Friday, March 27, 2015

A Day in the Life

Can you believe it?  I almost forgot that today Trish from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is throwing a blog event where we all see get to share a day in our lives with each other.  I'll admit, upon seeing her introductory post for the event, I thought, "That's so much fun!"  Followed shortly thereafter by, "Oh crap, a day in my life is soul crushingly boring!" 

That said, I don't want to be a "taker."  If I'm going to be a creepy voyeur into the other bloggers' days, the very least I can do is offer up one of my own.  I wish that I could think of a clever way to do this that would make my life seem, less, you know, soul-crushingly monotonous, but I cannot.  Alas, I am left to pick one soul-crusher among many. 

I guess I could pick this past Monday when my day started at 1 AM because I was still on call for work.  My department supports lab computer systems for rather a large rural Pennsylvania health system.  My job function is a step below IT, and it's a good job with great co-workers, but it definitely is as boring as it sounds.  Except for when you're on call and awake at 1 A.M. trying to solve a problem that could probably have waited until a decent hour, then you kind of wish it was more boring. 

So, on Monday, I rose but I did not shine at 1 AM, then went back to bed, then rose again around 4 AM, and then went back to bed again, and then rose yet once more to the sound of my pager's song (Say, are you doctor?  Why no, I'm actually a time traveling 90s drug dealer, thanks for asking.).  So by 7 AM I was already up for the day.  The end of my tenure on call was in sight (Hello 8 AM!), which was obviously like a siren call for all the unsolvable problems of the lab technology world.  I kept working until 10 AM trying to solve the unsolvable, even though my actual workday doesn't start until 1 PM, so that 8 to 10 AM window is really when I should be (and usually am) reading The Martian (or some other bookish equivalent) over a delicious and nutritious breakfast of either lower sugar oatmeal or cold cereal with chocolate in it (depending on just how healthy I think I can force myself to be on the given day).

Having sacrificed my reading hours to the cause, I shuffled my weary bones off to work with some disgruntlement. Especially, after witnessing my adorable little cat doing what cats do so well.  She's doing the same thing now.  Jerk.

Aww, so cute.  Still a jerk.

Working from work is way better than working from home, if you don't count the travel time, the ridiculous parking situation, and, you know, having to wear socially respectable clothing.  I mean, at work, I have two monitors instead of my tiny laptop screen, and there are also co-workers there who amuse me and take me for walks before I get the chance to inflict grievous head injuries upon myself while dealing with the support structure of a certain major lab information system.  What more could a person ask for, right?  So, there's the 8 or so hours of monotonous working punctuated by random emotional outbursts and profound disappointment when that thing you totally thought would fix somebody's problem totally doesn't, meaning you pretty much wasted a good half of your workday only to call someone up and disappoint them by admitting that, at the end of day, you haven't the foggiest clue about why they're getting that obstructive computer error. 

There it is, the workplace, about 15 construction projects ago.

Then, with all the satisfaction a starving person feels after gnawing a tree branch, the first post on-call workday draws to a close (not with a bang but a whimper), and I report home guessed it...TV time!  Monday's feature of choice was Downton Abbey, of which I've recently become a fan (Behold the grammatical correctitude!  Punctuated with sentence fragments full of made up words in a badly placed parenthetical expression!  English teachers continue to spin in their graves with only the briefest of pauses!).  We're working our way through season two of Downton with the help of our newly purchased Amazon Fire TV stick which is, indeed, way better for TV reception/general entertainment than a seashell (thank you Fire Stick commercial!). 

After the token moment of TV, it's off to get ready for bed.  I, being a great multi-tasker (bwahahahaha!) use Monday night's getting ready for bed time to continue memorizing 1 Peter 2 for my Tuesday morning prayer group/Bible study.  Actually, I think the descriptor I was looking for above was "great procrastinator."  It's not like I didn't have a week to memorize.  It's just way more fun to memorize things while you're brushing your teeth and partly in a coma.  So, with Bible verses freshly committed to memory (hopefully), I stumble off to bed where I manage to read barely a page of the poor neglected Martian before the lost sleep of the night before returns to claim me and another day in the life is complete.

