Published on May 30, 2013, by

You know what happens when I’m really stressed out?  I eat.  Usually cheese.  And chocolate.  Or really anything with sugar in it.  Mmmmm sugar.

Anyway, when you combine that with what I do when I’m exhausted – which is absolutely nothing – I start to really “fill out.”  Yes, I’ve put on weight and lost muscle.  I’d been doing really well with cycling before the whole moving/losing-my-job nightmare happened.  But now I’m out of shape and, like a perpetual non-motion machine, that makes it even harder to get off my butt.

I need to get motivated.  I need to get going.  I need to START!  Since we’ve got a big trip planned for September, I thought a 90 fitness challenge would be a perfect mini goal to get me going and assure I look a little less flabby on the beach.

Planning started with Google.  I found a bunch of 90 Day Challenge stuff but almost all of it was profit-driven.  I don’t trust anyone that says they have a secret plan to get fit but only if you pay.  I already know the REAL secret: eat healthy and get exercise.*  How do I know?  About 4 years ago, I lost 80 lbs.  Yes, 80!  I slowly put about 15 lbs back on over 3+ years and then added another 5 recently, but I’m still proud of keeping 60 lbs off over such a long period of time.  All I did was eat less crap and move my body a lot more.  I’m pretty sure the same equation will yield results again.

(*Disclaimer: I know this equation doesn’t result in weight loss for everyone and that fit comes in any size.  I’d love to lose the 20 lbs I’ve put back on BUT if all that results is I’m healthier and I feel better, then that’s good enough for me.)

Me at 210 lbs

Me in 2007: Hefty, sad, and in Missouri.

Me at 140-something

The most recent picture of me, taken in March.

Here’s what I’m going to commit myself to doing from May 31st to August 31st:

  • 1 hour cardio and/or strength training workout 4 days a week
  • 1 hour yoga class at least once a week
  • Take a minimum of 5000 steps per day
  • Eat 3 meals a day (this is a hard one for me because I often skip breakfast) and prepare food at home 5 nights a week
  • 4 cups of fruits/veggies, 3 servings of whole grains, and lean protein every day
  • Add non-fat milk and Greek yogurt into my diet
  • Drink at least 48 oz of water 5 days a week
  • And because I know from experience that having a ‘cheat’ day helps me stick with it and not beat myself up, I’ll take 1 day a week to rest and not count calories.

The first prep step I took was researching gyms in my area.  How does a nerd choose a gym?  With a spreadsheet!

Gym Comparison Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet really helped me focus in on what I wanted from a gym.  Tim and I were initially considering Anytime Fitness but the one near our house doesn’t offer yoga or any other classes.  We got excited about the YMCA but they refused to quote me pricing via email – wtf?  If you can’t be upfront about cost, I will not buy anything from you.  We decided to get a free pass to 24 Hour Fitness and ended up loving it!  The location near us is huge, well maintained, and they have a large variety of classes.  We have a gym (or we will tomorrow, when our free pass runs out and we sign up for real)!

For extra motivation, I bought a Fitbit Flex, which will track my physical activity for me, tell me when I reach a goal, and award me badges.  It’s also got nifty online tools to help me create a diet plan and track what I eat.  Bonus: it can track how much and how well I sleep!  I thought it would be a fun way to keep track of my activity and it would keep me focused since I have to wear it all day.

As for the food part, I’ve used Pinterest to pin a bunch of healthy recipes that can also satisfy some of my cravings.  Like I said, I have a mega sweet tooth.  For example, ice cream is a particular weakness, so I’m going to make frozen pops out of Greek yogurt for a healthier dessert alternative.

So I’ve done the wishing, the thinking, the planning, and the prepping.  Now I need to get started and do the doing!!

