Sunday, September 30, 2012

First (real) wedding post: engagement ring

I know I posted a zillion years back (at least in internet time) about Boyfriend+ and I getting engaged and I said something about maybe doing wedding posts if people were interested. And people said they were. And then I didn't post anything (other than bitching about that advice lady). Whoops. But that's because I haven't really had anything to share.

I'm not big on planning things. And I haven't been dreaming of my wedding since I was little. We're also spreading out this engagement thing so we can take our time figuring out what we want and give us a chance to win the lottery or find a pot of gold or something. So while I don't have any plans to write about (yet), I do have something that's not me complaining about wedding/marriage advice: the engagement ring.

When Boyfriend+ proposed he didn't have a ring*. He'd been telling me if he was going to propose he would do it with an onion ring. A vidalia onion ring. You know, keep it classy. But he didn't have one of those either. Something to do with he wouldn't be able to sneak it past me and the grease would stain his shorts.

It took a lot of shopping around before I finally found a ring. Well actually I found a ring that was really beautiful fairly quickly, but the problem was it wasn't an engagement ring, which meant it was kind of a funky shape, which meant it didn't fit nicely with a wedding band, which means getting it to fit would required getting a custom band made, which is lots of money. I could wear it on my right hand, but I'd really rather wear both rings together. Besides, I like the claddagh that I wear on my right hand.

FYI, if you're ring shopping and you mention that you don't want a diamond, be prepared for people to insist that no, no, you DO want a diamond, silly girl. You're just confused. See diamonds are for engagement rings. After a few stores we stopped telling people we were looking for an engagement ring. Unless they asked point blank, but most don't. I guess they assume if it's an engagement ring, you'll tell them. But yeah, I didn't want a diamond. I wanted an aquamarine. I love the stone, I love the color and it's both my and Boyfriend+'s birth stone. It means more to me than a diamond.

I FINALLY found an awesome store that is all about getting you what you want instead of making sure you're sticking with tradition. The woman I talked to there was so friendly and so helpful. And she got me a bunch of aquamarine stones to choose from. So yeah, if you're ever out on Long Island and need jewelry (I know, happens all the time), check out Frassanito Jewelers. Figured I should mention them by name, since they kick so much ass.

So 78 days after the proposal I got my ring! And I love it. It's not like what I thought I wanted (except for the aquamarine). It's much simpler than I thought I wanted. And here it is!
So given how long that took, it should be awhile before I have any more wedding updates. Although Mom is already ALL ABOUT dress shopping, so perhaps I'll have something about that next. Or else I'll complain about something in a wedding magazine. Lots of inspiration there.

(So I meant to post this this morning. And instead I forgot about it until now. Whoops.)

*Which says is the number one proposal faux pas and shut up. The engagement wasn't any less legit because I didn't get a ring right then. The "propose in front of an audience" thing is on the list, and I agree with that. It says even if you DO accept the proposal, you sorta want to be in your own bubble for a little while. Boyfriend+ and I stayed in that bubble for a week while we were on vacation (we told people when we came home) and it was lovely.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

If you lose a son it's possible to get another--and there's only one Maltese falcon

Even without being super familiar with the movie (I've seen it once or twice and remember pieces of it, but not the majority) the movie can't help but overshadow the book. It's so iconic that even without remembering the specifics of the movie, you know the feel, you know the scenes, you know the tone. It sort of made reading the book an uphill battle.

Think about every stereotype you know about the hard-boiled private investigator. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is where those came from. I kept having to remind myself that this book isn't cliched. The book made the cliches.

Sam Spade is a private detective and one day a woman comes in with a story about a missing sister. Then there are lies and more lies and a missing statue that is apparently worth a lot of money. You never know who's lying, what angle anyone is playing, or what's so great about this statue.

Rather than do a real review, here are random thoughts:

You keep trying to tell me Sam Spade is blond and I giggle every time because no, no he isn't. How silly Mr.   Hammett for you to get that wrong about your own character.