Ergo, so is this post.  Sorry there aren't more pictures, but master procrastinator that I am, I totally forgot to even write this until about noon yesterday.  Now you'd better hurry on over to Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity to have your soul re-inflated with some other blogger's day that is actually interesting. Thanks for tuning in!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Like to Revisit

This week's topic for The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Books From My Childhood/Teen Years I'd Like to Revisit."  That's a mouthful, but it's a pretty interesting topic.  When I started to brainstorm about what books to put on this list, I was surprised by how many of them are considered to be classics, especially considering my adulthood general avoidance of such.  Here are ten books I remember fondly from my "youth" and would love to revisit, should the right opportunity present itself.

1. The Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I worshipped these books as a kid, and their TV show, too.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery - Likewise, with Anne.  I always wished I'd continued with the series.  I loved Anne and loved Montgomery's beautifully depicted Prince Edward Island.  Is there person out there who's read this book and doesn't want to vacation to Prince Edward Island?  Seriously?

3. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene - This one gets a good honorable mention because it's among the few, the proud that I chose from a list of required reading options in English class and actually really liked.  I think I'd get even more out of it as a full-fledged adult.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - I can only just remember this one, but I'd be super interested to revisit bookish Francie in her hardscrabble life.  I think this is the first book that taught me how to appreciate how real life can disappear when you're immersed in a good book.

5. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor - This is the sort of historical fiction that instructs about racism and civil rights better than any textbook could ever hope to.  I love historical fiction that makes history live and breathe and this book and the rest of its series did it perfectly.

6. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli - Oh Maniac Magee, all hometown legend and untying the big knot, and uniting a divided town.  Loved this book so much that I went to the author's undergrad Alma Mater for college.  Okay, maybe not on purpose, but it was still a happy coincidence.

7. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen - I'm always talking about this book that set me on the path to being totally passionate about Holocaust/World War II literature.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Okay, I think I read To Kill a Mockingbird way too early in my life, and I'd like to revisit it for that reason alone.  I think my adult self would appreciate it waaaaaay more than my middle school self, and I'd love to find out.

9. Redwall Series by Brian Jacques - I had almost totally forgotten about this one when I spotted Jackie's review and it all came rushing back.  I discovered the Redwall books in middle school and loved, loved
reading about the animals' adventuring and their feasting and their everything at Redwall Abbey.  I still have a couple of these books on my shelves, and I'd loved to be immersed in this world again!

10. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell - Really, any of Scott O'Dell's books would do, this one just stands out in my mind because it's the more famous.  I think Scott O'Dell singlehandedly provided me with 95% of my knowledge of Native American history and culture, and made it just wicked enjoyable.

What books from your younger days are you nostalgic for?  Or do you have any that you didn't think much of then but are sure you'd love now?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson

It's happened at last, I've finally tackled my first Bill Bryson book, not to mention my first non-fiction of the year.  It happens that I own a stunning amount of Bryson's books and have read, until now, approximately none of them.  Such is the practice of the inveterate book hoarder. I mean, collector.  Of late, the helpful randomizer which I shamelessly rely on to choose my next read, rather than agonizing over whether to start this or that book of my overgrown collection, finally dictated that it was time to dust off my Bryson collection and give The Lost Continent a read.

Bryson, a native Iowan, abandoned the American midwest of his youth at the earliest opportunity to seek out a more refined and exciting life in England.  In the mid-80s, he returned to the United States, deciding to embark on a road trip to revel in an odd sort of nostalgia for the wretched vacations of his youth, and also to discover the ideal American small town of movies. As Bryson embarks on his tour of his native nation, I'll admit I was a little nervous.  I'm all for cynicism and sarcasm if it comes from a place of humor, but off the starting block Bryson comes off as a little too mean-spirited, shamelessly generalizing midwesterners into a group of well-meaning dimwits and deriding small towns a little too harshly for not being the idealized Hollywood small town.

