End of the Year Book Round-Up: 2016

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Original art by ALICIA K. BROOKS.

Yeah, sure this year sucked. I agree. In fact, I bet I had a worse year than you. But 2016 was a great year for books and reading. I read a total of 52 books this year, and that’s not including the books I put down (Girl on the Train, What is Yours is Not Yours) because they were too stupid or too boring to finish. I fell in love with mystery writing from the 1930’s and 1940’s and decided that working at The Snobbiest Bookstore in Seattle was not all it was cracked up to be. Getting fired from that low paying, demeaning job was probably the best and worst thing to happen to me all year. So… thanks? But good riddance to bad rubbish. Good riddance to 2016!

This year, instead of writing about every book I read, I thought I’d break it down a little differently. Enjoy!  And please do some research about titles you are interested in reading. I didn’t write the authors name next to each book because I’m lazy.

Books are awesome! read!

Total Books Read: 52   Re-reads: 7

Total Fiction: 44      Total Non-Fiction: 8

Mystery or Horror: 15!

Favorites in Fiction: Swing Time, The Story of the Lost Child, Slammerkin, Rosemary’s Baby, Black Wings has my Angel, The Gap of Time, Ragtime, Desperate Characters, A Bloodsmoor Romance, Romie Futch… and many more!

Favorites in Non Fiction: Killing Pablo, In Other Words, Absolutely on Music, On Writing…

Least Favorites: Damed, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Boy Snow Bird, The Buried Giant

Oldest Book: Wuthering Heights, 1847 (I’ve read this book about once a year for the last twenty years. It’s one of my all time favorites.)

Biggest Surprises: Romie Futch, Desperate Characters, Little Tales of Misogyny, The Metaphysical Ukulele, Black Wings Has My Angel, Rabbit Back Literature Society, The Pets

 
    • Absolutely on Music by Haruki MurakamiSwing Time by Zadie SmithSlammerkin by Emma DonoghueOn Writing by Stephen KingZen in the Art of Writing by Ray BradburyShadow Show by Sam WellerYou Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse by Sherwin Tjia'Salem's Lot by Stephen KingSlade House by David MitchellRosemary's Baby by Ira LevinSmoke by Dan VyletaLittle Tales of Misogyny by Patricia HighsmithLiberty Bar by Georges SimenonThe Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. KingThe Gap of Time by Jeanette WintersonKilling Pablo by Mark BowdenThe Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen OyeyemiIn Other Words by Jhumpa LahiriThe Carter of 'La Providence' by Georges SimenonMe Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisWild Nights! by Joyce Carol OatesThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire NorthRagtime by E.L. DoctorowThe Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsThe Metaphysical Ukulele by Sean CarswellThe Four Agreements by Miguel RuizA New Earth by Eckhart TolleWuthering Heights by Emily BrontëGet in Trouble by Kelly LinkDamned by Chuck PalahniukThe Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroIndigo by Ron KoertgeThe Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari JääskeläinenThe Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen KingBlack Wings Has My Angel by Elliott ChazeThe Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges SimenonA Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol OatesSailing Alone Around the Room by Billy CollinsDesperate Characters by Paula FoxThe Pets by Bragi ÓlafssonRoom by Emma DonoghueThe Yellow Dog by Georges SimenonGateway to Paradise by Matthew VollmerHow To Be a Good Wife by Emma  ChapmanThe New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia  ElliottThe Girl in the Red Coat by Kate HamerThe Story of the Lost Child by Elena FerranteWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

 

 

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Shit I Did While Unemployed

long-term-unemployedI am no stranger to being unemployed. I’ve been fired, downsized, asked to leave, quit, resigned, and every other euphemism you can think of. When I’ve been asked to leave, it was never because I stole money or had poor performance. In fact last time I sat through a five minute speech about what a great employee I am but…

It’s always because I rock the boat. I don’t like being treated unfairly, and I won’t sit still when I see it happening. To me or anyone else. In San Francisco I was fired for standing up for a coworker. She was canned for “looking unbecoming” at work. Her mother had just died. I was HAPPY to speak up on her behalf, and I couldn’t believe that nobody else had the balls to say anything. People keep their mouths shut and fall in line in order to keep their silly job. But why? There are plenty of jobs out there. Why work for assholes? For instance: My last job paid me $12.60 and hour. That’s not a living wage here in Seattle. And that was after two years and three raises. When asked to work from home on projects I was told there wouldn’t be compensation. I was mocked asking, and for refusing to work for free. By my boss. Good riddance. 

I’ve never found anything wrong with being unemployed. Even when living overseas I was able to find work rather quickly. But this time was different. It took me a little over four months to find a job. Four months of looking at Craigslist and Indeed.com. Four months of filling out online applications and four months of first interviews. Four months of no income and the same amount of bills. Four months of wondering if I’d ever find a job. Four months of rice and noodles. It’s hard not to get bogged down in the negativity of the situation, but you can’t stop trying.

And now all of that is officially over. I found a nice job that pays way better than my last job and doesn’t ask me to work nights and weekends. But I am going to miss some parts of being unemployed. (And please, please don’t call it Fun-employment. I can’t fucking stand when people make up new words to make themselves feel superior. I mean…what an asshole! You’re out of a job. Just call it what it is. Unemployment. What you do with your time might be SUPER fun, but let’s not overstate things.) I’ll miss being able to luxuriate over my book and coffee in the morning. And I’ll miss taking walks to pet the bookstore cats. Here’s what I did on my … unemployment. Aside from looking for work everyday. There is a lot of time to fill.

