December 31, 2009

Best books of 2009

Since 2009 is rapidly coming to a close, here's a brief list of the books that stood out to me this year. Most of them weren't published in 2009; they are simply the ones that I discovered for the first time in 2009. Be warned: this is an incomplete list, as until I joined Goodreads, I was hopelessly bad at keeping track of the books I read. Anyway, here we go (in no particular order)... 

The White Bone: A Novel, by Barbara Gowdy.
A family of elephants fight for survival in a threatened habitat. The depth of the elephant world that Gowdy created is astonishing. These elephants have their own habits, naming systems, family systems, religion, and superstition - and it all makes sense. I bought the narration (by elephants, of course), and I totally bought the elephant culture. Warning: this is a terribly depressing book. But it's so, so captivating. 

The Likeness, by Tana French.
Once upon a time in the UK, Detective Cassie Maddox worked undercover to expose a drug dealer in the universities. Now, a girl has been found murdered - someone with Cassie's face, using her undercover identity - and it's up to Cassie to step into the likeness' shoes to uncover the killer. The Likeness is the second book by Tana French, who first broke into the mystery scene with In the Woods. I'm not sure where to start with this book. French's writing really creeps me out with its creepy greatness. (In a great way.) She has this unbelievable knack for effortlessly pulling the reader into a story and into the characters' heads - I finished this book in one sitting. I also enjoyed the fact that it had a (relatively) happy ending, which was lacking in In the Woods. (If you don't already know, I'm a sucker for (believable) happy endings.) 

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
This is one of those books that is so emotionally taxing you're not sure if you ever want to read it again - but it was beautiful because of this fact. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to this book. 

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin.
Murder and intrigue in a fight for a throne. Throughout the first few chapters, it's hard to keep characters straight, as there are at least fifteen "major" characters that you must know. Once I got into it, though, it was hard not to be blown away by the incredible complexity of the plot. I was completely sucked into this book. Also notable is the fact that though this is a fantasy book, there is almost no magic whatsoever present. (In the first book of the series, at least...) 

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
By now, everyone's heard about this book, so I was expecting to be disappointed when I finally sat down to read it. Needless to say, I was not. The Hunger Games is a fast paced YA fantasy adventure story that I thoroughly enjoyed, although I don't recommend it for the faint of heart, as there is a surplus of blood and violence throughout. 

Fables: Legends in Exile, by Bill Willingham.
Those who know me know without a doubt that I am forever in love with fairy tales. So when I heard from a good friend about a graphic novel series about (surprise!) fairy tales, I couldn't resist. The story goes that there are a bunch of fairy tale characters from various worlds who have been chased by "the Adversary" into exile on Earth. Here, they formed a community known as Fabletown, and tried to live unremarkable lives amongst the "mundanes" (us). Fairy tale crossover interactions and relationships ensue, as well as the looming threat of the Adversary, who may be descending upon Earth. The first book, Legends in Exile, is not my favorite, but it's still quite good, and the series only goes up from there.

Is it terribly depressing that there were only six books worthy of this post? If I included the other Fable books, I would have more... On the other hand, it's fair to say that I've been reading a greater variety of books, which was one of my goals for 2009.

Well, see you next year! May the Excellent Book Fairy be with you!

December 30, 2009

Bad things happen (even in Hawaii)

We had a horseback ride planned for this morning. But last night, my sister (hereafter known as GirlInCharge, because that is so who she is going to turn out to be) got really sick. This morning, she was still sick. Hence, no horseback riding.

And once I had to make the call to cancel it, I suddenly realized that I really really really wanted to go horseback riding. Weird? Maybe. But all of a sudden I was thinking about riding horses and that one horse camp I went to where we got to take care of horses and do barrel riding (I think I was pretty good at that barrel riding), and the fact that it was at least eight years ago. Maybe more. So then the question became: why haven't I been horseback riding in eight years? Maybe I should go again sometime. Maybe I shouldn't wait until I'm in Hawaii to try it. Yeah. That sounds good...

Anyway, moral of the story: bad things happen (even in Hawaii). Like GirlInCharge throwing up all over the place. And missing horseback rides.

On the other hand, we'll always have the beach. Except for on tsunami days.

December 27, 2009

Things I've learned in Hawaii

One can't help but learn things about oneself upon traveling to distant lands. Today, I learned that I get freaked out by fish.

