doesn’t win. Maybe she doesn’t get invested enough, doesn’t get a chance to spend any time with her tribe family before they betray her trust, and America-5 just has too easy a time writing over her brief moments of “oh, look, relatives!” because of that.

And I know I sound dumb bitching about all these things and then saying, “No, really, I liked it!” But I did. I just didn’t love it the way that I was hoping to.

END SPOILERS!

So, would I recommend this book? It depends. If you’re fairly new to the dystopian lit genre but liking it a lot so far, then yes, I would, as long as you can let a few minor details wash over you. If you’ve read a lot of dystopian lit and love the formula, then yes absolutely! If you’ve read dystopian lit and are starting to get over it, then this maybe isn’t the book for you–it won’t surprise you until it’s too late for you to care. (Wow, do I sound like an asshole now? I feel like an asshole. Whatever, I’m tired.)

ANYWAY! Onto bigger and better books. Next up will be the review for 1Q84, volume 3, which means my reflections on the book as a whole! And after that, look forward to my post about China Mieville’s Railsea. I know I am.

See you soon!

I’m Starting a Design Firm

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In light of my recent job search, I have been forced to sit back and re-evaluate what I want in life. What I’m good at. And one thing I know I can do is design: I’ve been working with my aunt’s interior design company since I was probably around five. By this point, I’m good with colors. I get textures. It all makes sense.

What I didn’t realize is that it would be so easy to do!

Okay, so “Design Firm” isn’t really the right term. It’s more like…Design Inspiration Hub. But that sounds weird.

You want the full story? Okay. Are you on Pinterest? If you are, you’ve probably noticed these pictures going around. They’re nothing but cutesy pictures with some color swatches next to them, from this website called Design Seeds. They seem to be intended to inspire anyone who is planning to redecorate a room or a wedding.

Well, it seems everyone on Pinterest is currently planning three weddings and redecorating two whole houses. I can’t say I’ve never pinned something from Design Seeds, but seeing 500 of their pictures filling up my page gets annoying. And I’m sick of the cutesy pictures. Why can’t they find beautiful colors in less adorable things? Gross things, even?

So when Siren wrote a blog post about how, despite the fact that some pictures she’d taken made her really sad, she had to post them because she loved the colors, I knew exactly what I’m going to do with my life.

Behold, Siren’s Dead Dolphin:

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Decomposing Dolphin consists of a gray-blue ombre with a coral highlight and a neutral sand background. It would be the perfect color theme for a beach wedding, a nautical-themed nursery, or a comfortable living area in your home. The colors will evoke the feel of the slowly decaying dolphin without being too blatant about it, but you can always add a framed print of the dolphin to complete the look!

And why stop there?

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Dog Vomit is a beautiful array of fall colors, which would be–need I say it–perfect for a fall wedding. Getting married in October or November? Look no further for your theme, inspired by an image from Raising a Puppy. It would also be perfect in the kitchen, brightening up and energizing your cooking space to entice you to cook some fantastic foods. I know I’m in the mood for ethnic cuisine right now! Who wants Indian?

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You may have to tilt your screen back a bit to notice the delicate bone hue at the end of Mass Graves, inspired by a National Geographic photo of skeletons of soldiers and babies, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. Planning a garden wedding, and don’t want a super bright palate to contrast with the natural beauty around you? Mass Graves is the perfect neutral, natural palette–just make sure to order your dress in Bone! Not planning a wedding? No worries! Because the colors are so simple and pleasing to anyone, Mass Graves would be a wonderful palette for a guest room. And if you throw a lot of parties, why not decorate your main party room with Mass Graves? The room will look gorgeous on its own, and the neutral shades won’t contrast with any temporary decorations you put up!

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Of course, neutral isn’t for everyone! This moldy salad, inspired by a photo from New York Shitty, creates the perfect palette for anyone who wants a natural feel with a POP. The yellow and tangerine colors here are two of Pantone’s top colors for Spring 2012, so you’ll be right on-trend using them to highlight your sage green ombre. The neutral brown and gray provide some variety, allowing you to stray from the bright hues you’ve chosen while still fitting perfectly within a color scheme! And where couldn’t you put this in your house? Kids would be delighted by the bright colors, while the greens would make a perfect background in a master bedroom. Looking for something fun to do with your bathroom? Look no further than Salad Mold!

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And with Valentine’s Day coming up, how could I leave out this gorgeous pink palette? Inspired by blood spatter from a real crime scene in Bermuda, this palette screams love. Are you an NCIS fan? Have you heard that Pauley Perrette, who plays the lovable Abby, is engaged? Well I can’t imagine a better palette for her wedding–or anyone who loves pink (or blood)! Young girls would love to have their rooms decorated in these gorgeous pinks, or you could create the most romantic atmosphere in your master bedroom! Get ready for some passion with Spattered Hues!

When you design, remember how important it is to look for inspiration everywhere. Any image that catches your eye, no matter how beautiful or grotesque it is, can have some gorgeous colors hidden inside it! For this reason, I’m willing to help any of you lovely readers who need help with design. Do you have some redecorating you need to do, or a wedding to plan, and no ideas? Well, send whatever awful image you have to me at dearohrachael@gmail.com and I’ll respond with your dream palette. If I like it enough, I may even feature it here, right on this very blog!

