Books read in January 2018

There were a few last gasps of reading for the Mock Printz. (An activity which I had to miss due to the flu, alas.)  Plus some non-assigned reading of the non-fiction sort.
Picture Books: A Different Pond
Middle Grade: No recommendation
Young Adult: Dear Martin & Saints & Misfits
Young Nonfiction: The 57 Bus
Nonfiction: The Simple Path to Wealth

A Different Pond
Read for Librarian Book Group
A father/son tale about fishing, which is also about being an immigrant and about the country left behind.

Before she was Harriet
Read for Librarian Book Group
Clear text and good illustrations trace Harriet Tubman’s life.

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets
Read for Librarian Book Group
I didn’t love this picture book. I think details regarding circumstances were too few, and I expect picture books to have a certain type of ending, which this didn’t.

Where’s Halmoni
Julie Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group
Two children looking for their grandmother go on an adventure.

The Wild Book
Juan Villoro
Read for Librarian Book Group
Odd little story about a boy who goes to live in his Uncle’s book-stuffed mansion for a summer.  The translation felt heavy; it weighed this magical realism story down.

Boys Don’t Knit (in Public)
T.S. Easton
Read for Family Book Group
Reading this a second time, I worried that it wasn’t the greatest choice for sixth/seventh grade book group.  I remembered the parents’ double entendres, but they weren’t quite as amusing picturing at 12-year-old reading them.  Plus, there was a 50 Shade of Grey send-up, I had completely forgotten about.

The group was fair-to-middlin’ about the story, but had fun talking about what did and didn’t work.

Dear Martin
Nic Stone
Read for Librarian Book Group
A good kid named Justyce, who goes to the right school and is doing the right thing gets handcuffed because the cop sees him as a black guy in a hoodie, trying to assault a white woman.  This incident frames Justyce’s senior year of high school.

This is a short book, and tells a worthy story while examining the entrenched racism in school, society and friendships.

Saints & Misfits
S.K. Ali
Read for Librarian Book Group
A really great book depicting Janna Yusef’s life as a young Muslim girl. Janna is driven, friendly, and has a lot going on.  Her brother has moved back home, she’s excelling in school, taking part in the activities of her mosque, hanging out with her friends.  She also has a crush on a non-Muslim boy, and is dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

While the sexual assault casts a pall over the story, and there is a lot to be worked through on that front, this book isn’t a grim and gripping march; it’s full of humor, amusing conundrums, interesting characters and so many different kinds of friendship.

There was a lot to love about this book, though I did find that many characters were introduced superficially and mostly all at once.  They would then disappear for many pages.  This lead to me constantly asking “now who is this person?” as the story unfolded.  There were also some first-novel-type problems, but I have greatest confidence that S.K. Ali will get all those things worked out for any subsequent novels, and I hope there are many.

Well, That was Awkward
Rachel Vail
Read for Family Book Group
That time in your life when suddenly the people you’ve gone to school with for some time are–what is this feeling? Attractive?  And maybe someone likes you likes you?  That is this book.  With texting.

Aside from that whole early relationship stuff, there are friendship things and parental role things.  Gracie, the main character has an older sister, but the older sister died before Gracie was born.  Being the living sibling of a sister she’s never met has shaped her, and her parents.  Their changing relationship takes up a goodly part of this book.

The Whydah
Martin W. Sandler
Read for Librarian Book Group
Unlike most nonfiction books, I looked forward to reading. Sandler’s writing was engaging and zipped right along. It was also fun to learn about a pirate’s life, and to understand why one would become a pirate.

I did feel that the negative actions of pirates were downplayed, and there was little examination from an environmental perspective of the process of hunting for sunken ships.  I would have also liked a map that more clearly showed where the wreck of the Whydah is.

The 57 Bus
Daska Slater
Read for Librarian Book Group
Sasha is a an agender teen in Oakland who likes to wear skirts.  Richard is another Oakland teenager. They were on the same city bus one afternoon, when Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire.  His actions changed both teenagers’ lives.  Slater invites us to get to know the families of Sasha and Richard and see what lead up to that fateful day, as well as the consequences.