Just kidding - I already knew that. Yes, it's true. Fish freak me out. They're scaly and swishy and oh god what if one touched me!?!?!?!?? I attribute this phobia to an activity in kindergarten that I remember quite clearly. We were first given dead fish. (Real dead fish. They were large. And they had squishy eyes.) Then, we were instructed to brush paint onto the dead fish, and finally press butcher paper down onto the dead fish (yes, with our bare hands!) in order to come away with a delightful "painting" of a dead fish, perhaps to be put in one's living room.

Seriously, whoever thought that was a good idea for five year olds has issues. I'm pretty sure it's scarred me for life.

What I really wanted to say about Hawaii is that I'm certain I could never live here. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but the important one is that it's an island.

An island, by definition, is surrounded by water. And this water, I discovered, is just a little bit scary. Scratch that. It's a lot scary. Especially when you venture into it on the tiniest motorboat known to mankind, at night, without lights, in search of hot lava flowing into the ocean. I had never thought of myself as a person scared of the ocean, but that was freaking terrifying. What if I fell out? Pretend for a moment there is no boat - just one sad person a ways offshore in the pitch black night. Perhaps I would make it to shore - but to a friendly beach, or to the bottom of a cliff? Do you see how having a writerly overactive imagination is no help in these situations? (And what about tsunamis? Earthquakes? Smallpox? Where is the help going to come from? How do you evacuate independently? The answer: you can't! Unless you own your own commercial airplane.)

Holding onto the edges of my chair with white-knuckled hands helped. And by the time we had been out on the water for forty five minutes, I was mostly seasick (another surprise!) instead of terrified. And then the lava flowing into the ocean was amazing. But still, I've learned my lesson. My three story dream house will have to be built somewhere else. Hawaii, a chain of islands surrounded by water further than the eye can see, is not the place for me.

December 24, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside...

...somewhere other than Hawaii, anyway.

I had decided that I wasn't going to do another one of those posts about the spirit of Christmas. Everyone's blogging about how nice it is to be home for the holidays, to go on sleigh rides, to roast chestnuts on an open fire... It's all been there, done that, covered that Christmas song - until you get to Christmas in Hawaii!

Yes, friends, this Christmas I am in Hawaii. But let's not dwell too long on those details; we need to get back to why I love Christmas in general.

1. Christmas carols. There are some really bad Christmas carols out there. But there's just something about them (the good ones, at least) that gets me in the singing mood. I could hang out with some cookies and some carols for a good long while, which brings me to my next point...

2. Cookies. Do I need to say any more? Come on, who doesn't love cookies?

3. Wrapping presents. I don't care about whatever's inside the wrapping paper - I just want to wrap it! My wrapping has gotten a little more anal precise over the years, what with the folding over the paper so there aren't any ragged edges, curling ribbons with scissors, etc., etc. One of my friends used to be paid by her parents to wrap everyone's Christmas presents (except her own, of course), and boy, I wanted that job.

There's not much of that going on in Hawaii - most of it wouldn't fit in our suitcases. So, for the time being, I'll have to be content with warm days and pretty beaches.

December 19, 2009

Resolved.

Every year, I make New Year's Resolutions. Every year... nothing happens.

This year will be different! I am Resolved! My New Year's Resolution is to keep all of my New Year's Resolution - sort of a "wishing-for-more-wishes," beating the system kind of deal. Plus, this year is different. With this year comes my college graduation and my entrance into the real-people world, where you have to pay bills and stuff, and student discounts are a thing of the past. Yeah. That world.

So, without further ado, my Resolution shortlist. This will not be the last mention of it, hopefully. With a little bit of Resolve, I will happily report in three months that I am faithfully keeping all of my Resolutions.

1. Be a better student.
I haven't been the greatest student this past semester. It started out harmlessly enough, but as the semester progressed, I started missing more classes than I should have. And then I found it more enjoyable to play chicken with impending paper deadlines than to just plunk down some words on the computer screen. (See? I'm doing it now! It's not so hard...) And then I was shamelessly procrastinating on...well, on everything. Anyway, it's time for change. Despite my growing apathy about all things academic (part of the reason I decided to postpone my eventual enrollment in graduate school), I Resolve to do better for my last semester in college. No more wistfully eying my approaching graduation - focus on the here and now. It's only a couple of months...

2. Exercise.
Once upon a time I was a high school athlete who spent two hours a day, five days a week, running around on a soccer field. I was in kick-ass shape. I struck fear into the hearts of my opponents ninety minutes at a time with my slide tackles. Unfortunately, throughout my college career I have somewhat let myself go. While I would certainly not characterize myself as unhealthy, I'm definitely not in good shape. And it would be nice to be in good shape again. I've attempted, in the past, to form a running habit. The problem here is that I hate running. Eurgh. So I Resolve to find something else athletic that I like to do, and just do it. Like the commercial.

