Books Read in January

My pledge to read about 70 books and no more is not going to work if I keep finding excellent young adult fiction. Young adult fiction these days is well written, interesting and tends to come in series. I can also read it even faster than “normal” books. Do you want to read more good books without putting in more effort than you do slogging through “grown up” books? Check out some of today’s excellent YA authors. Your local children/youth librarian will be happy to point you in a direction. Or you can try some of the books below.


The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Yep. Read it. Yep. Enjoyed it more as a play. Yep. That’s how it is going to be with this project.

Catherine Fisher
Read for Mock Printz Workshop.

This book contains a great concept: that the prison is alive. This was my second most enjoyed Mock Printz book, though my sentiments were not shared by very many of the workshop participants. Aside from the interesting premise, I also liked that the entire book kept the main characters apart, while still building tension. The ending I did not like as it was clearly a set up for a sequel. My rule is that if there is going to be a series/sequel, it should be a happy surprise, not clearly obvious by the last page of the book.

Ines of My Soul
Isabel Allende
I did not like this book very much and only finished it because it was a book group book. My problems were twofold: First, the conquistadors were incredibly awful people and the book was very violent in disturbing ways that made my want to stop reading. Secondly, I find Allende’s prose rather dense, so I couldn’t just skim though it.

I did enjoy the main character and the fate of a minor character. As I journeyed along the bloody road with Ines, I gradually grew desensitized to the violence. It was much like the movie Fargo. Once I got to the wood chipper scene in that movie I laughed.

In the book group discussion, parallels were drawn between Allende and the main character.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safer Foer
If Dave Eggers handn’t already stolen the description for his novel, I would say this book is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. After finishing this–the second time through for me–I just sat for awhile, holding the book in my hands. For such a quick and funny read, this is a weighty tome. But while the subject matter gives me “heavy boots” my love for the character can’t help but buoy me.

4th Period English
Judith Arcana
I tripped across this chapbook of poetry while browsing through the library catalog and I picked it for its title. Who wouldn’t? This was a fabulous book of poems from the point of view of people in a multicultural English class. The voices were very different, and held forth on their opinions in a delightful fashion.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
I’m always looking for superhero stories that happen to have girls as the main superhero and I’m happy to report that this book provided me with one. And not just a run-of-the-mill “Green Hornet” type superhero, Katness Everdeen is kind of a Batman of her world. But a Batman with less angst and more questioning And no money. I guess that would make her like a young Spiderman. But without the super powers. Whatever. She’s great. This book has 300 holds at the library even though it was published over two years ago and I can see why. It’s got a great distopian setting, a scrappy main character, several moral quandaries, two love interests and a writing style that kept me reading. It’s one of those books where you better set aside some time to read it because you may be neglecting your chores once you begin.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor
Jaclyn Moriarty
For most of this book, I was confused as to what was going on. I followed the story well, but couldn’t see why the characters were doing what they were doing. After about 50 pages, I gave up trying to figure it out and just sat back and enjoyed what was going on. There are nice sketches of adults in relationships making bad choices and how it affects the children around them. Also, a compelling portrait of a girl isolated by her former friends. In that way, I found this more adult than Moriarty’s other Young Adult books. Everything is knit together at the end, but I was left with a perplexed feeling. It all seems to have turned out okay, but was it really okay?

Also, this book is funny, as in snort-on-public-transportation, or suddenly-let-out-a-shriek-of-laughter type of funny.

Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games series, I read this one faster than the first one. We rejoin our heroine to find that what saved her in the last book has multiplied her problems in this one. Excellent commentary on media packaging as well as exploration of impossible situations. One thing I like about Collins is that I am always surprised as to what happens. More than once in this book I thought, “Huh. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Started, but did not finish

Tales of the Madmen Underground
This came highly recommended from two people, but I couldn’t get past the mother of the main character hording cats. So back it went.

Poem for January: The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel

click over here ( to read this poem.

I’ve been having a problem lately finding poems. I have not been making time to read enough poems to discover ones I loved enough to memorize. So this month was passing and I still hadn’t chosen a poem. I remembered a very short poem–four to eight lines–that I loved as a teenager that was written by Gary Soto and called, I thought, “Oranges”. So that was going to be the short poem of the month. But when I finally got around to finding “Oranges,” I found that it was not the poem I thought it was. It was a good poem, but too long to cram in my memory in the few remaining days of the month. By chance, I recalled Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem. A-hah! That would be short enough to memorize for January and “Oranges” could be my February poem.

