I’m going on spring break–but on a service trip!

January 29, 2014 at 10:00 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

That’s right–no fun in the sun or boozin’ it up for me this spring break. Instead, I’m stoked to be going to New Mexico with Saint Xavier University’s campus ministry. Find out more here!

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Lay off Apu . . . and Hank!

September 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

HuffPost TV asks a question: “Is it time to retire Apu?” and in doing so, they bring attention and, dare I suggest, attempt to validate a frustrated rant given by Hari Kondabolu over a year ago on the FX(X) show, Totally Biased in which he riled the crowd with his desire to “kick the shit” out of Hank Azaria (at 1 minute 30 seconds) for doing the voice of Apu. 

At a time when there were no Indians on American television–no Kelly Kapoor, Mindy Lahiri, or Raj Koothrappali–The Simpsons presented Apu, a PhD working at a convenience store. Darn that Fox (the network that, when it wasn’t showing Cops marathons, was presenting the antics of the lovable, delightful Bundy family) for not having its cartoon show of yellow people who don’t age or change their clothing be more socially responsible* in its depiction of its sole Indian character.

Image

Hari Kondabolu’s problem with Apu/Hank shows a complete and utter lack of understanding of the humor of The Simpsons (rather ironic for a comedian). The Simpsons is a satire. Thus, when the show depicts a stereotype, simplification, or mischaracterization, it is calling on the viewer to question the stereotype or whathaveyou and to analyze the overarching culture and systems that allow such ideas to exist. The show isn’t perpetuating an Indian stereotype through Apu any more than they are perpetuating the attention-starved middle child stereotype through Lisa or the disaffected, alcoholic elementary teacher through Mrs. K. and Miss Hoover.  

*As far as socially responsible goes, is the depiction of Apu actually so bad? He’s educated, hardworking, kind, ethical, religious, and respectful. And to prevent him from being two one-dimensional, the writers even made him more complicated: human, flawed, and weak.

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When I want to pretend I’m in England

July 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm (Uncategorized)

When I want to pretend I'm in England

. . . I can schedule a visit my doctor’s office (and take the stairs).

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Don’t Call Me “Politically Correct”

April 19, 2013 at 10:09 am (Relationships, Writing/Language) (, , , , )

Political correctness is supposed to help us avoid offending people. I don’t generally give a flying fart if I’m offensive. I am not politically correct. I’m sometimes loud. I talk about sex, politics, and religion–often at the dinner table and sometimes when I’m a guest in someone’s home. I swear. I’ve been accused of mocking religion and I laugh at things Bill Mahar says. So when I call out certain talk or behavior, it’s probably not because I’m offended; it’s because I’m genuinely concerned about dangers related to said behavior. I think some of it is downright reckless.

RECKLESS BEHAVIOR #1 — Using sexist language & using “girl” as an insult
When a father tells his son to man up or stop acting like a girl, the trouble is not just the message it sends to his son (being a girl = bad, so don’t be girly), but also what it says to his daughter:  that being a girl is simply not as good as being a boy.  No matter what she does, she will always have a strike against her through no choice or fault of her own. And she (and her brother) also pick up on the fact that their mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother are inferior to their father and other men. Therefore, it’s not important to listen to their mother or respect her. And they certainly don’t have to respect female teachers, police officers, bosses, or strangers on the street.

I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists. I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in? –Mindy Kaling

RECKLESS BEHAVIOR #2 — Using racial slurs &  making racist jokes
There are rules in comedy about which groups can be picked on. It’s bad form for groups in power to pick on those with less power (but the reverse can be acceptable, often because first group has already created a divide.). Also, only members of certain racial or ethnic groups can say certain terms. (Whether or not anyone should say such things is a different issue altogether). Remember how Michael Scott didn’t get why it’s not okay for him to recite a Chris Rock bit? Luckily, many people do understand the limits even if they’re not sure why they’re in place.

Most of the time, when majority or powerful groups disrespect people outside their group, it mainly serves to demonstrate insecurity and the desire to maintain the upper hand. [Like this example of how white students mocked nonwhites at a 70% white high school.] Even playful uses of terms and jokes are often used to create or maintain someone’s status as The Other. Those People. Us and Them.