Sam Spade doesn't just kiss a dame. He does it "on the mouth". Which I suppose is an accurate description of a normal kiss, except I kept picturing him giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Or that Coneheads kiss. So you know, not sexy. But every time "He kissed her on the mouth".

The female characters are pretty one-note. But then again all the characters are, so it's hard to get mad at Hammett for this.

Speaking of, Sam Spade doesn't have a lot of emotion. Like at all. I'm not saying I expect a PI to be super touchy-feely, but I expect something beyond "Oh that guy died. Meh, whatchya gonna do." And that's pretty much his tone for the entire book.

Also, hey look! I finished another challenge book! I am in no way going to actually complete these 2 challenges, but I'm still trying.

Title quote on page 190

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. Orion paperback, 2005. Originally published 1929

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Avant-Garde theater: game of pretention chicken?

I don't have any books waiting to be reviewed, but I wanted to post something else this week. Conundrum.  Then I was looking over my review of The Lover's Dictionary, specifically the definition of avant-garde, and thought about how ridiculous that play would be to see. For those that skipped my review (how could you??) and thus missed the definition, allow me to share:
avant-garde, adj: This was after Alisa's show, the reverse-blackface rendition of Gone with the Wind, including songs from the Empire Records soundtrack and an interval of nineteenth-century German poetry, recited with a lisp. "What does avant-garde mean, anyway?" I asked. "I believes it translates as favor to your friends," you replied.
 And this reminded me of a ridiculous production of Pericles I saw and have decided must be shared.

Back in my freshman year of college I was taking a Shakespeare's Tragedies class and we were given the assignment (along with free tickets) to see a production of Pericles done by the A.R.T. I did not know what I was in for. Rather than explain to you the plot, or try to dig up my review, let me tell you the bits and pieces I remember. I want to note it's really not important you know the plot of the play to appreciate these. I'm not sure the director knew it.
  • Woman wearing panties, the pelt of a Muppet, shoes that bordered closer to "stilts" than "platforms," and nothing else.
  • A little girl dressed in all white carries a huge gold beach ball onto the stage. She takes a step, throws the ball high in the air, catches it, repeat. Until she's across the stage.
  • Pericles wears what appears to be a thong made out of a bed sheet.
  • A person in a tan body suit, a pink sarong, and a gorilla mask dances across the stage
Just as Shakespeare imagined it. Photo by Richard Feldman
 My Backgrounds of English & American Lit* prof came to the play as well and I sat near him because he's all kinds of awesome. He sorta looked like a garden gnome, but as an average sized person and he spoke ancient Greek. At intermission he asked what I thought of the play. I tried to come up with a nice way of saying "I think I'm too sober to understand what's going on" and as he saw me struggle with a response he goes "Well, is it worth what you paid to see it?" I stopped and said "Free? Yes, yes it is worth exactly that." He laughed and agreed.

My Shakespeare prof did not agree however. Apparently the reviews the class handed in were a collective "WTF did I just see?" and she chided us that we were the MTV generation and should be used to random things happening. I never really followed what she meant, and she certainly didn't appreciate my "Muppet pelt" comment which made it into my review. Looking back now I realize if I could have worked animated gifs into the paper, I probably would have.

I feel like avant-garde theater is a way to mess with pretentious people. Because it definitely seemed like they were trying to see how much they could get away with before the audience goes "OK WTF was that?" And apparently for my Shakespeare prof, they didn't hit that wall.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any pictures of the Muppet pelt or monkey mask. However, I did find that other picture above, which captures what I remember this play being like. There are more pictures on the site, and you can even see giant gold ball in one of them, just to prove I'm not completely making those points up, although it's someone other than the little girl holding it.

*This was made up of various Greek tragedies, The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Bible, some Plato and some other stuff I've forgotten/blocked from memory. In case you were curious. You probably weren't.

Monday, September 17, 2012

No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough

I'm apparently on a kick of reading hyped books after the hype has died down and everyone has already read it. On that trend, I finally picked up David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary.