  • I read about twenty four books. 
  • I learned three new songs on my ukulele. And I started a YouTube channel where folks can hear said songs. Here!  
  • I auditioned for The Voice, in L.A. You can read all about that, HERE!
  • I attended over ten interviews, and WorkSource Orientation, and over twenty phone/face-time interviews.
  • I discovered Snap Chat. It’s weird. I like it.
  • I met friends for drinks, karaoke, movies and encouragement.
  • I attended ComiCon for the first time. It was enjoyable except for all of the people.
  • I wrote three short stories, and began writing part of my um… what’s a less pretentious word for memoirs?
  • I colored in my coloring books.
  • I visited used bookstore weekly. Just for the cats.
  • I wrote letters to my pen pal in Pasadena. He wrote back.
  • I watched a shit ton of Law & Order episodes. imageI had a whole system going. One 20 sided die for which season. Then, add a 6 side – 1 to determine which episode. I was determined to prove that the entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy got their start on Law & Order. I know I could have gone straight to IMDB, but that takes the joy of discovery out of it. Anyway, I didn’t make it through all of the episodes, and I was only watching Law & Order Classic. I hadn’t even delved into Law & Order SVU. Which comes with extra rape, murder and bad child actors. Oh, and Ellen Pompeo was on L&O at least twice and both times went down for murder. I’ll write up my findings later.
  • I got lost both on foot and on the bus. A lot. It’s a good way to see the city!
  • My BFF visited for a week. I hadn’t seen him in over two years and it was overdo. He’s the one friend who is allowed to kick my ass. He got me motivated. And I had fun showing him the sights and letting him buy yummy food for me!
  • I cleaned, cooked and did a lot of chores. I look forward to splitting those duties once again.
  • I went to many parks and museums. Yay art!
  • I played games and relaxed with my boyfriend. I look forward to having a job which allows that to continue.

So, that was it. I got a little despondent there at the end, but it helped to remember that I am not my last job. Or any job. Identifying with your work is just another way for Ego to exert itself. Luckily I have never had a job where that was really an issue. I mean what kind of an asshole gets a big head over being an Admin Assistant or Program Director? Or worse yet, a Bookseller who makes under minimum wage? If I made those roles part of “who I am” then I would have taken a long run off a short cliff years ago. Even if you have a job you LOVE and you are GOOD at it… that isn’t WHO YOU ARE. Above all, you are a human being. What you like or do… or don’t do… is beside the point.

By the Book: American Vagabond

AA131The writer, painter, bookseller, and perpetually underpaid artist opens up and answers the NY Times “By the Book questionnaire”. Because by the times she’s finally published, it might be too late. 

What books are currently on your nightstand?

My night stand is a stack of books. On top of that, precariously, are stacked more books. I just finished “The Sacrifice” by Joyce Carol Oates, and it was outstanding. Currently I am reading Ron Koertge’s “Sex World”-  a quick, clever book of flash fiction, and a new book called “Mort(e)” about a house cat turned warrior. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Haha. Nice try. Here are a few: Joyce Carol Oates, because of the breadth of her work. John Irving, because I never expect to read anything I love quite as much as “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. Tom Robbins because he is the absolute best at what he does. Also, Emily Bronte, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury… Is that enough?

Who are your favorite writers working today?

Didn’t I just answer that? Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Michael Paterniti and Zadie Smith. Ron Rash is also amazing and I love Tom Perrotta. Nobody gets suburbia like Tom Perrotta.

What’s the best short fiction you’ve read recently?

Julia Elliott’s “The Wilds” was fantastic.  

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? And what do you tend to steer clear of?

I’ll read any type of story, as long as it is well written. I love ghost stories with all my heart. I also enjoy a good detective mystery from time to time. Aside from that, I’m drawn to stories about adventure, whether they are true or fiction. I’m drawn to writers who obviously take joy in what they do. I enjoy reading of fantastical places, talking cats, robots learning to love, families breaking apart, food and cooking, humor and of course style. I skip books like “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train”. There is nothing new there for me, and I figure out the twist early on. I also shy away from heavily hyped books because I really like to form my own opinions and that is nearly impossible when “everyone” is talking about a book. I don’t care what a celebrity thinks of a book, or how much buzz it is generating. That’s the kind of nonsense I find dull and boring. 

 Who are your favorite fantasy and horror writers? Which books would you recommend to readers new to those genres?

Any new genre reader should begin with the master: Stephen King, of course. For as prolific as he is, he is underrated. “Salem’s Lot” is one of my favorite books ever. Joyce Carol Oates is another of my favorite horror writers, but she somehow avoided the “genre” designation. Tony Burgess “Pontypool Changes Everything” was a revelation. A zombie novel written in prose! Yes! John Connolly’s “The Book of Lost Things” was a lot of fun as far as fantasy goes, and Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things” is part scifi, part horror and just unputdownable. 

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

“My Struggle: Book 1”. I found it in a sharing library so I guess I’ll have to read it now. I’m just not that interested in a seven part saga about a guy trying to write a book. I’ve lived that. But people I respect say it’s good, so I’ll give it a shot. Some day.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?