Have you looked for beauty in anything disgusting recently? Or possibly found the perfect use for Comic Sans? Because I’m pretty sure I just did.

Lemonade

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One of the greatest perils of moving to a new place has nothing to do with stress, packing, never getting around to unpacking, or trying to figure out how the hell to organize your kitchen cabinet. While those are unfortunate side-effects, they’re generally either easily dealt with or easily ignored. As frustrating as they are, they are temporary.

Socially, however, moving is a complete shitshow for months. You’re in a new place where you don’t know anyone at all. Except the person you moved with, if you moved with someone. It can take time to find some friends and develop any semblance of a social life, if, indeed, that’s your thing. Luckily, it happens eventually. There are, I guess, all sorts of ways to meet people in a new city and eventually you’ll be at a bar telling new friends that you should totally organize a girl’s night soon or something. It takes time, but it happens.

The real problem arises when your old friends are only an hour or two away. This will breed a certain reluctance in you when it comes to finding new friends. Oh, an hour, hour and a half…that isn’t so bad. I can always see them. It’s not like I need an entirely new social circle. A little later, you go to make plans with those friends. You find yourself thinking: Ugh, fuck. Am I really driving an hour and a half for lunch? I must really like this person and also I need some closer friends. You’ll forget about that needing closer friends thing. An hour and a half is the perfect distance to let you reason that they’re not really that far away but also never want to drive to visit them.

You will, though. You’ll visit your friends because you’re lonely, and probably also you like them or else they wouldn’t be your friends (please if you don’t like your friends stop being friends with them). You’ll make the drive and be glad to see a familiar face in a familiar place and do the exact same thing you always do with these friends. Nothing’s changed.

But you won’t remember how long your drive home is.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this happened to me very recently. I went to visit my friend Alison. We cook together. If you like cooking, you may know how valuable it can be to have a friend you can cook with. If you don’t, you probably think I’m crazy. Alison and I made lunch and cupcakes. (Okay, realistically, we make cupcakes together. There are always cupcakes. And I must say that this cupcake recipe was fan-fucking-tastic, because I love almonds, and also coincidentally if you wanted to poison somebody with arsenic these cupcakes would be the perfect way to do it surreptitiously.)*

While we were waiting for the cupcakes to cool, I mentioned my local farmer’s market and she realized that she had one, too, and oh hey it was going on right at that moment and we should totally go! And I wasn’t going to not go to a farmer’s market. There’s always some sort of weird vegetable that you’d never see in the supermarket, like purple bell peppers or hot pink eggplants.

The first thing we discovered at her farmer’s market was a lemonade stand. I thought $4 was a bit steep for a lemonade, but they had this big crank thing that they were using right in front of us to squeeze the lemons and immediately pour it into the cup. I mean, we could watch them make it, and they had all sorts of options, and mostly I needed some one dollar bills for the tolls going home so I got one.

Guys, when buying lemonade that seems expensive, it may be prudent to look and see exactly how much lemonade you’re buying.

Are you familiar with the round containers that most supermarket delis use when you buy such as potato salad from them? I ended up with a quart-sized container–that’s the largest one–full of lemonade. Realistically, there’s not a cupholder in my car where I can put this, so I pretty much had to drink it down to a point where it wouldn’t spill before going home–which I had to do immediately after we frosted the cupcakes, which we did immediately after we got back from the farmer’s market. Oh, and it was rush hour.

I am giving you free advice here. Unless you know your route extremely well–and you know for a fact that there are rest stops frequently along the way–do not drink an entire quart of lemonade before what is bound to be at least a 2 hour drive.

No, I didn’t wet myself. I was lucky.

Your head will look like this as you drive home: Is there a gas station off this exit? Or a fast food place? Dammit, why the hell doesn’t this highway have signs advertising these things like every other highway in the fucking country? Where’s the next rest stop? Wait WHY DOES IT SAY IT’S CLOSED okay fine I’ll stay in this lane there must be somewhere I can stop soon…DAMMIT that is NOT closed why the fuck would it SAY it is closed when it is NOT. Okay. I know there’s another rest area soon. You can do this. You can make it. Okay, a toll. The guy at the tollbooth will know. Oh, about ten miles up…right past the other tollbooth? I’m practically home by then! I mean, it’d only be an extra few minutes to use my own bathroom instead of a rest stop one. I can wait. Yeah, I’ll wait. I’ll run in and pee as soon as I get home, but I’m not stopping at a rest area that is less than 10 minutes from my house. It’s not like–wait. Fuck. What if Mike’s in the bathroom when I get home? I am not getting home and peeing into this lemonade-quart-container when there is a perfectly good bathroom right on the side of the highway, dammit!

And then you’ll feel like an idiot for doing something that caused you to have to stop and pee less than 10 minutes away from your own house, all because you weren’t thinking about how far away your new place is.

There. Free advice. You’re welcome.

*Seriously guys don’t do this.**

**Or at least don’t tell them it was my idea.***

***NO, DON’T DO IT AT ALL.