The format is so original, but I'm sure you've already heard how it's set up like a dictionary, with the story slowing revealing itself through the definitions. You never get the full story. You don't know everything that happened with the rocky relationship within the pages. You don't even know the main character's names (they're referred to only as "I" and "you"). The definitions are in alphabetical order, you know, like a dictionary. Which means the story isn't in chronological order. Because of this, the book is interactive in a way. Sure, you're watching the plot unfold like a typical, albeit unconventional, story, but because of the structure you're trying to fill in the holes. A definition on page 132 calls back to a definition of page 18 that gives that part a whole new meaning. It's a book to read and re-read. Which is easy to do because you can finish this book in about an hour.

The format could easily get  gimmicky, but Levithan keeps that from happening. Maybe because the format fits in with the story. The "I" character is writing out his feelings about the relationship by using definitions, and it feels like he's writing it out for himself. Because of this and the fact that he already knows what's happened, there's no need for the story to focus on what happened when. Instead the focus is on what each word represents for the relationship, whatever the time

I'd gone back and forth on reading this book for awhile. I'd pick up the book, put it back, and then the next time in the store pick it up again. This time I finally decided to read it after reading the first definition. So I figured I'd share some of my favorites

aberrant, adj: "I don't normally do this kind of thing," you said. "Neither do I," I assure you. Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on the first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: "I don't normally feel this good about what I'm doing." Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling. Everything else will be measured against it.

avant-garde, adj: This was after Alisa's show, the reverse-blackface rendition of Gone with the Wind, including songs from the Empire Records soundtrack and an interval of nineteenth-century German poetry, recited with a lisp. "What does avant-garde mean, anyway?" I asked. "I believes it translates as favor to your friends," you replied.

ineffable, adj: These words ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

And here's the review from Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm that actually got me to want to read it.

Title quote from page 210

Levithan, David. The Lover's Dictionary. Picador, 2011.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The circus arrives without warning

I really liked this book.

I don't think there's anything I can say about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus that hasn't already been said. And said better. I didn't read this when it first came out and everyone was raving. It was described as YA lit and a romance and fantasy and other things that don't normally catch my interest. But then so many bloggers I like had good things to say that I was curious. When I saw the new paperback version on sale I decided to give it a try. I'm so happy I did.

The book is mostly about atmosphere. It's about the Le Cirque des Reves, a circus that is only open at night, that shows up with no warning, and is far beyond what any other circus is. There are acrobats and contortionists and magicians and fortune tellers and lion tamers and everything you'd expect at a circus, but to the nth degree. And more. And all in blacks and whites and shades of grey.

There are characters of course. It's not all set pieces. There are the old rivals Mr. A. H and Hector Bowen/Prospero the Enchanter. There are their students, Marco and Celia, bound together in a competition. There are the twins Poppet and Widget born in the circus. Bailey and Herr Thiessen, regular patrons and more of the circus. The characters are there to give the story a plot, but the circus is the star and the parts of the book that are the best.

There is a love story between Marco and Celia but it's a love story that is tinged in sadness. They are in a competition they don't really understand that they were forced into as children. Tinged with sadness is a good way to describe the entire story. Even with the spectacle and the beauty and the magic there's a feeling of melancholy throughout.

This isn't the best book I've read. I can't say it made me think deep thoughts. But it was a book I didn't want to put down. It's a story I wanted to immerse myself in. The characters may not be that well drawn but I didn't really want them to be too complex, too realistic. I wanted the book to stay simple and fantastic.

According to Wikipedia the book is compared to Harry Potter and Twilight but I don't think either of those is accurate. Especially Twilight, although I'll assume that the comparison there is only to get people's attention and not because there are any similarities other than they both consist of words printed on paper. Other than the presence of magic, Harry Potter and The Night Circus don't have much in common either. Not only the time period but the feeling. For all its magic,  Harry Potter is set in a relatively realistic world. The Night Circus isn't. If anything the book is closer to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Probably because of the setting and the time period, but it's more than that. It's the tone. To set the story too firmly in the real world would take away some of its power.

