Sunday, February 19, 2017

Difficult Women - Roxane Gay

Difficult Women is a short story anthology by Roxane Gay, whose work is always thought-provoking and deep. Some of these stories are only a few pages long, while others are much longer, making every story a bit of a surprise, but all of them are interesting and well written. There's a lot of repetition of themes here - violence and rape, which shouldn't surprise you if you've read anything else of Gay's, but also long winters, miscarriages or other ways to lose children, and twins, which was one theme I was not exactly expecting. The stories themselves range wildly in topic but nearly always come down to a woman who might be called difficult, as per the title of the book. 

The real issue with this book is that it's all short stories, and not the full length novel virtually every one of these pieces deserved. Gay draws me in to each world, each character, and their dilemmas are fascinating and real. I wanted to find out what happened next for almost all of them. The slices of these stories she chooses to present are so vivid and real that I was sad to see them go. The longer stories are the worst for this, as the more I learned the more I wanted to know. 

Overall a really solid read, that deserves to be read thoughtfully and with time. I wish I had had the opportunity to spend more time with it. I'd give it four stars, and I'm definitely going to keep devouring Gay's work at every available opportunity. 

This review has also been crossposted to CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books in a year! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

I gave this one four stars on first read, and now that it's a day later I'm already wondering if it deserves more. Probably four and a half at least. It was so good, and so different, so unique, that I can't stop thinking about it now. I definitely need to pick up the next one soon.

Ancillary Justice is a sci fi book whose central character is an AI, formerly of a ship, but now confined to a single, body-bound existence. The narrative skips back and forth between the present and the past, narrating the events that saw the AI banished to its one-body existence while also detailing how that one body is moving towards its goals. The world-building is great, and I'm enamoured with the details of the civilization and how it works. It's a little confusing, especially early on as you try to work out the narratives and what's going on, but it comes together so well and the payoff is really, really worth it.

I don't think it's possible to write about this book without writing about the awesome gender commentary enclosed within, and it's totally worth examining. The AI, and the civilization that spawned it, obviously put little importance on gender, and gets flustered when trying to communicate with other species/in other languages that require gender-specific pronouns. The AI refers to all people in the narration with feminine pronouns, even when they've been specifically gendered by another character with (presumed) knowledge or understanding of that person's gender identity - and it's completely brilliant. Of course a ship doesn't care what gender humans identify as! What importance does that have to an AI? As to the defaulting to feminine, aren't ships traditionally referred to using feminine pronouns? Makes sense that they would consider feminine the default when speaking of other entities. It's brilliant, and I loved it as an effect and as a story beat.

Really, this book was super good. I need to get the second one from the library as soon as possible!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

Hoo boy, this was not an easy book. Jeannette Walls tells the story of her childhood, growing up in abject poverty with two parents who are not entirely stable and are really just irresponsible. FYI, there will be spoilers throughout this review. I was aghast at their treatment of their children at many points, and the fact that Walls and her siblings do so well for themselves was really rewarding but also heart-breaking. At one point, a child welfare agent shows up, and Walls successfully talks him away, but I couldn't help but wonder if their lives might have been better if they had let the authorities intervene. I understand that the system is not fair or without its own problems, but the constant neglect and frequent abuse was horrifying.

Mostly this book made me want to shout at her parents for being so irresponsible. Walls seems well adjusted enough, and clearly feels deep affection for both parents, but both of them are exceedingly bad at parenting - her father is an alcoholic who steals Walls' savings, and her mother is selfish to a ludicrous extent: in spite of being a qualified teacher, she feels like she has spent too much of her life working and caring for others, and decides that she wants to spend her time working on her art instead of working to put food on the table for her four children. I'm not sure why I came out of this book so much more frustrated with her mother than her father - he's an alcoholic, which is a serious disease that's difficult to overcome, but there's nothing identifiably wrong with her mother except selfishness, which I eventually came to realize was probably a result of some serious mental issues as well, so why am I so exasperated with her? I suppose it's because it's clear early on her father is good for nothing, so I never have any expectations he'll do better, but her mother will occasionally try, and it would give me hope that she'd do better, and then she would give up, or keep the two-carat diamond ring the children find instead of selling it to put food on the table, because she deserves nice things, and I'd get frustrated again. The reveal at the end of the book that she has been sitting on land with a value of up to a million dollars, while she is homeless and her children spent their formative years eating out of the garbage cans, is particularly upsetting.

