Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht (3.5)

"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories, the story of the tiger’s wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life — of my grandfather’s days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University."  -The Tiger's Wife

I’ve been having a really hard time writing this review for some reason. I really liked it, and I feel like it’s similar to a lot of books I’ve liked, but I can’t really put my finger on why. What do I have to say besides “I like when a book is in the present, but weaves together stories of the past along with some mystic tale that may or may not be true.”
The story follows Natalia, a young doctor travelling with her friend Zόra to give immunizations to orphans. Just after she arrives, she is struck with the news that her beloved grandfather has passed away. The story weaves Natalia’s memories of her grandfather, stories he has told her, and her current journey.
The novel is both slow and gentle and teaming with love, loss, and adventures with a tiger. Moments like this were beautiful:
After following him through dark, empty streets, suddenly she sees what he sees: an elephant, a refugee from a defunct circus, being walked to the city’s embattled zoo. “None of my friends will ever believe it,” she exclaims in regret. “You must be joking,” her grandfather replies, rebuking her: “The story of this war — dates, names, who started it, why — that belongs to everyone. Not just the people involved in it, but the people who write newspapers, politicians thousands of miles away, people who’ve never even been here or heard of it before. But something like this — this is yours. It belongs only to you. And me. . . . You have to think carefully about where you tell it, and to whom. Who deserves to hear it?”
 I was surprised to see so much wisdom in a novel written by a 27-year-old. If she could write something of this magnitude, perhaps I should go back to one of my abandoned novels. Perhaps I could do something this great. Critics love this book. 
However, there is so much happening that I’m not entirely sure I came away with a great sense of what the novel accomplished…or what even happened. Characters die as they do in real life, leaving a gaping hole and without delivering purpose to the plot. Death does not tie a pretty bow around the ending of the novel, and yet death is present throughout the book.
I think what has bothered me about this book, and what has kept me from reviewing it, was that I didn’t feel that the story was finished. I enjoyed reading it, and desperately wanted to give it a five star review (I want to give everything a five star review, but have to remind myself that 3 can mean that I liked it, and I should save 5 for the Harry Potter's of the literary world) but I also realized that I had so many unanswered questions, which made me feel stupid. Had I really read the book so quickly that I had no idea how everything came together? Did I miss something? I felt stupid. How could I give you a review about a book I didn’t feel that I understood? And worse yet, how could I tell you that I loved said book, when I could barely tell you what happened?
So here is my review: read it. It’s a good read. Then tell me what you think. Let me know if you understood the great point of this novel. My copy went back into the internet-library before I could re-read or review it. Perhaps next year I will revisit it and try to figure out what happened myself. Leave me a note if you have any idea what happened.

Follow me on Goodreads  if you want to know what book I'm currently reading!

**giant, major spoilers ahead – here’s a picture to keep you from peeking**
Tiger's don't like peeking.

I feel like I would have liked the book better if in the end Natalia had encountered the deathless man, Gavran Gailé, instead of leaving the myth out of the present. One the one hand, I like that the myth remained a myth, but on the other I wish 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (5)

            This was one of the posts that I had started for this weeks blog post, and I tried to choose another post to finish, because I felt like I was doing the thing that I myself blamed the media for doing – capitalizing off of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. The problem is I’m having a hard time writing about anything else.
            I reacted, as most of us did, to the news on Friday with a gut-wrenching call to blame…everybody. We need mental health reform, I cried along with everyone else, and more gun regulation! How did our law makers allow this to happen? But therein lies the problem. While we can try to blame parents, guardians, and other mentors for not being there for this troubled young man, we can blame congress for not regulating everything, we can blame the media for making these horrible incidents infamous. However, the blame can only lie with the perpetrator of this heinous act. And the hardest part is that we may never know why he did it.
            So I offer this novel to all those asking questions and seeking answers. It won’t answer your questions necessarily and may instead raise more, but I think this novel is important and I think it has given us some idea of what its like to really deal with a broken child.
            We Need to Talk About Kevin, is narrated by Eva, whose son Kevin killed seven of his high school classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a beloved teacher two days before his sixteenth birthday. Two years after the incident, Eva discusses her thoughts and feelings through a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. She has stayed in the town her son traumatized as her own personal penance.
            I found this book devastating and sort of beautiful. Eva cannot forget what Kevin has done, and has shouldered some of the blame, wondering where in Kevin’s life she had so ruined him that he would be driven to this act of destruction.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Auditions & Bossypants (4.5)

            Let’s take a break from the sad books, or books that make me sad because I hate them. Who doesn’t need a good laugh in the darkness of the brink of winter solstice? This book is like a happy lamp for your soul. Especially if you are working in the arts and need to know that everyone hates themselves as much as you hate yourself after a bad audition.