The Simple Path to Wealth
JL Collins
Mr. Collins (we are perhaps related, if you trace the tree far enough back?) writes in an easy and understandable style about how to build wealth.  The number one thing from this book I wished someone had told me in 1997?  Live on 50% of your salary.  Even if I hadn’t been able to achieve that right away, I would have benefited from striving toward that goal.

The Subversive Copy editor
Carol Fisher Saller
Advice for copy editors and those aspiring to be, written by the woman who supplies answers to the Chicago Manual of Style’s Q&A portion of their website.  Warm and funny, this book gives a sense of the work of the copy editor, and was quite enjoyable reading.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Shape of Water

I wasn’t going to like this movie and I didn’t.* As I told my workmate: I don’t do torture and I don’t do animals in peril and this movie had a lot of both. However, in pulling apart the pieces that make the whole, I can report that the movie had excellent acting, good story and awesome set design.

Cost: $6.00
Where watched: Hollywood Theatre with S. North, who didn’t like it either. (She doesn’t do fantasy.)

*Even the previews of Guillermo del Toro movies creep me out. Pan’s Labyrinth, I’m looking at you!

[Side note: This is the third movie I’ve watched in a month where Michael Stuhlbarg has a role.  He was the dad in Call Me By Your Name; the owner of the New York Times in The Post, and he plays a scientist in this film.  In all of these roles he is very different, almost unrecognizable.  Good job Mr. Stuhlbarg.]

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Three sentence movie reviews: The Post

I found this to be a nice, solid drama with great performances all around. After I’ve seen a film, I try not to read other people’s reviews before I’ve written mine. In this case, I’ve failed and some other Letterboxd reviewer’s words express my feelings: this was a perfectly good film, but the entire time I was watching it, I wondered why I wasn’t re-watching Call Me By Your Name or The Shape of Water. *

Cost: $8.00 (So expensive! I know!  I was invited though, and it’s a neighborhood theater)
Where watched: St. John’s Twin Cinema with Kelly.

*The Shape of Water was not my thing, but the sentiment remains the same.  A fine film, but not good enough to surpass a re-watch of a really good film.

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Song of the month: January 2018

“I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms from the movie A Ghost Story

Listening to the year-end best-of movie podcasts reminded me how awesome this song was. I loved A Ghost Story–it was #8 on my raking of movies watched in the theater. The soundtrack/score meshes perfectly with the movie and this atmospheric song comes at just the right moment. When I hear it in the future, I will probably forever get that oooey-gooey nostalgic feeling of a good movie watched.

“Ride On” AC/DC

Ride On – ACDC Bon Scott from Luis Patricio Vacas Torres on Vimeo.

This song made the list because not many people showed at the regular karaoke get together. It was just Jeff, Kelly and I, and we had two hours. Three people can go through a lot of songs in two hours. Eventually Jeff sang this bluesy number. I hadn’t heard it, but it’s my type of chilled-out song.

Interestingly, it’s hard to find a Bon Scott version of this song on YouTube. Hence the Vimeo link.

Three sentence movie reviews: Clouds of Sils Maria

Even though this is written and directed by a man, I think this is the kind of film we would see a lot more of, if more women were in charge in Hollywood.  Here, you’ve got a good slice-of-life with Binoche and Stewart as actress/assistant during a turning point in Binoche’s career.  It’s engrossing to watch the characters talk about art and life while observing and sometimes commenting on their life choices.*

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home

*The landscape is also quite beautiful.

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Recipe and phone number

I’ve got a three-ring binder of recipes. Sometimes it needs to be culled.
This recipe was hand copied from a cookbook my roommate had. It was back when I had to walk to the library, or use the copier in the grocery store, to reproduce something. Digital cameras were just getting started so most of the time it was easier to hand copy. I don’t think I’ve made Michael’s Peanut Butter Cookies since I left Massachusetts, so it’s time to let this recipe go.

I did want to capture some other things that used to happen. Jotting my roommate Jill’s work number on this piece of paper shows a few things. One was calling people at their place of employment used to be a thing you had to do if you wanted to talk to them during work. When I worked for Whole Foods in the late 90’s the woman who answered phones hated how many personal calls she had to transfer. Though some people had cell phones, not enough of us did that they could make a blanket “no personal phone calls” policy. There was strong encouragement to only have friends and family call in case of an emergency. But we had to make our plans for our life outside of work, so calling people at work happened. The other thing is writing phone numbers down. While I still do tend to copy phone numbers to paper in a pinch, the only reason to do that now is so I’m closer to my end goal of getting them into my contacts, an electric file stored in the GoogleLand and available on my phone.

