Tuesday, February 22, 2011

To be a kid again

There are mornings that I can count on Sylvain to sleep in until the early afternoon and then there are mornings when he's up long before the crack of dawn in anticipation of what's to come. The former is to be expected during the weekend, on holidays, and on days when school is cancelled the previous evening. The latter is reserved for Christmas and those special days when school should be cancelled, but the call has yet to come through.

Sure, one can argue that he has a more vested interest than 90% of his classmates, since he has an early morning class (starts at 6:50, daily) and, really, why bother getting ready for school when you KNOW in your heart of hearts it should be cancelled? But to him, there's nothing like wrapping up in a blanket and flipping on the TV, eagerly anticipating our county then our community's name to scroll through the multitude of schools already announcing closure.

First, disappointment sets in when Holt, a handful of Lansing schools, then Mason scroll by and are followed immediately by a place that he's never heard of: White Pine Academy. Then, comes the robo-call from the superintendent herself. Every phone begins to ring almost simultaneously: land line and cell phone alike. He doesn't need to listen to the message, he knows the drill; the call came, so the day is now his!

Oh, the wonders of technology! Why even bother to participate in this now out-dated ritual of rising to watch the morning news with its roller coaster of emotions as it cycles through the schools that have made it on The List?!?

Now that the deed is done, he lumbers back to bed with the smugness of one that does not need to rise again until at least noon. Ah, the good life......

Monday, February 21, 2011

What have I been doing all this time?: The Books

So, tonight Chuck made pot roast and spaghetti squash for dinner. Unfortunately for me, this dinner completely knocked me out. I had intended to curl up with a book on my big comfy couch while Chuck finished putting around in the kitchen before I started cleaning up after him -- he's quite messy when he cooks. (Its a happy arrangement that we have: Chuck cooks and I clean up the aftermath. Trust me, no one here really wants to eat my cooking and I don't mind doing the dishes....) Anyways, the next thing I know, it's 1 am and I woke to my reading light glaring in my face. Of course, the kitchen fairy failed to stop at my house.....

Hearing me get up and start cleaning in the kitchen, Sylvain came up from our den to sulk a little more over me not allowing him to hang out with friends tonight. A few of his friends are now able to drive and that alone makes me quite nervous when he's out. Today, we received about 4 inches of snow and I really didn't want him out and about on the roads. Of course, that was me just being a controlling ogre, but controlling ogre I shall be if that keeps him safe and sound. Chuck also heard me and came up to lend a hand. "Gee, honey, what are you going to do now that you've had your normal, full-night's worth of sleep?!?" Sad to say it, but he was right.

I have a cabled brioche scarf that I'm working on that needs to be done by next weekend. I could work on that, but am getting pretty tired of it. I'm about 450 rows in and feel as thought I only have half the length that I'd like. The photo shown here is from when I first started the project, but you get the idea of how tedious this project can be.

So, as part of my "What have I been doing" updates, I've been wanting to write about the books I've been reading. 2010 was quite the year for books -- it had been quite a while since I've read so much for myself; up until then, most of my reading had been either to Sylvain, for school, or for work.

In no particular order, here's my take on what I've been reading:

The Passage by Justin Cronin: I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a different take on vampires -- these are not the forever-youthful human-loving vamps from Twilight. The vampires in this novel are the result of a military experiment gone wrong and the release of a virus that is poised to destroy the world. My only disappointment when reading this book is that, going into it, I didn't know it was going to be a trilogy, so looked for a real resolution at the end rather than a set up for future books.

Speaking of trilogies.....I typically wait until all of the books are out in a series before starting them. I dislike having to wait for the next book to come out to continue a story. Over the past few months, I started reading a few trilogies: The Millennium Series, His Dark Materials, and The Hunger Games trilogy.

The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson: I had been on a library waiting list for the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for quite a while. Not sure that I would like this book, I really didn't want to purchase it. Once I read the first one, I found that even the library wait list was too long for my liking, so ended up buying the second book, The Girl who played with Fire, and putting my name on the list for the third book straightaway. However, the elements that I liked in the first book were just plain missing from the second one. I liked the relationship between the two lead characters: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Fine, they didn't need to be in a romantic relationship anymore in the follow-up book, but at least have them interact in a way that didn't feel contrived. The first book also focused around solving a mystery; in the second book, I really started to care less about the "whodunit" plot of the book. In fact, by the time I finished the second book, I really did not feel like continuing on. I still picked up the third book from the library when a copy became available, but held onto it for a few days just in case I changed my mind. I ended up returning it unread.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: So, I between this series and the Hunger Games trilogy, I'm beginning to think that I'm more entertained by lit typically considered YA rather than books meant for adults. I say "typically considered YA" because once I really started thinking about the topics presented in the Materials series, they were pretty deep shit. I have to say that I did see the movie made from the first book, The Golden Compass, when it first came out in 2007. Even though future movies aren't going to happen, I still thought of Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter, and Sam Elliot for Lee Scoresby for the second and third books. Sure, there were parts that were pretty long and drawn out, but overall, I enjoyed this series. This series delved into religion, parallel universes, and the conflict between man and his Maker. Maybe it's a good thing that I'm not a very religious person; I can easily see how these books can be seen as anti-Catholic and atheistic.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Maybe it's me, but I really enjoy dystopian fiction. And it really doesn't get any more dystopian than this: in a future where the United States exists as thirteen districts that are subservient to a Capital. Each year, the districts submit two contestants (one male, one female) to a fight-to-the-death competition. I loved the first book in the series -- my interest was caught early on and the book barreled right through start to finish. The second book, Catching Fire was a good follow-up, not stellar, but good. The series fell apart for me in the third book, Mockingjay; it felt like it was written by a completely different person and the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, was only a shadow of herself from the first and second books. Sure, she's in shell-shock, but that just makes for a bad storyline -- Katniss was just absent from the third book. I have some questions about how some of the plot went down in the third book, but don't know anyone who read it to talk it through and make sense of it with.....

