Month: September 2014

Music Monday: Rise Above This/Never Let Me Go/After the Storm

This was my friend Dan’s favorite song. You can read a little more about what inspired Seether to write this song here. Dan struggled for years with depression and this weekend he committed suicide. I got the news while I was at work on Saturday morning.

He was a funny, kind-hearted, amazing person who made everyone laugh and he’ll be sorely missed by everyone who knew him. I worked with him for about five years and I never once saw him lose his temper or belittle someone. He was always trying to make people smile; even if you were being a grouch he would try to make you laugh and lighten up.

 

Watching someone you care about struggle with depression is hard. It’s like watching someone drown and knowing there’s nothing you can do. Dan used to be the person who could turn any phrase or situation into a joke. He was bright, energetic and a little wacky. Over time it was like the light went out in his eyes. He became more and more quiet and he didn’t smile. People use the phrase “a shell of their former self” but you don’t realize what that really means until you see it happen to someone you know: the outside looks the same, but the responses are mechanical and the personality you knew has started to flicker and fade, like a candle without enough oxygen.

Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half has a really great two-part post on depression (here and here) that really sums it up well. Depression isn’t necessarily about being sad; it’s just that you don’t feel anything at all. And it’s hard to fix a big hole of nothing. You look at someone and all you get is a blank stare, like there’s nothing behind their eyes.

 

Suicide.org lists helplines both nationally and for those outside the U.S. If you are thinking about committing suicide or you know someone who has expressed suicidal thoughts, please call and get help. Don’t try to struggle along on your own.

I wish he would have reached out for help. I wish more that one of us would have reached out to him first. Everyone says you can’t look back and think that if only you’d done more, someone could have been saved, but it’s hard to not think that. This is the second person I’ve lost to depression in two years. It’s hard to not imagine all the pain that person must have felt to go to that point. How alone they must have felt. And how terrible it would be to be all alone at the end.

 

I find this song very comforting. I’m not particularly religious–I suppose I’m a cheerful agnostic–and I don’t claim to know what’s waiting after we die, whether the pain ceases because there’s an afterlife to look forward to or if it ceases because we just cease to exist. But the hopefulness of the lyrics makes me feel at peace. I hope that after failing to find peace in life, he somehow found peace in death.

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Goofing around at work in better times, Halloween 2011

What I read: August 2014

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L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 30, by various authors (paperback, 400 pages). Four out of five stars. For starters, I just want to remind people that while Hubbard did go on to found what is arguably one of the zanier modern religions in the world, he was originally a writer of really good classic science fiction–so don’t let his name on the book make you think this is going to have some sort of tie to Scientology; it doesn’t. It’s an anthology of short stories chosen from a yearly contest, and they’re pretty good; they run the gamut from hardcore sci-ti to fantasy to experimental fiction. If you don’t enjoy science fantasy fiction you probably won’t like this but I enjoyed it immensely.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (paperback, 416 pages). Two out of five stars. I tried to read this once before and gave up on it; I picked it up again and managed to finish it, but I still wasn’t that impressed. There’s an interesting twist at the end but for the most part nothing comes as a surprise. And for a steampunk zombie novel, there seemed to be a shortage of both steampunk and zombie elements. Disappointing.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (paperback, 179 pages). Three out of five stars. A classic that I somehow never read before, and very interesting–I just wasn’t sure what to make of the ending. Also, it was so short and abrupt–I felt like it could have easily run another hundred pages. That said, I would recommend this to anyone.

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The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 242 pages). Three out of five stars. Somehow I just can’t get into the Tommy and Tuppence series of mysteries, of which this is the first. It was okay, and there were a lot of twists, but it didn’t hold my attention the way Marple or Poirot can.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie (hardcover, 288 pages). Three out of five stars. A Poirot mystery. This one has a really interesting twist at the end. Still, not one of my favorites from Christie.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (hardcover, 552 pages). Five out of five stars. I avoided this book for so long just because everyone and their brother was reading it, and all the hype bored me. Then one of my friends began pestering me to read it, and I did, and I’m so glad–it was amazing. I really like the quirk of using Death as the narrator.

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The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler (hardcover, 336 pages). Five out of five stars. A must-read for anyone. This book is geared to all readers; you don’t have to be a Buddhist or even religious to enjoy it.

I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me, by Joan Rivers (hardcover, 256 pages). One out of five stars. If you think it’s weird to jump from the Dalai Lama to Joan Rivers, you’re right, but the book title caught my attention so I skimmed through it. There are comedians who can talk about people being annoying and get away with it, and then there are people who just cross the line from witty and mean to plain nasty. For example: making fun of children who are bratty or ugly is one thing; making fun of child abuse victims is quite another. Laughing at attention-seekers on reality TV is fine; saying that disabled people use their condition for attention is just wrong.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer (paperback, 399 pages). Five out of five stars. Mormons will almost certainly not like this book; even some strict religious folks of other faiths (Christianity, etc.) might shy away from it, since Krakauer doesn’t pull any punches in dissecting the flaws of fundamentalist Mormonism and by extension, fundamentalism in any religion. A lot of the practices of the folks mentioned here remind me of my time spent in uber-Christian churches as a kid, where women were lectured at length on modesty, secular music was forbidden, and the general mantra of “don’t ask too many questions” was repeated anytime someone asked something inconvenient.

