what I read in January

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Fiction

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. Former conman turned respectable pillar of the community Moist von Lipwig tries to run a bank. This is an old favorite of mine, and I never get tired reading about the exploits of Moist von Lipwig. (Related titles: Going Postal and Raising Steam by the same author.)

Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher. This is an epistolary novel, in which the story is told through the countless letters of recommendation a professor is asked to write one year. If you work in academia, you’ll probably find it funny. It lagged a little in the middle, but the end more than made up for it and re-humanized the characters involved, which was sorely needed.

The Lure of the Moonflower, by Lauren Willig. My dad got me started on these female-centered historical spy novels/romances, set in Napoleon France, India under colonial rule, and Georgian England. There are twelve of them, and I’ve read them all. He dropped out halfway through the series (as much as I love them, the quality is a little uneven), but gave me this one for Christmas so I could finish the series. They’re fun, reasonably historically accurate, and this one made a nice wrap up of more than ten years of Pink Carnation history.

Gatefather, by Orson Scott Card. This is the third and last installment in Card’s Mithermages series. Danny North, an incredibly powerful Gatemage, has battled the Gate Thief, and won, but now faces another great danger. (It’s very epic, if you couldn’t tell.) I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this series, I enjoyed the (semi-subtle) Mormon overtones visible in Card’s writing, I enjoyed (if also rolled my eyes) at the way the author weaves together theology and mythology. But for a book that had such an epic premise, the ending felt kind of flat for me. Not bad, just flat. Still worth reading if you like fantasy, though.

The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. Bands of Mourning is set in the same universe as Sanderson’s Mistborn series, just hundreds of years later (I think. A good chunk of time, in any case). It follows The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, and continues the story very neatly.

I’m being very circumspect about plot so I don’t spoil anything, but I’ll say this: Sanderson writes female characters pretty well, but falls into the same traps a lot of writers do (Warbreakers, as much as I liked it, inspired much ranting in that regard). It was nice to see Steris come into her own in this book, even if the same old ‘woman doesn’t know her value/worth until male tells her (and preferably marries her)’ trope came out to play.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Divergent has been made into a movie, and it’s a very well-known young adult book that I had resisted reading until now. Shame on me, because my snobbish rejection wasn’t actually warranted–it’s a pretty good book. In the Divergent world, people are separated into ‘factions’ that value different things: Abnegation values selflessness, Candor values honesty, Dauntless values courage, Erudite values learning and libraries, and Amity values peacefulness. The catch is that you grow up in one faction, and then you choose whether to stay, or to join another one, at sixteen. The story revolves around one girl, Beatrice Prior, and her surprising choice.

Also, as an aside, I would probably be an Erudite. I’m too non-confrontational to be Candor, too un-athletic to be Dauntless, too selfish to be Abnegation (although I’m also a people pleaser so who knows?), and too sarcastic and prone to doom-thinking to be Amity. (In the Harry Potter world, I’m a Ravenclaw. I’m pretty sure I like following the rules too much to be Gryffindor. Although Hermione made it, so again, who knows?)

Cozy Mysteries

Gluten for Punishment, by Nancy J Parra. You know the gluten-free thing has jumped the shark when there’s a cozy mystery about it. (I was relieved to read that the protagonist hadn’t read Wheat Belly but actually had celiac.) Fun and fast read.

On Borrowed Time, by Jenn McKinlay. Another installment of the Briar Creek crime-fighting librarian!

Suspendered Sentence, by Laura Bradford. I swear, until right this second, I read the title as Suspended Sentence, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to downgrade my ranking for this book because this pun is terrible.

Anyway, it’s a cozy mystery set in Amish country in Pennsylvania. I find these books fascinating bits of Americana, because they require the people in question (the Amish) to become two-dimensional characters upon which fully modernized and technologically connected people can project a longing for simplicity and grace. Although Bradford is better than most, and her Amish actually experience and express negative emotions, like anger and jealousy. (Not to mention a murder, since it’s a cozy mystery, after all.)

