{bucket list}

I may not have been born in Oregon. I may not live there now, and I may not have lived there for any significant length of time over the past seven years. I may never live there again (but I seriously doubt that). But despite all these very true facts, the one that remains most important to me is that I freaking love Oregon, and it will always be home to me.

I’ve pretty much always known that, but what recently brought it especially to my mind was reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 1995, devastated by the death of her mother, the loss of her family, and her recent divorce (among many other traumas), Strayed hiked the California and Oregon sections of the PCT alone. Seventeen years later, she wrote a memoir of that adventure, describing in page-turning detail the lost toenails, the brutal terrain, and the very real fears of dehydration, hypothermia, and starvation.

Of the five sections of Strayed’s book, four of them describe her journey across California, most of which elicited my response of “Ugh, that sounds terrible.” But terrible in the kind of way that made me about 60% want to try it. Terrible in the kind of physically painful, fear-inducing way that means you can do anything. Terrible in the kind of way that made lying motionless on my bed or in the park reading this seem almost equally terrible, because I wasn’t doing anything. The landscapes were extreme and alien, ranging from the draught-ravaged Modoc Plateau to the “socked in” Sierra Nevada. Once she got to Oregon, though, my opinion had changed to “I 100% want to do this and where are my hiking boots.” Everything about Oregon was so familiar and dear to me, either because I have already been there or because I could picture so distinctly everything she was describing. Her description of the awe she felt on arriving at Crater Lake almost brought me to tears. By the end of the book, I was definitely, definitely going to hike the Oregon portion of the PCT. Someday.

On a slightly more serious note, I do have some friends who either did not like or did not finish the book, namely due to Strayed’s shortcomings as a backpacker. One friend said, “It just didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting,” referring to, I might assume, an expectation that it would the story of some totally bad-ass experienced backpacker who completely rocked the PCT from Mexico to Canada alone in record time. It’s true that Cheryl had no backpacking experience before starting; that she made almost no effort to physically prepare herself for the trek; that she was mocked frequently along the trail for having a ludicrously heavy backpack that no skilled or sane person would dare to carry so many miles. But in a way, these facts endeared Cheryl to me even more, because I felt like I understood them. I’ve never done anything as crazy/awesome as hiking the PCT, but I understand what it’s like to be so blinded by a goal that you lose sight of rationality. And even more so, I understand that Cheryl’s journey was one of redemption. And you don’t practice redemption. You don’t prepare yourself for it. You embark upon the journey and you suffer through it until you achieve it. From the pain of hitting rock bottom, sometimes it requires pain of a different sort to bring you back up.

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{fangirl}

It has taken me literally all summer to read Look Homeward, Angel. (And I’m still not done. Shh. This is embarrassing.) One of the myriad reasons I could choose to blame for this is that months ago, I set aside the summer to catch up on all the television series I’d been putting off during what I still refer to as the “school year.” One of these was Downton Abbey.

Even though DA is clearly so far up my alley it can’t be seen by passersby, I’d avoided indulging in it before now because all I heard was how easily you get sucked in. I, as a particularly quick-to-be-sucked-inner, just didn’t have the time (a statement proved by this blog, since before I could actually manage to read books in a respectable amount of time). As expected, the degree of sucked-innage was high, and I am now fully a DA fangirl. And like the exceptionally nerdy fangirl that I am, I sought out a book about my fandom.

{emotional stitches}

As I alluded to in my last entry, recent weeks have been un peu roof. Coming down from the high of an August move and a September promotion, I dove headfirst into October moodiness and November homesickness in much the same manner as my father once dove headfirst into a concrete wading pool and came out with a forehead full of stitches. Oh, California: You seduced me early on with your promises of glistening beaches, eternal sunshine, and seasonal fluidity (and gainful employment). How was I to know that SAD apparently also applies in reverse? Is there the opposite of a sun lamp on the market? Preferably, a device emitting a constant light mist and scattered raindrops, accompanied by damp orange leaves and a brisk autumn chill? Luckily, the combination of a week’s vacay in my hometown and The Heroine’s Bookshelf were just the emotional stitches I needed.

