What I’ve Been Reading: October 2017

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My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh

“It was the summer everything changed….” 

My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson–free spirit, track star, and belle of the block–experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too. 

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

This was a weird book to read.  I enjoyed the writing immensely — it’s one of those books where the setting is a character in itself, so it made the whole reading experience feel very real.  The story was also gripping — in 1989, Lindy gets raped, and there were four main suspects, of whom the narrator is one.  The story unfolds as a nostalgic but troubled look back once the narrator has reached adulthood.

The thing that was weird about this book was the narrator himself.  He was a childhood friend of Lindy’s, and in the beginning, seems like a normal kid.  He starts by talking about their shared childhood, the other neighborhood kids, and the fun they all had together.  But the longer he talks, the more “cringey” he seems.  Over the years, he develops this weird obsession with Lindy and the lines of what’s okay and what’s not start to blur.  Honestly, I hated him.  He did things knowing good and well they were wrong and gross, and hid a lot of what he did from his family and other friends.  Some of that is normal for a kid, but some of it is not.  He spends the entire book trying to win Lindy’s companionship somehow, and never quite succeeds.

Though I didn’t like the narrator, this was a fascinating book to read.  The other characters were well-developed, the plot was realistically complicated, and there were secrets revealed near the end that made a lot of things make more sense.  This is a good choice for anyone who enjoys a well-crafted and well-told story.

26247008Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

I have loved everything I’ve ever read by Liane Moriarty.  I always read her books in just a day or two because I can’t put them down.  Truly Madly Guilty was amazing.

This one was written from the perspective of all the characters, and Moriarty has a distinct voice and character for each one.  It was interesting to learn the motives and secrets of each character, and once you knew some of those, you could tell how it colored their interactions with the other characters.  As with any book like this, actions and words were misinterpreted, offenses were seemingly shrugged off, and horrible things happened at the happiest of moments.  Also, there’s a twist at the end of the novel that was more heart-wrenching than the entire rest of the book.  If you like suspense, you probably already know that this is a good choice.

73186The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Using the dramatic scenario of an investigative journalist pursuing his story and leads, Lee Strobel uses his experience as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune to interview experts about the evidence for Christ from the fields of science, philosophy, and history.

This was fascinating for entire different reasons than the two above.  The book is sectioned off into interviews, with each chapter having a topic.  Strobel always starts out with a legal anecdote from his reporting days, and then introduces his interviewees, touting their achievements.  Then he goes into the interview, writing it in a casual dialogue format.

I understand that there are a lot of criticisms for this book.  A few are that logical fallacies are evident in many of the arguments, that since Strobel presents the book as reportorial it leads people to believe that it’s more accurate than it is, and that much of the evidence is colored by personal experience since most (if not all) of the people Strobel interviews are already Christians.  However, I don’t think this book should be discredited.  If you’re reading this because you are seriously trying to look into the validity of Christianity, it shouldn’t be the only book you read, but it’s a good, interesting, and easily understood starting point.

Descriptions and covers from Goodreads.

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Fall/Winter Goals 2017/2018

For a person who loves routine, this past spring and summer were insane.  They were the best kind of insane, of course — lots of positive life changes going on.  But because of all that, I didn’t really have any goals besides get these things done!  Now, my life has calmed down a bit (although I’m not so naive as to think it’ll stay calm forever).  With this small bit of calm, I’m ready to get back into focusing on goals again.

Household/Misc

  • IMG_20171102_121637.jpgEstablish a chore rhythm — Christopher and I are really pretty good at housekeeping — but we could be better.  I made us a chore chart, and we haven’t quite made it work with our routine yet, but I’m hoping we will figure out how to balance the household chores.
  • Establish a hair/makeup routine — Throughout college, I wore my hair in a bun almost every day.  I knew a few ways to put it up, but I was either too lazy or too tired to fix it.  Now, I have enough time to focus more on how I look, and I’m ready to put in the effort.  I finally went to a nicer salon and got it cut shorter so it’s easier to handle, and I’ve been curling it every few days — the goal here is to keep that up, and find cute ways to put it up when I don’t want to use heat.  Makeup is a different story — I want to learn to do better eye makeup, but I have very hooded eyes, which I’m learning are a little more difficult to work with.  What I need to do here, then, is 1) watch YouTube, pin hooded eye ideas on Pinterest, and practice, and 2) slowly build up a collection of higher quality, easy to use makeup.