Think of times when you’ve heard variations on these ideas:

  • They are not like us.
  • They only got this far because of affirmative action.
  • They aren’t moral.
  • They eat weird foods.
  • They have weird traditions.
  • They don’t share our values.
  • They are sluts.
  • They are taking our jobs.
  • They don’t pay taxes/ They are looking for handouts/ They hate the rich/They blame us for our success.
  • They drink too much.
  • They are all involved in organized crime.
  • They’re lazy/ smelly/ stupid/ oversexed/ dangerous.

Each one of these ideas translates to “I wish to maintain the status quo. If other people are treated better, there might not be as much good stuff for me. I enjoy coasting. I don’t want more competition for the stuff I like and I certainly don’t want to have to work harder.”

RECKLESS BEHAVIOR #3– Using “Muslim” & “terrorist” interchangeably 
Radicals in all arenas are just that: radical. They wreck stuff for everyone because of stereotypes, which are seldom born through quiet, mellow people (see below). When Islamophobia is spread, people are unfairly targeted, especially women. Muslim women who cover their hair stand out, sometimes harassed and/or beaten. Shortly after the Boston Marathon, a man repeatedly punched a woman in the back who was walking on a sidewalk in Boston. College students in Texas were beaten while being called “terrorists” and “evil.” A man was beaten in the Bronx on Monday night in front of an Applebee’s. An Applebee’s! What a terrible place to be beaten, and just for having brown skin. (Of course, the fact that the bombers have since been described as “light skinned white men” is beside the point.)

RECKLESS BEHAVIOR #4 Perpetuating stereotypes
Stereotypes are bad for the stereotyped and the stereotyper.

It’s not fair to prejudge someone based on experience with (or hearsay of) someone else with a shared characteristic. Everyone deserves a chance to be treated and known as an individual.  This is also why the “One of my closest friends is __________” trope is so grating. People read that as, “I can excuse my own propensity for stereotyping because luckily, I found the one _______ who isn’t ________ that I can pull out as a token on occasions like this.”

Stereotyping is a shortcut, and like all shortcuts, stereotyping often ends up costing much more time than it would take to do something right in the first place. And you know what? Positive stereotypes are just as dangerous. It’s not fair to expect people to live up to imaginary standards.

Homer: Listen, do you want the job done right, or do you want it done fast?
Marge: Well, like all Americans, fast . . .

Imagine all the friends and experiences people miss out on because of assumptions! Conversely, imagine all the bad hiring decisions and dates that have taken place because of assumptions.

I’m just as guilty as the next human. Did I ever tell you about the time I agreed to hang out with a guy who I thought was gay? He was a regular at the place I worked. One cold Minneapolis evening, I was on a date and didn’t know it. So when he invited me up to his apartment to look at his plants, I said yes because I genuinely wanted to see them. This was apparently code: glaringly obvious code. So while I was admiring his orchids and he tried to kiss me, I laughed–mostly at myself because I was surprised by my appallingly inaccurate gaydar. I had plenty of time to think about what I’d done on the long walk back to my car.

tshirt

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Term “Illegal Immigrant” is Removed From AP Lexicon, Grammarians & Humanitarians Rejoice

April 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm (Writing/Language) (, , , , , , )

The term “illegal immigrant” is offensive to many people, and for good reason: it dehumanizes human beings and justifies their shoddy treatment. Therefore, here is positive news for anyone who likes other human beings: the Associated Press (AP) has changed their stylebook entry for the word “illegal” as part of a larger effort to eliminate labels.

Last month, the AP added a mental health entry that “argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels” and not to even mention mental illness unless it’s necessary for a story. If it is, AP users are instructed to avoid using labels, so instead of describing someone as “anorexic” or “an anorectic,” for example, use instead the phrase a “woman diagnosed with anorexia.”

This recent discussion brought the conversation back to “illegal immigrant.” “We concluded,” the AP blog states, “that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance” because “while labels may be more facile, they are not accurate.”
From the AP stylebook:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alienan illegalillegalsor undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

What to say to people who scoff, calling this just another annoying P.C. effort?