However, as Bryson continues on his adventure, I found him a little less grating and a good deal more laugh out loud funny.  As he tours the unlikely tourist hotspots of the east side of the nation, I found myself giggling aloud more than once.  He revisits a few places from his childhood vacations discovering them to be both more and less attractive than they were the first time around.  He muses on his father's cheapness, peppers the narrative with random anecdotes that pass his time on the road, and makes critically funny observations about what he finds in each of his destinations.
I wandered through the crowds, and hesitated at the entrance to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.  I could sense my father, a thousand miles away, beginning to rotate slowly in his grave as I looked at the posters...  The admission fee was five dollars.  The pace of my father's rotating quickened as I looked into my wallet and then sped to a whirring blur as I fished out a five-dollar bill and guiltily handed it to the unsmiling woman in the ticket booth.  "What the hell," I thought as I went inside, "at least it will give the old man some exercise.
The best parts, for me, were when Bryson stumbles across places I recognized, mostly because most of the places I recognized were either so astutely, if cynically, observed by him or, uh, he actually liked them.  His trip to Lancaster, PA - the tourist capital of Pennsylvania Amish country - is accurately and hilariously rendered, though it's kind of depressing on the whole.  For example, this is, in all reality, what one does in Lancaster, when one has tired of dodging buggies on the traffic choked roadways... 
I kept eating.  It was too delicious to pass up.  Buttons popped off my shirt; my trousers burst open.  I barely had the strength to lift my spoon, but I kept shoveling the stuff in.  It was grotesque.  Food began to leak from my ears.  And still I ate.  I ate more food that night than some African villagers eat in a lifetime.  Eventually, mercifully, the waitress prised the spoons out of our hands and took the dessert stuff away, and we were able to stumble zombielike out into the night.
Also, imagine my surprise that Bryson passed through my very own small hometown, and for once, actually seemed to like it.  He does, however, comment on the shopping mall that was built nearby in my youth, and speculates that the shopping mall will cause the dereliction of another good small town.  I'm happy to report, the town is fine.  The shopping mall, on the other hand?  Pretty derelict.  I feel as if Bryson would be pleased by this fact.

I enjoyed Bryson's tour of the east with funny commentary and investigation of various and sundry small towns, and, honestly wish he would have stopped there.  Instead, a little over halfway through the book, Bryson heads west in the springtime, and the book loses its focus.  Small towns disappear as Bryson grumpily traverses the National Parks of the west pursued by one miserable weather system after another.  Readers are disappointed along with him as he finds many of the stunning landmarks of the west obscured by fog and is dispirited by having to drive absurd distances to get to towns where the one restaurant is closed for the evening.  The ending simply wasn't as humorous and kind of dragged along devoid of purpose until he nears home and discovers that maybe he's loved this great nation without fully realizing it all along.

This book is definitely more suited to the sort of person who likes to play Cards Against Humanity than to the red-state American patriot who will doubtless be offended by Bryson's codgery handling of his trip around their beloved nation.  However, if you're the sort of reader who can take his observations with a grain of salt and even see the occasional, sometimes unfortunate, truth in some of his harsher appraisals, there's a good chance you'll get a kick out of this book.  At least the first half.  All in all, even if this isn't Bryson's best, which I doubt it is, I'm still glad to have much of the rest of his catalog on hand for the next time I'm in the mood for a laugh out loud funny travelogue.       

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

It's been a while since I've done a Top Ten Tuesday, or much reliable blogging at all, if we're being honest, so I'm ready to dive right back in with this week's lists of the top ten books on our Spring TBR lists.  There are a ton of books I want to be reading this spring, and these ten barely scratch the surface, but here's a quick look at what I hope to be reading this spring!

If you want to check out more lists or link up your own, head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join in the fun.

1. The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman - I read and enjoyed a review copy of Harman's The Midwife of Hope River back when it came out and really enjoyed it.  I'm looking forward to making a return to Harman's richly set Depression-era West Virginia.

2. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman - If you know me, I don't go in for a whole lot of short storying, but if Neil Gaiman writes it, exceptions can be made.

3. In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks - In a World Just Right was on my Top 10 Most Anticipated Debuts list from a few weeks ago.  When Jen wrote to offer me a review copy, I was delighted to say yes.  Looking forward to reading this one very soon!

4. The Martian by Andy Weir - I was excited to find this one under my Christmas tree since I'd heard so much good stuff about it.  I definitely have to read this one before its movies version comes out.

5. The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy - This one was on my Christmas list, too, but I ended up buying it for my own self after the holiday.  I'm super-stoked to read another van Booy after having quite liked Everything Beautiful Began After.

6. Girl Underwater by Claire Kells - I hadn't heard of this debut at all until a listing of Dutton's spring titles showed up in my e-mail box.  It's about a girl who survives a plane crash with a guy she's been avoiding.  Sounds really interesting.

7. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue - I loved Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child, and this new one of his about a boy whose drawings of monsters "take on a life of their own" sounds like it might well evoke the same kind of eerie magical realism that The Stolen Child did.

8. The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue - I read and quite loved the first book in the series, The Mapmaker's War, around Thanksgiving.  I'm eager to return to Domingue's thoughtful fantasy world.

9. Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy - I spotted this Appalachia-set debut on someone's else's anticipated debuts list, so I was excited to snag an early copy.  They're calling it Winter's Bone meets "Breaking Bad" about a guy who has to choose between his father (and the meth ring he runs) and leaving the life he was born to.

10. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - I'm pretty excited about this one, too.  World War II historical fiction that includes a woman who joins the French Resistance?  I'm in.

What are you excited to be reading this spring?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Marauders by Tom Cooper

I'm such a book hungry idiot sometimes, really.  (Come on, Megan, tell it like it is.  Don't hold back now, really.)  Sometimes books come in the mail, and I open them, and I'm like, "Did I request this?  Was I in a fugue state at the time?  Could I not keep my fingers from filling in a form with my address?"  I can't be the only one who has this feeling from time to time, can I?  So, since I'm being all "full disclosure" here, I'll freely admit that when I opened up my ARC of The Marauders, I was kind of like.....what have I done?  On second look, this sounds like a weird mix of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, two authors whose work I'm decidedly not interested in, so, really, what is it doing at my house?

Okay, maybe the blurb from Stephen King helped, even though I recognize the blurb business for the BS it can tend to be.  Maybe it was the Louisiana Bayou setting.  I've always been irrationally fascinated by the bayou for some reason, despite never having been there (or even close to there).  Or, you know, maybe I just let the "Gimme books!" brain cloud obscure my thinking mind.  I swear I keep at bay most some of the time!  Regardless, The Marauders was at my house, and though I feared I wouldn't like it much at all, I decided I'd give it its 50 page chance and move on with my life.  Suffice it to say, I was an idiot for thinking I wouldn't like this book because I really, really did.

The Marauders sets it readers down in the backwater bayou town of Jeanette, LA in the wake of the duel tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.  The town lives off of its shrimping industry, but the shrimp are too small and hard to find, not to mention likely tainted by the oil washing up on Jeanette's shores.  Jeanette, at first glimpse, is home to a pack of the most unlikeable characters you're likely to find in fiction.  First, there are the twin Toup brothers, who beat back the steadily encroaching poverty with a bumper crop of marijuana they're growing on a hidden bayou island.  Then there is Gus Lindquist, a one-armed especially down on his luck shrimper with a painkiller addiction who is certain that if he just tries long and hard enough he'll find the lost treasure of the pirate Jean Lafitte.  Then there's young Wes Trench, whose family has seen tragedy and whose relationship with his shrimp boat captain father is desperately on the rocks.  There's Cosgrove and Hanson, too, a couple of petty criminals on the hunt for a treasure of their own.  Last but not least is Brady Grimes, a guy who fled his Jeanette home at the first opportunity only to find himself returned to his hometown to wheedle the locals into accepting paltry settlements from BP for their troubles.

The Marauders is a fairly fast paced tale of a crowd of characters whose paths cross at the most inopportune moments.  Black humor litters Cooper's story of the foibles of hapless Lindquist, as he desperately hunts the treasure that will turn his fortune around but ends up tangled in the Toup brothers' web instead.  Cosgrove gets into a bar fight after burying his father that spins his life off in an unexpected direction.  Wes Trench and his father part ways after a squabble over ice that is the culmination of months of quiet hostility after the death of Wes's mother, and all of the sudden Wes is thrust into nutty Lindquist's orbit that is headed straight for danger.  Brady Grimes, in all his smooth talking, mildly conflicted glory ties the community together with his decidedly unwelcome visits, until even he is taken down a peg by the struggles of his old hometown.

I say that the characters are unlikeable at first glimpse, because they don't all stay that way.  Sure, maybe the marijauna farming Toup brothers don't have a ton of redeeming qualities.  However, by the time readers have spent a couple hundred pages in their presence, most of Cooper's other characters emerge with a few more dimensions than you might expect, and then you, like me, might realize that you're not reading just a ridiculous crime caper about a bunch of greedy fools so much as you are reading a terribly honest and, at last gasp, affecting story of a proud, stubborn, if sometimes desperate, Cajun community that gets back up again as many times as it gets knocked down. The Marauders is the last book that I would have expected to get an emotional reaction out of me as it wound down into its final pages, but let me assure you, somehow it did, and for that reason alone, you can expect The Marauders to be a book that is much more than meets the eye.

(Thanks to Crown publishing for providing me with a copy via Shelf Awareness, even though I'm a total dolt.  See, it worked out in the end, right?)