Non-fiction

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce. Joyce (author of the book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement) takes on international adoption in this book, asking questions about good intentions gone awry, the potential and reality of human/child trafficking, and how to move forward and do good. It’s branded as an exposé, and although I’m skeptical of exposés, I picked it up and read it anyway. If you keep in mind that it’s not meant to be a fair-handed treatment of adoption, but rather an exploration of what happens when too many people feel the means justifies the ends, you’ll end up learning a lot.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins. The book opens with an anecdote of how a woman wasn’t allowed to pay her boss’ traffic fine because she was wearing pants. (Her husband had to go pay it so they could just go home, and was warned to keep her in line by the judge.) Collins takes us through years of change, chronicling how in just one generation, expectations of what women could or could not, should or should not do drastically changed. Collins weaves in historical research, oral histories, and popular culture in an interesting and eloquent way. It’s rather balanced (you can tell the author is mostly a fan of the changes, since she never would have got to her position as the New York Times’ first female editor of the Editorial Page without them, but she also writes about the unintended consequences along the way), and when the author criticizes the parties involved, she does so in an affirming way. I would have loved a chapter on the Internet and the way female participation online has changed public life, but I guess you can’t cover everything.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. This is a memoir that chronicles Day’s upbringing (weird), university career (disciplined), acting career (quirky), and various interests (nerdy). I listened to the audiobook, which I would highly recommend, as it’s read by Day herself. I loved the peeks into Day’s weird and wonderful life. I’m not a gamer (all I play is Mario Kart and Yoshi), but I’ve watched The Guild and Dr Horrible (not to mention some Supernatural) and I know enough about the culture to be intrigued. Recommended for all the nerds out there who feel like they don’t belong.

if we ever lose our way

For Christmas, I bought L. two maps to adorn our walls. One of them was a book map:

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via wearedorothy.com

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The other was a game map:

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also via wearedorothy.com

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They were shipped from England, got delayed, and didn’t get delivered until December 26, but that ended up working just fine, since we were seeing my dad for New Year’s and opened another round of presents that night.

I thought they’d make a nice addition to our new house and represent some kind of metaphorical melding of lives and interests and mutual geekiness, although that sentence sounded a lot less woo-woo in my head. I think L. liked them, and since we have upcoming trips to Ikea and Bed Bath and Beyond etc in store, as well as a myriad of other things to tackle in the house, I have good hope they’ll be hanging on the walls sooner rather than later.

Oh, and in related news, we solidified our commitment while unpacking last weekend. Not by any legal means (that’s still upcoming in May!), but by mixing our books on the shelves. (Far more binding, I reckon.)

2015 in review

See 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014‘s answers here!

1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 28, and spent it jetlagged but in Utah. We went to Sam Weller’s (my favorite book store in Utah), I made a lemon layer cake, and thoroughly enjoyed being home again.

2. What are your strongest memories from this year, and why?
Maybe picking out my wedding dress? I thought the whole “you’ll know when you find THE dress” thing was a myth, but it is not. (At least it wasn’t for me.) I thought I was going to end up with a short, simple, pretty but also practical dress, but I did not. Sure, I tried on short dresses first, but none of them made me feel especially pretty or bridal (even though I don’t know what feeling bridal actually means). But then the wonderful, wonderful saleslady had me try on a long dress, and that felt pretty good. And then she brought me a dress that I didn’t think I’d like, but I’m non-confrontational so I tried it on anyway, and when it slid over my head, I knew. L. hasn’t seen it yet so I’m keeping it under wraps, but two words: French lace.

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At Assepoester in Arnhem, which, despite its name, is about the least Cinderella-esque you can get when you’re in the market for a big white dress.

3. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Get engaged. Oh wait, that’s not true. Um, get engaged and not regret the experience.

When my ex asked me to marry him, I knew it was coming and I kept thinking, no, please don’t do this. But he did and I said yes, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone wants to marry you? (For the record? No, no it’s not. If only my 15-20 year old knew what I know now, about healthy relationships and boundaries and how love doesn’t require you bending over backwards to accommodate the other and erasing yourself, bad readings of Proverbs 31 and patriarchal theology be damned.)