It’s the grammar, stupid!

Apart from being offensive, the use of “illegal immigrant” is simply grammatically incorrect. The word “illegal” is an adjective meaning “forbidden,” so since a person cannot be forbidden (only objects or behaviors), grammar dictates that the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” make no sense. Cheers to the AP for finally figuring that out! Let all grammarians rejoice! (The dictionary does list “illegal” as a noun, but informally only. Since the AP doesn’t let me use the informal spelling of “all right” [the preferable and attractive "alright"], I am happy that the AP is striving to be more consistent.)

Of course, actions that a person does (like immigrating, carrying a gun, or roughing the passer) can be illegal.  A football player who performs an “illegal hit” is not an “illegal player,” a person who carries a stolen firearm without a license is carrying an “illegal weapon,” but is not an “illegal gunowner.”

I still disagree with the AP’s wrong, wrong, wrong stance on the Oxford comma, and I wish the interrobang (‽) would be considered a standard punctuation mark, but I commend this change.

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A New Challenge for 2013: Blood + Beer

March 2, 2013 at 10:43 am (Dulicious, Health, Writing/Language) (, , , , , )

Why Beer?

Last year, I successfully completed the 50/50 Challenge (fifty films and fifty non-fiction books in 2012). It was hard work, so in January, I enjoyed being able to read at a more leisurely pace. I did have a challenge set up for 2013: I plan to donate platelets 13 times in 2013 at the Heartland Blood Center in Tinley Park, IL. But when February came, I realized that I missed having a goal that I could work at on a weekly, or even a daily, basis. So I give you The Fifty Different Beers in 2013 Challenge. That’s right, I am going to try at least fifty different beers in 2013. Whether it will be as enriching as last year’s challenge is hard to say, but I’m willing to put in the necessary work to find out. Plus, I need the extra nutrients to supplement all the blood I’m giving up this year.

I was considering only counting beers I’d never tried before, but I decided that it would be too hard to remember if I’d ever had them before in my life (I’ve been a fan of beer for quite some time), so I’m going to treat it more like a big year (see the wonderful film The Big Year) and start 2013 at zero.

at Tribes Alehouse

Menu at Tribes Alehouse

For January, I have to mostly rely on memory. (In February, I began to take pictures).

January

Molson Canadian is a delightful, simple beer that I have a soft spot for, probably because I have fond memories of drinking it on draft in Toronto in 2002. It’s what douchey beer enthusiasts might call sessionable. (It should be noted that I’ve worked with beer and studied it a bit, but I am not one of those people who writes reviews on Beer Advocate and I don’t use borderline obnoxious terms like “nose,” “head,” and “lacing,” and I certainly won’t describe the “mouth feel.” I just won’t.)

Bell’s Best Brown

I once earned myself a terrible hangover from Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and although it was a long time ago (2005) and in a land far away (Minneapolis), I have feared Bell’s since. (This might also explain why I am so adverse to IPAs). But I am a sucker for brown ales, so when I saw this on the menu at Tribes Alehouse, a place particularly fond of bitter brews, I had to try what seemed to be a welcome departure. And it was lovely!

Rogue Chocolate Stout tastes like someone poured Newcastle Brown Ale over some cheesecake (delicious in small doses, obviously).

When I discovered my local Jewel had started carrying Bohemia, I had to get a 12-pack. With more flavor than Corona but not as sweet as Pacifico, Bohemia is definitely my favorite beer from Mexico. (Do not use lime.)