Walls writes well, though, and as in Half-Broke Horses, the stories are short little vignettes that I often found very compelling and hard to put down. Some of the anecdotes are funny and cute, but far more are difficult and upsetting, and made me feel terrible for her and her siblings. It was a good read, though, and I'd say it's four stars. Now I need to read about something pleasant and happy for a while...

This review has been crossposted to CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books in a year! 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

I have so many books out from the library, and on hold, and on my TBR, that I can't remember the last time I just picked something up on a whim, because it was to hand, because I'd heard of it loosely and liked the author but didn't really know much about it. That's what A Monster Calls was - I got it as an ebook from my library on a rainy lunch hour, just because I could borrow it immediately and start reading it right then. I read and really enjoyed The Rest of Us Just Live Here last year, so I knew Patrick Ness' name, and thought I would enjoy something new from him. I did!

A Monster Calls is a YA/children's book, probably targeted at early teens. The protagonist is 13, and is dealing with his mother's illness, the problems that creates in his life, and the monster that comes to deal with him. It's a little Gaiman-esque, with a kid dealing with something tough and a world that is a lot like ours but not quite. It's cute and well written, and I very nearly cried at work reading it, which is mostly an endorsement. It was refreshing to read about a teenager who still acted like - and is treated as - a child, rather than the older YA set where people often act like 16-year-olds are adults, It's a quick read, and Ness crafts a touching little story.

For a book I picked up on a whim, I'm quite happy with it. I'd say it's four stars, and I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye peeled for more of Ness' writing. It's definitely a sad book, so if you're coping with some of the themes of loss and illness that permeate this book, maybe it's not for now, but that's up to you. If you're just signing up for a short, touching read, then you should have a look!

This review has been crossposted at CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books in a year! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Brooklyn - Jacqueline Woodson

Somehow I managed to read two books with a loose sense of time in a row. Jacqueline Woodson's novel is a much shorter, sadder piece, though, telling the story of a girl growing up in Brooklyn though the adult's reminisces after her father's death. It skips back and forth, making it a little difficult to keep track, but the overall plot is about friendship and the sorts of things it can and can't survive - so not altogether different from Swing Time, now that I think about it. I probably would not have read the two of these in a row if I had realized, but they were both due back at the library and I wanted to power through them, so here we are!

Another Brooklyn was very good. I came to Woodson through her poetry, specifically Brown Girl Dreaming, which is one of the first poetry compilations I've ever read of my own volition, and so holds quite a special place for me. I was already expecting beautiful language and poignant story, and I got it. There are a few unexpected twists, and a lot of revisitation with the different time points, but I quite liked the overall effect. Mostly, I'd just recommend this for the language; the effect of some of the sentences is still with me, and it's worthwhile to seek out for that alone. It's four stars from me, and a note to self to continue seeking out whatever else I can of her lovely words.

Shrill - Lindy West

I was loosely familiar with Lindy West and her writing from some of the bigger pieces she has published over the years, and when I first heard she had a book coming out I made a mental note to follow up with it. Then the first few reviews hit CBR and I was even more interested. I'm glad I made time for it - it's easily one of the best things I've read so far this year, and an all around great read. It's a collection of essays loosely chronicling her life and touching on a number of the incidents for which she is well known - in fact, it's mostly set up as a kind of later reflection of her own experiences, which, when done by a writer as proficient as West, is a delight. Her writing is gorgeous and hilarious, and I laughed out loud more than once. I may also have pumped my fist into the air and shouted "Yes!". It's a good book.

The only issue I had was that I was rushing to read it since I needed to return it to the library (or, thought I did - when I finished I realized it was actually eligible for renewal, oops!) and so I powered through it in less than 24 hours. Some of the topics are quite dark - multiple chapters dealing with rape jokes, online trolls, and rape threats - and I started to feel down and exhausted constantly reading about it.  If I'd planned better, I'd have had time to space the heavier stuff out, and my overall experience would have been better, I think. As it was, it's still a five-star book and nets a place on my faves shelf, since even with the more difficult stories there are a number of uplifting moments, and even heavy stories that still manage to be beautiful and inspiring. I would highly recommend it to anyone who might be interested, and some people who might not be!