This time, I knew what was coming and it was perfect. Low key, in the rain in an ikea parking lot (where we had our first kiss in February 2014), and I wanted this with all my heart. I want to marry L. because I can’t see a future without him, because being with him makes me grow as a person, because we complement each other in our joys and our challenges, and because waking up next to him every morning makes me feel so happy to be alive. And because I love Josie and the two are a package deal.

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shout out to Jonathan Coulton’s “Ikea” song!

4. What did you want and get?

Job prospects! I sent out about fifteen cover letters+resume sets, and have two job interviews next week. I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch, but even this amount of interest from potential employers helps. I was having a mini existential crisis every other week, fearful no one would want to hire me if I stepped off the tenure track path.  (Kudos to L., for not only listening to five million conversations that all basically boiled down to the same thing, but actively participating in them.)

Slight tether in the line now!

No longer feeling like I’m hurtling into space untethered!

5. What surprised you the most about yourself this year?

How much I mourned when we knew we would leave Utah. I always knew Utah wouldn’t be my forever home, but I don’t think I realized how attached I was to the state and the people I’ve met here until we decided to leave.

6. What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year?
A defense date. My advisor is dealing with some health challenges, so we’ve pushed back the idea of me defending for a while. Other thing I’d like to have is a job. And, if we’re being frivolous, I’d like an architecture Lego set because they look like fun. (Santa L. got me this for Christmas! I’ll be building the White House in little Lego bricks in January.)

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My sister and I at Dinosaur National Monument.

7. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did! I kept losing weight, started Jillian Michael’s Body Revolution program (it’s dorky but it works!), and tried to put down roots in Utah.

Next year’s resolutions: more writing (both of the personal essay and fiction kind–it’s been forever since I wrote fiction!), and riding my first century. Hopefully an organized one, but a practice solo one is fine too. If I’m really brave, I’ll join a cycling club. Also, I’d like to start really cooking again, trying out new recipes and getting back into a meal-planning groove.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Surviving the upheaval that was spending 2×2 months in the Netherlands and balancing the need to see family and friends with the work I needed to do on my dissertation.

Time spent with my mom? Priceless.

Time spent with my mom? Priceless.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Um, failing to adequately prepare for the move because we were being moved and I didn’t realize how much there is left to do? Also, failing to anticipate just how much stuff L. has acquired. The amount of things I did not know the basement held was mind-boggling.

10. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?
Skype with friends. Cuddle time with Josie the Dog. The Salt Lake Public Library (oh, how I will miss that place!)

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Meet Lion, Lamb, Rhino, Gorilla, and Froggie. We are obviously super talented at thinking up names for stuffed animals.

11. What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies, music, etc)
TV
: Gallavant! Season two premier is this Sunday! Go watch!

Still a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, SHIELD, Bones, Castle, iZombie (although it’s getting very drama-y and I really want them to resolve the story arc with Major in a way that he doesn’t end up dead, in jail, or something even more dire. And Bones seems to be jumping the shark a little bit. And Castle is doing weird things with the Castle-Beckett relationship. But at least Brooklyn Nine-Nine is pretty much consistently funny!). And NCIS, NCIS LA are consistent favorites, with Criminal Minds and Hawaii Five-O a good back-up.

Books: Andy Weir’s The Martian, Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, Shadows of Self, Warbreaker, Rithmatist, and especially his Steelheart series, Rachel Held Evan’s Searching for Sunday, Jeanne Ray’s Calling Invisible Women, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars,  Terry Tempest William’s When Women Were Birds, pretty much all cozy mysteries written by Elizabeth Peters ever, and SP Bailey’s Millstone City. See my Goodreads Year in Books here.

MoviesThe MartianInside Out (Bing Bong! Sob), Paddington, I guess Star Wars: The Force Awakens if only for the resulting cultural conversation, Going Clear, and The Good Dinosaurs for the incredible artwork, even if the settings didn’t always make sense (self-domesticating dinosaurs?). We also saw a lot of bad movies.

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having dinner out with my mom right before I left to go back home to Utah.

12. What music will remind you of this year?

We saw Pentatonix in concert. The venue wasn’t the best (an arena with terrible acoustics), but it was a fun night nonetheless.

At Lagoon (an amusement park) the day after I got home. Jet lag and roller coasters mix just fine, apparently.