I also read a few non-fiction books. Three were memoirs and one was about the Vidocq Society. Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls are two memoirs by women whose wealth and poverty were at polar opposite extremes, but shared similarities in having dysfunctional families and abusive parents. On the one hand, the life described in Pool was one where being rich would buy just the things a bad parent needs to get by: the staff to make sure your kids are attended to, access to the best schools, and the eccentricities needed to float through your and your children's lives. In stark contrast, Castle presented the worst possible poverty -- one in which the parents themselves become delusional as to the true condition of their lives and their childrens' lives. In both books, its only the perseverance of the author that led them down paths different from their parents. I know that Walls has a follow-up book called Half Broke Horses that is on my list.

The third non-fiction book was The Murder Room: the heirs of Sherlock Holmes gather to solve the world's most perplexing cold cases by Michael Capuzzo. I found the topic interesting -- a members only club of investigators from across the world who meet once a month in Philadelphia to solve crimes -- but the way the story itself was told was a bit boring. The book focused on the three founding members of the club, The Vidocq Society; unfortunately, the book became repetitive in its descriptions of these three men that I found myself skimming through paragraphs in search of new material. If you're a fan of true-crime TV shows, such as CBS' 48 Hours Mystery, then you might enjoy this book.

Okay, so for any of you readers who are in a book club with me, you might be wondering where mention of the book club books are at. Truth be told, I didn't read them all -- skipping July's Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, September's selection that I have no recollection of what it was, and October's The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I led the November discussion of Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori. This was the third memoir that I've read in the past several months and unlike the first two, the abuse against the author wasn't really anything that I considered too personal -- it was more culturally influenced. Sure, her step-mother wasn't really a loving parental figure and she did everything to eradicate all memory of the author's mother, but her behavior was more like complete indifference rather than maliciousness. The book documented the author's life in the States and relating to learning to navigate the Midwestern culture, learning to knit, and coming to terms with her father.

The December book was Two Old Women by Velma Wallis and is an Athabaskan tale of survival in the wilderness against all odds. Sharon led discussion of this book and presented great questions about how different societies deal with the elderly. I'm glad I ended up buying a copy of this book. It's too bad that I can't convince Sylvain to read it.

The January book was probably the worst book I've read in a very long time (and still finished): Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I really do not understand how this piece of garbage book became a best seller. I found the story completely contrived and unbelievable; the characters were stereotypical; and (sorry if you heard me bitch about this at book club already) the timeline was all screwed up. I'm actually a little tired about that last point, but it led me to throw this book across the room, not once, but twice. Making statements about the main character's son dating on-line in 1986. Want to know what else happened in 1986? CDs were replacing vinyl, the main character's wife was buried in the same cemetery as Bruce and Brandon Lee (who died 1993), and **spoiler** the main character's son is able to track down the main character's love using the Internet. Yes, apparently in 1986, one was able to find not only find lists of interment camp refugees but also links to enough resources to track down their current address. Ugh! I was sick to my stomach by the end of this book. If you'd like a more entertaining read, check out the book's reviews on Amazon. Many other readers rip into the author on the same things that made me mad; and I'm not even a real WWII historian, you should read those reviews......

The February book was The Heretics Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Depressing, depressing, depressing. Not that I really expected this book to be uplifting, but it was a fairly well-told downer start to finish. Unlike the January book (which was supposed to paint an illustration of WWII era Seattle and interment camps), I felt as though this book portrayed a realistic picture of 17th century Salem. I'd only recommend this book for someone who is truly interested in reading about the Salem witch trials.

Anyhow, March is right around the corner and I'm still on the library waiting list for the next book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Yes, I know its available online for about $9 and is in Schuler's right around the corner for $13, but the book is just shy of 700 pages long -- there's no way that I can finish it in time for our discussion. I have a scarf to finish by next weekend, remember? Instead, the book that's on my nightstand and the one that I curled up with last night was pure escapist fiction: Storm Front by Jim Butcher; this is the first in the Dresden Files series. There's thirteen books in the series, so that's sure to keep me busy.