Like I said before, I really liked this book. I wish there was more to read about the circus, even if the story with the characters was done and told.

Oh and as for the romance, to quote Book Riot quoting Leslie Knope
"It's the most romantic story ever. It makes The Notebook look like Saw V."

Title quote from pages 3 and 508

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus. Anchor Books, 2011

Monday, September 10, 2012

She was literally too good to be true

John A. Heldt lists Nicholas Sparks as one of his influences on his Goodreads page, something I absolutely should have checked before agreeing to review this because Sparks is listed on my review policy (put up long after I accepted this book to review and before I started reading this) as someone I avoid. That is my fault. I also should read reviews more carefully. See normally, if there's a book that I'm considering reading I'll skim reviews. I don't want too much to be given away. The skimming in this case lead me to believe a blogging buddy Deb at The Book Stop liked this book more than she did. Again, my fault.

The Mine is about Joel Smith, a college senior, who accidentally travels back in time to 1941 and ends up falling in love with one of his grandma's sorority sisters. Romance is not my thing, so a romance has to be super extra special for me to like it. Being funny helps, because I forgive a lot if something is funny. But the book isn't funny (which it isn't trying to be, so it's not a failure) and I really didn't like the characters. Especially the golden boy Joel.

About half-way through the book I started arguing with, just, everything. Every line the characters said I wanted to scream at them and be like "But that makes no sense! Are you insane? Can you even hear yourself?" And of course I end up sounding like the crazy person. I'm sure at some point the arguments I was having were out of spite because, as I said, I HATED the main character and by association, most of the other characters. Because our protagonist Joel is SO PERFECT. He's charming and handsome and smart and athletic and a natural salesman (the best Mel Carter has seen in 15 years) and he can use his future knowledge to make very specific bets on past sporting events and NO ONE thinks it's weird when he repeatedly wins every single bet*. And while he's a geology major at college (which he's awesome at) his real love is history, specifically US history right before and when the US joins WWII and isn't that convenient, he just happened to end up there?** Every person he meets loves him and/or wants to be his BFF. He was salutatorian instead of valedictorian in high school, so I suppose that's his flaw. The more the book talked about how AMAZING Joel is, the more I wanted to punch him or set him on fire every time he showed up. And given he's the main character, that happened a lot.

The other characters aren't so Gary Stu/Mary Sue-ish, but they're flat. Especially Grace, the angelic (see what he did there) woman that Joel falls in love with. There just isn't too much to her other than she's perfect and beautiful and has a sort of troubled past, but not really all that troubled (and pretty glossed over, even though the characters make a big deal about it for one second and not again). The outline for Grace was there, but not the flesh.

Because I never connected with the characters, I never connected with or believed the love story. Joel and Grace said they loved each other and that there was passion and all, but I never saw it. Grace said she was torn between Joel and her fiance (not a spoiler, the first time you see Grace she's getting engaged) but she never actually acts torn. Joel randomly says he doesn't want to mess with the past, but then forgets all about this (and any idea that maybe he wants to go back to his own time) when he actively goes after Grace.

The writing is clunky at times. You know what Heldt is going for, but it doesn't quite work. Or sometimes the logic is off. A turn-of-phrase doesn't work or the characters behave in a way that makes no sense. This does mark the first time I used the notes feature on my Kindle, because I got to the point where I had to write down the stuff I was yelling at the text. Some examples:

"He knew he would pay for eating raw fruit, and nothing but raw fruit, on an empty tank." - is this a thing? Do people get sick if they eat raw fruit on an empty stomach? (I tried Googling it and it says some people might get sick if they have an allergy or the fruit is contaminated. But the allergy is never brought up and while he is eating fruit from the garbage, he's not making the point here that eating garbage fruit will make him sick.)

"By the way, Miss Vandenberg, seeing as you're kidnapping me and all, don't you think you should tell me where we're headed?" - Dammit no! That is not how kidnappings work. The kidnappee isn't entitled to know where the kidnapper is taking them. I GET that he's joking around but the line makes no sense.