February

2013-02-17 00.31.36

An O.K. Polish beer

2013-02-17 20.48.19

The label is a tidge better than the beer

I went to a shop in Lake Villa called The Deli Lama that sells create-your-own six-packs so I made it a point to choose six I’d never had before. I was charmed by Ellie’s Brown Ale by Avery Brewing Company of Colorado. I love brown ales and the chocolate lab on the label made me think of chocolate malt (probably by design). Ellie’s Brown Ale is tasty, but it’s a little nuttier and heavier than I prefer.

meh

meh

5 Rabbit Cerveceria is local to Chicago but I’d never tried one (to the best of my recollection). I’ll bet their beers are good but the Golden Ale was not where I should have started. At 32 IBUs, it’s just a bit too hoppy for me, but more so it was the fruitiness from the yeast and its particular combination of hops that left me displeased. I stayed away from 5 Vultures at the store because the label scared me away with its mention of ancho chiles, but after reading the descriptions on their website, I realize now that it would have been a much better choice for me.

O.K. Beer from Okocim Brewery in Poland was on clearance so I bought a four-pack of cans. I’d been drawn to it before because I like the can but hadn’t picked it up. And what can I say? It’s O.K. It tastes like beer. It’s history is pretty interesting, if what its Wikipedia page says is true. And because it’s not in a clear bottle, it didn’t taste skunky. (Fear not the can, my friends, especially with imports. Never buy an import in a clear bottle. Never.) It’s going to be refreshing when the weather warms up. I will drink it on my patio.

2013-02-22 18.28.31

Look at the adorable cap!

2013-02-19 17.38.42

Goose Island, a local Chicago brew that was unfortunately purchased by Anheuser- Busch in 2011, has several Belgian-style ales intended to be cellared and paired with food. I did not wait, nor did I pair them with any food in particular; I just wanted to try some. Because they are expensive, I put a single Sophie and Matilda in my six-pack. Strangely, even though Sophie’s IBU value is lower (25 vs. 32), I preferred Matilda. Sophie is a saison, so it relies on additives (pepper, vanilla, orange peel)  for flavor, whereas Matilda uses caramel malt and tastes much less fruity. From their descriptions on the website, Pere Jacques should be the next of Goose Island’s Vintage selections I try, and perhaps a Madame Rose. I also grabbed a Goose Island Mild Winter because I’d been tempted by it at the liquor store and was happy for the chance to try just one. It is really, really good: smooth, malty, kind of sweet but not too sweet–a good alternative when I can’t get my hands on Newcastle in cans (my favorite beverage of all time).

The sixth choice (and most expensive) I placed in my self-created six-pack was Dragon’s Milk from New Holland. The label teased me with yummy wording: “roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones” but “all dancing in an oak bath” are the only words I should have listened to. I thought it would taste like Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (which is freakin’ delicious) but instead it tasted like Maker’s Mark. (Read: Horrifying). This is the only beer in recent memory that I’ve dumped out. I tried for about ten minutes, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it. I realized later that I actually ordered it at Tribes in January but had to give it to my pal Benji, who did enjoy it.

2013-02-17 00.33.51

While I was gazing into the beer coolers the same day I grabbed the O.K., a fellow shopper asked me to check out the label on this beer, Metolius Damsel Blonde Ale, to tell him where it’s from (Portland Brewing Company). He mentioned that it was half off so we both picked up a six pack for less than $4.  (We both also picked up some Sopporo and I grabbed a Kirin six-pack too because apparently my store has stopped carrying Japanese beers). I learned from the Metolius website that the beer is retired, which explains why it was on clearance. And I learned from drinking four of the six (so far) the reason it’s retired: it tastes like how feet smell. Summer feet. Summer feet that have been in sneakers with no socks all day.

2013-02-17 17.58.54

Goose Island’s Mild Winter is my favorite of the Goose Island beers, regardless of price.

2013-02-25 20.40.17In February, I bought a Goose Island variety pack. My plan was to try one of each and then keep the others for guests, but I keep drinking them! There is Mild Winter (yum), 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker’s Ale, and India Pale Ale. I’m not a huge wheat ale fan, but 312 is alright; instead of tasting like rotting fruit as many of them do, it’s crisp and refreshing. Honker’s Ale is a nice alternative during those months that Octoberfests are unavailable, what with its lovely color and balanced combination of flavorful hops and malt.