At Lagoon (an amusement park) the day after I got home. Jet lag and roller coasters mix just fine, apparently.

13.  What was your most enjoyable purchase?

The annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Amazon had a 30% off deal on black friday/cyber monday and I splurged on the book.

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with E. and C. at a Mets game in New York.

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At the Natural History Museum, true highlight of the trip.

14. What did you wear in 2015?
Pants bought at Costco! Seriously, I have one pair of jeans from the Gap that I hardly ever wear because all the pants I found at Costco are so super comfy. Also a lot of work out capris because let’s face it, I work from home and the dog doesn’t care what I wear.

At Schiphol Airport, right before I got on a plane and flew away from all these people I love so much.

With A. at Schiphol Airport, right before I got on a plane and flew away from all these people I love so much.

15. Did you travel? If so, where?
Two trips to the Netherlands, a couple crossings over to Germany (including a fun trip to Berlin!), several unrelated flights to California to present at a conference, see my dad, and to check out where we wanted to live. Idaho, to see L.’s family. Road trip with E. to Dinosaur, CO. Wanted to make it over to DC to see my sister but didn’t (resolution for next year!). Did make it to New York to see her. A trip to Escalante National Monument with my dad, and a trip to Cedar City’s Shakespeare festival that included a nearby hike at Kanarra Creek–highly recommended!

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slot canyons galore!

 

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Road biking, probably.

visiting my grandmother on my dad's side.

visiting my grandmother on my dad’s side.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Can I say dissertation writing? It was brutal.

18. Compared to this time last year, how are you different?
Planning to join the smug marrieds in May, a notion both wonderful and terrifying. (Not the marrying part, but the host of societal expectations that come with marriage.)

19. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?

I still laugh way too hard at puns. The more terrible, the better.

20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year?

It’s an ongoing internalization of the lesson my old therapist told me years ago: be kind to yourself. Once you’ve got that down, I think, the rest falls into place.

on (not) being married on Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving one of L.’s uncles made a comment/short-ish monologue about how marriage is the quickest way to break you of your selfish habits. And while his assertion may be true, that conversation made me think of the many ways we shortchange single people. Because yes, living with L. means sometimes I put his needs before my own (like when I do his laundry so he doesn’t have to, or walk the dog before he gets home, or tell him of course it’s okay if he wants to spend eight hours on Saturday playing Bloodborne). And sometimes he puts mine before his (like when he accompanies me to DI or Target and waits patiently for me to finish, or when he cooks dinner because I’m finally making progress on the diss and don’t want to stop, or takes the bus so I can have the car). So yes, I guess it does teach you kindness and patience and all that stuff. But I wish we could stop talking about single people as unattached people who do whatever they want, whenever they want. In my experience, if you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole even if you’re married/partnered, and the reverse is also true.

When I think about our move to California, a couple conflicting emotions crop up. I actually kind of resent the fact that I’m the trailing spouse in this move, giving up my friends and the job prospects I had so that L. can further his career. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything in it for me (sun! more people like me! ultimately better job prospects, even if my contacts are all here! living closer to my dad!) but just that while we both have to rebuild our lives, L. gets to do that with a direct purpose, while I have to find mine again, if you get what I mean.

And yet I am also grateful that I didn’t have to make the decision. I just had to sign off on it. Moving to Germany and Utah were not the hardest things I’ve ever done, but there is a mind-boggling amount of loneliness and drudgery involved in building a new life. (At least if you’re an introvert.) My point is that as a single person, I had to do that all by myself, right? What I mean, I think, is that as a single person, I couldn’t rely on anyone else for my happiness. I had to make all my own decisions, invest in myself, design my own future, support myself emotionally and financially while still being open to love and a relationship. That is simply not true as a partnered person: in my experience, sharing responsibilities and worries and joys completely changes the dynamics and lightens the load dramatically. In many ways, I do think it’s “easier” to be partnered than single, if only because you’re meeting heteronormative societal norms. Plus, Thanksgiving might contain a loaded question or two about (the lack of) your childbearing plans, but at least no one can imply you’re wasting your life because you’re not dating anyone.