In THB, Erin Blakemore explores the literary heroines that she (and I) grew up with and their continued relevance to adult life. Each chapter is dedicated to a single heroine and a trait that she most embodies—Jane Eyre is “Steadfastness,” Scout Finch is “Compassion,” etc., etc. For me, the 12 chapters ranged from books I have literally memorized (Gone With the WindLittle Women) to one-time acquaintances (A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe Color Purple), with only one that I have never read (Colette’s Claudine at School). Each chapter contained biographical authoress information, a summary of the literary heroine’s journey and eponymous trait, and usually a personal anecdote from Blakemore herself.

While I see how some may find this type of thing a bit nauseating, I value this book for several reasons. Blakemore did an excellent job of channeling the nerdy little girl who read books during birthday parties and sleepovers, and who grew up to be the awkward young woman who overanalyzes everything and writes in a slightly cheeky, but more treacly, prose. As I say repeatedly, I was never a “real” English major, drawn in by theory and rhetoric; my favorite and most reread books continue to be exactly the ones that Blakemore uses.

They accompanied me to my first kiss and my first breakup, through college and into the weird uncharted territory of quarterlife crisis and grown womanhood. . . This wasn’t so much about becoming a cliché or a walking ad for libraries as it was about getting through my life. And it still is . . .

The one minor hiccup was that each of these author’s biographies is as rife with divorce, addiction, and chronic disease as any Housewife franchise, Real or Desperate. Sure, these women wrote the canons of heroine literary that would inspire generations to come, but their real lives were much more failure than success, a fact that I find moderately depressing. Still, they are facts—you can’t blame the biographer.

As luck would have it, the combination of THB and a visit home did more than provide emotional stitches—it’s the perfect timing for me to pack up and haul out my own heroine’s bookshelf.

{just enough to make me blush}

Note: I am writing this while waiting at a gate at the Eugene Airport… Thank you, free wifi!

The Misanthrophe’s [that’s MIS-un-thrawp, because yes, I definitely had to look it up] Guide to Life was a birthday present from my old roommate, who has known me for almost six years and lived with me for almost one, so knows me better than anyone ever wants to or indeed should. So while this b-day gift might’ve given my new roommates slight pause, it was no surprise to me, and I immediately bumped it up to the prime spot on my reading list.

This book is the brainchild of the 2birds1blog bloggers, whose snarky tint of comic brilliance I have been known to enjoy in the past (I just audibly snorted in the Eugene airport reading Mole Day!, which my high school chemistry teacher also def celebrated, although with less disasterous/hysterical results). Being self-proclaimed Misanthropes since childhood, they wrote this set of rules for other people chronically annoyed by small talk, phone calls in public places, and other people in general.

I enjoyed it, but then I am a Misanthrope (albeit a mild one—I hope). I also tend toward a sense of humor that verges on the offensive while I’m in the company of others, and wildly crosses that line when I’m alone. Even as I laugh at South Park while home alone eating leftover casserole, a part of me is always wide-eyedly blushing about the fact that other people are seeing this too. An offensive book, on the other hand, is perfect for me, since I like to myopically imagine that no one else in the world has read these words and understood them as I did. Perf.

I liked a lot about this book, but nothing that I feel super comfortable sharing in a public blog, since I do have a v. v. small amount of class. So, as a viable alternative, here is a list of reasons why you should not read this book:

  • You enjoy the company of others.
  • You have a glass-half-full outlook on life.
  • You are made uncomfortable by flippant threats of violence.
  • You are sensitive of hipster racism (and other varieties of hipster prejudice. Which, after rereading that article, includes liberal sexism? I have no clue.).
  • Your extreme PC-ness has choked your laugh-producing vocal cords and you now have no sense of humor.