As I mentioned above, I hate IPAs so I was nervous to try this one. But I was pleasantly surprised! Around here, 3 Floyds is very popular and most of theirs are hoppy as hell, so compared to those, Goose Island’s IPA is downright gentle. I still wouldn’t want to drink more than one, and it helps with the grody aftertaste characteristic of IPAs to drink it with food, but I’m glad I tried it. And who knows? I might one day start liking hoppy beers. Our tastes change, you know. When I was in high school, I chewed cinnamon Trident and now I can’t stand cinnamon-flavored gum and candy. Also when I was younger, I hated Brussels sprouts and now I like them a lot.

January count: 4

February count:13

Total: 17

Countries represented: 5

Hmm, something tells me it might be easier to get to 50 beers than it was to get to 50 non-fiction books . .  .

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Living with Hypothyriodism

February 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm (Health) (, , , , , , , )

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of South Dakota, I worked out. I actually liked it. Over spring break of my junior year, I hiked the Grand Canyon (all the way down and up in one day) for which I trained, in part by running up and down the steps of the Dakota Dome for months beforehand.

Go 'Yotes!

Go ‘Yotes!

I also did cardio and took long walks in town and longer bike rides out in the country. Shortly after the amazing spring break trip, I injured my leg on faulty gym equipment, bruising the bone. (There’s still a dent in my shin). This put my workout regimen on hiatus. Around this time, I noticed my hair and fingernails had become very brittle and were breaking easily. Frequent necessary trims brought my once long hair above my shoulders over the course of a couple months. I was feeling down and anxious, too; I assumed it was from a drop in seratonin since I wasn’t exercising much anymore.

Me (with my bro) before all this happened.

Me (with my bro) before all this started.

My skin got very dry and my cuticles were a mess (and since I have a history of picking/trichotillomania, anxiety exacerbated these symptoms). I was sure that it was the hard water at my apartment, and I began treating buckets of water with Calgon before rinsing my hair. I spent oodles of money on expensive lotions and conditioners, none of which helped my skin or hair. I was always cold and people kept asking me if I was sick because I looked pale.

calgon box

I also began to put on weight and had a hard time concentrating. If I didn’t accomplish enough, I felt even worse about myself and even more stressed out.

When I went home to the Twin Cities that summer, a family member facetiously told me that maybe my problem was “glandular,” playing on a common excuse people make for being fat. [Har.] I worked out for the first part of the summer, but I got depressed and didn’t bother much for the rest of it, mainly just hitting the bike trail when it wasn’t super hot. I also worked at a hotel as the front desk clerk, the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift (on my butt), and shortly before I left each night, the donut delivery arrived for the next morning’s continental breakfast. I have always had a thing for old fashioned donuts (you know, the ones with the deep crease all the way around. I’d rip off the outer pieces in sections and eat them very slowly, and then pretend that the remaining circle was a-whole-nother donut). I was angry at my body for betraying me, and I was getting fatter and fatter anyway, so I wondered what the point was in watching what I ate. Every time I ate one of those donuts, I wanted to smack myself. A vicious cycle. That summer, I also drank mochas from Caribou Coffee whenever I felt like it and ate at my favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities (especially when someone else was buying) like Figlio and Café Latte.

That's the one, Baby.

That’s the one, Baby. Yum.

Frustrated, anxious, and very blue, I considered that it might actually be “glandular” (or something that a doctor could diagnose, anyway), so I made an appointment with my old family practice doctor who I hadn’t seen in a few years. He ordered a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test and some other blood work, but I was bummed to learn all of it came back normal. (For the TSH, bad is when it’s high). He prescribed an antidepressant because I reported depression. I took it for a while but felt no difference, so I never filled it again.

When I returned to Vermillion, South Dakota for my senior year of college, I realized I had gained almost 60 lbs in about six months. I needed new clothes, even a new coat and shoes. (Yes, my feet even got bigger. What the heck‽)

I knew something wasn’t right. That fall, I saw a doctor at the university health center who suggested birth control pills were causing my weight gain. He recommended I quit taking the pill and he prescribed a different anti-depressant.  I gave this one even longer, six or eight weeks, before I gave up on it

Not surprisingly, my neck and back were bothering me that winter, so I made an appointment with a chiropractor I’d seen the previous school year. He was stunned at the change he saw in me–it wasn’t just the extra weight, but my skin and hair were dull and he said that I looked completely different. He told me to have my thyroid checked. I told him that a TSH test had come out normal a few months before, but he told me that I should do it again, and also get the T3 and T4 checked, and then if those three were normal (and compared to each other) to have my adrenal function checked. He wrote all this down for me.