Personal anecdote time: (If you came here just for a book review, just go ahead and skip this. If you came here because you are my friend, read on!)
Speaking of bad auditions…I keep posting on my facebook wall “going to _____!” Why, why, WHY do I keep doing this? It inevitably leads to a string of “break a legs!” and “how did it go?” that, while heartfelt and wonderful, mean that I have to relive every horrible moment of some soul-crushing experience.
            Not that all auditions are soul-crushing, by any means. Often I leave an audition feeling like I nailed it, knowing that if I don’t get the role it’s because of some redhead or brunette or 5’ 10” girl that also wowed them and was the look they wanted.
            Yesterday was another story. Yesterday I had my first audition that I had to flash my fancy brand-new “Equity Membership Candidate” card (EMC). It was at Intiman, and I spent the entire Sunday night singing my songs, picking out the best piece, and researching all four of their plays. I watched their welcome video. I pulled up my resume and edited and printed and edited and printed until I just stared out the inadequacy of my credentials.
            I went into the auditions feeling confident, but terrified. My pieces were solid, my voice was in good shape, and it wasn’t like there was some perfect part for me, if I just showed them something awesome maybe they could find me a chorus role. Fourth wife on the left in Lysistra would have been fine by me if that’s what they wanted.
            I walked in, and they were SO NICE. Introduced themselves, shook my hand, smiled at me, and genuinely looked interested in seeing my work.
            I tanked. Oh lord how I tanked. I don’t remember breathing, and by the time I left the room I was shaking, literally, from head to toe. Maybe finger to toe would be a more apt description, but you get my point. I could barely change from my character shoes to my boots because I couldn’t stand on one foot.
            Apart from the fact I didn’t breathe and I croaked out the first note of my song like a frog and I wanted to die, I might have done ok. And actually, it felt kind of good realizing that I cared enough to be so terrified. Every time I tell someone how the audition went, they try to make me feel better. Which is sweet, I absolutely appreciate the sentiment, but honestly I don’t feel bad about it. I feel like yes, this is what I want to do, and it terrifies me and excites me in ways that I can barely explain. I love it. Even when I tank, I love that I prepared as best I could and knew I could do better, if only I wasn’t so scared. Because that fear will go away. I’ll sing in front of more people and eventually it’ll feel the same as when I sing alone in my basement.

Oh yeah, we were talking about Tina Fey, weren’t we?
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction because I like to read a solid plot with solid characters. If I know how it ends, I don’t care about reading it nearly as much. Tina Fey’s Bossypants starts out chronicling her early life including her struggling acting career. While, as an actor, it is nice to see that even Tina Fey once struggled with her career, I also know that she’s going to make amazing things happen, so half of me completely gets every moment of panic, and half of me just doesn’t by it.
            Tina Fey is just as hilarious as you’d expect, her anecdotes are funny, but I find her lack of self confidence both adorable and annoying. Part of me thinks, hey, you have an Emmy-award winning show running 7 seasons, shut. up. And part of me is happy to know that I’m not the only one who suffers these cripping moments of artistic lack of self-worth.
            That being said, by the end of the book I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be exactly like Tina Fey. She is fierce, funny, and overall a normal person who works very hard at doing what she loves. It was inspiring reading her journey from a young girl hanging out with the theater weirdos to playing with the big boys and producing her own show. I loved that she struggled with everything that woman in the arts struggle with. How do you balance a family with a 80-hour-a-week schedule? Are you screwing up your child? If you have a second one, will you completely derail your career? 
            I often read this book before an audition, because it made me happy instead of stressed and it also gave me a huge sense of empowerment being a woman in the arts. Thank you, Tina Fey, for showing me that this journey is full of many, many bumps but is in the end, worth it, and a hilarious ride.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Casual Vacancy (4.5)