I had parents who took me to the library once a week, and it was always an adventure. I still love wandering around in a nice library. Heck, it doesn’t have to be nice. I’ll wander around a crappy library. Anyway, I loved books of all kinds. I would often curl up on the couch and read for hours on end. I adored any type of mystery, and books with secret worlds. And I was obsessed with the Sunfire Romance series for young girls. My favorite books were “The Phantom Tollbooth”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, “The BFG”, “Watership Down” “Choose Your Own Adventure” books – which are sadly out of print, and “The Boxcar Children” series. I still have fantasies of living in a converted traincar. My favorite characters were Milo from “The Phantom Tollbooth”, Laura Ingalls, Scout, and Sophie from “The BFG”.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

“Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Oh man, that’s tough. That feels like a lot of pressure. I get asked for recommendations every day, but choosing a book for the President is a tall order. The first book that springs to mind is Erik Larsen’s “In the Garden of Beasts”. It’s about the US Ambassador to Germany at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. I think the man in power should read a book showing how not to react when a lunatic is about to take control.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Tom Robbins, for sure. He’s hilarious. I had the opportunity to hear him speak last year, and he’s still sharp as ever. Mark Twain, and Dorothy Parker. I think that would be rad.

You could bring three books to a desert island. Which do you choose?

“Anna Karenina”, for sure. I’ve never read it and a desert island seems like the perfect place to do it. It would eat up a ton of my time, but in a good way. Next I’d toy with bringing a book about raft building but ultimately choose “A Prayer for Owen Meany” because I watch a lot of survival shows and I’m confident I could build a solid raft. After I finish Anna Karenina, of course. The third book would have to be “Still Life with Woodpecker” because I can’t imagine a life without that book.

What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

Oh man. I don’t know. I just read Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and I laughed the entire way through it. Also everything David Sedaris has written. Oh! Can he crash my dinner party?

Any book you regretted reading?

I don’t know that I really “regret” anything I’ve read. I feel I’ve wasted my time and been totally annoyed with myself for reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead”.

Any book you couldn’t finish?

I put down “The Girl on the Train”. It was too gimmicky for me. Predictable. A far better new thriller is “Descent” by Tim Johnston. But I am pretty good at selecting books for myself, so I try to finish what I start.

What book do you think everyone should read before they die?

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

Me. Or David Sedaris.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I don’t know. I think you read the right book at the right time. Or at least, I do. I feel like this is the year for me to tackle “Anna Karenina”, but we’ll see. I’ve never read Moby Dick, but I just don’t want to. There are so many books that I DO want to read, and I guess … I’m fairly well read and I don’t embarrass easily.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ll have to see how I feel at the end of the book I’m reading now. But, On deck is “Werner Herzog: A guide for the perplexed”, or “Some Luck” by Jane Smiley. Or Walter Kirn’s “Blood Will Out”

Books: Book Snobbery

MisterBooksellerBooksellers are asked “What do you read?” on a daily basis. I am always happy to answer the question even if some people are not happy with my answer. But, I’m not a book snob. Not really. My rule of thumb is, I’ll read anything as long as it’s well writtenNow that may seem “Duh”, but you’d be surprised what passes as good these days. I’ll read sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bio, history… you name it. But don’t bore me, and don’t use simple langue and have zero style. We elevate our intellect when we challenge ourselves while reading. I strongly believe that.

I’ve been a bookseller on and off since my teen years and never before have I encountered such blatant Book Snobbery. Maybe it’s the rise of self promotion tools like Twitter and FB. Maybe it has something to do with needing to feel important. I don’t know. But I hear people call books they like (or love!) “My book”, as if they had something to do with writing it or they were the only person to have ever read it. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence. Have you noticed that my book sold out? Again!? The speaker didn’t actually write the book, and they get no commission if it sells, and yet they take responsibility for both. Gross.

It’s hard. A bookstore can be a place of subtle, unspoken competition, and inflated egos. And I’m over it. Who has read the most books? Who’s staff recommendations have sold the most? Who read the new hot title first? It’s all pretty juvenile and silly. Taking ownership of someone elses work is absurd. Feeling a sense of pride when a stranger chooses a book you like is pretty weird. Judging a book by its popularity with your peers is silly. And it is all a form of Book Snobbery. Our job isn’t to get as many people as possible to read our favorite book. Our job is to help the customer find something they might enjoy.

And it all comes down to this: People should read. Reading is good. Books are good.

syntax-booksellerOne of the reasons people turn to satan Amazon is because of book snobbery. Nobody wants to walk into a bookstore and see the bookseller roll their eyes at their choices. Projecting a type of ownership over certain types of books but not others is just another form of snobbery. And I get it. Bookstores are inherently snobby places. It’s the same kind of snobbery says that jazz and pino grigio and golf and “locally sourced” anything are for me, but not you. Absurd! There is snobbery of “Literature” over genre, of adult books over YA fiction, of “serious” over “funny”, of “real life” over dragons and unicorns and wizards, of Haruki Murakami over Stephen King. And it is lame. And silly. And pretty stupid. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing nearby with a smoking gun in its hand, and a smile on its face.

So, I have a message for all of you book snobs – stop it. You are defeating the purpose. We want people to read, not feel bad about reading. When someone wants the latest Oprah Book club book, I’m happy. At least they are reading! And who am I to judge anyway? She has recommended plenty of great books. Try having an open mind and watch your world expand. But, if that doesn’t happen – here is a list of things you can tell the next book snob you encounter – whether it’s in a bookstore or in your own home.