This review has been crossposted at CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books in a year!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Swing Time - Zadie Smith

Swing Time is Zadie Smith's newest novel, and it delivers on a familiar premise of writing about the in-between worlds of "othered" people - here, people who are neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor, neither young nor old. It's the story of two girls, growing up in council housing, and how their hopes and dreams and fates intertwine. Moving fluidly through time, starting with their first interactions, skipping ahead through teenagerhood and the events that drive them apart, and then through the narrator's late twenties and early thirties working to help a pop start establish a school in West Africa, it almost feels like a series of loose vignettes that slowly reveal the overall story arc.

I really enjoyed Swing Time, for all that it took me quite a while to get through it. The story was interesting and detailed, and it took me a while to see how things would relate forwards and backwards in time, but eventually I understood and was fairly pleased with the result. The way the story is structured, there is no linear timeline but instead a loose grouping of events that can be hard to follow, and the end is quite literally the beginning. The character of the narrator, who sometimes makes reflections during flashbacks as though encountering new thoughts of her own past, is fluid in the earlier timeline and set in the "present day" narrative, and it's interesting to see her perspective of her own history. I thought it was quite a pleasant read, if a little long, and gave it four stars for the solid story, interesting views, and the characterization of the narrator.

This review was cross-posted to CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books in one year. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Week 3 Recap

This post is late. I had a busy weekend! Of course, now that we're halfway into week four it's getting harder and harder to remember what I did last week, but I'll do my best.

I lost ground on my reading this week for sure - again, I think my weekend was so busy I didn't have time to read as much as normal. Earlier in the week, though, I finished The Apprentice and Wishful Drinking, both of which were really really good. The Apprentice made it onto my faves shelf and I haven't really been able to stop thinking about it since, so that was really nice! But I'm currently a book behind for the week, having only completed two books; since I read ahead earlier I'm still on track for my goal of 156 but I'm going to have to step it up soon. I'm currently reading Zadie Smith's Swing Time and it's very, very good, but a little long so I'm going to have to work to finish it.

More success on this front! I made really, really good coconut curry lentils that I ate for lunch all week, sweet potato blintzes from Smitten Kitchen's cookbook, and some delicious cookies that I took to work on Tuesday. I also took a stab at French bread that didn't quite turn out, but I'm still glad I tried! So three and a half new recipes this week, pretty solid.

Daily Goals
I'm so annoyed with myself for just forgetting to put away the dishes one day this week! I did it as soon as I got home from work but still. That's not the point of habit building! I don't understand how it happened. At least I still managed to write every day.

Everything Else
I don't think I watched any TV this week, let alone finished any! And of course, no movies, shows, games, or anything else. Too busy for that stuff, but I'm going to have to start catching up soon!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Anxiety and Uncertainty

I've had a weird ache in the pit of my stomach today, all day. Sometimes it creeps up into my chest, makes my pulse throb, my shoulders tense up, my breathing fast. Sometimes I can corral it down, into my belly, with deep breathing and distractions. It's ebbing and flowing, and right now it's fine. An hour ago it was terrible. We'll see what the rest of the day brings.

I genuinely can't tell if this anxiety stems from Trump's inauguration or the fact that I turn 30 in two days. I have a suspicion that some of my anxiety and worry about both events has gotten warped into one thing, and I have just managed to infuse this entire weekend with a sense of dread that isn't really befitting of at least one of these things. I've been worried about this all week, and now the inauguration is over and it doesn't feel any better, but there's nothing to properly dread -  or at least, nothing but the vague sense that something worse might happen. And that's not worth investing my time in dreading; I need to focus on the good, on what I can do, and doing my best.