I have fond memories of this poem. For some reason, we spent a lot of time in my English classes during Junior High and High School reading about the Harlem Renaissance. I loved the poems we read so much that my junior year when I had to choose an author to study for the entire year, I chose Langston Hughes. I think the emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance was a way to gear our curriculum toward something beside the white guys. And I have to say, the disenfranchisement felt by this group of talented authors resonated with my adolescent self. While my white, middle-class upbringing wasn’t anywhere near disenfranchised, I felt–as I think many adolescents do–a kinship with these authors. Life wasn’t very fair for me, either, it seemed at the time.

This poem in particular sticks in my head because we watched a video which included Gwendolyn Brooks reading this poem. Until I watched that video I had been reading her poem thusly:

We real cool. Pause. Inhale. We left school. Pause. Inhale. We lurk late. Pause. Inhale. and so on.

When I heard Brooks read it, it changed from a good poem with a kicker of a last line to an awesome poem that sounded like a song. The transformation was such a surprise that I had one of those flash bulb memory moments and can picture perfectly the room where I was watching the video. I remember that I was not the only one surprised as there was a general gasp in the room and the teacher gave a satisfied, “Yep. Pretty cool, eh?” sort of comment.

You too can hear Gwendolyn Brooks read her poem, as well as deliver some commentary about how she would like people to know her for her other poems too, by going to the link above and clicking on the play button. I highly recommend it.

Next month, stay tuned for how I have found a way to read more poems on a daily basis.

Three sentence movie reviews: Every Little Step

Though I’ve still never seen a live production, I’m a huge fan of A Chorus Line, original cast recording. So watching a documentary about the casting of the revival and how the original was made was a big “yay” in my book. I was most impressed with how incredibly caring the people casting the show appeared to be as well as the incredible talent of the people auditioning.

poster from:

I’m a member!

Have I found more of my people?

From their website: (
The Dill Pickle Club organizes educational projects that help us understand the place in which we live. Through tours, public programs and publications, we create nontraditional and interactive learning environments where all forms of knowledge are valued and made readily accessible. Founded in 2009, we are a volunteer-driven organization, with a shared belief in the vitality of community education and democracy.

I’ve become a member (and received a publication already!.) I can’t wait for my first event.

Three sentence movie reviews: True Grit

It seems that if one is going to both read the book and watch this version of the movie,* one should do that in the opposite order than I did, which was book first, then movie. This was a funny, well-acted movie that departed heavily from the book’s plot. This confused me in several places, as I had read that this version followed the book much more closely than the John Wayne original and found myself thinking more than once, “but nothing like this was in the book!”

poster from:

*and I do think if you like the movie, you should read the book because the dialogue, which seems to be everyone’s favorite part, is even better in the book.

vlog brothers

I myself always have trouble striking a balance between things that are worth my time and things that I get obsessed with for a moment and they are very interesting, but then their presence in my life is not really necessary, but still hangs out and takes up mental space. The Internet is horrible for exacerbating this problem, as there are an infinite number of interesting things out there that are instantly assessable and yet still the same number of hours in the day.

My Google Reader reflects this state perfectly. I currently have 38 subscriptions to blogs divided into nine folders and I currently have 126 unread items. In ideal life, I would read every single Leonard Pitts, column as well as keep up with the super awesome Multnomah County Library blogs and read all of the Portland-centered posts of the Portland-centered blogs I follow as well as all the tiny house blogs and all my friend’s blogs. But in reality? I make it a priority to read the friend blogs and flip through some of the others when I have time to kill. Google seems to understand this, as I think it only keeps the last month or so of blog posts in the Reader before it stops linking to them. At first I didn’t like that, but now I find it comforting as there is no way to keep up with all my online interests without giving up too much of my “away from the internet” time.

All this is to say that I try not to have too many things I follow with any regularity. However, I am posting this to heartily recommend that everyone follow the Vlog Brothers. My friend Sara, who seems to follow many, many more things than I do online, sent me one of their video blogs back in October. It was so smart and witty that I had to find out more. They publish videos three times a week. Their videos are less than four minutes, creative, and funny. Like every other Nerd Fighter, I love them and I think you will too. This last week has been great:

Hank starts out the week by talking about 5 Conspiracy Theories. Hank is the more spastic of the two, I think. Of the two, I would marry John, but would be happy to have Hank as my brother-in-law.

Then John comes back on Wednesday with Top Six Conjoined Twins, inspired by a very large zit on his head. This is also the John Green, author of the YA books Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.

On Friday Hank comes back with Top 5 Actual Conspiracies:

Here is the video blog before the first one I every watched (the first one I ever watched makes more sense when you’ve already seen this one)

And the first one I ever saw:

Also, if you need a workout, you could do the Fitness for Nerds, which is making me laugh so hard right now I can’t type. And I’m just listening.