 
Published on May 18, 2013, by

Since my last post on April 30th, I got yet ANOTHER new job.  My schedule has changed 4 times in a month and a half.  And we’re still attempting to unpack, which is a slow and frustrating process.  I feel like I’m only just starting to get into a groove.  I keep waiting for things to settle down so I can get back to the list because I’m disappointed by my progress so far.  I’m even behind on my reading – I should be on book 13 by now!  Since it’s unclear when things will be normal again, I need to learn how to work around craziness.  And exhaustion.  And never knowing what day it is.

On to the book!  This pick was also from the Almost Fearless book club:

Kite Strings of the Southern Cross

 

Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey by Laurie Gough is a memoir, half about the author’s love affair with a man in Figi and half about her travels elsewhere in the world.  The chapters that explore Gough’s pre-love adventures were the most successful.  The parts written about her stay on Taveuni are as overwritten as the title.  Gough uses so much flowery language and tosses in so many nonsense metaphors that it’s a slog to read.

The Good

  • The non-Figi chapters were good – because the author didn’t have time to torture every word, the pace is quick and the anecdotes are interesting.  The author/protagonist seems likable and funny in these sections, particularly when she recounts an experience with rugs in Morocco.
  • The culture of Figi and the exploration of day-to-day life on the island was fascinating.  It’s truly a world apart – a maddening paradise, a throwback to another time.

The Bad

  • UGH, the writing.  The author finds beauty in everything, which is great, but she describes in such a wordy, specific way that all the beauty is lost.  It ends up being eyeroll inducing.
  • The “love affair” is dull and passionless.  I have no idea why this was described as ‘sexy’ – there’s nothing remotely sexy about it.  Gough spends a lot of time talking about what she loves about her boyfriend’s family and the island, but when it comes to the boyfriend, she focuses on the negative.  I get why, but it takes all the ‘sexy’ right out of the story.

The Interesting

  • According to Wikipedia, the author is also a dancer and was offered a role in Iron Man 2 as an Ironette Dancer but turned it down.  Aaaaaand that’s all I got.

Would I recommend it?  Not really.  Parts of it were really good, but wading through all the overwrought prose isn’t worth it.

What’s next?  Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  I’ve only just started it, but it’s already fantastic.  I’m looking forward to this one!

 
Published on April 30, 2013, by

Where have I been?  It’s been more than a month since my last post!  I definitely haven’t been living up to my commitment to post regularly, that’s for sure.  I have a laundry list of excuses – I worked on the remodel of our new house, I packed and cleaned out our old place, I got a new job, I started working an odd schedule that I’m still not used to…

I haven’t even had the time or brain power to read, which is why I just finished Book 6 a few days ago. It was March’s selection for the Almost Fearless book club, which tells you how behind I was (am).

Geography of Bliss

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.  I thought that this would be the perfect book for me in March.  Things in my life were crazy, I had big choices to make about my ‘career’, and I was really wondering what was going to make me happy.  Maybe this book would have some insight!  And if not, maybe it would at least be a great travelogue.  It had elements of both but felt slightly thin at the end.

The Good

  • The quality of the writing.  Weiner was a reporter for NPR and it shows.
  • Weiner traveled to a lot of interesting places, both happy and unhappy.  The chapter on deeply unhappy Moldova, a place I would never even think to visit, was arguably the book’s best.
  • Quite a few of the messages in the book really resonated with me.  Happiness, at least for a large section of the world, isn’t money and power.  It’s love, trust, friendship, helping out, and being a part of a community.  Giving someone a hand up makes you happier than holding someone else down.  Wealth doesn’t matter, relationships do.  You don’t have to choose between living a worthwhile life and living a happy one because they’re the same.  And pain/stress/unhappiness are, in proportion, ultimately good for you because they create gratitude.  These are things I want to believe about life, so they stuck with me.  If you want to believe that the purpose of life is to die with a pile of money, you probably wouldn’t dig it as much.

