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

Resultado de imagen para 0 stars out of 5

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.

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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.

Revisiting Christianity

Before

In the very early days of this blog, I was still in high school.  I started it the summer before my senior year, when I still identified myself as a Christian and still tried to read my Bible every day.  I had “professed” (if you can call it that) faith in Christ at 8 years old, but had only really begun exploring Christianity in 8th grade, when I met my friend Paula.  Paula, whose dad was a pastor, moved here from Florida and was (and still is) a strong Christian.  She encouraged me to be intentional about the faith I had chosen as an 8-year-old, and I began doing the typical Christian things — I read my Bible every day and tried to pray.  But while I enjoyed the intellectual aspect of studying religion (and the friendships that came with Bible study groups), I never truly enjoyed being a Christian.  I mostly felt guilty instead.  So when this blog began, I was still trying.  A lot of my very early posts reference God or the Bible studies I was doing at the time.  But by then, my senior year of high school, trying to be a good person and a good Christian was wearing on me.  I started getting tired of it.  By the time I finished my freshman year of college, I decided that being my own, independent person did not include calling myself a Christian.

College

I know I’m only a few months removed, but my college years were some of the best of my life.  I felt more free to be completely me (and that girl really isn’t too different than “Christian” Sarah — just less guilty).  I learned to speak Spanish.  I began blogging really regularly and found that it’s not just a hobby, it’s something I want to do for a long time.  And I met my two best friends, one of whom will become my husband (in only 32 days, in case you’re curious).  It was a really fun time, and I grew up a lot.  I also fell into a more relaxed stance with Christianity, not claiming the Christian title but not completely ruling it out in the future, either.

Now

Right now, getting married is my main focus.  All the details are falling into place.  (And god, will I be glad when planning is over.)  Christopher and I, after booking food, clothes, and flowers, finally found someone to do our wedding and premarital counseling.  Part of the reason it took us so long to find someone was because 1) we are living together and didn’t think either of our home pastors would be okay with that, and 2) neither of us knew what kind of ceremony we wanted, anyway, since both of us grew up Christian but can’t really call ourselves that sincerely.

My mom (bless her) finally convinced me to talk to an old friend about doing our counseling — Paula’s dad, the pastor from Florida.  I agreed because as much as I dislike admitting it, my mom is right a lot of the time, and I was also really feeling the stress about having an entire wedding put together but no one to actually do the thing.  So a couple weeks ago, during a whirlwind of bridal showers, we sat down and talked to Paul.  As I suspected, he started out asking us both about our faith, which was a little uncomfortable.  But once he figured out where we both stand, he explained that he would be happy to do our counseling, as long as we were both open to really and truly considering Christianity again.

That seemed fair to both of us.  So now we are meeting with Paul once a week via Facebook video, where we’re doing 30 minutes of traditional premarital counseling and 30 minutes of faith discussion.  He’s given us a book to read, and also asked that we read certain books of the Bible.  He knows we are both fact-based people, and like it when we can see evidence of something, so he’s tailoring our discussions that way rather than talk about how much Christianity makes people feel.  So far, it’s been enjoyable, and it’s sparked discussions between Christopher and I.

Right now, I’m taking a school-like approach to it, because that’s what I know how to do.  I’m taking notes on what I think, and trying to look at the Bible objectively, instead of giving the “church answer.”  In our sessions, we’ve already established the fact that choosing to be a Christian shouldn’t be taken lightly — an 8-year-old cannot possibly fully understand what it is to be a Christian and truly make that commitment.  It takes more thought and consideration than what we typically tell kids in the church today (and that’s a whole other issue we may or may not discuss here later).  So, instead of completely rejecting Christianity, I am beginning to take a hard look at what real Christianity truly requires, and then I’ll decide if that’s what I want for myself.

It’s a little uncomfortable, because I’m afraid of what might happen if one of us, after really considering Christianity, decides to take it on and the other doesn’t.  But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

What I’ve Been Reading: July/August 2017

While I’ve been neglecting my blog, I’ve been exploring the libraries and bookstores in my new city.  As it turns out, the libraries here fell way below my expectations, especially compared to the city where I grew up.  I jokingly-but-not wish I had visited the libraries before I moved here, but it is what it is.  And we do at least have a McKay’s, which is a giant, hugely popular book, movie, and music thrift shop — the absolute best kind of shop for browsing.  So here’s what I’ve picked up in the last couple of months.

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A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly

My mom likes to say her favorite movie genre is “based on a true story,” and mine has become the same.  Sometime this summer, we watched the movie Lion.  Saroo, born in India, got lost as a 5-year-old and lived on the streets of Calcutta for months.  He eventually ended up being adopted by an Australian family when no one could figure out where he came from.  He grew up Australian, but as an adult, remembered snippets of India, and used Google Maps to track his way back to his birth family.  The movie is an incredible, chilling rendition of this incredible, chilling true story.  Stuff like this cannot be made up; when they say the truth is stranger than fiction, this story is what they’re talking about.  Read this book; watch the movie.  This is one I won’t forget for a long time.

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Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

Another true story/memoir/autobiography, this is the testimony of Koren, a girl who was introduced to alcohol at age 14 and didn’t look back for almost a decade.  Written during the time of her life when she realized just how much of life she was missing out on because of alcohol, it’s a detailed reflection of what could almost be considered lost years.  Koren, once she had had a taste, used alcohol to fill all the voids in her life because she didn’t know what else to do.  She drank her way through middle school, high school, and college, never quite getting physically addicted but never able to give it up.  It’s sad story, and sluggish at times because of the sheer amount of detail in it.  But Koren has a way with words.  She uses a lot of metaphor, which has drawn a lot of criticism on Goodreads, but I enjoyed her writing style because it felt graceful and genuine.  It’s obvious that Koren still has issues to work through, but don’t we all?