At any rate, if you, general public, are feeling grumpy and blue or just need some smart talk, I recommend some viewing of Vlog brothers videos

Cian and the Timbers

Beginning this year, the Timbers, our minor league (not sure if that is the proper soccer term, but it get the concept across) will be converting to a major league soccer team. It’s a big deal and the Timbers Army is excited. To celebrate this big conversion, there are billboards all over town with real Timbers fans on them. One of the real fans happens to go to the school where I work. He has enjoyed all the publicity and I enjoy seeing him at the foot of the Broadway bridge when I ride home from work.

See this link for an interview with Cian and a picture of another billboard where he is shown by himself:

You can also see this local news interview with him and some of his friends talking about the billboards:

Best movies watched in 2010

While the book committee was meeting and deciding about all the best books of 2010, the movie committee spent time agreeing on the Best (and worst) movies seen by Patricia in 2010. Here are their results:

Movie that I totally got more out of as an adult than I did as a teenager:
Some Kind of Wonderful

Movie with great performances by the actors, but overall left me feeling empty:
Up in the Air

Movie that I just loved because everything about it was well done:
An Education

Slow moving, but incredibly enjoyable love story that happens to involve a monarch:
Queen Victoria

Movie that I avoided because the premise annoyed me but which won me over anyway:
The Blind Side

Incredibly funny stop motion animated movie that you must find and see, but not watch after you’ve had surgery because you will laugh so hard your stitches will fall out:
A Town Called Panic

Movie I didn’t get around to seeing for a long time, but enjoyed so much I didn’t want it to end:

Movie that never really explained how the main characters were so fabulously wealthy and so I was distracted the entire time:
Movie where John Krasinski perks up every scene he is in:

It’s Complicated

Movie that should be boring but, instead was so incredibly funny and gripping that you should see it.
The Informant!

Best movie that I appeared in:
Raw Faith

Movie that reminded me once again how incredibly dumb it was to cancel Firefly:

Movie where Matt leaned over four separate times and reminded me that it was my pick:
Hot Tub Time Machine

Best movie that passes the Bechdel Test:
I’ve Loved You So Long

Best movie I had low expectations for and really enjoyed much more than I though possible:
Date Night

Movie where the DVD extras are almost funnier than the film:
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Best movie about family life that you can watch with your church-going grandmother:
Dan in Real Life

Best use of visual effects I’ve ever seen:

Best movie about Desert Storm without very much war:
Another good movie where John Krasinski perks up his scene:


Movie that was much funnier than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be pretty funny:
Best bit parts ever by Samuel L. Jackson & The Rock:
Best credits that actually try to make an important point to the viewing audience:
The movie with the best new twist on the obligatory drunken celebration scene:

The Other Guys

Clever movie where I learned it is very hard for me to stay awake past 10 pm:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Best modern teen noir I’ve ever seen:

Oh my god, so incredibly slow it sucks the life out of the story:
The Bridges of Madison County

Best movie to watch with the boyfriend after we’ve attended four weddings (and no funeral):
Four Weddings and a Funeral

Most uncomfortably juxtaposition of characters:

Best movie starring “twins” played by one person, thank goodness. For if there were two men that good looking in the world I don’t know what I would do with myself:
The Social Network

Best funny premise that stays funny pretty much the whole movie:
Best movie where Ricky Gervais‘ sad sack character actually worked for me:

The Invention of Lying

Best mini-series I watched all year and perhaps ever:
Best movie to get me to actually
read and finish the book on which it is based:
Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Movie with the best script whose message left me a bit uncomfortable, but which I ultimately loved:
Easy A

Movie where my expectations were low, but which I really liked:
The Town

Best movie I could hack and you should see it too:
127 Hours

Best funny movie that apparently was in the theaters for a blip, but many people discovered and appreciated on DVD:

Best montage:
The Wedding Crashers

Best books read in 2010

It’s the annual “Best Books” Awards.

People, I read a lot of book in 2010. And, looking over the awards, I see that I read a lot of really good books this year. So this post is a bit long. You may want to make yourself a cup of tea and settle in.

The awards committee has met and has recognized the following:

Best book to keep me in bed all New Year’s day despite
the fact it contained torture AND a serial killer:
Chelsea Cain

Best book that connected new dots about a beloved series from my youth:
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pamela Smith Hill

Best book I couldn’t stop talking about
despite other people’s obvious discomfort:

Dave Cullen

Best book about food you will read
in 60 minutes or less:

Food Rules
Michael Pollen

Best book featuring little gems of delightful writing
scattered throughout a vaguely coherent narrative:

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Dito Montel

Best book I read this year about teaching:
The Teaching Gap
Stigler & Hiebert

Best of the Anti-Racism Books I read this year:
Uprooting Racism
Paul Kivel

Best book featuring an author back on top of his game:
Juliet, Naked
Nick Hornby

Best book about teaching Math:
Math: Facing an American Phobia
Marilyn Burns

Best novel written by an essayist:
Downtown Owl
Chuck Klosterman

Best bunch of interconnected short stories:
Olive Kittridge
Elizabeth Strout

Best book that was delightful, moving and interesting
far beyond my expectations (which were fairly high):