The Bad

  • There was too little of everything.  Each chapter covers in a different part of the world, so there isn’t enough time to really get to know a place.  Weiner glosses over days and weeks, and some of the most interesting people and places are gone within a few sentences.
  • The chapter on America wasn’t very good.  Perhaps the author was too close to the source to have any deep insight, but he really failed to bring the big picture home.
  • It didn’t solve any of my personal problems… but I guess I can’t really blame the author for that.  There is no grand answer for what to do with your life in this book.  It won’t tell you where to move or what to do.  That is a good thing, really, but I was so confused (and still am, a bit) that I wanted this book to give me some clarity.  Not possible.

The Interesting

  • I’m going to include quotes here because I utterly failed to learn anything about the author or the book writing process that interested me.  My favorite quote, and one which sums up my occasional disillusionment with my homeland’s obsession with success:

    When Ambition is your God, the office is your temple, the employee handbook your holy book  The sacred drink, coffee, is imbibed five times a day.  When you worship Ambition, there is no Sabbath, no day of rest.  Every day, you rise early and kneel before the God Ambition, facing in the direction of your PC.  You pray alone, always alone, even though others may be present.  Ambition is a vengeful god.  He will smite those who fail to worship faithfully, but that is nothing compared to what He has in store for the faithful.  They suffer the worst fate of all.  For it is only hen they are old and tired, entombed in the corner office, that the realization hits like a biblical thunderclap.  The God Ambition is a false God and always has been.

  • Another one I love:

    “Not my problem” is not a philosophy.  It’s a mental illness.  Right up there with pessimism.  Other people’s problems are our problems.  If you neighbor is laid off, you may feel as though you’ve dodged a bullet, but you haven’t.  The bullet hit you as well.  You just don’t feel the pain yet.”

  • And if you don’t actually want to read the book, here’s the author’s summary of what he learned:

    Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think.  Family is important.  So are friends.  Envy is toxic.  So is excessive thinking.  Beaches are optional.  Trust is not.  Neither is gratitude.

Would I recommend it?  Yes, if you’re going on trip where you’ll have lots of time to read.  It’s perfect for putting down and picking up later, it’s not too ‘heavy’ emotionally, and it’ll make you both glad to travel and glad to be home.

What’s next?  I already started April’s Almost Fearless book club book, just a week before the month ended.  I have no hope of finishing in time, but I’m looking forward to what Kite Strings of the Southern Cross has to offer.

 
Published on March 15, 2013, by

It’s funny how life so often has a way of kicking me in the butt.  I think it’s because I’m generally pretty resistant to THE NEW – the unpredictable, unknown, and unexplored.  It’s not that I don’t like any change and it’s certainly not that I don’t like learning new things, all that stuff is great when I know what’s happening and what might come next.  But the new is uncharted.  It’s almost always a leap.  I don’t like to leap because, as previously discussed, I’m afraid to fall.

When I don’t want to leap, life gives me a big ol’ push.

Thing #27 on The List is to find a more meaningful job.  When I thought about a timeline for that, I put it at around 3 or 4 years away.  My job, though not fulfilling, was really comfortable.  I liked the company I worked for, loved the people who I worked with, and was generally not miserable.  I just wanted my work to matter more because I put a lot of effort into it and I often felt under-valued.

Well, they undervalued my department so much that they’re getting rid of it completely.  Poof, my job – the one I’ve had for nine years – is gone.  That feeling is just gutting.  Since it happened (a week ago – I wanted to collect my thoughts before posting), I’ve felt heartbroken and angry and sick with anxiety.  It hurts bad… and yet I know that this is the push I probably needed to move on.

I have the opportunity to stay with the company in another capacity, a job I already know how to do but don’t particularly enjoy.  I could play it safe and stay – the benefits are good, the pay (though less than I was previously making) is livable, plus I already know the role, the people, and where the bathrooms are.  But would that be fulfilling?  No.

A good friend of mine once told me, “You don’t have to go through life leaving claw marks in everything.  You can let go and just let it happen.”  I want to do that.  I want to scatter my resumes to the wind and see where I end up.  I have a lot of excellent, valuable skills, a unique perspective, and, most importantly, a really strong work ethic.  I want to matter!  I want to help!  I want to learn!  I want to work hard at something that makes me feel good for a company that I believe in!  Is that too much to ask?

