A Reading List: Summer 2016

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Everyone has book recommendations, I prowl Goodreads on and off for suggestions. I look for offbeat reads, I’m on a constant search for work that lurches into the unknown, and somehow manages to grip you.  I know, I know, everything topic under the sun has been written before (This has been probed ad nauseam, but in a the best and least snotty way Here). I don’t have a type, when it comes to books, I will read anything as long as it doesn’t fall into a formula.  The thing is, when you read the plot summary or the back cover, they usually do the book a disservice by making them appear less interesting than they are. You have to go a bit on faith.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl.  I will admit to having a soft spot for noir.  I’m not going to go into the plot.  Hearing plot summary read aloud is a mood killer.  But I will say this: the tone is perfect; reading it feels exactly like dipping your toe into darkness. I had that feeling straight from the beginning, and the feeling is rare for me.  It comes only once in three blue moons.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann.  Historical fiction, and the voice of the narrator is seductive and rich. You like him right off, and he makes everything he does, even polishing silver, sound interesting.  This is not a common experience.  In fact, I’ve experienced the opposite very often – I hate the narrator right away, even if the book is good, I have developed a visceral hatred that somewhat sours the experience.  But in this case, because his voice is so charismatic, it draws you in and in and in.

Immortality by Milan Kundera.  I did not add this to be a jerk. Kundera was probably an author that appeared somewhere on your college syllabus, and I’m sure there are layers of homework and analysis that could accompany reading this book.  I’m adding this because when I read this book, I felt an inner lightness. Kundera writes to avoid linear plotlines. Let me just say that right off. But when you’re reading, you hardly care. You find yourself living in the moment, because the ideas and the nuances that he points out are just so fascinating.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.  I’ve written about this book before, and I’m still surprised at how she made this mammoth  849 page book into a fast read. There is a good mixtures of dialogue, history, and richness on every page. I didn’t care so much for the charting of the stars and celestial alignment, but that’s only because I found the rest of the material more interesting. Let me also point out that I personally do not care for gold mining in New Zealand as a conversation topic, but in the right hands, it can hold your attention.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Kline.  10,000 points for creativity. As a female, tomboy, and sister to a younger brother, I’ve sometimes wanted to poke my way into the mind of an adolescent gamer boy, and this does just that. This also has a good series of puzzles, a lot of it, incidentally involving 1980’s trivia, which you cannot predict. And for a book about gaming, there are strong female characters, which is something I did not expect.

Happy Reading!

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My Journey Towards Optimism

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I usually try to keep the tone of this blog light, playful, positive, and occasionally sarcastic, but a victimless type of sarcasm, ideally the type that sheds light rather than obscures. But I digress. That is a topic for another conversation.

If I had met myself around 2005 and attempted to start a conversation, something along the lines of – Hey me, how’s it going?  Vintage 2005 me would have found something to complain about, and the conversation would have proceeded from there.  The old me was still a creature of habit, I didn’t particularly consider underlying thought processes. Why did I say what I did? Was I being negative? What was the tone and effect of my words? There was a singular lack of self awareness of habits I had taken in without thinking, one of which was that complaining was a means of conversation.

I look back fondly on 2005 because that was when I met my first bona fide optimist. It was jarring.  Every day was a good day, every moment of every day was super fantastic. He wasn’t being sarcastic either, and he could be sarcastic. He had that in his arsenal, but when you asked him how things were going, they were going great. It made me feel jaded, no in the sense that I had been around, but in the sense that I couldn’t look around me and see anything good, I was immune to that. It slowly dawned on me – not in 2005, mind you, maturity was still a long ways away – but years later, gradually and imperceptibly over time, that that was not how I wanted to live.

What happened? To be honest, I’m still in the process of evolving. But I think that over time, my particular optimism developed because I started living the life I wanted to live.  I didn’t start hiking until maybe 3 years ago. I had thought about it, sure, but I just didn’t do it. I had wanted to go vacation by myself – in Nepal – but I didn’t get around to that until 2014. Every step was scary, and still is.  I have an endless capacity for fear. But gradually, I developed some small set of skills, a hint of stubbornness, and realized that I had an inherent capability.  I’m gradually (and this is still an ongoing process) becoming a person that I find interesting.  Along with this development, this willingness to start from the bottom, start over, fail, suck in front of an audience, came an accompanying sense of optimism. Because if I just assumed I would fail, I would probably fail. People rarely succeed in spite of themselves.