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society
Mary Ann Schaffer

Best book by Audrey Niffennegger that kept me from spring chores:
Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffengengger

Best book that draws you in, sets you up and
keeps you reading despite how hard it is:

Every Last One
Anna Quindlan

Best unexpectedly interesting scholarly study of my people:
Radical Homemakers
Shannon Hayes

Best examination of one family’s life in the Midwest:
Best description of the ghosts among us
Sing them home
Stephanie Kallos

Best beginning wild food plant guide:
Edible Wild Plants
John Kallas

Best gardening book to get me motivated in the middle of summer:
One Magic Square
Lolo Houbein

Best large collection of poems it took me probably a year to read:
Essential Pleasures
Robert Pinskey, ed.

Best non-fiction book for anyone to read:
Best book about a subject I care nothing about
The Blind Side
Michael Lewis

Worst fantasy novel I’ve ever read that clearly
needed a map, among other things:

River Kings Road
Liane Merciel

Best nonfiction examination of matrimony and its place and purpose:
Elizabeth Gilbert

Best nonfiction book I would have read out loud in its entirety
to Matt if I had my druthers:
Best book by my writer boyfriend:
Best book I probably brought up in conversation
with the largest number of people:

Manhood for Amateurs
Michael Chabon

Book that I wanted to like because I really loved the other two I’ve read by her, but solved the mystery very early on, alas:
Faithful Place
Tana French

Book that pointed me toward the author who will perhaps
fill the gaping hole left when Olivia Goldsmith died:

This Charming Man
Marian Keyes

Absolutely drenched in sugar and incredibly annoying book
that I’m sorry Fannie Flagg ever wrote:

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven
Fannie Flagg

Best premise of the year:
The book that some other people I know
need to read already, so we can discuss it:

One Day
David Nicholls

Best tiny book about downsizing:
Put Your Life on a Diet
Gregory Johnson

Best premise for a futuristic apocalypse book, even if
the expressions of the Pagan lead character did get annoying:

Dies the Fire
SM Stirling

Best novel about: prodigies, first (or seventeenth) love
and also math, that I have ever read:
Best book in general that I think you should read. Really! No, I mean you. Even if you don’t like math or “get it.” You should read it:

An Abundance of Katherines
John Green

Best book of poetry by a poet I know:
Slim Margins
Alison Apotheker

Best book for getting me back on the tiny house bandwagon:
Tiny, Tiny Houses
Lester Walker

Best book highlighting a healthful practice you
could easily implement in your daily life:

Perfect Breathing
Al Lee & Don Campbell

Most awesome book that is totally not from our
“overprotective about the children” times:

Housebuilding for Children
Lester Walker

Book that I just did not like even though I really did hold out until the end with a small flame of hope that was extinguished on the last page:
The Lonely Polygamist
Brady Udell

Best reminder of my love for J.D. Salinger:
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter
J.D. Salinger

Best book by Audrey Nifflenegger that kept
me away from autumn chores:

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Audrey Nifflenegger

Best library book club book I read:
First novel about slavery and reconstruction I’ve read in ages and why are there not more published these days?:

Margert Walker

The Oh. My. God. You must read this book, seriously!
It is hard and oh so good, I’m not kidding award:

The Help
Kathryn Stockett

Best end-to-a-series and book I read in one day this year:
Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane

Best book to get me started on a very smart,
modern pen-pal series set in Australia:

Feeling Sorry for Celia
Jaclyn Moriarty

Absolutely worst book I’ve read in a decade that I feel like spitting
on the ground whenever I think about it:

Janne Teller

Best cooking book I read this year by
two authors with difficult to spell last names:

The Lost Art of Real Cooking
Abala & Natziger

Best book with a character I could not help
but grow overly attached to:
Best third book in a four-book series:

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
Jaclyn Moriarty

Best fourteen year old protagonist:
Best dialogue I’ve read in years:

True Grit
Charles Portis

Best book of the 10 books I read for the Mock-Printz Workshop :
Finnikin of the Rock
Melena Marchetta

Best book I had low expectations for but was pleasantly
surprised as to how much I enjoyed it:

Prince of Thieves
Chuck Hogan

Best non-fiction historical book I read that was written for Young Adults, but that adults would also enjoy:
They Called Themselves the KKK
Susan Campbell Bortoletti

Best practical gardening guide I read:
The Resilient Gardener
Carol Deppe

I read 97 books this year. Next year, if all goes according to plan, this list will be shorter because one of my goals is to read fewer books. I’m aiming for about 70 or so.