  1. Many of the world’s greatest writers wrote books for children. So stop making fun of it.  (Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, Judy Bloom)
  2. People shouldn’t feel bad about what they choose to read. When they feel bad about what they read, they’ll stop reading.
  3. Matt Haig said it best, “Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.” Yep. What he said.
  4. Don’t discount a book simply because it is a best seller. Lot’s of popular stuff is actually good. (ABBA. Bacon. Internet cat videos. Cupcakes. Harry Potter. Game of Thrones. Stephen King.)
  5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or its shelf talker. Or who happened to recommend it. The only way to accurately judge a book is by reading the words inside.
  6. Have an open mind. Murakami said, if you only read what other people are reading, you’ll only think what other people are thinking.
  7. Proudly proclaiming that you only read literary fiction makes you sound ignorant. Well rounded people want to know about the world around them and the people who shaped it. Knowing your past is part of knowing you.
  8. Snobbery is prejudice wrapped up in a better sounding name.
  9. Genre shaming is lame. Get over it. There are some great books just waiting to be found in Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and historical romance. I promise.
  10. You can have your opinions about books, but just remember having opinions isn’t the same as being right. 

Life Without a Smartphone

6a00d8341e497553ef0120a50d1a46970bI don’t have a smartphone. Actually, I don’t have a phone at all. I used to have an old mobil phone in Prague, but it finally gave up the ghost about the time I decided to move back to America. I guess I could be embarrassed, but I’m not. I don’t mind not having a smartphone. I actually kind of like it.

I’ve never been a fan of the cell phone. A few lifetimes ago I had a job working for Nextel Communications. Remember them? No? Anyway, I was forced to have a Nextel phone when I worked for them. They called it a perk.  I called it a nuisance. I did not like the idea of my job being able to get ahold of me whenever they wanted. The boundaries between my actual life and my job seemed to blur with a cell phone. I took the thing. I only turned it on while I was at work, getting paid. I never gave the number to my friends or family. God forbid my mother should be able to contact me at any time of day or night. It just seemed like a huge intrusion.

When I moved to the Bay Area I had a mobile phone instead of a land line. That worked fine for me. When I decided to move overseas I didn’t even think about a phone. I figured it would work itself out. And it did. I got another clunker and subsisted as most expats did in Prague – by sending SMS’s instead of calling. Cheap and easy. Just the way I like things.

So now I’m in Seattle and I don’t have a smartphone. Or a phone at all. It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement about the digital world and how disconnected we all are (because we totally are) but I just don’t need a smartphone. It seems like a lot of money just to be able to look at Facebook while waiting for the bus. I’m not out of touch with life – I am fairly active on social media, I have this blog, and I read news on the Internets when I have a moment. I’m in touch. A good friend of mine said I was “in the world, just not of the world”. Could be.

I went through a time where I had smartphone envy. It is similar to the ipod envy I felt living in San Francisco circa 2005. Everywhere I looked folks had one. Today it is the same with the smartphone. I look around me and all I see are people: heads down, thumbs and fingers dancing across the tiny screen, ear buds plugging up yet one more vital sense, barely noticing me or anyone else they might be walking into. And it isn’t just in America. When I was leaving Prague about two years ago, Smartphones were the item de jour for not only the Czechs, but the expats as well. Necessary or not, the smartphone is something people want. People make fun of you if you don’t have a smartphone.

People are shocked when they hear that I don’t have a smartphone. Much less a phone at all. I always hear the same thing, “Oh, I wish I didn’t need one… but my job…my kids… my life…” I heard the same ridiculous reasoning from people when I moved to Europe. “Oh, I wish I could do that but I have a family and a job.” So? I promise you that you don’t need a smartphone to do your job. Unless your job is putting together smartphones. If you have a regular phone you can still call people if there is an emergency. If you have a home computer or laptop you can still be a part of the world via FB, Twitter, and email. You can even work from home. The smartphone just helps you take all of that into your bedroom, holidays, your kid’s latest school performance, or even god forbid the weekend.

There is nothing so important that I need to stop in the middle of the street to see to it. There is no email, text, or post that needs to interrupt my life. I am here to tell you that you are not that busy. You are not that important. You just like feeling like you are.

Smartphones make life a little more convenient. A little. But all of the convenience may be making you kind of stupid. For instance, a co-worker of mine couldn’t drive in the city they’d spent almost a year living in without the navigational help of her smartphone. That’s sad. And I have absolutely no sense of direction. I get lost walking to the bathroom. But I am able to get around town just fine because I took the time to learn where I am. Street names. The city grid. I don’t feel helpless or naked without a phone. I figure out where I am going ahead of time, and if I get lost I ask for directions. Easy. I’m pretty resourceful.

18s013fzv6a72jpgI have a billion slips of paper: book titles, ideas for novels, things to get at the store, and even sketches. The act of writing actually helps to improve your memory. Unlike the act of Google-ing. When someone wants to know who sings a song, or what film Nic Cage did with Kevin Bacon (the answer of course is: They have never been in a movie together. I am going to start a petition to get this rectified as soon as possible) I don’t need to Google anything via my phone. I just delve into the deep Rolodex that is my mind and I remember. And if I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m cool with that, and it gives me something new to learn. And RETAIN.