So if you DO like Sparks, you'll probably have a different reaction to this, but I don't think I was really the right audience for this. Because I'm sure there is an audience for this. If you like Sparks or other romance authors, this is probably in your alley, and you can forgive some of the problems that I had. Or you won't even notice the problems. Maybe it was just me being nitpicky because I couldn't get into the story. The time travel isn't dealt with too much.

*One character at one point goes "Gee, it's odd you are winning all these sports bets with very specific predictions" but when he goes "I guess I'm lucky" the subject isn't broached again. I thought we had something there.

**He never really exhibits this love of knowledge of the time other than knowing that a) Pearl Harbor happens, b) the US joins the war, c) many Japanese-Americans are sent to internment camps. Of course if you happened to leave pre-Pawn Stars History channel on one day, you'd have this same amount of knowledge

Title quote from location 5695. You said it, not me. She's literally too good to be true. And therefore is unbelievable.

Heldt, John A. The Mine. Amazon Digital Services, 2012. Kindle edition. The book was offered in exchange for a review.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Expert lady asks: Is he ready to get married?

The other day I was in a crappy mood. The E train had all sorts of delays* that made me miss 2 of my other trains, which means that I was getting on the LIRR at the time I'm normally already home. Which meant instead of the lovely grilled chicken Caesar salad I was planning on making, I wanted Chinese food. It's my go-to "I'm in a bad mood and want comfort food" option. On our way back from picking up the food, there's a segment on the radio about "How to tell if he's ready for marriage".

I want to again repeat, I was already in a bad mood. It was subsiding because 1) I was done with the commute and there was Chinese food sitting in the back seat and 2) Cracked apparently knew I was about to have a crappy day so put out a column about things that will restore your faith in humanity that kept me from stabbing anyone on the train. But despite that, I wasn't in a unicorns and rainbows and sunshine place.

Right at the start of this thing I'm annoyed. If he's ready for marriage? Cos the woman just is? That's her natural state of being? The guy needs to be talked into it by the woman. I hate you, lady who came up with this list. So she gives the clues that aren't that interesting and frankly, if you need to be told them, you probably need this expert since one of the tips is "He changes the topic whenever you bring up marriage". But the thing that extra annoyed me, was her closing remarks afterwards.

She said roughly "If you've been together for a year and there's still no talk of marriage then he doesn't want to marry you. After a year, what more is there to learn?"
Boyfriend+ looked at me and started laughing as I let out a string of expletives, because I'm super eloquent when annoyed and tired.

Boyfriend+ and I have been together for almost 8 years and just got engaged a month (or so) ago. Now, I know this is longer than most people so I'm not suggesting EVERYONE needs to do that. But what more is there to learn after 1 year of being with someone? Just one year? I still had loads to learn. And at the 1 year mark we were still in college. I was all kinds of not ready for any sort of marriage then. And I was the one holding things back. When we told my mom about the engagement she hugged Boyfriend+ first. Twice. When I feigned annoyance at this she said "I figured you were the one who was holding out anyway." at which point I had to go "well...yeah..."

Some couples know after a few months that they are not only meant for each other but meant for marriage. Because you need to be ready for both. And sometimes those things don't happen at the same time.  So shut up expert lady.

To everyone that guessed my first wedding post would be a complaint, YOU WIN. You should get a cookie or something. I should also point out that this is my first post cos we haven't actually done anything for the wedding yet. But hopefully I'll have a post about the ring up in a couple weeks! So see, there will be happier posts.

*I get emails, text messages AND follow the subway on Twitter so I can see about these delays. Of course, most of the time I hear about the delays long after I've already gotten on the ill-fated subway car. And I have no service when I'm there so it means after I've already missed all my trains and I come out of the subway do I finally get a bunch of messages about these delays. Which makes me want to throttle the MTA that much more.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm neither "pro-women" nor "anti-men." I'm just "Thumbs up for the six billion."

