Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was terrifying to read in December of 2016, and it's even more horrifying to review in early 2017. In the dystopian future of The Running Man, "the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings." ...Hmmm...sound familiar? This book, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym, isn't your typical Stephen King thriller, but its premise is chilling and more relevant today than ever before.

First thoughts: The Hunger Games meets Blade Runner meets Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984. I was surprised at how familiar Ben Richards' world is. I didn't think a book written in the early 1980s would resonate so well/so eerily today.

Favorite quote: "Protest did not work. Violence did not work."

Reality thoughts: The more I read, the more breaks I needed to take. Things got too real: asthma and cancer on the rise because of pollution, the government hiding information, denying environmental hazards, treating the poor and underemployed like criminals, profiting off violence and got to be too much.

Recommended for: Americans. Specifically ones who thought a racist clown would make their country "great again," those who are starting to see the cracks in the facade, and others who still believe the circus act.

Final thoughts: What was a scary book pre-inauguration is now our reality. The last few chapters had me gasping in shock, not unlike how I read the news these days.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quiet Advantages: Two Books on Introverts

It's a surprise to exactly no one that I'm a natural introvert who can "behave" like an extrovert when necessary (ie, I prefer to recharge on my own and I work best in one-on-one or small group situations, but I don't shy away from addressing an entire room when my job calls for it). Because I love reading about myself and I've researched human behavior before, this wasn't news to me when I borrowed The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking from the library. I didn't read these books to decide whether or not I was an introvert, but to affirm my strengths and learn new ways to take advantage of the things I do best. One of these books did that better than the other, but both validated my quirks and reactions to the world around me.

(Note for those who aren't familiar with temperament definitions: introverts, in general, process things inwardly and are more easily stimulated by sights/sounds/smells, whereas extroverts are energized by outside stimulation and feel drained when they are alone or under-stimulated. This is a very basic explanation and I recommend reading this article to clarify where you fall on the temperament spectrum.)

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert WorldThe Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started the audiobook version while waiting for the physical copy to come to my library, and when I finally read the text I was surprised at how much I remembered from listening. This isn't a complex book or intense guide on the advantages of introverts, but rather a feel-good (sometimes a little too "feel-good") collection of the ways introverts are just fine how they are.

First thoughts: I don't want to be referred to as an "innie" ever again in my life. Ew. Besides this off-putting terminology, I was underwhelmed with the author's choices. She treats introverts like fragile flowers who need constant pep talks and mental breaks.

Repetitive information: I'm guessing most people who come across this book already know they are introverts, so the checklists and surveys were unnecessary, and the author's insistence that introverts are okay, perfectly fine humans was a little over the top...we're reserved and introspective, not weak/sickly/fragile as the author hinted at.

Useful information: What I appreciated most was the author's suggestion to use body scans to check temperament and energy levels in the moment. I don't always check in with myself during the day, which can lead to wondering why I'm extra tired later on.

Recommended for: Honestly, don't read this if you're just learning about introversion/extroversion - check it out if you know yourself, but want a few extra tips for being introverted at work/in relationships/as a parent.

Final thoughts: More fluff than substance, but a good reminder to take care of myself when I'm out and about.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based in research and with no shortage of scientific knowledge and character profiles, this book was more informational and interesting than a diluted self-help guide.

First thoughts: Quiet treats its readers like grown adults who want to learn more about the science behind temperaments. It's written for anyone interested in the topic, not just introverts.

Useful information:

  • We introverts naturally "pause to process surprising or negative feedback" which allows us to learn from it. We reflect on what goes wrong in a situation and avoid it in the future, whereas (typically) extroverts move past negative feedback to quickly to learn from it.
  • Introvert Powers: concentration, persistence, insight, sensitivity.
  • A lot goes on under the surface of an introvert's calm demeanor - we may appear to be "zoning out," but that's because we're spending our energy working on complex problems or processing the world around us, not on facial arrangement.

Favorite quotes:

"Sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion."

"The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

Recommended for: Introverts who'd like extra help figuring out their strengths, extroverts who are confused about why their introverted friends/loved ones/coworkers need alone time, parents, teachers, and other caring adults who want to learn the best ways to allow their children/students to thrive.