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    Here’s me shamelessly showing off my freshly curled hair because I was feeling fabulous and confident
  • Gratitude journal — A lot of people I know online and in real life have started gratitude journals.  I’ve had this on my to-do list for about a month now; I think it would be a huge help for me, with my negative tendencies.  My cousin announced on Insta November 1st that she’s doing a month of intentional gratitude, and that brought it to the front of my mind again.  What better month than November to start this kind of project?  My goal is to start one and use it at least a few times a week — hopefully I’ll see a difference in my attitude.

Spiritual/Religious

  • Find a church — Regardless of my spiritual beliefs at the moment, this is something Christopher and I need to do as a couple.  We were both raised Christian, so we’re both comfortable in that environment.  I have a little bit of a problem participating in church when I don’t technically call myself a Christian, but it will also help me make my decision, I think, as long as I’m honest with anyone who asks where I am spiritually.  Christopher is more open than me to Christianity at the moment, too, so it will be a help to him, and it will also be a good way for us to meet some people our own age.  We’ve talked about how searching for a church will be good for us both in multiple ways, since we’ll be able to start over and choose our own church, rather than feeling obligated to attend our childhood churches like we would if we had moved to either of our hometowns.
  • Read books/explore spiritual life more — In order to make the decision I need to make, I need to be intentional about learning and assessing.  I can’t just sit and moan that I can’t decide — I need to do something about it.  I need to figure out what my questions are, list them, and try to get answers.  This will mean actually reading the Bible, talking to people like my best friend and sister, and considering what my hangups are.

Hobbies

  • Music — Since college is over, I finally have the time and motivation to start playing my flute again, and I so glad, because I seriously missed it.  Playing by myself is no fun, though, and since I don’t take lessons anymore it’s hard to find the motivation to practice and improve the things I need to improve on.  I really want to find a band or flute group to play with (and I think I need to get my flute serviced).  I’m kind of hoping that whatever church we settle on will have an orchestra, but that shouldn’t be a factor in how we shop for a church, and church hunting takes a lot of time.  I’d rather find a group sooner than later, so I’ll be looking around and hoping there’s something that will fit into my schedule.
  • Sewing — About 3 weeks ago, I dropped my sewing machine off to be serviced — it was unusable since it kept bunching thread.  I have 2 projects in queue at the moment: a tulle skirt for my best friend, and a t-shirt quilt for my sister.  I’d love to have these both done by spring at the latest.
  • Blogging — I’ve slacked off a bit on blogging lately, so I need to establish a new blogging schedule.  I’m shooting for one post a week now, and I need to figure out what day will be easiest for me to publish on a regular basis.  Additionally, I’d love to do one full book review every month (besides my what I’m reading posts) — but we’ll see how that goes.  I think that may have to be amended, but it’s worth a shot.
  • Spanish — I’m still very aware of the fact that I need to keep up my Spanish or I’ll lose it, so I’m trying to find ways to do that.  Podcasts aren’t really my thing, and books frustrate me because I read so slowly.  I do like reading the news in Spanish, though, and I’ve found a few websites that interest me.  Reading Spanish news is something I can do at work in between customers coming in, so that may be a good option just to keep me in the language a little bit.  And I can’t forget about the other blog I started that was supposed to be all in Spanish — I’d love to make it a priority to write there, but I need to decide exactly what I want to write.  Most of the ideas I come up with I end up using here instead, so that will be something to think about.

If you ever read these posts and want to join me in seasonal goals, leave a link in the comments!  I’d love to see what others are working on.

Deliberation

It’s been almost exactly two months since I wrote this post.  I haven’t done as much reading or praying or investigating as I probably should have while I’m deciding whether or not become a Christian again, but this issue has been in the back of my mind the entire time.  The more I think about what I really want to do, the more I think yes.  But something is still holding me back.

Part of me is like, go ahead and commit already!  It’s the part of me that likes having decisions made and in the past.  I hate having to make decisions.  I don’t like being in the limbo state of deciding; instead I want to just pick something and do it.  It’s easier to pick something and say, well, it’s too late to go back now, so I have to just go with this, no matter what.  Even if it may not have been the best decision.