It’s shocking to me to read about the roots of mainstream Mormon and try to fathom why so many seemingly intelligent people would choose to follow this religion. To his credit, Krakauer lays out the history of Mormonism with as neutral a tone as can be managed when discussing “magical spectacles” and the like. This edition of the book also contains a special afterword discussing the criticisms of the Mormon church leaders against the original manuscript and some of the “flaws” they found in the text. It’s a very well-researched look at the religion and the offshoots of fundamentalist Mormons scattered primarily across the Western United States. If you enjoy nonfiction books covering true crime, religious history or journalistic exposes, then you might like this book.

55 questions about books

I found this list thanks to Katrin’s and Emily’s blogs, and being a reader of course I had to fill it out! If you decide to answer these questions on your own blog let me know, I’d love to see your answers.

1. Favorite childhood book. Probably the Nancy Drew mysteries or James Herriot’s books on vet life in England.

2.What are you reading right now? The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum,  My Inventions by Nikola Tesla, and Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon. It’s the latest in the Outlander series.

4. Bad book habit? Reading past my bedtime. Not, like, a little bit. Like hours and hours past.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? The Strain by Guillermo del Toro.

6. Do you have an e-reader? I have the Kindle Beta app on my old Touchpad, but I only use it once in a while. I prefer paperback books. There’s just something about holding a real book in your hands.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I usually have more than one going. One goes in my lunch bag for work, one waits on the coffee table, one is by my bed…

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8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? I guess I think more critically about what I’m reading, since I’m writing reviews for the books now.

9. Least favorite book you read this year so far? Probably I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me by Joan Rivers. She does have a few funny things to say but mostly she’s just mean. I prefer humor that’s witty and smart, not mean for the sake of it.

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10. Favorite book you’ve read this year? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was amazing.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Rarely.

12. What is your reading comfort zone? I rarely read romance or “chick lit”. There’s nothing wrong with those genres per se, I just don’t find them compelling. So those are pretty far outside of my comfort zone.

13. Can you read in the car? As a kid I read constantly on long road trips, so yes.

14. Favorite place to read? Curled up on the couch with my electric blanket. But I’ll read almost anywhere–outside, in a waiting room, standing in line at a store…still, I prefer to be home alone, so I can read in peace. People tend to talk to you and ask a hundred questions about what you’re reading. “Is it good?” “I might find out if I was left alone to read it.”

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15. What is your policy on book lending? I’ll lend books to people if I know they’ll take good care of them.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books? Break the spines? No!

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? No.

18. Not even textbooks? I don’t own any textbooks, so no.

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19. What is your favorite language to read in? I only speak/read/write English, so…

20. What makes you love a book? I like anything well-written with strong female characters, antiheroes, a sense of atmosphere, or excellent use of language and imagery. This can encompass mysteries, fantasy, crime, etc. I know that saying “it just has to be well-written” is kind of a cop-out, but it’s true! That said, I’m drawn to fantasy elements, either in a fantasy story or in a real-world book. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) features time travel, Night Film (Marisha Pessl) featured a strange fantasy pall over the whole story, and The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) is set in a magical circus. The real world can be kind of depressing at times; I love escaping into a story that’s so completely unconnected to reality.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Again, the cop-out: if it’s really amazing. Actually, if I love a book, I’ll pester people to death until they read it.

22. Favorite genre? That’s a toss-up between fantasy and mystery.

23. Genre you rarely read but wish you did? Non-fiction in general. I think it would be great to be brainy and read highly informative books about history or science, but I keep going back to time-traveling Scottish love stories.

24. Favorite biography? I don’t have one! I rarely read biographies.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book? I suppose The Art of Happiness (The Dalai Lama) counts? But I don’t really go for self-help books.

26. Favorite cookbook? Anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her vegan recipes are badass and delicious.

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27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? Probably The Art of Happiness again.

28. Favorite reading snack? Tea and something really yummy like pitas & hummus or banana bread.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. I think all of the hype around the Divergent trilogy ruined it for me. I loved the first book (and the movie), but the second and third really went downhill in quality.

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30. How often do you agree with critics about a book? I think it’s 50-50. Sometimes people go gaga over something that I just can’t connect with. But I guess it depends on whether you mean professional critics or popular critics; I rarely read professional book reviews, but I do read lots of reviews from book lovers with blogs or Goodreads accounts.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I will say so if I don’t like a book, but I won’t trash it without a good reason. If it’s just not my taste, I’ll leave it at that.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? Probably Italian or Latin.

33. Most intimidating book you have read? When I was twelve I picked up Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace. It took me three months to read but I stuck with it.

34. Most intimidating book you are too nervous to begin? I’d love to read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, but the sheer size of the book is off-putting.