I also find that not owning a smartphone helps me focus on what I am actually doing. For instance, if I am watching an episode of Mad Men, that’s what I am doing. I am not listening to the episode while I look at my Facebook, email, work email, Amazon,  Local Indie Bookstore, and 34 other sites. I am paying attention to what I am doing. I am mindful. I know that multitasking doesn’t work. (Look it up. I’m correct about this one.) People who multitask are usually scattered thinkers and seem more hurried and frazzled than need be. And that is simply their own doing. If you put down your smartphone and use your own brain, you’ll get your shit done in a timely manner. Be mindful of what you are doing and get ‘er done before moving on to the next task. This will also fend off boredom.

I don’t believe in boredom. I don’t have a television, or phone, but I’m never bored. I have cards, games, books, paints, pencils, Angry Birds, and a dozen other activities to keep my mind active. When I wait for the bus I do so with a book in hand. In line at the store I simply observe what is going on around me. I have developed patience that seems huge in capacity compared to what I see around me. A three-minute video is “too long” for some people to “sit through”. You can’t wait three minutes for a joke? You kinda suck. When you expect instant results, instant entertainment, or instant replies from people, your expectations are not just too high. They are unreasonable.

I’m not saying that smartphones are the devil and all those who use them are morons with short attention spans. That would be short sided of me. But I will say that folks depend on them far more than necessary. Having a smartphone gives you the option of checking out of any event or conversation that you don’t like. And it gives you the option of not listening or paying attention. It has become almost a reflex. The moment people have down time they reach for the smartphone. They disengage.

I will put forth a challenge to all of you smartphone users out there. Whatever you are doing this weekend, don’t bring it with you. If that scares you or sends you into an instant panic, you’ve got a problem. You should be able to go out to dinner, or for a hike without need of your phone. You should be able to go to the market or to the park without it. Try packing a book instead and see how your day goes. You’ll get past the panic and eventually feel that warm feeling called relaxation settle over you as you realize you don’t have to check anything.

National Novel Writing Month

nanowrimo1Every November thousands of struggling writers hunker down to write with “literary abandon” for thirty days, and thirty nights. We put aside all of our chores and excuses, and just write. We shun family and friends so that we can write. We write at least 1,667 words a day for thirty days. That’s how much time you have to write your 50,000 word novel. I’ve participated in this event every year since 2004. Participated, not finished. I managed to finish in 2011 (You can see my WINNER Badge displayed on my blog home page!) and that gives me hope for the future. Or at least for this year. I’m pretty excited. I’ve got my spiral notebook full of character notes, plot devices, and doodles. The ideas are spilling out faster than I can catch them. I have coffee at hand, and for the first time, I actually have a loose outline for my novel.

There are plenty of naysayers who think, “There is no way I could write 50,000 words in one month. And if I did, who would want to read it?” Maybe you have a valid point. Maybe your novel will be horrible. Maybe you are paralyzed by fear of failure, or of people laughing at you. Maybe your mom was right all along and you will never amount to anything. Maybe you shouldn’t even try. There are already plenty of novels out there, would yours really add to the landscape?

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing the best novel the world has ever seen – in thirty days. It’s about turning off your inner editor long enough for you to start something and finish it – on deadline. It’s about taking an idea and running with it. December is jokingly called “National Editing Your Novel Month” by NaNo Nerds such as myself in order to remind us that – it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to get done. Sit down and write. Don’t look back. Don’t edit. Just write.

It’s always easier to participate in NaNo when you have a group of friends doing it also. Here are some good great reasons to participate in NaNoWriNo this November.

  1. You read Twilight and thought, “Man, I could write better than that.” Prove it.
  2. You are afraid you’ll fail. That’s cool. We all are. I have failed at this seven times. In a row. I failed until I didn’t. It’s not about winning, it’s about doing.
  3. You’ve always wanted to write a novel. Uh, hello? This is your chance! Set aside about two hours a day and just write. It doesn’t matter if it is good or not. Just write it. You can always edit it later. And by later, I mean in December.
  4. There is an international community of people doing the same thing. I just love how big NaNo has gotten. It seems folks from all over the globe are participating in NaNo. I had Czech friends do it, I saw people in China participating, heck, even people right next door are probably doing it.
  5. November is totally overrated. Thanksgiving? Eh, whatever. It’s just another excuse for not writing. We all work. We all have family and obligations, even in November. Make writing your 1,667 words a priority and then you can think about cooking that bird.
  6. Ninjas, pirates, and wolves – Oh My! I don’t know about you, but I love when a ninja pops out in a book. Maybe not a literal ninja, but a literary ninja. A literary ninja can spice up a boring story, or breathe new life into that stale plot you’ve been wrestling with. * Please note that the Ninja doesn’t have to be a ninja. Pirates, wolves, adorable yet deadly kittens all work just as well. 
  7. You’ll be able to answer “YES!” to the question, “Have you ever written a novel?” There are going to be plenty of assholes out there who say discouraging things to you. Don’t let them get you down. It isn’t easy to write a novel in thirty days. It’s really hard. It takes determination and follow through. But, by midnight on November 30, you’ll be able to say you have written a novel. It feels pretty great.
  8. You love to write. This should be reason enough. Now, take that love and push it to the limits for thirty days in a row. You can veg out and watch missed episodes of Homeland in December.
  9. You could be spending your time doing worse things. Watching reruns of New Girl. Playing Angry Birds. Holding up liqueur stores. Robbing banks. Drinking ’til dawn. Counting the number of stray cats in your neighborhood. Reorganizing your sock drawer. Shopping. Deciding that it’s finally time you steam cleaned that carpet. Scraping dead skin from your feet. Tie-dying.
  10. Finishing feels really, really awesome. Seriously. Getting to that 50,000 word mark makes you feel like a rock star. And it should. Like I’ve said, it isn’t easy. But completing such a huge task has huge rewards. Even if three of your chapters don’t make any sense, and your main character is annoying – it doesn’t matter. You did it! You finished writing a novel in thirty days! Have a party for yourself. Go out dancing. Open a bottle of wine and have at. You deserve it. You can start revising tomorrow.