3. Read more. (And smarter.)
There's this BBC list floating around - 100 books, of which the BBC reckons the average person has only read 6. The list itself is semi-arbitrary, as far as I can tell - I mean, who puts The Da Vinci Code on the same list as Moby Dick? - but I did it anyway. At the beginning of 2009, I had read 44. Coming up on the end of 2009, a cursory glance shows that I have only added three books (The Kite Runner, The Time-Traveler's Wife, and Persuasion) to the ranks of those that I'd read. Anyway, this harmless anecdote is just an intro is to what I mean to say, which is that I Resolve to read more. (And smarter.) I consider myself to be a fairly widely read person, but there's always room for improvement. (And entertainment.) So from now on, I'm scouring book lists everywhere. Top Ten, you're going down.

4. Write a book.
I have written a lot...and finished nothing. This is depressing, to say the least. For 2010, I Resolve to finish one book. What this means: one complete draft, with beginning, middle, and end. It need not be polished or pretty. But it must be there. 

5. Find my passions.
Again on the college-ending riff. College is ending, which means a whole chapter of my life is coming to a close. For the first time in my cognizant life, I will not be defined primarily as 'student.' This is a huge change, and one that births several offshoots of thought, such as: Am I prepared for a non-student life? How does one create a non-student life, anyway? How will I give my life meaning? How do I pick the best TV shows to waste my time on? Who am I? Damn it, why didn't I hide myself away in graduate school like a smart person? To this end, I am Resolved to find my passions, to experiment, to think about what I enjoy and how to live a better, fulfilled sort of life. (And to figure out where I want to go to graduate school.)

On book reviews...

Readers of this blog may have noticed a book review shipped in from GoodReads (possibly my favorite website in the world), so I figure this is as good a time as any to mention my thoughts on book reviews for this blog.

I do not intend to review every single book I read. (I read far too many for that.) I do not intend this to become a blog solely (or even mostly) for book reviews. But I do occasionally write reviews, and so a book review may show up here from time to time. Some reviews will be more comprehensive than others. One may be twice as long as another. Some may wear green hats, while others prefer blue. In short, there is no method to this madness, although if I have been given a book specifically for review purposes, I tend to write more.

In conclusion, I sometimes write book reviews. If anyone wants to send me a book to review, feel free. I promise to give it a fair shot.

December 16, 2009

Dem Bones and a little of everything

I admit it. I came extremely late to the sensation that is Bones. But I'm here, finally, and today I will...not be talking about it. Much.

Suffice to say that I really, really wanted to use "Dem Bones" as the title of this post, and was therefore obligated to do a little dance about how much I'm enjoying the show. I'm in the beginning of the fourth season right now, and racing my way nicely through to get all caught up. Since my school semester will be done as soon as I turn in my last research paper tomorrow, I expect the rate of my catching up to rise. Happiness! And David Boreanaz, of course.

Onward to Christmas shopping... I haven't been doing much of that yet, although I expect to hit up Target tomorrow for a Snuggie, of all things, as well as a new sports watch. Mine died an ignominious death last Saturday, and yet I've been forced to tote it around in my pocket to my exams, since cell phones are strictly prohibited. One more day with absolutely no sense of time...

In the meantime, I'm going to tell you about something incredible, which is the Chai Latte Cookie from teacake bake shop. It is amazing. The other products that I sampled (which were the Pink Velvet Cupcake, and the Classic Cookie and Mint Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches) were lovely as well, but the Chai Latte Cookie was mind blowing. Chai tea plus white chocolate plus cookie. I award extra points because this is the first white chocolate cookie I've seen in a very long time that didn't also involve macadamia nuts, which I am allergic to. The store itself is in the Bay Street shopping center in Emeryville; it's probably the only redeeming thing about Emeryville, beside the Ikea. I would go there just for the cookie.

And one last thing: this song, by Brett Dennen. It's gorgeous, and so true.

December 12, 2009

So there's this job...

...and wouldn't you know? I tripped over myself just saying hello.

To preserve what fragile anonymity I have, let's pretend that it's Ernest's dream job. Say, as a custom-honey taster at a factory that employs mostly self-indulgent honey bees. I He wanted that job so badly - it was going to jump start his whole career and make everything worthwhile because life after graduation hibernation wasn't going to suck. (That badly.)