   I’m obsessed with the Harry Potter series. I’ve read each of those books more times then is ok to admit. I grew up with them, and because of this I feel a little like I know J.K. Rowling. I sometimes refer to her as “Jo” and I was so excited that she was writing a new book. In my mind, the worst case scenario was that it would be a total flop and she would go back to writing Harry Potter novels.
            From the start, I was hooked. Casual Vacancy was as un-Potterish as it is possible to be. J.K. Rowling used the word “cunt” and talked about an erection. WHAT? Who is this author??
            Casual Vacancy has the most unusual and dynamic cast of characters, each of them tragic in their own way. This is not a happy romp through an idyllic town but rather a town masking the war brewing underneath the surface. No, not Voldemort, this war is about ideals, money, and hidden desires. In a sense, this book is about the Dursley’s life, if Harry Potter did not exist. In fact, you might think Dudley Dursley is a much sweeter kid than Fats, one of the major players in Casual Vacancy.
            If you can muddle through how quickly Jo switches character point of view, sometimes mid-paragraph, and begin to make sense of her writing style, if you can find it in your heart to root for some of these tragic, broken people, than you will read a book that takes you on the emotional ride of your life.

I have a habit of reading some sad books, so this was totally up my alley. If Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire broke your heart, then this book might be a little too intense for you.  
If you wanted to know what was really going on in some of those empty classrooms in Hogwarts, or how the Dursley’s fit in with normal society, and enjoy books that are not action/adventure/mystery but a bit of a slow build, then you’ll love The Casual Vacancy.

Next week: a plug and a book review, all in one!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

50 Shade of Grey

            Imagine you picked up this book not knowing what you were getting yourself into.
            I was at work, as a waitress and it was a very, very slow day. So I wanted to download some book to read on my phone until it got busy again. I went to Amazon’s top sellers and I saw all three 50 Shades of Grey books on display. For some reason unknown to me now, I didn’t read the synopsis. I saw that it was supposed to be like Twilight, which may not have been high literary art, but I had found very entertaining.
            I assumed since 50 Shades of Grey was like Twilight, it was about a werewolf, since Twilight was about vampires. I read enough to know he had a dark secret.
            Innocently I downloaded the book and began to read. I thought the writing was somewhat annoying, there was a little too much detail about what was going on in Ana’s mind but she seemed like a strong, independent, smart woman. A bit stupid about boys but she seemed to be really holding out for the right one.
            And then she meets Christian Grey, your typical aloof mega-hottie that for some reason seems to be interested in this normal girl. You get that a lot in your average chick lit. There’s a lot of that being sucked into his eyes ridiculousness that you get in Twilight, but I was entertained. I was rooting for them.
            (Here’s where my story starts to get a bit spoiler-alert-y. I won’t tell you how it ends, but if you want to know absolutely nothing about the story going into it, you might want to stop reading.)
            So they’re super into each other, but Christian is against it for some reason. Because he’s a werewolf, I thought. Makes sense. He doesn’t want to eat her or something on the full moon.
Christian brings Ana back to his super nice Seattle pad, and since he’s super rich, he needs her to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Of course he doesn’t want her to tell the world he’s a werewolf, right? Makes sense.
And then he brings her to this room, to show her his secret. There are chains and weird things in it, and a really big, ornate bed in the center. OF COURSE, I thought, because he’s a werewolf. He needs to get chained up once a month.
Christian Grey is not a werewolf. And he wants Ana to sign a freaking contract so she can be his sex slave and get chained up whenever he wants. In the contract it specifies how she can dress, what she can eat, how often she has to work out and how often he expects her to come over whenever he wants her to.
And here’s the thing, she was not into that. And she didn’t seem to like being tied up while they had sex. She wanted to be able to touch him and see him. So I assumed the book might be about her changing him, Beauty and the Beast style.
Someone told me she signs the contract.
So I put the book down and never picked it back up.
I think I would have liked it better if it was about a werewolf.

I promise next week I'll tell you about a book I actually like. Probably this one:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Queen of the Kitchen!