But another part of me still hesitates for some reason.  First, as I’ve told myself before, I don’t want to rush into this decision.  I don’t want to read a few convincing things, dive in, and then realize that there are still too many things I can’t reconcile.  It drives me crazy when people are on-again, off-again in relationships because to me, if you have that much trouble staying together, you probably shouldn’t have been together in the first place.  I refuse to be like that with Christianity — I’ve already picked it up and put it down once, so if I pick it up again I’m not going back.  That’s not something I should rush into.

Another reason is that I don’t know if I’m familiar enough with the actual teachings of Jesus.  I used to read my Bible every day, but I have forgotten a ton of stuff.  Paul, our marriage counselor, wanted us both to read through John.  I read about halfway through, and there’s so much in there I didn’t remember.  But I haven’t finished the book, either.  Part of me thinks maybe I should at least try to read the entire New Testament before I truly commit.  That way I can say I’m informed, and I can really back up my decision.

Even though I haven’t been reading the Bible much, I did read Strobel’s The Case for Christ.  (It was recently made into a movie, by the way — Christopher and I watched it, and it was surprisingly good.  I was hesitant, because Christian-made movies are usually low-budget and terrible — sorry, but it’s true.  This one wasn’t, though.  It’s an interesting watch for anyone, regardless of beliefs, in my humble opinion.)  I had tried to read the book before, when I was younger, but it was too far above my comprehension level at the time.  However, I really enjoyed it this time around.  Honestly, the evidence that Strobel put together is incredible.  He asked every question that could possibly be asked about the story of Jesus, and almost every contradiction he posed was pretty firmly shot down by science.  And he didn’t just ask random people — he went to the best and brightest of academia.  (I’ll have a more expanded review of the book in my next “what I’ve been reading” post.)  As someone who loves facts, and had recently been questioning if God is even real, it was wonderful.  It made me want to go through the Bible for myself, although I don’t think I have the patience (or the need) for the kind of investigation Strobel did.

So my dilemma is do I wait, and take a few more weeks to go through the New Testament more thoroughly?  Or do I go ahead and pray and make the commitment, and let that shape my study of the Bible?  This is an urgent decision, and if Christianity and its fundamental beliefs are true (and at this point, I feel confident enough to say I believe they are), this is the most important decision I’ll ever make.  What if I don’t make it in time, and die in a car crash tomorrow?  What then?

Experiential is becoming my new favorite word.  I’ve recently heard several testimonies from other fact-loving people about how they ultimately came to Christ, and all the testimonies I’ve heard in the past have this element somehow: everyone who is truly a Jesus follower has “experienced” God in some way.  It’s not something that can be explained.  I don’t know if I’ve had that type of experience, and I’m afraid of not ever having it.  If I never have that experience, what is wrong?  Does that type of thing happen only after you truly commit?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, either.  Maybe that’s something some people get, but not others.  Sometimes I feel like accepting Jesus will open up more questions than it will answer.  But I feel like it might be worth it.

Book Review: Mexico by Josh Barkan (Don’t Read This Book Ever)

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NetGalley Description

The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection—chef, architect, nurse, high school teacher, painter, beauty queen, classical bass player, plastic surgeon, businessman, mime—are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence. Yet, inevitably, crime has a way of intruding on their lives all the same. A surgeon finds himself forced into performing a risky procedure on a narco killer. A teacher struggles to protect lovestruck students whose forbidden romance has put them in mortal peril. A painter’s freewheeling ways land him in the back of a kidnapper’s car. Again and again, the walls between “ordinary life” and cartel violence are shown to be paper thin, and when they collapse the consequences are life-changing.
 
These are stories about transformation and danger, passion and heartbreak, terror and triumph. They are funny, deeply moving, and stunningly well-crafted, and they tap into the most universal and enduring human experiences:  love even in the face of danger and loss, the struggle to grow and keep faith amidst hardship and conflict, and the pursuit of authenticity and courage over apathy and oppression. With unflinching honesty and exquisite tenderness, Josh Barkan masterfully introduces us to characters that are full of life, marking the arrival of a new and essential voice in American fiction.