To put things another way, it is as if the act of putting myself through small challenges required that I change my way of seeing the world, and I had to put away the armor of my dark thoughts, and leave myself vulnerable – because that is what optimism is for me, a kind of vulnerability* – in the hope of achieving something greater.

 

* Vulnerability, yes.  I think exposing your cheeriness to the world sometimes makes other people want to knock you down, disagree with you, whatever. And if you fail, you test your optimism.  How strong is it really? Can it survive this disaster? How about this one? How about now?

Style and Comfort Maven: Maja Wyh

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I wish I could be a genuinely deep thinker all the time, with a depth of character able to supersede shallow and pretty things. But I’m not, alas. Sometimes I will come across something that catches my eye and sticks in my brain for a little bit too long, and that is in essence what I have here.

I love the ease of her style.  It never looks forced, it looks entirely natural. Her clothes don’t fit too tight – even though they are tight – they fit just so. The just so aspect of clothing is something I’ve never quite mastered, but only been able to envy from afar.

Either way, I love all of it.  I love the slouch of her trousers, the casual elegance that she can infuse into the jeans under a skirt look that I would normally turn my nose at.

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A Wedding As Simple As I can Make It

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Wedding season is approaching, and there seems to be a lot of buzz about what to wear, what to register for, and the like.  My inner contrarian decided to share my experiences, and my vain attempt to have the most minimal wedding possible.

Attempt #1: the Civil Ceremony

I tried to get away with a simple civil ceremony.  It was legal, simple, and effective.  The above is my wedding dress.  It’s not white, it’s not long, and I bought it used a few days prior.  I always appreciate the complete strangers who have good taste, and are my approximate size at Crossroads.  I went to work earlier in the day, then took off in the dress through heavy traffic down highway I-80 to meet my intended.  We got married, and the day was perfect in every way.  I had hoped that would be the end of it, but alas, that was not to be…

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Attempt #2: the Reception

I have parents, who I adore, and who made it very clear to me how disgraceful my actions had been, because what did I have to hide by clouding my wedding in secrecy?  I could only redeem myself by helping them plan an appropriate wedding reception.  Here is what I have done to minimize personal aggravation and costs:

Venue and Food: Asian restaurant with fixed menu.  I have been to my share of weddings held at beautiful wineries and lodges where the fish has been dry and the meat has been wet. There is frequently not enough food, which the Asian in me believes is a bad value.  This, I believe, is due to the service being provided by catering companies who are not in the daily business of making large quantities of food for large groups of people. Restaurants, however, are in this business and they are experienced in precisely the types of dishes that they list in their fixed menu. This may not sound romantic, but so far I have not found the process of reception planning particularly amorous.

Dress: I am having one made, and it is not a wedding dress.  I did not say couture. I went to an experienced tailor who will make a dress that fits my short person measurements.  He had sample dresses available, and I chose one of them. It will cost slightly less than a dress bought at full price at Saks or some store of that nature, and I will not then have to have the dress altered separately to fit my short self. Bonus.

Flowers:  Yelp was my best friend. I scoured the local area to find a woman who was able to provide small affordable arrangements.  Alternately, I would have had to make these arrangements myself, likely the night before so they wouldn’t die during the reception.

Wedding Cake: When I last looked this up, cakes were going for $6 a slice, which would have eventually cost the amount of my monthly rent. I am going to go to a cake store, find a cake I like, buy it in three different sizes, and arrange them together (artfully?) with a wedding cake topper.

Wedding Favors: I found this unnecessary, and generally something that people tend to throw away, but buckled under the pressure of my mother’s tears and found some small tins off amazon to fill with candy.

These as what I have found to be minimal elements of my humble reception. As a personal indulgence, I am going to pay someone to do my hair and makeup, because I am certain to eyelash glue my eyelids shut if I attempt any of it myself.