I wasn't that worried about turning 30 until this last week or so. As I said, I don't know if it just got tangled up with all my worry about Trump, or if as it gets closer I'm getting more anxious about it. Both, probably. I don't know why I'm getting more anxious about it right now, though. This morning, I woke up thinking "this is the last workday of my twenties,", and then I realized that many, many more lasts have occurred over the past few days. Tomorrow is the last day of my 20s completely, and that's going to feel weird. I was just speaking with a friend about a trip she's going on next month, and realized that the tour company offers tours for 18-29 year olds - so I'm effectively too old to do the tour she is going on. It was not a pleasant realization, but even as I thought about it, I wondered - do I want to go on tour with a bunch of 18 year olds? Group travel with 30-40 year olds probably matches my interests more closely anyway. I've long been more inclined to quiet evenings, unwilling to stay up late or party hard, happy to get up early and while away a peaceful morning with tea and a cat. Maybe I'm actually just aging into the demographic I've always felt more comfortable with. Why would that give me anxiety?

Maybe it's about the things I haven't managed to get done. I haven't seen all seven continents (so close at five!), I haven't achieved designation in my career (I'm going to miss getting it done while I'm 30 by about three weeks, ugh), never really gotten anywhere with my Spanish (in spite of multiple attempts). There are many many more where those come from. But of course, I know this is just an arbitrary list of things I had sort of hoped to do, and 30 wasn't a hard deadline, just an ideal one. I know lots of people have managed to accomplish much less and much more than I have, and comparisons aren't useful. Impossible to resist, but not adding anything of value to my life. I still have the rest of my life to accomplish these goals, and they're not spoiled for not having been completed already. If anything, it would be even more difficult to look ahead from here and think that there were no new horizons to explore, so having many goals still on the list gives me more to plan for, look forward to, and achieve. Will I do more in my 30s than in my 20s? Probably, if only because of increasing access to resources and spare time - and I did do lots in my 20s, so I have even more to look forward to. So while I understand this source of anxiety, I have to work to mitigate it, as it's not a problem that can be solved, and ultimately is only due to my own inflated expectations anyway.

It's weird, though, and a little scary, to be considering a new decade when I feel so uncertain and anxious about the state of the world. My last few birthdays have been during times when I generally felt like things were getting better, but in the last few months I have very much felt the opposite. Maybe - hopefully - that won't end up being true, and the world can resist this turn and continue to expand the number of people who are happy, healthy and accepted for who they are. Maybe it will get worse, and I won't dedicate any more words to daydreaming about the worst case scenarios my imagination can dream up. There's no way to know, and little enough I can do about it right now anyways. It feels like the next decade has the potential to be significantly worse than the last one, and for entirely external reasons. It doesn't have to be this way, though, and maybe we can keep that from happening.

The ache is still there. Maybe it'll be gone tomorrow, my last day as a twenty year old, and maybe it won't. Hopefully it'll be gone by Sunday, and I can wake up as a thirty year old ready to fight the good fight. And if not, then I'll do my best to corral it down and fight on anyway.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher

This book made me cry, no joke. But only out of sadness for what we've lost; the book itself is a rapid delight, and I read it in about an hour and a half. Fisher is so fast, witty, and sharp, and the jokes pepper every paragraph. It's a loosely shaped memoir, skipping around to the anecdotes she feels like telling, without much of a central narrative, but each chapter is a lot of fun. The promised "drowned by moonlight, strangled by her own bra" comes about halfway through and showcases her incredible humour and resilience and I loved it.

I didn't actually cry at that part, though, but at the piece where she speaks about her mother, Debbie Reynolds, pointing at things in her home and declaring that she wants Carrie, or her brother Todd, to take them when she dies. Knowing as I read it that she would outlive her daughter made me irrepressibly sad, and it was extra difficult to read Fisher's sarcastic humour as I read about something that I knew would end up causing her mother incredible pain.

Wishful Drinking was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I read it. Four stars from me, and I look forward to reading more of Carrie Fisher's stuff, including the novels I didn't know she had written. Basically, I feel like I need to follow up with her career a lot further now...  I continue to mourn what we've lost with her passing. She was so fierce and proud and wonderful, and her writing really showcases that.