I still don’t entirely know what exactly I want to do and I have no idea if I’ll be able to find something that offers me comparable pay or vacation, which is really scary.   But that’s the thing about THE NEW and I’ve just got to embrace it.  I have to leap and trust that there will be a net.  In the words of one of my favorite bloggers, I need to let life surprise me.

So I’m going to apply for some things that I’ve always wanted to do (web design, or maybe event coordination), some things I already know I do well (professional development, evaluation), and some things I wouldn’t have even thought of if someone hadn’t said ‘I want you on my team.’  But first, I’d better get some sleep – even though I feel like I got fired, I still have work in the morning!

 
Published on March 10, 2013, by

I finished my fifth book on the way to 300 sometime last week, but I’m only getting around to writing the review now because I’ve been busy busy busy.

I drink for a reason by David Cross

I decided to read I Drink For A Reason because I needed some cheering up after the bleak world of Mumbai slums in the last book.  It’s a book of essays and short stories by one of my favorite comedians, David Cross.  Let’s be real here:  Tobias Funke is the best character on television ever.  I also enjoyed Mr Show and even Cross’s character on Just Shoot Me.  I thought I was in for some fun.  Instead, it was just… meh.  Totally meh.  Deeply, disappointingly meh.

The Good:

  • I laughed out loud two or three times.

The Bad:

  • Too many joking references to rape.  Can dudes please stop throwing around that word?  They think it’s shocking, that they’re being ‘edgy’, and anyone who can’t handle it doesn’t have a sense of humor – I’ve heard that BS before.  That doesn’t fly with me.  Shock value is not clever.  Using the word rape to describe things that aren’t rape isn’t clever.  In general, rape jokes are really cheap shots.  There are rare rape jokes that are funny, but it’s when the joke is on the rapist and not the victim.  And from a survivor’s perspective, it really sucks to be reminded of your sexual assault when you’re reading (or listening to, or watching) something that’s supposed to make you laugh.  Just makes my skin crawl.
  • Several of the pieces are defensive rants against bloggers and critics.  That in itself wouldn’t be bad if they were funny, but they’re just plain defensive.  They make Cross seem whiny and insecure, or worse, like a prematurely crotchety Andy Rooney type.  David, I’m sorry someone on a blog said something you didn’t agree with, but this is the internet and people are going to do it ALL THE TIME.  It’s no use fighting them.  I might be doing it right now!
  • Cross touched on some really interesting stuff from his own life but then said he wouldn’t share more because he’s saving it for his memoirs.  His autobiography will probably be a great read – but it really crippled this one to hint at stories without elaborating.

The Interesting:

  • I got nothin’.  Meh all over.

Would I recommend it?  No.

What’s next?  The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.  I’m looking forward to this one because life is a little rocky at the moment.   It’ll be good to escape to something positive.

 
Published on March 1, 2013, by

I have a really good excuse for being such a blog-related slacker… Tim and I bought a house!  A whole house.  With rooms and walls and floors and everything.  It’s adorable, it’s in a really cute neighborhood (with plenty of trails to ride our bikes), and it’s ALL OURS.

The process of getting the loan was a nightmare because we (foolishly) tried to use Bank of America and they messed up our paperwork, which made us miss our close date and eventually switch lenders.  We lost 3 weekends and a whole pile of money, but at least we got the house and learned an important lesson:  NEVER use Bank of America.

So, now that we’ve got the house, the real work begins.  We want to do a bit of renovating before we move in so that we don’t slack once the place is full of our stuff.  We’re going to take out the popcorn ceilings, paint almost every room, change out the flooring, add new baseboards, and possibly put in new fans.  All in the next two weeks.

Yes, we are crazy.