What I’m Loving Right Now – Fall 2013 Edition

brandery-portfolio-imageIt’s Fall. At least that’s what the calendar says. I’m in Texas at the moment, so it looks like every other day of the year just eight degrees cooler. I really miss the fall foliage, wearing my pea coat, and feeling crispness in the air as I walk down the street in my super cute scarf. Since I can’t have those things this year, here is what I’m loving right now.

  1. roadtrippers.com – Hands down my favorite place to suck time. If you have a serious case of Wanderlust like I do, then you find a lot of inspiration and useful tools here. You can plan your (US) trip down to the mileage and estimated gas costs. You can find cool and unusual places on your route and save them to your trip! It’s a “web and mobile platform that streamlines discovery, planning, booking and navigation into one engaging road trip planner.”
  2. Gravity (film)gravity_ver2_xlgI saw this movie a few weeks ago (in 3D, of course) and I can’t stop thinking about it. It was a beautiful and intense movie that explores more than outer-space. A few of my friends have complained that the film inaccurate, and had little plot. To this I say, you are wrong. A film like Gravity isn’t to be taken literally. If you do that, you are missing the whole point of the film. The movie isn’t “about” astronauts and what it is like to be in space. It isn’t a documentary. The film is about the gravity of relationships, isolation and loss. The movie asks – do things like love and loss tether us to the past, pull us back down to earth, or let us float free? Try watching movies with a wider view and your enjoyment will triple.
  3. Masterchef Junior (FOX) 131022_TV_JuniorMasterchef_top.jpg.CROP.original-originalBy far the best competition show on television, and it stars children. And Gordon Ramsey. And he’s nice! Most shows featuring kids either exploit the kids and their family by making them seem out of control, or crazy. I find Toddler’s and Tiaras to be a good form of birth control, and also a handy “What Not to Do” guide for parents.  It’s difficult to watch a kid lose, especially when they lose like a brat. Watch any T&T episode and you’ll see what I mean. The kids featured on Masterchef Junior behave better than most adults in these situations. It focuses on talent, good parenting, smarts, and losing. You probably cannot cook half as good as these kids (I can’t!) and it is eye-opening to watch a nine-year old make a perfect three layer cake, sear a steak, or cook escargot – ALL BY THEMSELVES. No parents around. Just Gordon, Graham, and Joe. Children are capable of so much more than most people give them credit for. They don’t need to be talked down to, or fed “kid food”. They are capable of being happy for the person next to them when they win, and losing with grace and dignity. Adults sometimes are not. These kids know that playing the game is more important than winning or losing.
  4. Trader Joe’s (Market)73994643_88b6765232_zAfter seven years in the Czech Republic, US grocery stores were a frightening experience. I almost had a panic attack when I went to the local supermarket. I actually got lost inside. I got used to a smaller store. It was a year before I was able to get my ass back to TJ’s. (They finally opened one in Austin last month) TJ’s is the only place to go for inexpensive, healthy food that is good quality. I feel like Trader Joe’s takes the guess-work out of shopping. When you walk into a Trader Joe’s you are not going to have 75 different yogurt to choose from. You’ll have about ten. And that’s more than enough. You’ll know which ever you choose will taste good and have less chemicals and shit than what you’ll get at a BIG store. They have the best wine and beer selection for the budget minded, and their coffee is the shit. I’m so happy to have TJ’s back in my life. And not just for the White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn.
  5. CampingFisherman camping at a wilderness lakeOkay. I haven’t actually camped in a really long time. But that is about to change. In January we are driving to California and camping along the way. I have a new tent, jacket and sleeping-bag, and I’m super excited to test them out. We are going to drive to San Antonio next month and test out our gear before taking it to The Grand Canyon in winter. I’m excited about being outdoors (in The Nature for all you Prague Expats) and being surrounded by beauty. I can’t wait to be disconnected from everything, and everyone, and having time to just sit in peace or just read a book. And, your day revolves around food. I’m a big lover of food, and when you’re camping, it’s the perfect time to really enjoy cooking. It just takes a little longer to prepare, but camping can be an excellent time to bring out your inner “foodie”.

The Anti-Bucket List: Things I Will Never Do

No thanks. I like the way I look.

No thanks. I like the way I look.

I used to have a Bucket List. I say “used to” because I have no idea where that list is, and I managed to do a lot of it before I hit 40. Bad. Ass. For example just recently I was “Freshly Pressed” (Check!) I have messed with Texas (Check!), lived in another country (actually two… Check!), owned brass knuckles, hiked The Grand Canyon and Pike’s Peak, and written a novel. (Check, Check and double Check!) I guess it’s time that I make a new list.