This review has been crossposted to CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books this year! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Apprentice - Jacques Pepin

Every once in a while, a book that seems like it was written just for me comes along, and The Apprentice is one of those books. Books that I really truly enjoy tend to fall in one or more of the following categories:

- biographies
- life in other regions & travel
- food & cooking
- fantasy & sci-fi

The Apprentice hits all but one of those notes, and I loved it. It's a collection of loosely-chronologically ordered essays going back to Pepin's earliest memories and ending close to the present day, covering his training in the old fashioned French culinary system to his multiple stints on TV teaching Americans to cook. Each essay has a central element that nearly always amounts to "meals shared with friends", and there are plenty of anecdotes about professional kitchens and cooking for family. It's simple and pretty, and there are lots and lots of meals (and recipes!) to get your mouth watering.

This book is my catnip. It has virtually everything I look for in a biography/non-fiction book, and it was delightful to read. There were even a few bits about growing up in the war, another topic that fascinates me! Pepin writes in a really friendly, casual style, and I paged through chapter after chapter just imagining the meals he was plating. As with all the best books, it made me want to go to both Paris and culinary school immediately. I think I may have to settle for getting a copy of La Technique or Mastering the Art of French Cooking instead.

Five stars, a spot on the favourites shelf, and a recommendation for anyone who comes within shouting distance!

This review was crossposted at CannonballRead, a race to read and review 52 books this year. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Paper Girls, Volume 2 - Brian K Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 2 follows our titular troop of newspaper delivery-girls into the future, where they meet the grown-up version of one of them and try to figure out what is going on in their world. Somehow, Vaughan manages to not only set up a world in the process of being invaded by some other forces and a number of mysteries about the groups acting on the girls, but a weirdly difficult realization of self caused by young Erin's feelings about seeing her future self - forty, single, still living in her home town. Mac gets to see some future consequences for herself, too, but Erin's the one we spend more time with, and it's a little to painful to read - is anyone exactly who they thought they'd be as children? What would you want to say to a 13 year old version of yourself, and could you actually say it, knowing that any real changes might change your present self irrevocably?

Chiang's illustrations are lush and vivid, and his colour schemes are gorgeous. There's a recurring theme of teeny tiny earth creatures accidentally blown up by the time-travel folding that's going on, and that's arresting, in a slightly squeamish way, but the visuals are overall just lovely. I've been trying to focus on taking in more of the art when I read comics, instead of just skimming it on the way to the next important text, and it's definitely rewarding here.

Really, my only complaint here is how long I'm going to need to wait until I get to read more of it, which is a good problem to have, I guess! It's five stars for me, and I might re-read it tonight to see what else I can pick up on.

This review was crossposted at CannonballRead, where I'm racing to read and review 52 books this year. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Week 2 Recap

Not surprisingly, week two was a little rougher than week one. Some of the motivation starts to flag, and life starts to pick back up again - that first week back is more about adjusting to 2017 than actual productivity, but by now the real world is making demands and taking up time. That flowy, gentle transition was fun while it lasted!

I finished three books this week, Simon Larson's The Devil in the White City, Brian K Vaughn & Cliff Chiang's Paper Girls, Volume 2 (which I'll probably review tomorrow, it was quite good!) and Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters. Still on track, and I think I'm going to finish another one today!

Less progress on this front this week. I didn't bake anything, even though I've loosely been intending to make cookies for two weeks, and I also put off trying a new fish recipe that I've had open for two weeks. No new recipes at all, a complete failure! Fortunately I'm still on schedule because of making several things last week.

I finished Lovesick last night, which I enjoyed a lot! The second season held up well and I'm dying for yet another season already. I hope there's going to be a season three! I would be very sad if there isn't any more. However, this actually doesn't count towards my goals for the year, since Lovesick wasn't actually on my list! Still worth it.

Daily Goals
I have successfully kept up with my two daily goals (tidying away dishes every morning and writing every day) for the rest of this week.

Everything Else
As expected, no progress on any of these! Maybe soon though, maybe soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Underground Airlines - Ben H Winters

Underground Airlines made a lot of Best of 2016 lists, and I was lucky enough to snap it up at the library before the hold list got too long. It's a story about what the world would look like if the Civil War had never happened, and slavery was still legal in America. Not surprisingly, it's kind of a horrifying look. The protagonist is something of a bounty hunter, tracking down escaped slaves before they can make it to Canada and freedom, and his personal journey as a doer of such deeds drives the narrative. It's really well written and very compelling, and I had a lot of trouble putting it down.