Final thoughts: I've always been a lean on my strengths versus work on my weaknesses type of person, and this book helped me narrow in on the strengths I want to highlight as I transition out of teacher life and back into student life. I know what positives I bring to the workplace and to my own studies, but now I know how best to show others my strengths and skills so my full potential is realized.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Different Kind of Poetry

I hope no one needed me to remind them about Poetry Month this year - I decided not to write/post a poem each day here in lieu of something a little bit different. Instead, I'm participating in The 100 Day Project. It's a project that's usually art-driven, and meant to be shared (via Instagram, using #the100dayproject plus whatever other personal hashtag creators come up with), but I'm keeping mine mostly private. It won't end when Poetry Month does (or Photography Month), so it's not strictly poetic (or photographic).

If I had to make an original hashtag for my 100 days, it would be #100days100pages...or #100pages100changes. I started with everyone else (on April 4) and will continue to write one page in my journal each day for 100 days, ending mid-July. Those are my only rules. So far I've filled pages with all words, some words and lots of doodles, decorated quotes from role models, and bits and pieces from whatever day I'm documenting. It's not as artsy as some projects, and it's less focused on a beautiful product than others, but I knew when I started that I didn't want a lot of guidelines and I did want a detailed account of April-July 2017, a period of time that promises to be filled with so many changes.

Cheers to today, Day 15, and to 85 more days of writing, changing, and creating.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Get Some Headspace

Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a DayGet Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My week on Spring Break was all about headspace - I checked my work email exactly twice, and thought about it minimally beyond that. Instead of waking up already anxious about my days, I lingered in early morning dreams, took my time enjoying my coffee, and listened to audiobook on top of audiobook while cleaning, cooking, and rearranging furniture. It was amazing, but real life isn't like Spring Break. We need to fight for our headspace, and sometimes getting ten minutes of it in a day is a struggle. In Get Some Headspace, Andy Puddicombe walks his reader (or in this case, listener) through a few different mindful practices between stories of his journey to a mindful life.

First thoughts: I thought an audiobook version of a mindfulness manual would work well, considering you have to be pretty mindful to listen. I think I got better at concentrating as the book went on, but it was a struggle for me to stop fidgeting/multitasking/reading other things (yes, I know) and just listen.

Mindful thoughts: I need meditation time. I am bad at carving out meditation time. Or mindful time. Or any time that's not eating/sleeping/phone's a continuous process. Listening made me mindful of how distracted I am. Puddicombe's advice in this situation? Think less about my worries and more about other people's happiness - if I'm finding a few mindful moments with the knowledge that it'll be better for those around me, I'll have an easier time separating myself and quieting my mind.

Favorite (paraphrased) key thoughts:

Meditation shines a light on how you think - and it's not always pretty.
Your mind is like the sky: it's always blue, even when there are clouds. Our minds remain constant, even when things get cloudy. Meditation isn't about clearing the skies, or making blue skies out of gray, but allowing the mind to be in its natural state.

Recommended for: any and all - and if an entire audiobook/book on mindfulness isn't your thing, check out Puddicombe's Headspace app for ten-minute guided meditations.

Final thoughts: While listening got easier, my brain will always work better with visual cues, especially for chapter breaks. Puddicombe's voice is calming, and his down-to-earth explanations are accessible and relatable.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Weekend in DC

Things that make a great vacation:

  • Options for activities, including no activity at all
  • A knowledgeable host
  • Great food
  • Naps
Escaping from Chicago for four days was exactly what I needed, and choosing Washington, DC as our travel destination was a great choice - I had never been as an adult, Jesus hadn't been in several years, and we had great hosts to both house us and take us to a bunch of fun spots around town. We ate at Ted's Bulletin (homemade Pop-Tarts!), Sudhouse (patio seating & games!), and Rakuya (happy hour sushi!). We drank at The Board Room (board games and beer!) and Drafthouse (free comedy!). We went to a Japanese festival and the Cherry Blossom Parade. We visited four museums and three parks, saw a drum circle, and rode the Metro like locals. We even fit in a short snooze on the National Mall. It was a solid Spring Break getaway.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


SeeingSeeing by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sort-of sequel to Saramago's earlier work, Blindness, takes things to a more political level, but there's still plenty of philosophy and a few favorite characters make comebacks.

First thoughts: I get that the run on sentences are part of it all, but man do they make this a s-l-o-w read. It's mental gymnastics sometimes, and early on I missed the familiarity of Blindness. The dry humor and my curiosity carried me through until it picked up/I got used to the style again.

Favorite quotes:

"...not only does the universe have its own laws, all of them indifferent to the contradictory dreams and desires of humanity..., but everything seems to indicate that it uses these law for aims and objectives that transcend and always will transcend our understanding..."

"Languages are conservative, they always carry their archives with them and hate having to be updated."