To get the tests ordered, I had to be more aggressive than I usually am with physicians, but my chiro was right–when all three of those tests were compared, it was clear to the physician that I had an under-functioning thyroid even though my TSH was on the high side of normal, and he prescribed Synthroid. I felt better within a few weeks of taking the medicine, which surprised me because I didn’t expect results from a pill, especially one that tiny (probably because taking huge antidepressants hadn’t done squat). Unfortunately, while being on a proper dosage of Synthroid can help prevent thyroid-related weight gain, it doesn’t do anything to help one lose the weight gained while it was left untreated. Drat.

It’s now years later, and as far as medical problems go, I’ve found that hypothyroid is no big deal–when it’s treated. A couple of times over the years, I’ve known that I needed to up my dose because I didn’t feel quite right. There are some medical issues to be on the lookout for, especially if hypothyroidism has gone untreated for some time, like heart problems, mental health issues, and infertility. I have also since learned that hypothyroidism can cause anxiety–though many body functions are slowed down by a sluggish thyroid, anxiety is common and can cause insomnia and nervousness. (So while I was depressed and tired from my undiagnosed hypothyroid, I was ironically kept awake and nervous because of it for who knows how long. My concentration problems and math anxiety weren’t my fault!)

Most internist or family practice docs will handle treatment of hypothyroid, so high-priced specialist copays aren’t usually required. I just need blood tests every so often, but the  prescription is reasonably priced (even the name brand, which is what I stick with after having a generic that didn’t work a few years ago). I had an ultrasound on my thyroid once (my doc thought it should be checked after she examined me, but it was A-OK).

Hypothyroidism is common, but why it happened was somewhat of a mystery to me. I was the only person in my family I knew of with any thyroid problem. I was pretty much a vegetarian when the symptoms began, a naughty vegetarian who ate a lot of carbs didn’t take vitamins. I occasionally ate seafood, but not enough, living on the Great Plains as I did, to get measurable iodine in my diet (and I certainly never ate sushi!) I also avoided salt as an attempt at healthfulness, so it’s possible that an iodine deficiency had something to do with it. But maybe not. My older sister was diagnosed shortly after I was, too, and she’s never been a vegetarian. That I know of.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have sought medical advice sooner–and then a second opinion immediately when the first doc said my TSH test was normal. The TSH has a large normal range and some physicians might disregard a result on the high side of normal, which is why they should test the T3 and T4 with the TSH when a patient has symptoms like I did at the time, symptoms like depression, anxiety, concentration problems, weight gain, lethargy, sallow skin tone, constipation, and dry skin, hair, & nails.

An estimated eleven million Americans have hypothyroidism, more commonly women and most commonly older women. Chances are you know someone with hypothyroidism, possibly someone who isn’t even aware of it. Luckily, there is a vast amount of information online (like at Mayo Clinic) and the tests and medications are reasonable and easy to get, so there’s no reason to suffer like I did. I still miss my hair and my old ass, but I hold out hope that I’ll get them back one day. I know that the weird little gland in the throat is responsible for these physical and mental symptoms, but I have the tools to manage it. Now I just need to remember to take my pills (and getting back in the gym would be good, too).

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December 50/50 Update

January 12, 2013 at 11:12 am (Book Review, Writing/Language) (, , , , , , )

At the end of November, I had 44 books and 51 films to show for 2012. What a long, strange trip it’s been! In case you haven’t been following my posts, the 50/50 Challenge entices bloggers to read fifty books and see fifty films in a year. I easily read fifty books in a year, so I limited mine to nonfiction (some readers saw some of my selections, such as The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin, as somewhat specious, but the gigantic [and awesome] book by Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined more than makes up for the lighter, easier fare.) Here be my consumption for December:

Movies:

The four-part PBS documentary series America in Prime Time

Started Looper (but Amazon Prime flaked out on us. I did finally finish it in January and found it excellent. And I don’t usually like lots of gunfire. It’s not my thing. But Joseph Gordon-Levitt could wear a prosthetic nose or be in a silly 1990s sitcom and I’d find him perfect.)