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35. Favorite poet? Edgar Allan Poe.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time? Usually around a dozen in the winter, maybe more. I like to be well-stocked. (And I read fairly quickly, so I don’t like to run out of books and have to go back too soon.)

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37. How often have you returned books to the library unread? I do it fairly often, actually–either I pick up a book and it doesn’t hold my interest, or I run out of time to read everything I’ve checked out.

38. Favorite fictional character? Katniss Everdeen, Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark are my all-stars.

39. Favorite fictional villain? I don’t know if Tyrion Lannister is a “bad” or a “good” guy in A Song of Ice and Fire, but he’s definitely my fave. And also, he loves books, too.

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40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation: Probably something I know I won’t be able to put down. I tend to save up those books for vacation days so I can read uninterrupted. So right now, for example, I’m saving Good Omens (Neil Gaiman) and a handful of mystery/horror novels given to me over the past year.

41. The longest you’ve gone without reading? It’s rare that I’ll give up reading altogether, but for a while I forgot how much I loved books and just kind of read magazines and didn’t spend a lot of time at the library. This went on for a few months. I think I was just burnt out after wrapping up a really long series and needed a break, but didn’t know what other books to dive into. This was before I discovered Goodreads and its lovely shelving system.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. I really struggled with Frankenstein and Steppenwolf–I know they’re classics and have a lot to say, but the writing was just too dry for me.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? The need for food. That’s about the only thing that can break my attention, though.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel? The Lord of the Rings, which I thought was actually better than the books.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation? The Host was terrible and I’m not impressed with how The Hobbit films are progressing.

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46. The most money you have ever spent in the bookstore at one time? I do most of my buying at used shops, so not much…maybe $40?

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? If I’m debating buying something, I’ll skim it to see if anything grabs my eye. A few choice lines can quickly tell me whether the book is something I’d enjoy or something I’ll find tiresome.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through? If it bores the hell out of me, or if I find the author to be expressing really repugnant opinions that just disgust me.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized? I try. They’re semi-organized by genre on a bookshelf.

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50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? If it’s something I might read again, I’ll keep it. Otherwise I like to pass on books to others so they can also enjoy them.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? Honestly I still can’t get myself to read The Fault in Our Stars, even though everyone is talking about it and I do love John Green. I know I’m just going to feel all the feels so I’m waiting for a day when I have no other engagements and the husband is busy at work so I can just sit and cry into some ice cream or something over it. It’s just not something I can read a chapter at a time on my lunch breaks! I need the right atmosphere!

52. Name a book that made you angry. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. I felt physically ill and angry after reading this book. (You can find my full review here.)

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53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. I read this in the spring for a lit class and expected it to be dry or dated, but it was incredibly well-written and haunting. I will probably re-read it in the future, which is the highest praise I can give a book.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t? I really expected to like The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, but the characters did such stupid things that I gave up on the series.

55. Favorite guilt-free pleasure reading? Anything by Bill Bryson. I can read his books again and again. They’re funny, witty and smart. I don’t feel bad spending hours reading something that makes me laugh and teaches me a thing or two along the way.

Ten on Tuesday: Labor Day and the Bobcats

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1. The only thing I did with Labor Day this year was celebrate a little extra holiday pay on my next paycheck. Also, naps and movies. That was it. The husband and I were just too pooped to go out swimming or picnicking or do any of the other “Labor Day”-ish things cool people do. Oh, well.

2. I’m so excited for my mini-vacation next week. Work has been crazy and I really need the extra nights off.

3. You really must read all of The Oatmeal’s comics about The Bobcats. Hilarious.

4. I’m so thrilled for autumn…autumn clothes, and makeup and nails, and food, and lots of books and tea and candles and…

5. And speaking of candles, I cannot wait to hit Bath and Body Works for some pumpkin candles. The best.

6. Also, not gonna lie–as nice as the summer warmth is, I’m thrilled to be able to sit on the sofa with the cats and not wind up stuck to them and to the upholstery because it’s so hot out.

7. Pretty sure they should have just used his video for the game trailer. Devin rocks.

 

8. Next round of tattoos comes up next month…

9. It’s funny how as an adult I get so excited about naps, when I refused to take them in kindergarten.

10. It’s a good thing I caved and got glasses this year, because I’m realizing that I’m rather blind without them.

Music Monday: Don’t Say Goodbye

 

When I was younger I thought I’d spend my twenties on the road, traveling and just exploring life. I traded all that in pretty early for a steady job, a husband and other responsibilities that don’t really mesh with a gypsy lifestyle.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes I wonder what might have been; I have a restless spirit. I think of this song every autumn, probably because autumn automatically ignites my wanderlust and I start dreaming of packing the trunk of the car and going on a road trip with no real destination in mind. I can almost feel a change in the air. It’s like there’s something pulling on my soul.

Especially when things in life aren’t going quite as I’d hoped and I’m facing another long winter, it’s easy to want to get away. But every year I’m reminded that there’s something to be said for sticking around, even when the going gets tough. And things do get better.