Note: If any of the above apply to you, you probably aren’t reading this blog in the first place. So no harm done.

{general hilarity and wanton sentimentality}

So after a week of reading The Talented Mr. Ripley (and subsequently blogging about it) and an afternoon at work spent collating photocopies for 4 hours, I decided to settle down for an evening of fun, low-stress girl reading. As I mentioned earlier, I purchased Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? a couple of months ago after falling in love with an online excerpt. I killed it tonight in one sitting, in a feat only mildly more impressive than the Friday night a couple of weeks ago when I killed a DVD of Sherlock Holmes, an unassembled IKEA bed, and a fifth of Bailey’s in one sitting.

Mindy did not disappoint. The book was hilarious, relatable, and informative. (Did you know that she got her start playing Ben Affleck in a play she wrote with her best friend called Matt & Ben? I didn’t.) Within the first few pages, her descriptions of herself as a chubby androgynous Indian kid had my (male) roommate of two weeks glancing at me politely yet quizzically across the couch, as one regards a slightly deranged person, as I laughed uncontrollably. To make matters worse, I was self-conscious enough to attempt to temper my laugh into a silent blowing of air rapidly through my noise, which I can only imagine is how a huge douche laughs. (Except, sadly, I don’t need to imagine it, for I know it to be true.)

Anyways. I would venture to recommend IEHOWM? to any young female in need of a bit of hilarity and a solid kick in the pants. Or young man, for that matter. After all, it was Mindy’s uncannily accurate analysis of the man vs. boy debate that got me hooked in the first place.

Hilarity aside, I also loved this book because it allowed me to selfishly and egotistically believe that Mindy gets me, and only me. She has that enviable quality in her writing that made feel at once exactly like her and importantly unique. Her humor is spot-on and often hilariously self-deprecating, but she also makes no secret of the fact that she’s a pretty romantically conservative gal who wants to find a good man and settle down. In the midst of my ever-engrossing journey to emerge on the opposite side of quarter-life crises years without a regular therapist, Mindy makes me feel like everything is going to be fine, but it’s also cool if everything isn’t.

All incredible cheesiness and regurgitated tropes aside, IEHOWM? is definitely going to a prime spot on my bookshelf (to be purchased from IKEA at a date immediately following my first paycheck!) and indulged in regularly.

{finalement}

It’s extremely rare that I start a book and don’t finish it. Call it what you will, I just can’t stand not knowing the ending of even a very very bad book. Blogging about the books I read has only reinforced this pre-existing neuroticism.

So about a third of the way through Death in the City of Light, I found myself in a pickle. I received an advanced reading copy DitCoL as part of a prepublication promotion, but such is the state of my reading list that I got around to it well after the finished copy had been released. Therefore, take anything I write here with a grain of salt: While books usually don’t go through huge changes after the ARC has been made, there’s a slight chance that some of what I mention here is no longer true in the final version.

Simply put—I wasn’t a fan of this book. I’m not a big true-crime reader by any standards (although I do love a good mystery), and maybe it’s just that this isn’t my genre. But I found DitCoL both slow going and hard to follow. It’s the report of the search for and trial of Marcel Petiot, a French doctor who spent much of Occupied Paris murdering wealthy Jews and mobsters. Author David King pulls no punches in the beginning chapters, which include a grisly description of Petiot’s secret slaughterhouse and begin building the environment of suspicion, terror, and disillusionment that characterized wartime France.

Unfortunately, after an inticingly gruesome start, the story fell apart. The reporting was too lengthy and drawn out, and I was frequently thrown off course by mentions of characters whom I no longer remembered. There were also a few chapters detailing the lives of Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, which, while informative, really had nothing to do with Petiot’s story. The trial at the end, rather than being a culmination of the book’s suspense, felt flat and disappointing.

