Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why I Enjoy Every Book I Read

If you are a follower of this blog in any capacity, you've probably noticed that I enjoy reading. A lot of writerly types do. (And should!) Most weeks (usually Saturdays), I post a review of a book I recently read (imported from my Goodreads reviews, which is a great site for me to keep track of books I've read/want to read). More often than not these are positive reviews, which could convince a reader that I'm too nice and not a trustworthy (read: honest) reviewer. How can I like so many books? Why are the bad eggs so few and far between? I assure you there is a logical explanation for this.

Four Reasons Why I Like Everything I Read:
  1. I read what I like. First and foremost, I don't start books I'm not interested in reading. I don't care how many other people enjoyed it; if I read summaries/reviews and I can't convince myself to try, I don't. There are way way WAY too many books for me to waste time on something that doesn't suit me. This right here is the biggest reason why I rarely write "bad" reviews. Can't write them if I don't read them. Example: Fifty Shades of Gray, etc. I feel no shame in not giving these books even a chance at a review.
  2. I test read. Once I decide I am interested in a book, I give it the 50-100 page test: I read at least 50 pages and usually no more than 100 before giving up or going full throttle. If I'm not impressed after that, I quit. Just like that. Again--there are SO MANY other books out there, so why waste time on something I'm not into? I know that many readers feel like they've "invested" time into books and don't want that time to go to "waste," but here's the thing: hating the book for the first half AND the second half doesn't save you any "invested" just makes you hate the whole book and wastes a lot of time. You can always try reading that book later on in life--sometimes you need to wait for the right season in your life for certain books. I don't review books that I haven't finished (besides putting them on a Did Not Finish list on Goodreads, so if you want a taste of what I'm not into at this moment, check that out), so again we've cut down potential "bad" reviews. Example: Steve Jobs. I even read past 100 pages for this one because I was so sure it couldn't be as boring as it was. Spoiler alert: it's boring for someone not enamored with Apple in any way.
  3. I look for the good. If a book has passed both the initial interest and 50-page test and I finish it, there's a good chance it's because I legitimately liked it--but beyond that, I'm a silver lining type, so even if it was a rough read, I'll find something redeeming about the book. A character I liked, a concept that's intriguing, the pace, the cover design, the nugget of truth buried somewhere inside: all reasons for me to give a positive (though still honest) review. Example: Divergent, etc. I hated parts of these books, but they take a few hours to finish and they're set in Chicago.
  4. I take a step back. If a book passes the initial interest and 50-page test and I can find little to no silver linings, I might not like it. And STILL: it's a published book by a person who took time to write it. Just because it's not the right book for me doesn't mean someone else won't enjoy it, or maybe I'm just not reading it at the right point in my life.  Example: Ready Player One. This book wasn't written for me, but I can understand why others might enjoy it.
If, despite all tests and rose colored glasses, I truly don't like a book, then you'll know. There are books that I finish because I'm positive they can't end as badly as they're progressing. When they do end badly, I feel tricked. (Example: A Disorder Peculiar to the Country. So much promise, so little follow through.) I try not to get to that point, so I do what I can to read books I enjoy and books that make me feel, think, and want to write my own things.

I know there are arguments for reading "challenging" books that aren't necessarily enjoyable, but I don't believe challenging and entertaining are mutually exclusive. I'm also not a literature professor, (paid) book critic, or an editor, so I can read whatever I please. (If you made it this far, what I'm trying to say is: it just pleases me to read.) 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

We left our X-Men in 1962, after they intervened in the Cuban missile crisis. Fast forward to "the future" and 1973, and you have the setting(s) for the most recent X-Men installment, Days of Future Past. In the future, mutants have come under attack by Sentinels (robots built to annihilate mutants). A small group of surviving X-Men sends Wolverine back to 1973, when Mystique killed the mastermind behind the Sentinels (which only sped up their production and added to their mutant-killing efficiency, as Mystique was caught and her DNA was extracted for scientific use).

Wolverine's mission (and the bulk of the movie's action) is convincing Mystique not to go through with the assassination, in the hopes that the Sentinel program won't progress. There are, of course, several other things to take care of for that to happen and what seems like a straightforward plan gets a few snags along the way. Professor X--Charles Xavier--is holed up in his defunct institute while he staves off paralysis with the help of a serum that also dulls his telepathic powers. Magneto is imprisoned below the Pentagon. Mystique is as headstrong and unwilling to listen to logic as ever. Wolverine has his work cut out for him.

Luckily, as the viewer, all you have to do is sit back and watch him/them work. Which I suggest doing, preferably with some popcorn.

Monday, October 20, 2014

An Alice Survey

Instead of recapping my whole weekend in this survey, I'm going to focus on yesterday afternoon. Jesus and I went to an interactive adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, called just Alice. It was set not only in the Neo-Futurarium theater space, but also throughout the Andersonville neighborhood and in several local businesses.