Doesn’t that description sound wonderful?  I thought so too, which was why I requested it from NetGalley.  It’s too bad that description is a steaming heap of lies, much like this book.

I knew this book was going to suck from the moment I started it.  I downloaded the book in April, read the first short story, and hated it.  The premise was ridiculous and the characters were flat.  The plot was wonky and I just found it dumb.  I had a sinking feeling about the book, and at the time I was closing in on college graduation, so I put it down for several months.  Now, my life has calmed down a bit, so I picked it back up, hoping it had magically gotten better.  It hadn’t.

I (mostly) got through two more short stories before I got too disgusted to continue.  The first was shorter, about an American high school teacher in Mexico who had two students in a Romeo and Juliet situation.  First off: the main plot, the students’ forbidden romance, was not just a literal soap opera, but also a direct and awful ripoff of Shakespeare.  The author didn’t even peg the story as a retelling, he just took the Romeo and Juliet plot and made it far worse.  Second: the main character, the schoolteacher, was someone I would absolutely hate in real life.  He was a creep who followed his students around after school, listening at motel doors as they had sex, while praising himself as being their protector.  He spent his evenings like this for a month, despite having his own wife at home, who apparently married him in some unexplained twist of events even though her father was vehemently against their relationship from the moment they met.  That backstory, by the way, was thrown in there at random in between the MC creeping around after his underage students.  In addition to the MC having no self awareness to speak of, the language of this story was just weird and gross.  At one point, he thinks of the motel “where Sandra and Jose had been mating”.  Who talks like that?  Who writes like that?

The second story was not much better, and it was much longer.  This plot revolved around two women in a waiting room, one who was about to get a double mastectomy, and one, strikingly beautiful apparently, who had horrible scars from past abuse.  During the intro, Barkan spent multiple paragraphs on what each woman’s body looked like.  Sometimes, body descriptions are necessary to the story, especially for characters with these backstories.  But these descriptions sounded more like bad erotica than information necessary to the story.  It sounded to me like Barkan prefers sitting at a computer thinking about naked women than crafting a well-done plot.  It also sounds to me like he has not spoken to many real women, because the way the characters spoke in the story was unrealistic and contrived.  The majority of the chapter consisted of the beautiful woman describing her past life and abuse — she had become homeless as a teen and got caught up into some type of sex trade.  This kind of story is very real and probably should be written about more.  But this was the worst way to write about it.  Barkan romanticized the woman’s abuse, and painted her as a tragic, beautiful character.  It was the ultimate “wounded woman” trope, and honestly, it struck me more like a disgusting sexual fantasy than the sad reality I think it was intended to be.

I could not read any more.  The writing is awful.  The characters suck.  The plots are weird and fake and not paced well at all.  My final complaint is that even if these stories were written well, most of them are from the point of view of Americans in Mexico, and the nature of the plots serve to propagate the many negative stereotypes about Mexicans that a lot of Americans (including, apparently, Barkan) still believe.  Don’t read this book.  Don’t buy this book.  I honestly don’t know how this trash got past the editor.

This book was provided to me for free (thank God) in exchange for this very honest review.

How I Decide What to Read Next

Johnny from sci.casual wrote this on my book reviews from Monday:

You’ve got eclectic tastes – how *do* you answer the question “what should I read next”?

I’m glad he asked that, because it’s a good question, and it requires a longer answer than I prefer to give via comment form.  In the book blogging world, many book bloggers are super organized about this.  It’s common to keep a TBR (to be read) list, and to read and review brand new books from one or two chosen genres.  I admire that organization, but the way I pick what to read next is much more arbitrary.  Here’s the short version — I keep a list on Goodreads, and then I pretty much just read what I want to read.