After we move in, we’re going to refinish the kitchen cabinets, change out the lighting, and do some other fix ups while we save money for the biggest project: remodeling both bathrooms.  There’s tons of work to be done, but at least it’s almost all aesthetic.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting some updates on how our home makeover is going.  In the meantime, check out our ‘Before’ pictures:

 
Published on February 22, 2013, by

Another book finished!  I really hope I don’t get bored writing book reviews – there isn’t much else to write about right now  because I’ve been caught up in New House Drama.  The good news is that it’s almost over and I’ll (hopefully) be able to write a couple posts about our new living space.  In the meantime…

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo is a non-fiction book about life in a slum in India called Annawadi.  Boo did hundreds of interviews in order to compile the stories in the book and wrote from the perspective of a limited omniscient narrator, which made it read more like fiction.

Admittedly, this isn’t a book I ever would have picked up on my own.  Like Wild, I read it as part of the Almost Fearless book club.  And, like Wild, I had a different reaction to the book than most of the people in the group.  Many of the book club members though that Behind the Beautiful Forevers was pretty boring, which I don’t understand AT ALL.  It was depressing and sad, but it was never boring.  Life in Annawadi is survival on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.  You can not know what’s going to happen or where you will get your next meal.  How is that ever boring?!

The Good:

  • It’s fascinating.  From my privileged American perspective, I simply can not imagine living the life of a slum dweller.  Even just the beats of every day life (collecting trash, waiting hours for running water) are interesting because they are so different from my own.
  • It’s heartbreaking.  The lives of those in Annawadi are built on shifting sands and any small problem can turn into a huge tragedy.  There’s so much corruption and misery, it’s hard to believe people live through it at all.  Reading about how they survive is deeply sad but also an affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit.
  • It really made me think, especially about how to help.  The book covers how charity is misused in slums – well-meaning donors send money to charitable organizations, but those working with the charities lie and misuse the money.  They’re corrupt, as are the government anti-poverty programs, as are the police, hospitals, courts, etc.  It’s hard to read about an otherwise good person using corruption to benefit over their equally poor neighbor, but it’s explained by one character as pure necessity.  When the whole system is corrupt, you must be corrupt as well, just to compete.  It’s no longer a question of ethics but of survival.  How do you help when those that need it most are also the most easily exploited?

The Bad:

  • The writing is dry at times.  The descriptions are not colorful or rich, but that might be because nothing in Annawadi is colorful or rich.  It’s hard to make a sewage lake beautiful.  There are also long periods of inaction where the author had to establish the relationships between characters or describe how a broken system functions.  This may be what put other readers off, but I didn’t mind it so much.
  • It’s heartbreaking.  There were a few nights I just couldn’t read it because it’s really bummed me out.  At the beginning, I was hoping for something that would change the life of my favorite character for the better… and by the middle I knew it wasn’t that kind of book.
  • The end doesn’t really wrap anything up… because that’s how life is.  The lives of those in Annawadi went on, and likely continued to be pretty awful.

The Interesting:

  • Everything.  The book is interesting, the author’s stay in Annawadi to do interviews is interesting, her translators are interesting.

Would I recommend it?  Yes, if you’re interested at all in life in India.  Everyone who loved Slumdog Millionaire should certainly read it and dig deeper into that side of Indian culture.  Anyone who has complained about talking to someone from India in a customer support situation (giving or receiving) should read it, too – learning about the culture, especially in terms of the difficulty finding employment, might make them a little more understanding.

What book is next?  Not sure yet, but I’m going to try to find something funny.

 
Published on February 18, 2013, by

I think I was struggling to write this post because I said pretty much everything I wanted to say about Disneyland in the last one.  I didn’t want to write a boring run down of our trip, especially now that I probably wouldn’t remember all of it in order.  Instead, here’s a list of tips to remember on your own Disneyland vacation:

Empty Parks

DO stay at a Disneyland hotel if you can.  Yes, it’s spendy, but in my experience, it’s worth it.   Why?  Because you get into the park a whole hour before anyone else!  Disneyland was as empty as I’ve ever seen it on our first day and California Adventure was so dead, Tim and Ted were the only riders on Screamin’.