Waiting: for our lobotomized White Rabbit to take us on our journey.
Playing: the part of Alice along with about ten other audience members.
Noticing: all the little details throughout our experience: chalk drawings, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, masked actors, unmasked but strangely dressed actors, treats, and tea were everywhere we turned.
Growing: far too big for some spaces.
Following: the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and through quite an adventure.
Shrinking: down to sub-normal height.
Agreeing: with the Dodos.
Disagreeing: with the Dodos.
Trusting: the White Rabbit despite warnings to do the contrary.
Smiling: at the antics of characters on the streets.
Listening: to the story of a very strange dream in an even stranger store.
Walking: down the sidewalk and
Keeping: an eye out for curious things.
Eating: a lollipop.
Dancing: in a tavern because why not?
Watching: chapter six as it played in the back of a van and I sat in a child's chair in an alleyway.
Drinking: tea under the table.
Playing: rock/paper/scissors with the Queen.
Wondering: how we came up on an extra Alice and what she carried in her suitcase.
Realizing: it was tons and tons of bouncy balls as her suitcase fell open and they went rolling and bouncing down the sidewalk.
Helping: her pick them up and watching her disappear again.
Trying: to learn a math lesson from the Mock Turtle.
Being: interrupted by songs and dances and silly lessons.
Singing: along with made up songs.
Standing: on trial for crimes we didn't remember committing.
Learning: arbitrary rules.
Hoping: it wasn't off with our heads.
Hearing: a spoken poem.
Closing: our eyes for the finale.
Opening: our eyes to see scattered playing cards in place of the people who we were sure stood in front of us.
Making: it back to the theater alive, awake, and Alice no longer.

Sometimes you're Alice, sometimes you're the Cheshire Cat.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We the Animals

We the AnimalsWe the Animals by Justin Torres
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on a post explaining why I seem to like every book I read, this nugget of a story came into my life. While it wasn't awful, I only finished it because it was so short and I was sure the ending would validate the rest of the story. (It didn't.) Regardless, here's proof that I don't like everything I read, an exception that proves my rules, which I plan on posting later this week.

First & last thoughts: This book was happy sad. A fast, concentrated read of related vignettes ending in a longer (stranger) vignette.

Read: in bed on a Saturday morning.

Recommended for: I really don't know. Definitely not me.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Night Links 6

This week was like a weird time warp for me. My boss was on a business trip, so I stayed at work a few nights, playing the live-in nanny. The live-in nanny is always on call, even when she has most of the day to herself, so weeks like these leave me feeling out of sorts until I can come home and use my own shower and sleep in my own bed. Today I was back to my comfortable reality: sleeping in, making myself breakfast, riding my bike to and from work, and hanging out in Target for far longer than I planned. I'm feeling much better, and ready for the weekend--a belated birthday dinner tonight and volunteering at Ringside for Mercy's Sake (for my third time!).

Since Boss's Day was yesterday and Sweetest Day is tomorrow, here are some sweet bossy links. (Unrelated: sweet and bossy is how I would describe my childhood self.)


Boss Lessons from a musician.

Chicago's sweet history shows why it was the Candy Capital of the World.

How to feel like a boss.

Sweetest Day used to be October's candy-centric holiday.

10 things this blogger has learned on her way to becoming her own boss.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

X-Men: First Class

The latest movie in the X-Men franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out on DVD today, so I'll be reviewing that soon. First, here's what I thought of it's prequel, X-Men: First Class, which I saw in theaters back in the summer of 2011 and re-watched earlier this year. The fact that I watched it twice says a lot about this origin story.

First Class is not only a prequel to Days of Future Past, but is also set before any of the original X-Men movies, in 1962/during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well, first it takes us back to 1944 and both Nazi-occupied Poland and the kitchen of a Westchester County mansion, where we meet Erik Lensherr, Charles Xavier, and Raven Darkholme as their pre-X-Men/Brotherhood of Mutants selves. (That's Magneto, Professor X, and Mystique for those of you, like me, who are unfamiliar with this world.)

These three eventually join up (back in 1962) and learn that there are kind of a lot of people--mutants--like them, with powers ranging from control of the elements to flight to strength to telepathy. A non-mutant (muggle?) and supportive CIA agent gets them government sponsorship with the idea that they will recruit like-minded mutants to help diffuse the missile crisis, which (surprise surprise) was started by another (evil) mutant with his own gang of genetically-advanced pals.

As far as origin stories go, this one has it all: peppy montages filled with familiar X-Men franchise characters and Rocky-style training, the USSR, clever foreshadowing, thinly veiled commentary on intolerance and prejudice, and Kevin Bacon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Acorn squash will always be my first squash. Spaghetti squash might turn out to be my favorite, and butternut is super easy/versatile, but acorn is where I'm learning the culinary ropes of winter gourds. Last year I sliced up the acorn squash I picked up randomly at aldi, topped each slice with butter and brown sugar, and roasted it to creamy perfection. This year, I'm starting off with something more savory than sweet: stuffed squash. I leaned on Martha Stewart for the basics, but played around a bit with textures and flavors.

Here's her take (with my substitutions/additions in parenthesis):

    • 2 acorn squash, halved crosswise and seeded (I only used one, but still used about 1 c rice)
    • Salt and pepper
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 1/2 pound cremini or button mushrooms, trimmed and diced small (I used white)
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
    • (1 carrot, peeled and diced)
    • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 cup long-grain white rice (I used a rice pilaf mix)
    • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

    • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, season cut sides of squash with salt and pepper, drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, and turn cut sides down. Cover sheet tightly with foil and roast until tender, about 35 minutes.

    • Meanwhile, in a medium straight-sided skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms, onion, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are golden, 8 minutes. Add rice and broth and bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 20 minutes. (I used a regular pot and just added in my veggies--carrots, mushrooms, onion--to cook along with the pilaf.)

    • Remove squash from oven and heat broiler. Carefully scoop out 2 to 3 tablespoons flesh from each squash half and stir into rice; season with salt and pepper. Divide rice mixture among squash halves, sprinkle with Parmesan, and broil until melted, 2 minutes. (I had plenty of rice pilaf to spare, so these were not only stuffed, but overflowing acorn squash. Still super tasty.)

  • Can be scooped out and served in one dish, or enjoyed straight from the squash bowls!