Novel idea: how about we stop talking like it’s Paul vs. Mormonism, single vs married? Life happens, and sometimes you meet someone, sometimes you don’t. Let’s stop categorizing people based on their relationship status and put the Thanksgiving focus back on turkey and pumpkin pie, where it belongs.

Links I loved, vol. 3

Need a reason to go to Tokyo? Here’s two: a bookstore-themed hotel and a stuffed animal cafe.

Think twice before you ask me where I’m from, or why I hate this question, even though you mean it so well.

Why the History Channel programs so many blue-collar survival shows, and what it says about America.

For all you library nerds out there: the editors of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books share their library memories.

What highbrow scholars read on the beach.

For all my Mormon readers: a 1978 take on the pioneer story by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Worth reading, I promise, and probably the only time I’ll tell you to go read the Ensign.

“Knees up like a unicorn!” It’s a Mattel commercial worth watching.

And two podcasts on Halloween: one from This American Life (spooky raccoons, parental jokes gone wrong, and more), one from Backstory (for those of us who like to intellectualize our holidays).

Have a great weekend!

what I listened to, mid-October edition

This week’s recommendations for your listening pleasure:

–are you curious how monstrosities such as the Double Down come to be? (If you don’t know, God bless you, keep it up. The Double Down is a chicken ‘sandwich,’ but it uses fried chicken as a bun instead of bread. Yes, really.) Listen to the first story on This American Life here.

–Want to know how cultures interact? Listen to Backstory’s episode on Chinese-American relations, and hear how fusion Mexican-Chinese food came to be, what it means to be a model minority, and the role pingpong played in bringing Nixon to China.

–Radio West ran an episode with journalist Michael Isikoff, about the American government’s war on gays and “sexual deviants.” Worth knowing about. You can listen here.

–I’m spending time in California this week, so this was good timing: Planet Money’s episode on Silicon Valley called “Bubblelicious” in true economy nerd fashion.

on multitasking and perfectionism

A blogger I follow wrote a post about multitasking, and how this year, she was going to let herself just ‘be,’ instead of plowing through as many activities at the same time as she could. It struck a chord with me, because I…am not very good at just being.

I don’t multitask because I think it makes me more productive. I multitask because I have a short attention span and get bored easily. I multitask because my hamster brain devours itself if it’s left to its own devices, and listening to a podcast  lets me walk the dog in peace. I multitask because I don’t really like folding laundry and it’s better if I can watch some Netflix as I go. But I also multitask because I feel guilty if I’m not.

I know “fear of missing out” is a thing for people, and of course I’ve felt jealousy pangs when I saw friends posting pictures of fun outings on Facebook or whatever, but for me? Fear of missing out is fear of not being enough: not being good enough, not being smart enough, not living up to my potential.

Part of this is just the environment I’m in–put a group of incredibly bright people together in this nebulous thing called academia, have them compete against each other for limited resources, and everyone’s neuroses get strengthened. I’m sure there are well-adjusted academics out there, but I am not necessarily one of them.

The other part of it is just me: empathetic, socially anxious, and sensitive. I feel my flaws deeply (whether or not others would consider them personal moral failings is besides the point–I do). My old therapist taught me to try and be kind to myself, which is a hard thing to do, and also that being a perfectionist has less to do with the hours you work and more with the pressure you put on yourself. (Too bad, because I always felt shielded from the critique of perfectionism because there is nothing I like more than being lazy. Bubble burst there.)

In all fairness, multitasking isn’t the problem here. I’m probably going to keep learning new things while I walk Josie, and reading three books at the same time, and texting with L. while I work (though not Skyping while I’m on Facebook, that never ends well). I’m categorizing those things all as natural outgrowths of my innate curiosity and aforementioned attention span and am giving myself a pass for them.

No, the bigger challenge lies in learning how to relax without feeling guilty. I’d love to quiet that little voice in my head that tells me I’m brilliant but also never ever good enough, and that I shouldn’t be here relaxing when there’s work to be done.

What that post reminded me of is that my worth does not lie in my job, or how much I know or do, but in my humanity. I know I am enough, deep in my heart I know this, but it is harder to feel it in practice.