I want to be BFFs with Caitlin Moran. We'll drink vodka and she'll explain to me how to be a woman and it will be wonderful.

Laura said it best when she described Moran's book How To Be A Woman as "part memoir, part feminist manifesto, all awesome". I'm also pretty sure that I first heard of this book from Laura because Moran is British so the book came out over there WAY before I could get it. I just jealously sat by reading reviews not only about how great this book is but also an interview between Moran and Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess, aka Let's Pretend This Never Happened author). So there was a lot of build up. It not only met but exceeded expectations.

Moran writes about feminism from her personal experiences. Her chapters use that personal experience as a jumping off point to talk about larger topics, such as the pervasive porn culture in the chapter I Start Bleeding!*. And she is hilarious. It's not like reading a textbook about feminism, it's like talking to your friend about all the shit that being a woman entails. And part of that is not backing down from difficult topics. She talks about sex and marriage and abortion in a very straightforward, very honest way. An honest and hilarious way. Because that's the reason I would want to have these conversations with her (or in this case cos it's a book, listen to her talk). She can take a serious topic, keep it serious and thought provoking but crack you up. I think people are much more receptive to deep ideas when they're laughing. Your defenses are down and you don't even realize what you're taking in and suddenly BOOM, feminist.

Her main point, her main moral is that you should just be polite. Be nice. Sexism? It's not nice, don't do it. Because ultimately everyone is just trying to get along. Thumbs up for the six billion, indeed.

I already want to re-read this. I try to underline passages or mark down pages I want to talk about, but with this book I didn't really do that. Because I couldn't break myself away for 3 seconds to actually get the post-it and mark the page. So I've been flipping through it trying to find examples or ideas of what I want to talk about and I keep having to stop myself from finishing the page or the chapter. I feel like I haven't said too much here, so you should probably go read Laura's review. Or you could just go read this because this is the best.

One quick thing for Americans checking this out. As I mentioned, Moran is English so there are English-y moments. My copy however was clearly meant for the American audience, as it explained things like Wombles as a footnote. So don't worry about not understanding some references because the message is universal. And kick ass. Everyone appreciates kick ass.

I've had the hardest time writing this. In part because writing about a book I love is 1,000 times harder than writing about a book I hate or was lukewarm about and also because the TV keeps distracting me, and of course I could go to another room or something, but that's not going to happen. I will continue to write this and watch the VMAs while I try to figure out at exactly what point did all of the music start just sounding like noise. Then I'm going to chase some kids off the lawn.

*Her chapters are all SUPER EXCITED like that, based on (I assume) the way she wrote in her diary when she was young.

Title quote from page 128

Moran, Caitlin. How To Be A Woman. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

August Reading Wrap Up

Guys, summer is over. I mean I guess summer technically goes until September 21st and it is still hot out (or at least stupid humid) but that doesn't matter because September = Fall = no more Summer. Le sigh.

So I only read 3 books in August. Or rather, I only read 3 new books. See it was Moonstone readalong time (which was 8 kinds of awesome) but that meant there were times when I read the assigned chapters and, not wanting to go over, found myself without my other book to read. So I ended up reading other stuff I had on my Kindle. So I also re-read most of How To Be Black and Attachments. That's my excuse for having such paltry stats this month.

ALSO, I had a wedding update post that I was planning on posting on Sunday. And instead of posting it I...didn't. I got distracted by I don't even know what but it wasn't being online, so that will get posted this upcoming Sunday. Unless I forget again, which is a distinct possibility.


Number of books reads
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of challenge books
0% whoops

Books written by decade
1860s - 33%
2010s - 67%

So the readalong messed with the number of books I read/reviewed/plan to review BUT it was ALL THE FUN. Seriously, if you missed out and like gifs and snark and focusing on lesbian love stories that should have been instead of things like serious discussion of themes, you need to play along with the next readalong. Laura is doing a readalong for Grapes of Wrath in October, so you're chance is coming.