Here’s What I Like to Read (with examples from my Goodreads TBR)

Genres/types of books I read a lot:

  • Memoirs
  • Realistic YA
  • Fluffy summer novels
  • Literary novels
  • Nonfiction
  • Thrillers
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All images from Goodreads 

 

There’s not necessarily one genre that is my favorite, although if I had to pick it would probably be literary fiction, because of the vast range of stories and styles it encompasses.  But the things that really interest me are how humans interact together and how we process things.  I love reading about other cultures and immigration.  I love languages.  I love realistic portrayals of life, history from an individual’s perspective, and even poetry if individual poems can be taken together to tell a whole story (think Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse).  Truly, stories are my passion — as opposed to small talk, for example.  I can do small talk for awhile, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the person.  It’s what you do because you have to be together, like when your cashier is ringing up your groceries.  But once you get to know a person, you know their stories — the things they’ve done, the people they know, the hobbies and passions and experiences that make them who they are.  That’s substance.  And that’s how I choose books to add to my TBR — if the story sounds interesting and realistic and meaty, I add it.  That’s it.  It’s a bonus if it sounds like it’ll make me think and reconsider my opinions.

But How Do I Choose What to Read Next?

The short answer: I read what’s available.

The long answer:  I don’t like spending a lot of money on books, especially ones I haven’t read yet.  If I don’t like a book, I don’t want to have wasted money on it.  So I do pretty much all my reading through libraries.  I have a library card for every city I’ve lived in.  I grew up going to the library weekly, so I’ve gone through a lot of books.  And if you know how to tap into interlibrary loan, you’re pretty much set up for whatever you want to read.  In the last few years or so, I’ve gotten into borrowing ebooks, because one of the libraries I have a card for has a fantastic selection.  So while I prefer physical books, I’ll take an ebook any day of the week, too.

When I don’t have anything to read, I scroll through my Goodreads list.  I search for titles in the library catalogs to see who has what.  And usually I find one or two books on my list, so I’ll check those out and begin the cycle again.  But, a lot of books I read are fairly new and thus unavailable in libraries yet.  If this happens, I just pick a library book that’s not on my TBR.  And though I’ve slacked off on this a bit recently, I typically have a book or two sitting around that I received through a book review program.  I try to read these in a timely manner, but if it doesn’t sound interesting to me at the moment, I read something else.  My mom always has good recommendations too.

Not a lot of thought goes into what I read next, which is why my review posts can be a mishmash of random books.  I read what I like, and that’s the way it will stay.

What I’ve Been Reading: September 2017

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. 

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This book is a work of fiction, but it may as well be completely true, given how many young unarmed black men have been killed by police in recent years.  It’s a vitally important book and an incredibly well-written work.

First, about the writing itself: this book is so well-crafted.  Every character is ridiculously realistic.  Starr’s family dynamics are incredible, with her parents being more present — and more true to life — than any other YA book I have read (and I’ve read several with good parent characters).  Starr’s friends are complex also — they have hidden hopes and dreams that show through and they deal with their own issues.  Starr’s boyfriend is also wonderfully written.  He makes dumb teenage mistakes, but owns up to them and honestly tries to be a good person.  I cannot say enough good things about the characters here, and that should tell you all you need to know about this book.

Second, the importance of this book cannot be overestimated.  As a white woman, reading this book is about as close as I can get to truly understanding what it is to be black in today’s world.  In addition to showing the blatant unfairness and discrimination against young black men, Thomas shows how Starr filters herself around her white friends because of small, thoughtless, but still discriminatory, comments that they routinely make.  It shows overt and covert racism and how both are damaging.  But she also shows how to respectfully learn — Starr’s boyfriend is white, and when he starts hanging out with Starr’s black friends, they talk about racism and what’s okay for him to do and say and what isn’t.

I don’t care how old you are or what color or are or what books you like — this is a book you should read, because this is the world we live in.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Your neighbor told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

I read this book in about four hours, because I couldn’t put it down.  It was gripping.  It was was exciting.  It was horrifying.  There were twists and turns I didn’t expect at all.  The characters had secrets, as all good thriller characters must.

Many other reviews on Goodreads accuse this book of being ridiculous.  And maybe it is, but what’s a good thriller without some ridiculous twists and turns?  If crime thrillers are a type of book you enjoy, this is an excellent choice.  It’s true to the genre, the writing is solid, and it’s an entertaining way to spend a few hours.  I’d recommend this, not as something you absolutely must read, but as one I’d pass by in a bookshop and say, oh yeah, that was pretty dang good.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.