But I’m not in the mood. Instead, I am going to create my Anti Bucket List – a list of things you will NEVER do. Some people might think this is “negative”. Maybe. If you have a problem with it then don’t make one. I always said I would NEVER live in Texas, and look what happened. Never say never. One way of figuring out what you DO want in life is knowing what you DON’T.

My Anti-Bucket List

  • I will never do hard drugs. The window for me to experiment with drugs is way closed. I am officially too old for cocaine. People my age who start doing drugs look sad and desperate. People my age who already do drugs look sad and desperate. 
  • I will never skydive. 
  • I will never paint my face, wear a “cheese head” or a  Team Jersey to a sports game. Seriously. The worst people ever. Nobody wants to know the guy in the cheese head. And they certainly don’t want to sit next to him and his gang of beer-bellied buddies out for a day of drinking and screaming as loud as they can for no good reason. There are even women who do this. I have nothing to say to them. I assume the shame feels bad enough.

    You win the "I'm a total idiot" contest. Good job!

    You win the “I’m a total idiot” contest. Good job!

  • I will never ask my fella to wear a matching outfit. Yes, I read about that adorable couple who wore matching outfits for like three decades, and they are adorable. But when couples (or even worse, Families!) wear matching outfits I just want to punch them in the face. Way to show your individuality! “Johnny? Suzie? You can be anything you want to be… as long as it fits within the guidelines set out by your mother.”
  • I will never wear a UT shirt. Ever. EVER.
  • I will never call a radio station and request a Faith No More Song.
  • I will never tell a child there isn’t any Santa Claus. I’m all for lying to kids. As a teacher it’s part of the job. And it’s fun. But Santa? That’s mom and dad’s problem. Santa makes kids happy. If you want to ruin a kid’s idea of Christmas, that’s on you.
  • I will never get plastic surgery.
  • I will never buy another car. I hate driving, so why would I want to own a car? I try to live in places with good public transit and bike lanes. Cheaper too!
  • I will never do a body shot. I’m not the classiest lady in the world, but I’m classier than that.
  • I will never have a baby. I don’t want one.
  • I will never pay money for Starbucks Coffee or a Keanu Reeves film. This has been a long-time, standing rule of mine. I loathe Starbucks as a company and I refuse to help them profit. And I don’t pay money to watch shitty actors. Sorry Keanu.
  • I will never have a one night stand. That’s right. I am 39 years old and I can proudly say that I have never had a one night stand. Even after living in Prague for seven years.
  • I will never own or wear Croc’s (or Uggs.) When you wear Croc’s you are sending a message to the world at large. That message is: I give up. Send me a Moo-Moo.
  • I will never eat canned tuna. I find the smell revolting, and the idea of canned fish makes me a little ill. With all of the delicious fresh tuna, why… WHY eat that smelly canned stuff?

Life Hacks: How to Be Interesting

interesting_lifeWhat makes one person more interesting than another? While “being interesting” might be a little subjective, I think that we can all agree that Twelfth Night is more interesting than Twilight. We know interesting when we see it. In my years wandering this earth I have met a ton of interesting people, and about two tons of uninteresting people. These folks are not bad people, just a little on the dull side. If all you have to talk about is how annoying your co-worker is, how cute your kid/dog/cat is, or your new high score on Angry Birds (guilty) – you might be uninteresting. Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Do something. Anything. – The first thing you notice about interesting people is that they are doers. So get off your ass and go do something! Take a walk. Ride a bike. Dance. Sing. Draw. Knit clothes for your cat. Volunteer. Clean. And by the way, discussing the moral ramifications of last night’s of True Blood doesn’t count as doing something.
  2. Go out and explore – I’m not saying you have to take a trip to China, I’m saying go forth and discover new things. Read books by authors you have never read. Talk to people who have different opinions than you. Live in a new city, or country. Boring people stay stagnant. Don’t be that guy.
  3. Take risks – T.S. Elliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” I couldn’t agree more. If your idea of taking a risk is ordering beef instead of chicken, then you need to ask yourself when you became so… blah. I bet you used to be an adventurous person, someone who enjoyed roller-coasters and skinny dipping. What happened? Stop playing it safe and get out there. 
  4. Share your adventures – Interesting people are interesting in part because they tell great stories. Not everybody can go out exploring with you, so it is up to you to share your adventures. Sharing lets people know you a little better and it helps you become a better story-teller, photographer or even writer!
  5. Let your freak flag fly!be-brave-ribbonI’m weird. I know and understand that. It doesn’t bother me in the least bit. I don’t think anyone is normal, so why not celebrate your weirdness and individuality? The quirky things about you are the exact same things that make you interesting. So go ahead and make that bracelet out of bottle caps. Paint poodles. Embrace your weird.
  6. Show your passion – Interesting people care about others. Let people know what matters to you and then back it up with action. I am a big supporter of women’s rights & gay rights. I march in parades and I write letters to congress people. I am as active as I can be in Texas.
  7. Don’t be a dick – Right. So you have a super awesome life and you do amazing things daily. You poop rainbows and your farts smell like roses. Do you have to be a dick about it? Remember that the ego gets in the way of what really matters – people and ideas. Share the great things in your life when people are open to hearing about it.
  8. Leave your comfort zone – One way to become a more interesting person is to get out of your comfort zone. Moving from the US to The Czech Republic was a huge step for me. Leaving the Czech Republic for Mexico was even harder. Leaving Prague for Texas was the hardest of all. Getting out of your comfort zone is good for you, and it is the only way to grow.
  9. Don’t be a sheep – If you are just now hopping on the proverbial Bandwagon, then you are already late to the party. Interesting people don’t follow the crowd, they do their own thing. Be yourself and maybe folks will hop on your bandwagon. It’s always more fun (and more interesting) to lead than follow.
  10. BE BRAVE – If you want to live life by your own terms then you need to be courageous. If you are not brave, you’ll be hanging around with your friends talking about the woman who actually is. That could be you.