Books:

  • J. D. Salinger, A Life by Kenneth Slawenski (Excellent! And what a tricky task: Writing a revealing, in-depth autobiography of a man who wanted nothing more than ultimate privacy–but his affection for Salinger is clear, and Slawenski writes with respect and sensitivity. Reading the book has inspired me to reread all my Salinger books, which, except for Catcher in the Rye, I haven’t read since undergrad. (I tend to reread Catcher every few years anyway because I always find something new in it. I think I’ll find even more this time).
  • How to Read a Person Like a Book (My mom lent me this book and it drove me nuts. The information is probably useful and somewhat accurate, but the big problem was that it was written in the 1970s and the authors use “he” for almost all examples, and I couldn’t tell if they were referring to men specifically or just using sexist language.)
  • Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (I read Always Looking Up earlier this year, so I thought I’d go back and read Fox’s first memoir).
  • Anita Hill’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home (Eloquent, educational, and inspirational)
  • Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland (Angry. Don’t read before bed.)
  • The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans by Mickey Edwards (I loved this book and I admire Mickey Edwards. This is one Republican [or former Republican] I’d vote for.  His ideas make perfect sense to me–a new approach to determining Speaker and districts, creating open primaries, and more–and I truly believe our democratic system would work so much better if all of his ideas were implemented.

2012 totals:

Movies: 52

Books: 50

Keep in mind that these numbers don’t reflect fiction books (of which there were only a few) and movies that I’d already seen–unless it had been ten years since I’d last seen the movie. (That means that the TBS A Christmas Story marathon and the multiple times I caught Shawshank Dedemption on cable do not count). Also, I have a confession: I didn’t finish the Anita Hill book until 2013. Just a day or two in. I’m giving myself a pass because I didn’t start the challenge until a week into 2012 . . .

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Book Review and Giveaway: Bluff by Lenore Skomal

December 23, 2012 at 11:21 am (Book Review, Writing/Language) (, , , )

I’m cutting it too closely for comfort in my 50/50 challenge (to read 50 nonfiction books in 2012), but when the opportunity to get my hands on Bluff came along to read and review on behalf of Novel Publicity, I couldn’t resist. The description of the book lured me in:

Jude Black lives in that in-between, twilight place teetering on death but clinging to life in order to bring her baby into this world. Only she knows the circumstances surrounding her mysterious fall off the bluff that landed her in the hospital being kept alive by medical intervention. Only she knows who the father of her baby is. In this poignantly crafted literary novel, the mystery unfolds and the suspense builds as the consequences of Jude’s decisions threaten to reveal everyone’s deceptions, even her own.

Bluff offers a sensitive look at essential questions such as the value of human life, the consciousness of those in a coma and the morality of terminating life support. At the core is the story of a tragically misunderstood woman who finds peace, acceptance, understanding and even love on her deathbed.

What drew me to this book was the subject matter: I was curious how the book would handle the controversial issue of woman-as-host. After raptly watching politicians and strangers determine Terri Schaivo’s care several years ago, along with newly-reignited emphasis on women’s reproductive health and privacy issues with the last election, I was interested in seeing how the author would handle these questions: the book opens as her character, Jude, has had a fall down a lakeside cliff (hence the title of the novel), and the only person who can speak for her is her best friend, Frances. Throw in the fact that Jude is a long-divorced lesbian, five months pregnant (and Jude is the only character who knows who impregnated her), there’s enough mystery in the first few pages to fuel a year’s worth of Days of our Lives storylines. That’s not to say the storytelling is overly sensationalized or cheesy; the subject matter is treated respectfully and is certainly believable (and appropriately horrifying, especially when Jude’s perspective is given a turn).