When I read Lahiri’s The Namesake, I knew I had to read more.  The types of books that Lahiri writes may be my favorites types of all time — books about families that span decades and follow the characters throughout the majority of their lives.  These are stories that aren’t really happy, but aren’t really sad — there are moments of despair and moments of hope.  There are characters that hate themselves and characters that rise up from impossible circumstances.  There are those that heal themselves and those that carry open wounds forever.  And you get to see how each of these people turn out, how their lives affect those that come after them.  Lahiri’s books are stories about individuals and family units, all in one.

I love stories about immigrants, especially Latino or Indian immigrants, so that was one aspect of this book that I loved.  I also loved that though the characters’ lives were wildly up and down, the book ended on a hopeful note.  I loved that the book was told from multiple perspectives — this can be hard to pull off, but Lahiri does it so elegantly that she doesn’t even need headings for the different sections — it’s easy to distinguish who she is talking about.  I loved that the ending wasn’t completely happy, either, because life isn’t completely happy.  This book is a beautiful representation of life and I wholeheartedly recommend it and anything else by her.

Covers and synopses from Goodreads

5 Facts About Me You May or May Not Want to Know

A few days ago, Sydney over at Antipodal Pull was kind enough to nominate me for the Mystery Blogger award.  Like her, I tend to have disdain for blogger awards.  But, also like her, I have been trying to get back into the blogging community.

To be completely honest, I’m a bit unhappy with my blog and blogging habits at the moment.  I’m not taking it too seriously, because life is a bit crazy at the moment and I know it will calm down soon, and then I’ll be able to find a new normal.  But it’s been a bit of a downer, not being able to blog or brainstorm at often or as regularly as I want.

That’s one of the reasons I was pretty thrilled that Sydney thought of me for this award — I feel like it’s a good brainstorming and writing exercise, and it’s a way to ease back into regular blogging.  The other reason is that I really enjoy her blog (which you should check out), and the fact that she thought of me made me smile.  So, Sydney — thank you!

Here are the questions she posed to her nominees:

 

What’s your most productive work environment?

I work best in a neat room with a lot of natural light.  If the light is ugly, or the room is too messy, I won’t be able to focus very well.  Ideally, there should be some low background noise — instrumental music is best because I can get distracted by lyrics.  And then, if I have a cup of coffee and a blanket to throw on my lap, I’m a happy camper.  I can sit for hours and be productive like that.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

Tom Hiddleston.  I saw him first in Thor and thought he was the greatest looking person I had ever seen.  I had an obsessive Pinterest board for awhile, and decided I was going to watch every film he’d ever been in.  That goal didn’t last very long, and the board got deleted when I starting dating my fiancee.  I still think he’s a very talented actor though.

Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled?

Hands down, the American southwest.  Specifically, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.  I went on a road trip with my mom, aunt, and brother last spring, and the desert out there is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.  And the culture is absolutely fascinating — it’s like a huge mix of US, Mexican, and indigenous history.  And did I mention how beautiful it is?  I only had my beat up iPhone on the trip, but that doesn’t disguise the absolute gorgeousness.  I mean, look at this trail going down into the Grand Canyon.  Does it get better than that??  No.  No, it does not.

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What’s (one of) your biggest goal(s) in life?

I still want to travel much more than I have.  I want to go back to Central America, and I want to visit South America, and I would love to go to Spain, and I want to see India, and Australia would be incredible, and there’s still so much of the US I haven’t seen.  I don’t think I’ll ever live anywhere other than the US, but that doesn’t mean I can’t at least give myself a taste of the rest of the world.

Also, not to lose my ability to play the flute or speak Spanish.  Those are both things I love doing, and I have done neither of those things in a long time.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Honestly, right now, I do not know, and I have too many wedding things to do to spend the time I would need to spend to properly reflect on this.  However, this is a good question, so maybe it will turn into its own blog post later.

Here’s Why Rescinding DACA Sucks (including links to help you speak out)

Last Tuesday, Trump decided to end DACA.

It’s no secret that I am very much not on the Trump train, and this just adds to the reasons why.

Trump claims that the reason behind moving to rescind DACA is basically that it’s not good enough, and that the US isn’t ready for a “comprehensive immigration plan.” But if that were the real reason, and he honestly wanted a better immigration process, he wouldn’t be rescinding DACA. Rescinding means taking a step back, not moving forward.