Our cute room at the Paradise Pier hotel.

Our cute room at the Paradise Pier hotel.

There are other perks, too – it’ll save your feet because it’s so close by, you get to ride the monorail, the rooms are way cute and the staff are super nice.  Just do it.

Lego Store in Downtown Disney

DO visit the Lego Store in Downtown Disney.  They always have really cool displays of Lego sculpture.  I envy the people who get paid to play with Lego blocks and build giant dragons.  There are some other good stores in the Downtown area as well – I love the Sanuk shoe store (those shoes are stupid comfortable, even after two days of walking) and Tim loves the shirt selection at D Street.

DO take a bunch of pictures before your make up sweats/rubs off.  The pictures taken of me at the end of the day always look miserable – in part because I’m inevitably exhausted, but also because make up just isn’t built to last.  Don’t bother hauling your make up around or taking time to reapply – just be sure you get your photographic moments out of the way early.

In front of Peter Pan

Getting Peter Pan done first thing! See how nice my make up looks? By the end of the day, it’s like my face melted off.

DO NOT wait to do Fantasyland.  Yes, it’s all the kiddie rides – which, for the record, I totally love.  But since they’re not the “big” rides, you’re going to have the urge to leave them until after you’ve already gone on Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Big Thunder, etc.  DON’T!  By the time you’ve done all that stuff, Fantasyland is going to be packed and the Peter Pan ride will have a 50 minute wait.  It takes a lot of time to get little kids ready to go (amiright, parents?) so take advantage of Fantasyland before they make it to the park.

Do not skip breakfast.

Do not skip breakfast.

DO have breakfast at the River Belle Terrace.  Not only do they have an excellent hot breakfast, but it’s in the perfect location right between Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean.  On your way, swing by Indiana and grab a fast pass.  By the time you’ve eaten and ridden on Pirates (and maybe Haunted Mansion, too), your fast pass will be ready to go!

Steampunky Mickey ears?  Rad.

Steampunky Mickey ears? Rad.

DO try on silly hats.  Do I even have to explain this one?

DO NOT put all your stuff in a double stroller and use it to bash the ankles of other guests.  Again, do I have to explain?  Because it makes you a jerk wad, that’s why.  Don’t get a stroller for your 7 year old, either.

DO ride on Pirates if you have to kill time before using a fastpass.  The line always moves quickly, it’s cool inside, and it’s one of the longest rides in the park.

Possibly my favorite candy in the world.

Possibly my favorite candy in the world.

DO buy some Honeycomb from the Penny Arcade store on Main Street.  It’s my favorite!

DO ride Star Tours multiple times.  I was under the impression that there was one ‘tour’ so we only rode it once last year.  This year we took a second ride and it was a completely different mini movie!  Turns out that the ‘tour’ is made of different clips that come up at random, so it’s worth it to go more than once!

Would you mess with these guys?

Would you mess with these guys?

DO NOT compete against Ted on the Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters ride.  You rack up points for shooting targets and he’s Level 5 good at it.  He also knows which shaped targets are worth more and actually shoots at them – whereas I forget which are which as soon as the ride starts.

DO take a look at the plants in Tomorrowland.  They’re all edible!  The concept was that in the future, we wouldn’t waste farming space on non-edible plants, but instead make edibles look pretty.

Yes, I am laughing because cinnamon sugar is going into my cleavage.

Yes, I am laughing because cinnamon sugar is going into my cleavage.

DO eat a churro.  Or three.  Disneyland somehow manages to produce the best churros I’ve ever had.

DO NOT be fooled the by vendors in Downtown Disney – their churros just aren’t the same, man.

DO NOT visit California Adventure in the afternoon.  That park has very little shade and it’s killer, even in January.  In fact, if you only have one day at the Disney parks, don’t do DCA at all.  Not worth it.