People I find interesting: Julia Child, Mark Twain, Hedy Lamar, Richard Feynman, Vincent Van Gogh, Amelia Earhart, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Martin, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Prince, Elvis Costello.

People I find less than interesting: Kirsten Dunst, Lena Dunham, Mitt Romney, Brett Ratner, Lady Gaga, Michael Bublè, Glenn Rush Bill Beck Limbaugh O’Reilly.

Top 10 Misfit Documentaries

littleedieI’m a documentary junkie. I’ll watch a documentary about history, true crime, art, science, society …whatever. I realize that I have included many documentaries on past lists, but I have never made  best documentaries list. I’m calling them “misfit documentaries” because these movies don’t really fit into a category. They are strange and peculiar and wonderful each in their own unique way. Hopefully you’ll find a few new films to add to your movie que. (I didn’t include obvious films like “Grizzly Man”, or “West of Memphis” because I really wanted to find a few gems most of you haven’t seen.) So, without further ado – My Top 10 Misfit Documentaries.

  1. Marwencol – This movie moved me in ways that I still think about years after viewing the film. It tells the story of artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp who survived being beaten, nearly to death, by five men outside of a bar. He spent nine days in a coma, and forty days in the hospital before being discharged with brain damage so severe it left him with little to no memory. At all. The film shows his recovery through his art – photographs of dolls and action figures that tell the story of his “previous life”. Or at least what he wants his life to have been. It is an amazing movie of survival that makes you appreciate your life and those you care for. 
  2. King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters – This movie will speak to your inner kid if your inner kid liked to play video games at the local pizza joint or arcade. This movie follows a group of competitive Donkey Kong players. It’s a race for the high score to beat all high scores. The movie is fun and entertaining til the end. It gives you a good guy and a bad guy and an all around happy feeling by the end. 
  3. Winnebago Man – This movie is bound for cult status. It is an incredible and very touching story of a man who was known for, well, getting really pissed off. If you look up “Winnebago Man” on YouTube you’ll find a video of a man trying to get his lines right for a Winnebago commercial. He became an internet sensation and a couple of film makers set out to find this guy, and see what happened to him. What they find is more than just a foul-mouthed man. His story is awesome. 
  4. Stories We Tell – This follows director/actor Sarah Polley’s search for truth within her own family. The film uncovers the secrets and lies that all families have and brings them up front and personal. It’s a brave movie that makes me like Sarah Polley even more than I already did. 
  5. Monster Road – I love watching movies about creative people like underground artist Bruce Bickford. We get to see what makes them tick and what their process is. In this movie we not only get to meet the artist, but we are also treated to his father who is just as eccentric. Bruce Bickford is pretty famous in the underground art world and did a fair amount of collaboration with Mr. Frank Zappa. He’s pretty rad. 
  6. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple – This story has always captivated me. What would lead over 900 people to follow a man to their deaths? The term “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” came from this story. I like this movie because it starts at the beginning, and we get to see what attracted people to Jim Jones in the first place, and how very manipulative he was. 
  7. Kumaré – While we’re on the subject of false prophets, I thought I would mention the mind splitting awesome Kumaré – a film that explores Americans need for a guru, a spiritual leader. This guy decided to just become a Guru… and it worked! People followed him! It shows how the lie affected the people who followed him, and how it affected him and his life. A great little lesson in this one. 
  8. Grey Gardens – I can’t make a list about misfits and not include Little Edie. I know most of you have seen this movie, but if you haven’t then you get the joy of seeing it for the first time. And you won’t believe what you see is real, but it is.  Grey Gardens tells the story of the Beales – Former socialites, a mother and daughter who live in an old mansion with too many cats, and no running water. Little Edie was the first cousin of Jackie Kennedy and fancied herself a singer, dancer and entertainer. She failed to find “a suitable husband” and moved in with her mother Big Edie in her home in The Hamptons. What you get is a sad story of how the need for fame and fortune can ruin a person. Or save them. 
  9. Stop Making Sense – Still one of the all time great music documentaries. It’s no coincidence that David Byrne has something to do with it. In 1984, well before filming bands was cool, Jonathan Deme filmed one of the best concert documentaries of all time. Stop Making Sense captures The Talking Heads in all of their weird, quirky glory. It shows you first hand the artistry that went into their shows and their music. And we get to watch David Byrne dance in an oversized, boxy suit which is nothing short of delightful. 
  10. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter – This is the guy who invented the modern day electric chair. His father was a corrections officer, and when Fred was a young boy he witnessed a few executions. As he grew older he saw the chair as ineffectual and unsafe and he revamped the model. Oh, and he denies The Holocaust ever happened.