Also back in the day, if you had a phone number and didn’t know what it was for, you could go to the library and use a reverse directory to find its owner. I never did that, but it got brought up a lot in the era when caller-ID was first rolling out. Now, you google. This phone number seems to belong to something called TC Systems. I’m pretty sure that’s not where Jill was working in 2000.

One more observation: incomplete doodle around the phone number. If I was talking with Jill, our call must have ended before I finished shading my wavy line.

Trucks. 90% not needed

Reading all of Mr. Money Mustache’s posts has changed me in several ways, but profoundly when looking at what cars Americans choose to drive. And while sometimes Mr. Money Mustache can seem a bit blame-y when it comes to haranguing people about their debt and lifestyle choices, I’m totally there with him re: cars. And I’m completely there regarding trucks.

I love a good truck. When my parents inherited money while I was in my teens they paid off the mortgage and my dad bought a truck. I loved driving it. It was driving stripped down to the basics: standard transmission, rough cloth upholstery. To this day, something about a bench seat still gets me. Trucks are handy for hauling things, and they’re big, without being as asshole-ish as large SUVs.

However, I think in 99% of the cases, they are completely unnecessary. The above three trucks are parked in these spaces every day that I walk this way to work. I’m guessing they belong to the construction workers who are building the big tower down the block. But these trucks aren’t used for construction. They’re used to get the construction workers to their job.

As Mr. Money Mustache points out in this post, the two things to worry about  with vehicles are fuel economy and passenger/cargo space. These two trucks fail on both counts. Assuming the construction workers are driving themselves to work, they could be doing so in a much smaller car, even something as small as a Smart Car. (Which cost a lot of money, now that I’m looking at the price.)

Yes, these construction workers may use their trucks for other things like hauling things on the weekend, or an after-hours job. But they probably do not. Like most cars in the USA, they drive us to work and back home again.

And do these construction workers own these trucks free and clear, with no car loan? Possibly, but not probably. If there’s one thing all the Financial Independence reading has reminded me, it’s that car loans should be avoided at all costs. If the people who drive these cars are paying loans plus interest, that makes them even more inefficient choices.

I don’t currently own a car, though I do pay for the use of one. I take public transportation to work and use it to get me to other places when the car isn’t available. It’s easy to say that I’m lucky–that I’ve got it easy, with a quick commute downtown. Not everybody has that option.

But I would also say that I arranged my life in this fashion. When I last looked for work, I applied for jobs that were close to my house, at least via public transportation. If the job hunt hadn’t turned up anything, I would have expanded my search, but I’ve done the hour-commute-each-way-via-public-transportation thing, and I don’t want to experience that again, if I can help it.

These trucks may make their owners very happy. But they also might be inflicting needless financial pain. At any rate, they aren’t a good choice for the planet. I’d like to see us, as a country, move away from big vehicles.

Postcards from California and New York City

Another day when the postcards maybe hung out together and had a beer before arriving in my mailbox.
Jan sent me this very fun postcard from the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California.  She says it’s such a cool museum she is thinking of volunteering there.  I’ve looked at the website and it does look quite cool.  Nice find, Jan.  The postcard is cool too. Very retro.

Kelly recently visited New York City and reports that the Met was awesome and that visiting the Cloisters was totally worth the trip.  As I recommended the Cloisters, I was quite glad to hear that.  I was also glad to get this sunny David Hockney postcard on a cold January day.  Thanks, Kelly!

Three sentence movie reviews: Pariah

Thanks to the excellent Mudbound, I found Dee Rees and was able to see her first film, which is an excellent portrayal of a young woman’s coming of age; one complicated when she doesn’t fit in the boxes her parents have checked off for her.  Adepero Oduye is a controlled (and frustrated) Alike and Kim Wayans brings it as her trying-to-be-oblivious-while-also-controlling mother. This movie is a good reminder that even as our culture becomes increasingly queer positive, there are still a lot of harrowing individual journeys.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home

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