I'm not really sure what to call this exact genre - it's a kind of alternate present, I guess? which makes it alternate history by default, but it's definitely set in the new millennium so it's a little hard to define. I don't think I've read much of it by any stretch, and wasn't sure about the idea when I picked this up, but Underground Airlines was a good, if upsetting, read. Too many of the ideas presented within are too real and too recent, but that's the intent of the book - to remind you exactly how close that kind of horror is, and how capable society is of it. A few scenes actually made me wince.

As a story, though Underground Airlines makes for a good time, or a worthwhile time - I don't know if good is the word I really want to use here, as some of it is pretty upsetting. The story is fast and interesting, the protagonist is complicated and conflicted, and the ending holds together. I'm glad I read it, and I might be seeking out more alternate history/present soon, though perhaps of a somewhat lighter nature.

This review was also posted on CannonballRead, where I'm racing to review 52 books, in my case all of four or five star ranking! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses is a "true-life" novel, meaning that Walls took all the stories she had heard and collected about her grandmother and wove them into a narrative, smoothing them into place in a coherent timeline. Since the novel is written in the first person, she admits to assuming her grandmother's thoughts and exact words, and it's probably best to just treat the whole thing as probable fiction - beyond that, though, many of the stories kind of defy belief! From learning to fly a plane during the Depression to occasionally threatening a nefarious character with a pearl-handled revolver, Lily Smith had quite the life!

Half Broke Horses is a really simple narrative, usually just a few stories sort of related to a period of Lily's life, loosely broken into parts by the passage of time. Some stories are barely a page long, but Walls infuses Lily with enough character and gumption that it was hard to put the book down, and I frequently would sit with it through just one more story, then another. It's highly readable and a little wild. I went into it having heard a lot about The Glass Castle, and I expected it to be a little hard to read and emotionally challenging, but with a few exceptions, Half Broke Horses is really just fun. There are a couple of tense, tough scenes, and a handful of occasions clearly not suited to the modern era, but the majority of the book is just tagging along with Lily as she goes for wild rides on bucking mustangs and driving the town taxi/school bus/hearse combo to get by. Overall, I had a lot of fun with it, and it was nice to read something simple and light every evening before going to bed. I understand Glass Castle might be a rather more challenging experience, but Walls’ writing was enough to make me even more curious to read more of her, so I’m going to start it next!

This review was also posted on CannonballRead, where I’m racing to review 52 books, with the personal caveat that they have to be four or five stars! 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Week 1 Recap

It's easy to stay motivated for the first week, and I'm hoping that if I keep writing about what I'm managing to cross off my list I'll find it easier and easier to keep going. So, I'll quickly touch on all the progress I've made in the first week of January!

Books - I read five books this week: The Namesake, Talking With My Mouth Full, by Gail Simmons, The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau, The Vegetarian, by Kan Hang, and Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, which I'll review soon. I also picked up a book of Emily Dickinson's poems to get started on that goal, so good progress on all of these!

Cooking - I actually did really well this week, I made four new recipes, most of which I was really happy with! Last night I made Tomato & Bean Soup in my new Dutch oven, and it turned out quite well, plus, as a project, I made baguettes to go along with them!
It was my first project cook of 2017 and I'm really glad I did it! They aren't much to look at, but they taste great and are pretty much exactly what I hoped for, so they were a perfect accompaniment to the soup. A very successful cook day and project to start things off! 

Television - I made some progress on my Netflix queue, including watching half of Chef's Table: France and finishing Jimmy Carr's special last night. That's one thing off the queue, and most of the way to another! 

Everything else - Not surprisingly, I have yet to watch a movie, finish a game, or get to a live show this year. Fortunately, there are 51 more weeks to get to those! 