Inside Tower of Terror

DO make your boyfriend take pictures inside Tower of Terror because you’ve heard it’s really cool but you’d never go on that ride in a million years.  This one might be specific to me, but hey.

Heimlich's Chew Chew Train

DO ride Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train in the Bug’s Life themed section of DCA.  While the ride is definitely for kids and lasts about two minutes, it’s worth it to hear the safety instructions read in Spanish with a flamboyant German accent. Also it blows smells at you and there’s a giant cupcake, so.

Six Flags

DO NOT go to Six Flags after two days at Disneyland because you’ll want to die.  This is double plus true if you don’t even go on roller coasters – like me.  If you don’t do thrill rides, that park is boring, dirty, ugly, and there’s a distinct lack of easily accessible sweets.  Seriously, I couldn’t find a single thing covered in chocolate.  SKIP IT!  (Unless, like me, you have a really wonderful boyfriend and you want him to have a good time with his family.  Then you go and only complain enough that he knows how much you love him to be there in the first place.)

Here are some other fun pictures from our trip.  There aren’t a ton, simply because I didn’t have a lot of time to take photos.  We didn’t do much standing in line – which is awesome, except that’s usually when I do a lot of picture taking.  I also didn’t want to slow anyone down or annoy them with too much, ‘Will you take a picture of us please?’  So, here’s what I got:

In other news, I’m all signed up for my glass class!  YAY!  Looking forward to getting started on Thing #1 in a just a couple of weeks.

 
Published on February 13, 2013, by

I swear I will get something about Disneyland up soon.  In the meantime, I’ve finished another book:

Confederacy of Dunces

Book number three of three hundred – 1% of goal completed! – was A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  It’s about the havoc caused in New Orleans by the antagonistic protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.  In his 30’s, the highly educated and profoundly paranoid Reilly has no job and lives with his mother.  When she forces him to look for work, shenanigans follow, creating a ripple effect that creates drama in the lives of many colorful characters.

Does that make the book sound like a fun romp?  A wacky comedy of errors?  That’s what I thought it would be, especially because I had heard this is one of the funniest books ever written.  I didn’t find it especially funny, fun, or wacky.  But I didn’t think it was terrible either.  I’m very conflicted – just choosing a star rating on Good Reads was difficult.

The Good:

  • It’s extremely well written.  The author skillfully creates interesting, well-rounded characters, with their own identifiable vernacular and mannerisms.  The main cast has so many facets and seem so real, they’re practically non-fiction.  It’s easy to imagine them doing their thing in 1960’s New Orleans.
  • The dialects represented in the book are really fun to read.  Apparently Dunces is considered one of the most accurate depictions of the regional dialects, especially Yat.  It adds to the realism of the characters and makes the book more interesting.  Though it slowed me down because I had to do a lot of sub-vocalization, I still enjoyed it.
  • I love books about New Orleans.  I’m kind of in love with that city, especially as a literary location.  There’s no place like it, and the setting lends a sense of believability to the action.
  • The author did a wonderful job subverting stereotypes in his characters.  Burma Jones, Gus Levy, and Dorian Greene are set up to be archetypes – of the lower class black man, of the greedy business man, of the gay partier – but they all come through as something so much more.  Particularly Jones, who was my favorite character in the book.

The Bad:

  • Oh my god, I hated Ignatius.  Hate hate hate.  He is awful, disgusting, lazy, paranoid, pompous, judgmental, perverted, and again, disgusting.  I realize that was the point, you’re not supposed to like him, but I guess I had too much empathy for the characters that he mistreated.  I just couldn’t stand reading about such a terrible human being.  The comparisons to Don Quixote baffle me.
  • Because I didn’t like Ignatius, his antics seemed cruel and horrible, which took all the ‘funny’ out of it.  I didn’t find any of it amusing, much less laugh inducing.
  • The book spent too much time on Ignatius’s writing, which was so boring.  If the book made me fall asleep, it was always during the ‘journal’ parts.