Trump claims that the 800,000 DACA recipients — DREAMers — are taking jobs away from millions of Americans. Those are his words. I have two problems with that.

First of all, like most of the things Trump says, it’s highly illogical. It’s literally impossible for 800,000 people to “take” jobs from millions. It’s true that 800,000 people (if they all have jobs, that is) are preventing another 800,000 people from having those exact same jobs, but by that logic, I’m taking a job away from someone else too. So is my fiancé. So is almost everyone I know. Yes, the job market may be brutal, but you don’t “take away” someone else’s job by having a job yourself. That doesn’t make sense.

Second, DACA recipients, by definition, have grown up in the US. They are children of people who have come here illegally, so while they are technically also undocumented, they have spent almost their entire lives in the US, living as and among Americans. Culturally, socially, and mentally, they are Americans. They pay for American goods, work jobs that serve Americans, and go to American schools. As residents, they’re contributing members of American society, and most of them don’t know anything different. They are Americans. The only thing they lack is the paperwork, and DACA was Obama’s attempt to give them the time they need to make their status legal. What will the US gain by taking that chance away?

I can’t answer that, but I can tell you what we will lose.  By rescinding DACA, we will lose hundreds of thousands of people that could be bettering and investing in our society.  We will lose more respect than we’ve already lost by electing Trump in the first place.  And we will lose the trust of everyone, not just DREAMers, who were told that the US government would welcome them, help them, and value them.  The only thing rescinding DACA will accomplish is announcing to the world that if you weren’t born American, Trump doesn’t care about you.  But I’m pretty sure we all knew that already.

Trump’s America is the opposite of what America is supposed to be.  Emma Lazarus wrote the famous poem “The New Colossus” in 1883, as an effort to fundraise for part of the Statue of Liberty.  We all know the famous lines:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Starting DACA was one way Obama tried to put those lines into practice.  Trump may as well take the torch from Lady Liberty.

Unless, of course, Congress passes the Dream Act of 2017.  

This act was initially introduced in 2001, but it didn’t pass.  Now, with DACA being rescinded, it has been introduced again.  You can read the actual text here, but in a nutshell, the Dream Act would protect DREAMers from deportation and give them a legalization process, which DACA did not do.  It is not a perfect process, I’m sure, but it would be much, much better than deporting 800,000 people.

From what I’ve read, phone calls are the best way to get noticed by your congressmen.  However, any way to make your voice heard helps, so here’s how to find your representative and your senator.  Let’s get the Dream Act passed and stop the ridiculousness.

 

What September Means

By the time this post is published, it will be September.  For the last 17 years, September has meant going back to school.  But not this year.

I thought it would feel weirder than it feels right now.  I thought that in August, when my younger social media friends are posting about school life, that I would feel like I should be in school, not working still.  But it doesn’t.  It’s September, I’m still working, and it feels normal.

Maybe it’s because I’m used to being busy during the day.  Maybe it’s because the weather hasn’t turned cooler yet.  Maybe it’s simply because I’m distracted by all the other things I’m doing right now.  Whatever the reason, I haven’t felt sentimental yet.

Okay, that’s not completely true.  I do miss being on campus surrounded by beautiful buildings and other people my age.  I miss all the free time I had, even if a lot of it was spent doing homework.  I miss having most of my close friends close by.

But there are a lot of things I don’t miss.  For one, I don’t miss actually being in class.  By the time May came around, I was more than ready to say goodbye to that.  I like learning, but when you’ve been sitting in classes for 17 years, it gets old.

I also don’t miss living off one lump sum.  I was lucky enough not to have to get loans, so when I worked during breaks, it was pretty much solely for my living expenses, and I always made just enough for exactly that.  But I really had to watch my spending.  While I haven’t quit doing that now, of course (budgeting is a good idea for every stage of life), it’s been nice to have a regular paycheck that doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon.

And perhaps most importantly, I do not miss living with roommates.  I had good roommates, as they go, but I am so, so not a people person.  I hated living with the possibility of anyone coming in at any hour.  Now, aside from living with my fiance (which is wonderful, by the way), I’m in complete control of my household.  No one comes to our house unless we are expecting and inviting them, and that’s exactly the way I like it.