Yes, Jude’s perspective is given in the novel–she’s in a locked-in state, often aware of what is happening around her and to her. Many of the other characters (too many?) also get their chance speak. The perspective changes chapter-to-chapter, each one told in third person limited. However, perhaps a solid third person omniscient narration for the whole book would have served the novel as well or perhaps better because the reader is at the whim of each character’s momentary mood. Still, because all the characters have very different views and incentives, each character gives the reader a little something different. (Some more pleasant than others). The full cast of characters, along with the tireless list of controversial topics, may have made this book perhaps a bit too ambitious, but the book’s fast pace and action make the book worth reading, perhaps even making it a good pick for book clubs. It’s not easy, but it’s a good book, and the kind of book that you really want to talk about with someone.

Bluff Tour Badge

Novel Publicity Blog Tour Notes

Wanna win a $50 gift card or an autographed copy of Bluff?

  1. Leave a comment on my blog. One random commenter during this tour will win a $50 gift card. For the full list of participating blogs, visit the official Bluff tour page.
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest! I’ve posted the contest form below, or you can enter on the tour page linked above.

About the author: Lenore Skomal wants you to eat her books. Her passionate desire is to touch your heart, inspire you, and luxuriate in the world of the written word. She is an award-winning author with the single goal of resonating with others. Winner of multiple awards for blogging, literature, biography and humor, her catalogue spans many genres. With 30 years of writing experience, 18 books published, a daily blog and weekly newspaper column, the consistent themes in her work are the big issues of the human experience and adding depth and voice to the intricacies involved in living a multi-dimensional existence. She has won many Society of Professional Journalist awards, the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference honorable mention for best fiction, Writer’s Digest 73rd Annual Fiction Contest, New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens 2003, and most recently, the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award for humor for “Burnt Toast.,” her first anthology of her award winning humor columns. From journalism, to literary fiction, to humor and biography, her writing is consistent, if not in genre, then in message.

Connect with Lenore on her website, Facebook, GoodReads, or Twitter.

Get Bluff on Amazon.

 

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November 50/50 Update

December 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm (Book Review, Writing/Language) (, , , )

I went into November having read 41 nonfiction books and having seen 47 movies for 2012. I have not accomplished what I hoped in the month, but it does appear I’ll meet the challenge for the year! In my defense, I teach, therefore I do a lot of nonfiction reading (of compositions) that I can’t quantify toward this challenge. Darn.

Books:

  • The Political in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction: The Writing on the Wall of the Tent by Theodore Sheckels (My review of this book will appear in the next issue of the journal of the Margaret Atwood Society, Atwood Studies.)
  • The Fart Party, by Julia Wertz, is a delightful/cross/hilarious/gross/honest collection of Wertz’s autobiographical comics. I had read the third collection of her work, Drinking at the Movies, earlier in the year, so I was compelled to read the earlier stuff. Wertz lives in Brooklyn, but when these comics were created, she was living in San Francisco and ending a happy long-term relationships. Many of my favorites is available on her website, juliawertz.com. You should go to there.

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In the second volume, she is fixin’ to move to Brooklyn. Also, she really, really likes cheese.

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Wertz has a new book that’s on my wishlist, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories.

Movies:

  • Country Strong (Meh.)
  • If Lucy Fell (About ten minutes into this film with Sarah Jessica Parker, Ben Stiller, and a very young Scarlett Johannson, I stopped wondering why I’d never heard of it but did wonder why I wasn’t turning it off.)
  • Magic Mike (What can I say? The buzz got the better of me.)
  • She’s Having a Baby* (This is probably my favorite John Hughes film, but I hadn’t seen it since undergrad.)

*The ten year rule went into effect here.

Yearly total:

Books: 44

Movies: 51

I have six books to read this month! I should be able to swing it, and now it’s time to consider what the challenge should be for 2013. I know that I’m going to open up the books to include fiction, but I’m not sure what to do with movies. If I had more money, I’d challenge myself to see 50 in the theater (that’s not going to happen). Perhaps I’ll challenge myself to see 50 classics. Thoughts?

Now reading J.D. Salinger: A Life

salinger

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