The Interesting:

  • The book came very close to never making it to print.  Despite some interest, John Kennedy Toole didn’t manage to get Dunces published, which caused him to become depressed and commit suicide at 31.  After his death, his mother spent years trying to get someone to publish the book.  Eventually she got the attention of author and NOLA local Walker Percy by barging into his office and demanding that he read the manuscript.  Percy loved it, became a champion for it, got it published and even contributed a lovely foreword.
  • The film version of the book is considered ‘cursed’ because a few of the people lined up to star have died young, including John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley.  It also seems that no one wants to finance the film – though a more recent version was planned with Will Ferrell in the lead, it’s stalled out.  Which is way unfortunate because I would LOVE to see Mos Def as Burma Jones.

*** UPDATE!  Talk about timing.  Just after I published this review, Cracked.com (my favorite place to learn random useless crap) posted an article called 5 Hilarious Reasons Publishers Rejected Classic Best Sellers and Dunces is the #2 example!  It’s a good summary of the book’s interesting path to publication. Please note that they say it’s considered “the funniest goddamn book ever written,” to which I respectfully disagree.***

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Sort of.  Maybe.  It is very well written, but I just couldn’t stand the main character, which made it hard for me to read.  If you don’t have a bad case of AEPS (Acute Embarrassment Proximity Syndrome, where the embarrassment of other people, even fictional characters, causes you physical pain), definitely read it!  But if you do, skip it and save yourself some agony.

What book is next?  I’ve already started Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Which is good, because I’m a bit behind for the book club.  Hope I can finish in two weeks!

 
Published on February 11, 2013, by

Oh no!  I’m already falling a bit behind on my post schedule.  I meant to write an update about our trip to the land of Disney, but I did a lot of lazing around this weekend instead.  I’m trying to hoard my lazy time before our move happens, I guess.  I will get to it later this week!  In the meantime, I want to share these links before they get stale.  Here’s the stuff I really enjoyed reading last week:

– This post about the emotional impact of fostering an elephant made me misty-eyed, and then it gave me a great idea.  You see, I was supposed to participate in a big group gift exchange but I had no idea what to get the guy I’d been assigned, so I left it til the last minute.  One of the few things I knew about him was that he liked elephants…  I think you see where this is going.  Yep, I fostered an elephant through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, mentioned in the article.  The author’s experience and by the fact that foster parents are allowed to spend time with their ‘babies’ if they visit the sanctuary won me over.  I bet my giftee had no idea he was about to become a Dad via gift exchange!

Check the article out, read more about the perils that elephant’s face, and help if you can!

– A lot of posts were written about women traveling solo last week, sparked by the death of Sarai Sierra, a woman going it alone in Turkey.  Of all the posts I read, Christine’s from Almost Fearless was my favorite.  She acknowledges that there are hazards but makes the excellent point that you’re in more risk if you stay home.  It also reiterates a fact that I think should be screamed from the rooftops: YOU ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO BE RAPED BY SOMEONE YOU KNOW THAN A STRANGER!  It’s like our collective culture forgets this fact whenever the topic comes up, but there’s the awful truth of it.  Fear of rape and murder shouldn’t keep any lady from seeing the world (or anything else, for that matter).

– Since I’m already on my feminist soap box, I have to share this letter written by Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and sufferagist, in the 1830’s.  It’s quite long, but worth the time – there are so many messages in it that are still true in America today.  For example: “Fashionable women regard themselves, and are regarded by men, as pretty toys or as mere instruments of pleasure; and the vacuity of mind, the heartlessness, the frivolity, which is the necessary result of this false and debasing estimate of women, can only be fully understood by those who have mingled in the folly and wickedness of fashionable life…”  Reality TV culture, anyone?  It’s interesting to see where our society still holds on to pre-1900’s attitudes about women and minorities.

– I love Maui!  I can’t say enough good things about that little island, and Spencer from the Traveling Philosopher does a nice job explaining why it can’t be over hyped.

This is why I’m terrified of crows.