So he updated his resume and added a flashy new header and changed the font and ran it around until it was sucking in its sides and making it down to one page. Then he agonized over his cover letter. What to write? Was his name Mr. Ernest Bear, Esq., or was it simply plain old Ernest Bear? Were the words "thrilled," "dream come true," and "wondrous" appropriate when speaking of honey? To Ernest, of course they were. But to his would-be employer - one that in his mind became a cranky queen bee driven to chain smoking to dull the pain caused by her stepdaughter's hostile takeover of the hive (touting a harem of seven personal worker bees, no less!) - those special words would most certainly be over the top and grounds for stinging. On second thought, Ernest scrapped "dream come true."

Four hours and a headache later, after perfecting his resume and cover letter, Ernest sent it in. First via e-mail, then through the career website, the Gruff Old Bears' Build-a-Career site.

Moments later, a scream. If you haven't heard a bear scream, trust me. You don't want to. Shaking paws clutched the computer screen as Ernest gaped at the words that confronted him. The resume that he had spent two days working on, on and off, was in fact not the one he had submitted. Instead, the resume that had made it onto the Gruff Old Bears' Build-a-Career website was his fat, shabby, ear-falling-off creation, one that hadn't been updated since before he'd gone into hibernation.

At least the resume he'd sent in via e-mail was nice and shiny and smelling ever so faintly of honey. Ernest crossed his fingers, hoping that the old queen bee would check her e-mail before checking whichever drop box the Build-a-Career site utilized. Maybe the queen bee would be forgiving.

Or maybe she'll think I he was scattered, disorganized, and possibly schizophrenic. Only time will tell.

December 10, 2009

CakeGirl hates the rain

Ernest says that I am neglecting my nonexistent readers. He has taken a moment from huddling under the covers to poke his nose out into the cold that is my apartment in the morning, and he disapproves of what he sees.

The problem, I inform him, is that there is a lack of interesting material on gray December days. No savvy internet crawler wants to know about my ingenious study plans (one page of my oceanography textbook, followed by a two hour Bones break - rinse and repeat), or how the only thing that my four roommates wanted from Safeway last night was Top Ramen.

Ernest is not pleased by this state of affairs. So I hem and haw, and eventually give in. Today, I will introduce you to CakeGirl.

CakeGirl is my roommate - one of four. Since she is the only other female living in our third-floor apartment, we share a room. She has an incredibly broad spectrum of interests, which means that whenever I have a research paper to write, I ask her first. Invariably, she knows more about every subject than I will ever know. Also, she bakes birthday cakes.

Lastly, the most important thing about CakeGirl (at least today) is that she dislikes the rain.

To me, this does not compute. Today is a gray December day and I am ensconced in sweats, a blanket, and two very large pillows as I attempt to complete a short story due on Friday. By my side is our trusty heater vent, my friend of many paper-writing hours past, and a bowl of potato chips. Also present is my iPod, which is blasting "Bohemian Rhapsody" as I contemplate the perfect name for a dragon posing as a human. The only thing that could make this day more perfect is an excessive amount of rain.

CakeGirl disagrees, but I think that's because she must soon absent herself to attend a math review session. Actually stepping out into the rain is certainly different than observing it from behind a lovely set of bay windows. And hot chocolate! One can't forget that the best way to experience rain is from the inside with a mug of hot chocolate in one's hand, wrapped in a blanket, with a good book to read and nowhere to be.

Well, I've got about half of that down. Now, if only it would start raining...

December 6, 2009

This is not the first post

For about a month now, I have been increasingly concerned with the first post of this blog. How should I come across? What aspects of my dazzling personality should I highlight? In what way will I ensure that all five thousand readers that will inevitably happen upon this blog are hopelessly ensnared?

Of course there are options. The tried-and-true choices, the "this is why the world needs this blog" entry, the "I'm starting this to keep track of my pregnancy/reading list/new year's resolutions" entry, the "I'm bored, so look what I can accomplish on the internet" entry... I have confronted each and come up short.

Therefore, this must not be the first entry of my blog. Clearly, this is the second.

Clearly, you already know about me - that I'm about to graduate college and am in the process of looking for my first full-time job. Doubtless I've also informed my loyal readership that I love to read, and that a few entries here will most likely be devoted to informal book reviews. You all know that I've played soccer for most of my life, and that I have a stuffed bear named Ernest who will be serving as my editorial assistant. One hopes that he can keep away from the honey long enough to be effective in this capacity.

From this information, you must be able to extrapolate exactly what type of a person I am, which begs the question: so... why are we reading this blog anyway?

Since this is not the first post, I am saved the aggravation of attempting to answer that question.