My final comments on this story are these: when I was glancing through the Goodreads reviews, I was appalled by the sheer amount of people who seem to hate Koren (not just her book, but Koren herself) because she was a sorority girl and because she wrote and was successful with this book so soon after she stepped away from alcohol for good.  What the crap, people?  Can’t we just let this girl help herself through her writing, through sharing her story?  The book was a New York Times best seller — it’s obvious that this is something that affects a lot of us.  Why tear down something that Koren should be proud of?

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Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This is a story, told in reverse, of a man named Sean who shrinks from society after a horrible accident that disfigured his face.  He makes a living by creating and running an adventure game that is played through the mail.  But when two teen players experience tragedy because they attempted to recreate the game in the real world, Sean has to face the world again, and at the same time, his past.

This was a weird book to read.  Sean has a pleasant, nonchalant tone about him, but it’s obvious he hides something.  His life, and the chapters, are quiet, but things are revealed each chapter almost without the reader noticing.  As you piece together his life, and how it turned out this way, it gets more and more horrible.  And while the how behind his disfigurement is revealed, the why is much harder to grasp.  A lot of this book is implicit, but it’s obvious it deals with self-hate and depression without offering much hope or ways out.  This is one I would love to read with others in an analytical setting.

The Handm12961964aid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’ll be honest; I only read this book because none of the other books I wanted to read were available at the library, and because of the new Hulu show based on it (which I haven’t seen).  And I wasn’t really that impressed.  It was boring and hard to get into at first.  It’s a book that very obviously tries to make a point, and so it’s a little two-dimensional.  I feel like the explanation for the dystopian society was a little weak and lacking in depth.  The characters were a bit flat also.  Some of my complaints could be because the whole book is supposed to be the transcript of a recording that was made supposedly long ago.  It’s a historical document being analyzed by professors in the year 29something.  But even so, this just wasn’t anything that particularly struck me.  If you want to read about dystopia, read the Hunger Games trilogy.  They’re put together much better.

Small Admissio30827125ns by Amy Poeppel

This is the story of Kate Pearson, who finds herself thrown for a complete loop after her serious boyfriend dumps her.  She wallows in her sadness for months, but after her sister’s prodding, finally gets a job in admissions at a prestigious private school.  As she’s getting back on her feet, her friends are keeping secrets, parents are doing inane things for an acceptance at the school, and her sister is learning to let go.

This is a fluffy book, like I expected it to be.  And it was delightful.  I did have a couple complaints — a parent of a student-hopeful begins to narrate about a third of the way through the book, which threw me for a loop.  I think she should have been introduced earlier.  And near the end, I felt the story had wrapped up nicely, and then there was an incident that seemed to drag the book out a few more chapters and didn’t do a whole lot for Kate’s character arc.  But overall, this was so fun to read.  The characters were interesting and distinct, there were surprises I didn’t see coming, and it was a great story about changing your expectations for life and being okay with that.  It was definitely a few hours well spent.

All images from Goodreads.

Goals Update Summer 2017

So, it’s been two months since I did my first goal post for this summer.  In the midst of getting engaged, graduating, moving, job hunting, adjusting to a new job, and wedding planning, this blog has fallen by the wayside a bit.  But I miss it, and everyone I’ve come to get to know a little bit through WordPress.  I haven’t kept up with the blogging community, or my goals, as much as I wish I could this summer.  But today I get to remedy that by taking a quick look at what my goals were for this summer (yikes).

  1. Be selfless — nothing in my life affects me and only me.  Honestly, I’d forgotten all about this one.  I don’t know that I’ve been more selfish than normal (though I definitely have my moments), but I haven’t intentionally been selfless either.  Although I’ve managed to get my attitude somewhat, kind of in check about having a traditional, fairly expensive wedding, which was why I made this goal in the first place. I better not think about that too much, though, so moving on.
  2. Communication
    1. Talk to myself.  I have, but again, no more than normal.  Although a couple times lately I’ve noticed myself sliding into a sour mood, and told myself to get it together, and it’s helped a little (when it doesn’t make me more annoyed than I already am, anyway).  Actually, one of my new coworkers has helped with this a bit — she’s always sweet and kind, even when she’s stressed or pissed or doesn’t feel good, and it’s a great example for me.
    2. Make it a point to speak to people I don’t see on a regular basis.  Well, I’ve spoken to people I don’t see often, but only a few times has it been me initiating.  Still, mission accomplished?  I guess?
    3. Always tell my fiance if something is bothering me.  And here, folks, we have a work in progress.  There was something a few days ago, and I brought it up (after a few days of stewing and knowing I should bring it up), and he didn’t see the issue as a problem and/or was too uncomfortable to talk about it like I wanted to, and so I let it go.  So I guess props to me for actually speaking up, but fail to both of us for not following through.  I’m hoping premarital counseling might help with our weird communication issues.
  3. Be assertive.  I have tried to do this.  A big thing has been in choosing wedding details.  I don’t normally like being the one to make choices, especially about small details, because I usually don’t care that much.  But I’ve had to make myself care, and I’ve had to learn to just say, “Let’s do this,” because as the bride-to-be, I’m the one everyone turns to for final decision making.  As I’ve learned the policies at my new job, too, I’ve tried to be assertive and confident.  I can’t run to my supervisor every time a customer gives me an issue, especially if it’s about a policy I know back and forth.  I need to present myself as competent, even if I’m not as confident as I seem.

This summer has been a whirlwind, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.  The most I can do, I guess, is try to enjoy it as much as possible.  That’s what life’s about anyway, isn’t it?