Other - I'm still planning to write about these later, but I decided to set two daily goals for 2017, using the daily habit tracker from Elise Joy (because there's nothing quite as satisfying as colouring in those little bubbles!). The first is to write every day, which I have successfully kept up so far. The other is to actually put away my dry dishes every morning - I have a terrible habit of washing the dishes and then leaving them to dry in the sink for a week, which means I can't wash any more dishes, which makes my whole kitchen a hazard zone. So far I've been keeping it up, which means my entire kitchen gets a clean sweep basically every day! It's working pretty well, and I hope I don't get lazy with it too soon.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Lazy Sunday

The first day of a new year is always a little strange for me: fraught with expectations that I can't quite shape into real goals or purposes yet. I always feel like making big progress towards something, but how much can I really do in a day, any day? The motivation and resolve of a new year follow me around all day, trying to make me sit down and decide what I want to accomplish.

Through no fault of my own, I actually did have a pleasantly productive but still relaxed day. I got up moderately early and finished The Namesake, which was really good, and then wrote about it, thus beginning the long process of fulfilling two of my resolutions - reviewing 52 books and writing every day.

Then, after much consideration, I opted to risk going out for a run. It was a bright, cold day, and the sidewalks were terrifically icy, so I wasn't sure if I should, but I knew it was only supposed to be colder Monday, and since it was still a holiday, no one was going to clear the ice, so it wouldn't be any less slippery. I decided to try it, since the trails are more covered and usually better than the sidewalks, and I figured if it was too icy to run I could always turn around and come back home. Once I got to the trail, though, it was fine. There were a few spots I slowed down for, and I skipped the last 100 metres or so, since they were still frozen over, but the bulk of the trail was already worn in and running wasn't a problem. I had to do three laps to make it up to 5K, but that's often a problem on that route. I'm proud of myself for going out there, even on a cold day!

Google auto-prettified this picture for me, and I actually kind of like it. 
I spent the afternoon puttering around, mostly reading, sometimes watching TV or playing Fire Emblem or just bothering the cat. I was trying to enjoy the feeling of having nothing important to do, since it's rare and kind of a treasure.

In the evening, I made my first new recipe of 2017, rice and beans from Alton Brown's Everyday Cook, an exact version of which does not appear to be online. It doesn't matter, since it was entirely fine. You can probably find a similar recipe just by googling, or, hell, by throwing together a handful of ingredients at your discretion. It'll probably be better, too. Don't get me wrong, it was fine, it was just nothing spectacular - which, after the couple of really great things I made from this cookbook last year, was kind of a letdown. But it's cheap and nutritious, and it'll feed me for a few days this week, so it's not a big deal.

Finally, I settled down to finish watching Black Mirror - though I didn't realise the final episode was 90 minutes long, oops! The third season was good, and I'm glad it's already been renewed for another. As ever, there were a couple of standouts - Nosedive was really good, as was San Junipero - and a couple that just didn't stick with me as much. I actually just had to go check IMDb to remember Playtest and Shut Up and Dance. All in all, a good season, and I'm happy to finally scratch it off my list.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

I think I need to rethink my rating systems for books. I usually go mostly by feel, pegging a star number on a book based on how I feel immediately after finishing it. I've noticed this has a few weird skews, though, like that I almost never rate the first book I've read by an author as a five, and that as some time goes by, I often have fonder memories of the book than the rating I have given it would imply.

All of this to say, while it took me a while to decide, I think The Namesake is the first 5-star book I've read in 2017. (It's also the first book entirely, but that's neither here nor there). I spent most of New Year's Eve reading it, constantly trying to put it down and do something else, and instead promising myself "just one more chapter", until I finally forced myself to stop. Even as I pressed through it, I kept thinking, what should I rate this? It feels like a four star, or so. And then I'd remind myself that I literally couldn't put it down. Clearly it needed to be better ranked than that! So five stars it is.

The Namesake is a gorgeous, tightly packed little story about a man born to immigrants in Boston, and how the name they give him - Gogol, for the Russian novelist - shapes his identity. It's a novel about not knowing where home is, about family and distances and differences, and about how relationships can develop and change as your identity does. It was fascinating to watch the cultural differences develop between Gogol and the expectations his parents have for him, and to see how his parents' community and experiences shape his life as an American. It's vivid and bright, and I wanted to slow down and savour it even as I powered through to the end. It's an evocative read, and I'm going to have to look out for more of Lahiri's work soon.