Of course, as a true crime author, King was limited in his writing. It can be difficult to turn dry details into drama, facts into fantastics. He did have some success, I believe, in painting an accurate picture of Occupied France and the complete chaos and confusion that followed the Axis surrender. Indeed, Petiot became very difficult to prosecute when the defense claimed he was a member of the French Resistance movement who had made some errors in judgment. What is the protocol for incriminating someone who murdered brutal inforcers of the Nazi regime?

As I said before, I’m not a big reader of nonfiction during my leisure time, so this book was good for me, a broadening of horizons. That said, I grew very frustrated with how long it took me to finish, especially since I have a whole list of wonderful books lined up and waiting. Take a look!

{Is Everyone Hanging Out WIthout Me?; Our Mutual Friend; On Canaan's Side; Maine}

I actually started Maine a couple of days ago, but it’s been slow going so far since I’ve started turboknitting in an attempt to finish a pair of leg warmers before the UO/OSU Civil War game this Saturday, which I will be attending! And hopefully wearing some kickass leg warmers. Maine is great so far, though. Reminds me very much of one of my lesser-known favorites and old-lady read, Colony.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

{anxiety attack}

The Glass Castle had been on my stack of post-surgery reading, and when I found out that my college’s Seattle-based alumni book group had chosen it for their September read, it was obviously time to read it. What follows, then, is what I would bring to the discussion were I in Seattle and so inclined to attend an alumni book group.

TGC is Jeannette Walls’s memoir of her childhood, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes as markedly Dickensian. Jeannette, her parents, three siblings, and several pets have a nomadic existence, remaining in one place only until they completely exhaust their meager resources slash are in danger of being hunted down by various legal organizations. Walls is an excellent writer with a remarkable story. I was turning pages almost faster than I could read them, but was almost constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

TGC is the second book I’ve read recently on a destitute childhood, the first being Ellen Foster. Despite the fact that Jeannette’s parents love her and Ellen’s are either dead or awful, Ellen still left me feeling more optimistic. Ellen was a plucky kid who knew she was in a tight spot and did everything in her power to escape it—and was ultimately successful. The child Jeannette (though now a happy and successful adult) doesn’t seem to realize that her living circumstances are abnormal, even atrocious.

She has—for the most part—a happy family with a sense of adventure. When she lights herself on fire cooking hot dogs at the age of three, the lessons her parents teach her are to be stronger than any threat, to not let fear overtake her, and not to trust doctors. The scary thing is that, with the exception of the last one, I agree with that! But I don’t agree with a toddler lighting themselves on fire because they have to prepare food for themselves! Gah. Stress.

The Walls parents are brilliant. They teach Jeannette and her siblings literature, math, philosophy, physics, astronomy, and logic (Jeannette later attended Barnard with a four-year scholarship). Their logic on life generally makes sense, as I mentioned above. It’s just when you put it into practice and add alcoholism, shirked responsibilities, and a great deal of paranoia, this logic devolves into a state that leaves me (the reader) screaming, “How could this happen to someone? And how did she ever get where she is now?” Jeannette Walls teaches us that rotted meat and rusty nails are no barrier to being awesome and brilliant and alive, and that’s a lesson worth learning.

The happy family dream begins to fall apart when Jeannette is in her early teens. The hunger, pain, and helplessness is no longer a fun adventure. Plus, her dad’s drinking gets much worse, as does her mom’s denial of reality. Through a series of miracles, the Walls children find their way to New York City, just like the scrappy, experience-hardened kids they are.

TGC will make you question pretty much everything in your own upbringing and, probably, your whole life. The Walls parents just seem so great at times! I loved when Jeannette makes her own braces/headgear out of a rubber band, a coat hanger, and a Maxi pad. How cool is that? But inevitably, Mr. Walls can’t get a job, a relative dies, CPS comes knocking, the kitchen roof caves in, and rats eat all their food, and then the Walls are on the road again. It’s the story of a vicious cycle that kept me in constant anxiety because I couldn’t help thinking that if I ever fell into a life like that, I probably wouldn’t be able to get out. Yikes.