"...truths need to be repeated many times so that they don't, poor things, lapse into oblivion."

Conversations thoughts: There were a lot of pretend/practiced conversations in this book that never actually came to fruition - characters would act out what they would say/would have said in certain situations for pages before admitting the reason why they couldn't/didn't say those words. I don't have anything enlightening to add except that this happened on enough occasions for me to notice, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who does this at length.

Recommended for: thinkers and ponderers, fans of long translations, poetic phrases that last several pages, or complex philosophical hypotheticals, anyone who wants to know what happens when a population refuses to participate in democracy.

Final thoughts: I'm glad I didn't wait too long after Blindness to read this companion piece, and I enjoyed the mental workout it gave me. The words/phrases/chapter-long sentences truly are a work of art.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Watching, Listening, Reading

The sky was blue for about 20 minutes yesterday, but otherwise it's been a long rainy week here in Chicago. We're so close to Spring Break - each gray morning is another reminder of how much we all need some time away. Summoning the motivation to do anything other than curl up on the couch after work is getting more and more difficult. Luckily, I've found enjoyment and escape in a few different forms of entertainment:

Prison Break: IT'S BACK, PEOPLE. (Obvious spoilers to anyone who never watched the original show.) Yes, eight years after the finale, Prison Break 2.0 dares to ask the question we were all wondering: What if Michael didn't die? This nine episode "sequel" premiered yesterday and with close to 4 million viewers, it looks like fans are on board with whatever intense/complex/far-fetched storyline writers and producers have up their sleeves. I certainly am - seeing Lincoln, Dr. Tancredi, C-Note, T-Bag, Sucre, and Michael back on my TV screen is nostalgia I'm down for.

S-Town: What a strange and beautiful podcast. I went into it thinking I'd hear about an unsolved mystery, or at the very least the shady workings of a small town in Alabama, and I ended with a greater understanding of my humanity. S-Town (Shit Town) tells the story of a creative, tortured, and one-of-a-kind genius, with forays into the lives of other characters and descriptions of places and situations I'm completely unfamiliar with. Since all seven episodes are available, this podcast listens more like an audiobook than a series with weekly installments, but pace yourselves nonetheless.

Yes Please: Speaking of audiobooks, I had a hunch that listening to Amy Poehler read her own book would be worth not having something physical to hold/page through/look back on to find perfectly witty nuggets of advice and I wasn't wrong. Poehler reads like she means it - because she does. No droning or monotone voices here, just a lifelong writer/improviser bringing her own words to life before my very ears.

All These Wonders: If this collection of "True Stories About the Unknown" from the Moth is as enchanting as the cover and Neil Gaiman's foreword, I've got some wonderful reading ahead of me. Gaiman writes, "Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything." I mean, c'mon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The City of Your Final Destination

City of Your Final DestinationCity of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about leaving home to find yourself and change the direction of your life. TCOYFD has plenty of mystery, believable characters, and intricate relationship dynamics.

First thoughts: The actual reading of this book was enjoyable - so many poetic turns and characters I could root for and understand. It reminds me of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and, in a strange way, the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona - stories of travel, lives changed by art, love triangles.

Favorite quotes (there are a lot):

"Champagne is never a mistake." -Caroline, p75

"Why does traveling, coming far, excite us? Has it to do with what we leave behind or with what we encounter?" -Caroline, p77

"I will behave like a normal person for as long as I possibly can." -Omar, p79

"The thing is not to let being scared stop you from doing the right thing, or from getting the things you want. That is what makes us cowards." -Adam, p105

"There is a way that people displace their attention to one another onto the landscape that, when done simultaneously, is sometimes an effective and satisfying substitute for communication." -p106

"You must live your life as if you are the hero of a novel. You must always do something interesting, always earn your space on the page. It is very hard to live one's life like that. Novels are so deceitful in that way: they leave so much out. The years of tedium, of happiness perhaps, but tedious happiness. Or tedious unhappiness." -Adam, p179

"And so we sat there, saying nothing, and our chance was lost." -Adam, p244

"I'm twenty-eight years old and I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what I can do. I don't know anything." -Omar, p266-267 (This quote is perhaps the reason why the book resonated so much with me!)

Recommended for: travelers, homebodies, wanderers who may or may not be lost, lovers, fighters, poets, dreamers, and doers.

Final thoughts: Filled with beautiful imagery and phrases, this book was romantic, sad, and sweet. I loved finding out the "final destination" of all the characters.

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