I know a few people who get really sentimental and nostalgic about anything once it ends, even if it was awful while it was happening.  In a way, I guess that’s good.  It makes you happy with your life.  If you look back and see only the good stuff, how can you not be satisfied with the way your life is going?  But I don’t remember stuff like that.  In fact, I probably lean more the opposite way.

Even with my mostly-pessimistic views, however, it seems to me that the older I get, the more my life improves.  High school was pretty good.  College was even better.  And now, during my first September ever not being in school, I’m getting married and trying to start a career.  Apparently, September will always hold some kind of significance for me, and if things go the way they’ve been going, the future looks pretty darn great.

Modern Day Corsets

My mom and I ordered my wedding gown back in May.  It came in in August, just a few weeks ago.  Rather than spend almost the cost of the dress on tailoring, we decided to take it to a family friend who does alterations for a living.

The dress came in, I traveled to Knoxville, we went to the friend’s house for a fitting.

Once we got there, I took off my normal clothes and put the dress on, wearing my normal bra.  The woman looked at the dress, agreed that yes, it was too big and would need some taking in, and then refused to measure me until I had purchased a strapless, longline corset bra.  We spent the rest of the visit looking online at undergarments.

Why did she refuse to measure me?  Well, she’s in her 60s.  She grew up in a different era.  In her words, “weddings are about beauty, not about comfort.”  I thought they were about two people choosing each other for life, but I guess I was wrong.  Weddings are about me looking “my best,” and “my best” apparently means even skinnier than I already am, with bigger boobs and a completely smooth torso, giving no sign that I have abs, a belly button, or even hip bones.

At the time, I said, fine.  I just need this dang gown altered, and if this is what it takes, so be it.  My parents are paying for half of my wedding, and my mom apparently is fine with paying almost $100 on constricting undergarments.  So if she’s okay with adding this to the cost, okay.

But then we started actually looking for these “undergarments.”  My gown has a lowish back, and it’s been difficult to find anything that will be low enough to go under it.  Plus, no one actually carries these types of bras in stores, so we’ve had to look online.  So this means we have had to guess if a certain bra will be low enough, guess at my bra size because everything is sized differently, order a bra at $70 or more, wait for it to ship, try it on, find out it doesn’t fit, and then send it back and go through the hassle of an online return.

I thought the whole thing was ridiculous before, and now I really do.  I’m not even comfortable in the bras I’ve tried on.  I can’t breathe in them.  I can’t really bend.  How am I supposed to enjoy my wedding if I am tied in to a literal corset, like in the 1800 and 1900s?  And then there’s the fact that I, the bride, think I look perfectly fine in the dress without a longline corset bra.  Sure, it’s thin fabric, and when it’s pulled tight, like it’s supposed to fit, you can see the outline of my belly button and hip bones.  But so what?  That’s what I look like.  I’m a real human being, with real bones and muscles.  Humans look weird and lumpy sometimes.  And then there’s the fact that I’m very skinny.  It’s how I’m built.  It’s not as if I want something to hold in my stomach, because I don’t really have one.  If I did, and if I wanted a bra to suck me in a bit on my wedding day because I knew I would feel self-conscious about myself if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t have a problem with this.  But at this point, it’s as if this woman who we asked to alter my dress is trying to hide the fact that I am an actual human.

I know that’s not what she means.  In fact, she probably hasn’t given this a second thought, because most brides today do wear undergarments like this.  But I don’t think I need it, and I don’t want to wear one.  I stated this, and was overruled by this much louder, much older woman.  What happened to my preferences for my own wedding day?

As my mom and I have already ordered several bras, if one of them fits and works under the dress, I will wear it.  I’m trying to pick my battles, or maybe I’m just being a pushover.  But even if I end up with a corset bra, I have sworn to myself that I’m only wearing it for the alterations and the ceremony.  After that, I will ditch it for a sticky bra, because I want to be comfortable for my reception.  And if none of the bras we have ordered fit, I will repeat these thoughts to the alterations lady, and I will get my dress fitted on just my normal body, and I will wear a sticky bra for the entire ceremony and reception.  Screw longline corset bras.  They’re more like medieval torture devices, and it is 2017, after all.