So snow day #5 has lead me to some awesome discoveries. Today's new thing is pinterest, last night was goodreads. And, thanks to pinterest, I found this recipe for lemon garlic gnocci, and oh my goodness, if it's not the most delicious thing I've ever made, I seriously don't know what it is. And it's pretty healthy too!

I ate a third of it and then added fresh ground pepper.
Add the fresh ground pepper, it's so good!!
I paired it with a super plain-Jane spinach salad, and in my pre-this-delicious-gnocci life, I could just eat spinach, hard boiled egg, and some cheese and be totally thrilled. But oh no, my taste buds were on overdrive, so some olive oil,  balsamic vinegar, and fresh ground pepper later, I was sitting pretty.
Also, is this recipe super filling or was I just not that hungry? I couldn't even finish that plate full.
Now, here's some (not so) pro tips if you're going to make this gnocci:
garlic cloves
1) I stole a bit from her lemon-garlic spaghetti, and added 2 tbsp of pine nuts.
2) one clove of garlic is the little piece of garlic, you buy a whole bulb at the store (I got confused.)
3) when peeling a hard-boiled egg, first put it in a bowl of cold water, and then run cold water over it as you peel
4) instead of the oil-and-vinegar route, you could probably use some of the gnocci sauce you made. Or just some lemon and black pepper? Let me know if you tried that, because I didn't. And if it's bad, someone should warn the readers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Maybe I wasn't ready to knit a blanket

"Psh, I don't need place holders," I thought to myself as I started the blanket. I can just count. Because counting to 115 works out so well. But five rows into a pattern that has 13 stitches followed by a 12-stitch repeating pattern that repeats eight times (or nine, if you somehow mess up your counting by a perfect 12 stitches), I realized that I was being really stupid.

At least I had the brains to try and write down what I was doing. Especially to mark what row I was on, because if I lose track of that I'm screwed.
Well, five rows in I took some old yarn that I just had a foot or two of, and made myself some improvised place markers. SO. MUCH. EASIER.

I also printed out the Umaro chart (28 rows, each with a different knitting pattern) and colored it. So I can actually follow the lines, because by row four or five, it's really hard to tell which row is which.

So this is my advice to you: make your work easier and put some place markers in, just in case. If you're really too good for them and they just annoy you, you can always take them out.

Snowmen and cookies

Today, I decided that it was time to leave my house. Luckily, I live very close to Greenlake and one of my friends lives very close to me! We then went home and baked some peanut butter oatmeal cookies, which I have to say, were some of the best cookies I've made (yet).
Now, there is one thing I would have done differently. Kelly told me what I was doing was stupid, and I kind of realized it was stupid once I'd really started, but had seemed so brilliant at the time. I decided that since the "drizzle" was supposed to go in a plastic bag (with a hole cut in it, for master cookie-frosting), I should just make the frosting in the bag! I didn't take a picture, but it was pretty stupid. It did not mix well. Also, the drizzle probably could have used more milk. It would have made it creamier and more delicious-looking. Ah well, next time I guess I'll dirty the dishes instead of cutting corners.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Finally knitting a blanket!

I caved last night and actually purchased a knitting pattern, because what's better than knitting while it's snowing outside? Ok, maybe many things if you're cooler than me. Well, this blanket by Jared Flood is relatively easy, and due to the awesome amount of knitters on the internets who put up free videos about how to do things, I'm actually doing ok at this! I mean, it's pretty squished on my needles atm, so I have a feeling it's not going to be as pretty as his, but first attempts rarely are.
At least I figured out a way better way to cast on! My old cast on was, I'm pretty sure, what you teach a 5-year-old on their first knitting project. And it tended not to work too well. But the Lont-Tail Cast On is awesome, and I will forever use it. Perhaps next I should learn the adult way to switch colors while knitting.
I found the knitting abbreviations glossary to also be helpful when trying to figure out pretty much everything that wasn't "knit" and "purl." Yay project!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anyone for a workout? Snow Day - Day 2

So, in addition to getting my obscene amount of things organized, my other big goal for 2012 is to get back in shape. This isn't just about getting a smaller waistline for me (although that would be nice!), I am trying really hard to focus on the healthy part. I am really good at lying to myself about how often I'm working out, rehearsing, cleaning, writing, name it, I am the queen of "oh but I just did that!" Now I started using in...November? Yeah, I think it was November. And they gave me this awesome suggestion, which I think most people who work out frequently probably use, but for me it was one of those, "I can't believe I haven't thought of that!" moments. What was this amazing nugget of awesomeness that they revealed to me? Write down your reps. Yeah, it's that simple. Get yourself a notepad, write the date across the top, and log what you did that day. It's a great way to track your progress as you get more fit, but if you're like me, the real beauty of it is that it doesn't lie to you about the last time you worked out. I'll think I had just one teensy bad week where I didn't workout much, but when I  go back to the notepad I see...quel horreur! "It's been 21 days since my last workout? I thought it was just last week!"

Now, is great because they make their workouts an intense 15 minutes, and that is it. 15 minutes a day and you should be as ripped as Zuzana here and, let's be honest, who doesn't want to look like that?

But my problem with bodyrock is they have a lot of workouts that require equipment, of which I have none. And part of me goes "c'mon Jana, just buy the workout stuff!" but the rest of me looks at this sad little chart that proves I'd only use it, at best, three times a month. And I'm just not one to blow $100 on something I'll probably never use (and there's like three $100 items I'd need).

I also like having something to follow, and while they show you their workout, it's not in the fitness-tape, workout-while-watching way that I do like, and so I get a little discouraged. I mean, I clearly don't look like her, so why should I push myself to do 5 sets? Maybe I'll just do three, that seems quite hard enough...

So then (and by then I mean at the tail end of December, three-to-six weeks later) I went back to my good 'ol Netflix workouts. (Hello 10-minute solutions!)

this is a real badge that I actually
earned because I'm a winner.
And my darling boyfriend showed me the best thing ever for tracking my workouts. It's called fleetly, and there is a website as well as an iPhone app, so you can even take it to the gym with you, if you're one of those people who actually goes to the gym. But for people like me, it has plenty of workouts with no equipment necessary! So you can do their workouts, or log your own. Which means I can bounce around from Netflixing to bodyrocking, running, walking, or just doing whatever I want. You then log what you did and get points! Who doesn't like getting points? I love getting points. And not only do you get points and level up as you workout, if you don't log anything for drop levels. So when I'm having my omg-I'm-going-to-get-in-such-good-shape! week, I'll go up to level 19, but when I slack off and don't do anything, I log on to find myself at level 9. So it keeps me honest.

And, just like that notepad, you can log that you did a workout, how many reps you did, what weights you used, ect. so the next time you do that exercise it's right in front of you how you did the last time you did it. And more importantly (for me) it shows you when the last time you did it actually was.

No Hoarders for Me!

I'm not exactly sure where on the internet I found this, but it's basically a how-to for those of us who have rooms that look something like this:

uh...gross, right? Yeah, that's my actual room. I am actually that messy. I have always been this way. Ask my college roommates, family, or basically anyone I've let into my house. The thing is, I feel like I'm getting uncomfortably close to being featured on an episode of Hoarders and I can not let the above turn into this:
(oh hey, now my room doesn't look quite so bad, now does it? Oh, no, wait....still bad.) Well, her post inspired me, giving me the step-by-step guide for how to get stuff done. Now my room looks like this!

One of the supplies she has listed is an egg timer, which I think is the most important supply for any task you have to do but really don't want to. I mean, I used my iPhone because I live in the future and have you seen my room? Does it look like I need any more things? And she said to do an hour and then take a 30 minute break but today was a snow day, so I did 15 minutes at a time with 10 minute breaks. I know me, and if I take a break longer than ten minutes, there's less and less of a chance that I'm ever going to get back to work. I get all comfy and lose all the resolve I had once had to be a productive human being. I don't really have an excuse for how short of a work time I gave myself except that I am really lazy and at least I cleaned at all. I guess I could try and make up an excuse was a short enough time that I didn't get too overwhelmed. Because that was an out-of-this world mess and I just had to know that it was going to end quickly and I could go back to playing The Sims soon.

So clearly, this method took awhile but now my room looks a little more like a human being, not a feral creature, lives in it. 

And I didn't spend all of my time on my room, by the way. I also had a party to clean up after. Which is mostly done. Just need to scrub out the punch cauldron. 
Next step: make my room look more like this: