the books of summer

It feels like each time I sit down to review a stack of books, I’m watching an awards show. In this case, it was the Emmys. I’ll try not to let them influence me and severely depress you. 




Best audiobook

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple

This book had my heart the moment it started. The narrator had the perfect quirky voice — think Paula Poundstone or Joan Cusack — to lead me on this weird, wonderful journey. I always find it refreshing when a book takes place in our actual, current universe, and this one references so many things that actually exist: Ted Talks,  Microsoft, etc.

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

Best memoir in essay form

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris

Sorry, Aisha Tyler. You just can’t compete with David Sedaris. (Also, Aisha, real talk: I just couldn’t finish your book.)

“Their house had real hard-cover books in it, and you often saw them lying open on the sofa, the words still warm from being read.” 

Best sequel

Revenge Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger

I thought Revenge Wears Prada would be a quick palate cleanser and I would roll my eyes through most of it. Well… yeah, it was silly. And yeah, it was probably only written to  revive a cash cow. And yeah, there’s a character named Clem. But, it made me smile. DEAL WITH IT. (Also, Meryl Streep was acting out the story in my head. Never a bad thing.)

Strangest biography

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

I found out later that this glimpse into Sylvia Plath’s year as a guest editor at Mademoiselle Magazine was written by a poet. THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. Because, nothing in this book made sense. It was basically a biography written in poetry. It was mildly interesting. And made me want to work at a magazine and re-read The Bell Jar. So there’s that.

Best love story

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell.

A chubby redhead and a Korean kid who loves The Smiths fall in love. Hearts melt. 

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” 

Worth the slow beginning

The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

For some reason, it took me a week and a half to get past page 7 of The Engagements. But I didn’t give up, and by the end I was delighted and satisfied and slapping myself on the forehead for not figuring out how all the stories tied together (this book tells the story of several relationships and their corresponding diamond rings in, for lack of a better term, Love Actually style). The desire to slap yourself on the forehead is the sign of a fun read. 

Also, I appreciated the based-in-fact story arc about the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign. J. Courtney Sullivan (Dear J. Courtney, can I just call you Courtney?) is good at weaving in a bonus historical trivia lesson; in her last book, Maine, it was the Cocoanut Grove fire.  

Best overall

Open, Andre Agassi

YOU GUYS. I have never been quite so persistent about a book before, but ask my co-workers — I could not stop talking about Open, Andre Agassi’s autobiography. I’m not sure why it captivated me so much, but I have three theories. 

One: Hearing the behind the scenes of inspiring people — even when you already know the ending — is equal parts inspiring and infuriating (infuriating because I’m already past my prime to be a professional tennis player) 

Two: the constant, repetitive narrations of tennis matches was as soothing and pleasant as actually watching a tennis match. If you passed me in traffic while I was listening to this book, you may have seen me idly moving my head from side to side. 

Three: I hit the climax of the book the week I saw Hanson, so that may have activated the weird teenage obsessive part of my brain. There were about two days where I was completely swooning over vintage Andre. 

“Big dreams are so damn tiring.” 

Other notable positives: 
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
You Are One of Them, Elliot Holt
AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

Notable negatives: 
Freud’s Mistress, Karen Mack/Jennifer Kaufman
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, Elizabeth Silver
The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner 
Another Piece of My Heart, Jane Green 

Notable mehs: 
The Smart One, Jennifer Close

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blogtember: fiction


Today’s Blogtember prompt put a lot of us out of our elements: a fiction prompt. I was happy to give it a shot since I’ve been tossing around the idea of participating in NanoWriMo. I was also happy to give it a shot because I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than sitting on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket, listening to the rain, creating an imaginary [4 paragraph] world.  

The prompt: A piece of fiction that starts with:

To say I was dreading the dinner party would be the understatement of the century.

The second shipment of our things was lost somewhere over the Atlantic, so I was stuck with one of two outfits:my travel outfit, leggings and a giant t-shirt, or my unpacking outfit, leggings and a slightly smaller t-shirt. 

“You look beautiful,” Sam reassured me.
“Your lying hasn’t improved recently,” I reassured him.

He couldn’t possibly expect me to meet his new boss and her wife in a t-shirt. It was so… American. “I should just throw on a fanny pack to complete the ensemble,” I said.

We moved to Amsterdam five days ago, and I might as well have had a scarlet “A” on my chest. American. 




The story had to stop there, my friends, because this is what happens when you stop keeping track of your dog to focus on your blog:


The Weekly(ish) Carol




Now that I’ve brought you up to speed on Carol Convention, I thought I would introduce you to the cast of Carols… and give them a bit of a clue in the process. 


the Carols in 2012



KTO and me in 2001, bowling after junior prom. 



KTO: In 1997, KTO’s mom made the crucial choice to drop her off incredibly early for my bat mitzvah party. It was at the Embassy Suites, which as a kid seemed like a beautiful palace with a soaring atrium (and today feels just like another chain hotel), and KTO and I wandered around the atrium where we ran into our middle school PE teacher. For some reason, this was hilarious to us — like, best friend making material. 

What KTO will love about Carol Convention 2013: The fall weather! Curling up with a scarf and a jacket and drinking/eating something pumpkin flavored. 



Rachel on the left, me on the right — 1998

Rachel: The time honored practice of alphabetization led Rachel and I together the spring of our eighth grade year. Her last name started with Spin, I was Spie, and we were housed together at a regional youth group retreat in Memphis, where we had a “spa night” that consisted of soaking our feet in warm milk. It was the first of several bad spa experiences; years later we would visit the spa at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas and I would be told by the aesthetician that I had pimples like a “teenager” (this was like, 8 years ago. I’m still bitter, okay?) 

What Rachel should pack for Carol Convention 2013: An extra sweater. I have a feeling the phrase “IT’S ABOUT TO SNOW!” — Rachel’s favorite when it gets below 75 degrees —  will be uttered many, many times.



AJL in Austin

AJL: When Rachel and I went to college together, I met A, Rachel’s friend from high school. Besides being just a great friend in general, A is the first friend I turn to when I feel compelled to share a new song I love, important celebrity news (I was in the bathroom at my college gym when I got A’s text about Heath Ledger), or a book that I loved. She also has the uncanny ability to send gifts that are exactly what I would pick out for myself, which is obviously why I keep her around. (I know A will silently hate me if I don’t point out that she is more than just celebrity gossip and fashion advice ;))

What A will love about Carol Convention 2013: The celebrity homes, pastries at cute coffeeshops for breakfast, and the playlist I’ll be putting together for our 4 hour road trip.




K: All I knew about K for years was that Rachel and AJL, who were her best friends in high school, called her “Cornbread”. Needless to say, she had a lot to live up to.  K can speak intelligently on any topic, but can just as easily segue into something as plebeian as a hula hoop routine to Party in the USA (see above) or writing a top notch FB status update from her dog. 

What K will love about Carol Convention 2013: Although she will be disappointed that we missed the great meeting of minds that occurs in our secret location every year, the views will make up for it. 


Dana and K in New Orleans

Dana: Dana, Rachel and I lived in the same dorm our freshman year of college, and later lived together in an apartment on campus, where we enjoyed watching Sex and the City, following the exciting lives of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, and singing Christmas Carols (of the Britney Spears variety) in July. Dana grew up in Thailand and has a tattoo, therefore, she is our exotic and worldly friend. For reference, she was also our “Miranda” when people were still defining themselves as Sex and the City Characters. (I think I was Steve.)

What Dana will love about CC2013: The hiking and the biking. 



Carol Convention II


Leila: Although she won’t be able to make it this year, Leila still deserves a place in the Carol hall of fame — I mean, her karaoke performance of 9 to 5 at the first Carol Convention will be revered for years to come. I’ve known Leila since middle school, and together with KTO we basically ruled our high school… if “ruling high school” means “spending Friday nights giving fake names to the lady at the Domino’s drive thru and laughing hysterically”.  We’ll miss you Leila! 


Me and Leila at camp in 1998. Items of note: frog boxers. High socks. 


P.S.


A memory I would love to relive: A night with Hanson

Did you miss me?



I’m here today to talk about an experience I want to relive. Last time we left off, D had me — her 12 year old self — explain why it was so monumental that she would be attending a Hanson concert. Today, I’m here to interview Future D about her experience.

But first, I need your help with the popular kids again. They all started wearing Adidas, so I bought a pair of Adidas shoes. And then nothing happened. So I bought an Adidas t-shirt. Still no friends. Do you think I need to switch to the Adidas fanny pack? And no one was even impressed that I got Snow White’s autograph! Jerks. 

Anyway, back to my assigned task: interviewing my future self, Mrs. Zac Hanson.


D at 12: So, set the stage for me. There were millions of fans, right? In a giant stadium? And you paid hundreds of dollars to get in?

D at 29: Well, not quite. Hanson isn’t as popular as they used to be. The show was free… and I would say there were hundreds of people there. Also, can I tell you something you’re going to find hard to believe?

D@12: I already don’t believe any of this.

D@29: Isaac is the cutest Hanson.



D@12: That isn’t even funny.

D@29: I think it’s proof of my adulthood. I own a house, have a retirement account, but it didn’t hit me until I admitted to myself that the oldest, more mature Hanson is the cutest one.

D@12: Dude, you and Zac are MARRIED. You can’t just go around saying you like his brother! 

D@29: I’m not married to Zac Hanson. We covered this last time. 

D@12: I just don’t even understand who else is out there for us. Zac is EVERYTHING.

D@29: Actually, you will someday find out that there are things more important than Zac Hanson… things like proving your friends right.

D@12: It sounds like you’re wanting to tell me a story.

D@29: You guessed it. So my friend A and I are walking through the fair, trying to decide which fried delicacy we’ll be sampling before the concert. A minivan with tinted windows crawls past me, and somehow I just know Hanson is in that van. So I follow it. 

D@12: I’ve been told you should avoid vans with tinted windows.

D@29: Good girl. Keep doing that, until you’re 29 and you have a hunch about a Hanson in a minivan. Anyway, my friend A rolls her eyes at me as I follow the van. She tells me I’m being ridiculous. But I don’t care. I just know. Sure enough, the van pulls up to a stop and out jumps…. Zac Hanson.


D@12: IS THIS THE PROPOSAL STORY?!

D@29: How can I get it through your head that Zac Hanson and I are NOT MARRIED?

D@12: A life without Zac Hanson is not a life worth living.

D@29: How poetic. Did you write that in your diary last night while listening to “Where’s the Love”?

D@12: MAYBE.

D@29: Anyway, Zac smiled at me. And you know what I said? I said nothing.

D@12: I can understand that. He took your breath away.

D@29: Not quite. I was too busy yelling at A. “Come here right now,” I told her. “I TOLD YOU SO. I told you it was them!”



D@12: This is a heartbreaking story. You let your ego get in the way of a lifetime of happiness. A lifetime of Hanson. Whatever. Tell me about the concert.

D@29: Well, we had the BEST seats. I happened to spot a girl I know through blogging.

D@12: Wait stop. You know this person through the ‘net?

D@29: Yes… except no one calls it the ‘net anymore. 

D@12: Whatever. So you met this person in, what, a chatroom? And I assume it was a scary man who kidnapped you? Are you talking to me from captivity? I’ve seen stuff like this on Rescue 911.

D@29: Um, no. I don’t think there are chatrooms anymore? People actually meet other, normal people on the internet these days. See? This is Lindsey.



D@12: I still think you should be careful. Maybe she was wearing a disguise.

D@29: Yeah ok. I appreciate your internet safety know-how. Either way, she let us sit next to her in her second row seats! 

D@12: And how was the show?

D@29: Honestly? It was a little surreal. I was surrounded by screaming, hysterical fans  before the concert, and I was unabashedly making fun of them. And then Hanson started singing, and, well, I felt like you.

D@12: Like me?

D@29: Yes. Everything you feel right now — about how Hanson is EVERYTHING and all that other nonsense? I felt it again as soon as they sang the first note. It came rushing back to me, the way a certain smell unleashes a vivid memory. It was like getting hit in the back of the head by a nostalgia 2×4. I had to sit down, it was so overwhelming.



D@12: How poetic. Did you write that in your diary?

D@29: Shut up. And I don’t have a diary. I have a blog. It’s way more legit. Anyway, that feeling went away pretty quickly and I could enjoy the show. Can I give you a glimpse into your future that’s going to make you really, really happy?

D@12: You aren’t married to Zac Hanson and you live in Minnesota, which leads me to believe you are also not married to Prince William, Dawson Leary, or that cute guy from Sunday school. How can you possibly make this right?

D@29: See this picture?



D@12: Yeah. We look hideous. The people at the one hour photo place must have had a real laugh at that one. 

D@29: I don’t use the one hour…. whatever. Too complicated to explain. But do you see what I’m holding?

D@12: Sure. What is it?

D@29: Zac’s drumstick. 

D@12: You’re telling me that 16 years from now, I will touch Zac Hanson’s drumstick?

D@29: I feel like you’re gearing up for a dirty joke here, yet I know that I wouldn’t have understood the innuendo until at least age 17.

D@12: I actually don’t know what innuendo means.

D@29: Annnnd we’re done here.


Tune in next time for What’s in My Fannypack!

—-

**In case you were confused, the memory I would love to relive would be the fabulous night at the Hanson concert, NOT being a 13 year old fanny pack aficionado or writing made up conversations with myself.. Glad we got that straight. 

currently: hive porn

Last Saturday I did something I will never, ever do again: I picked beans from our garden. 



The resulting pasta — Pesto orecchiette with chicken sausage —  was delicious, but the angry hives that covered my face were decidedly not delicious. Apparently, I’m allergic to a weed that got slightly out of control in our garden. 

You know how after a disaster, there are people who can’t turn away from the news; from the tragic firsthand accounts and stomach-turning photos? I’ve heard this called misery porn. 

I am here to tell you that, along those same lines, there is such a thing as hive porn.

(Stay tuned for my follow up post, search engine optimization: how to attract sexual deviants who are into allergic reactions and/or bees.)

After the hives settled on my face, my co-workers stopped by on a regular basis to assess the status. Was it slightly better? Or had it gotten worse? What did Y think? Was I going to see a doctor? Had I tried Benadryl? Should I get a steroid shot? Did it itch? Did it burn? Did I want some cream?

I stayed home sick partially because of the hives, but mostly because I was tired of talking about them. Talking about hives is way more exhausting than wearing them. 

In other news:

+ READING: The Good Lord Bird, which seems like it will be worth it if I can ever actually get into it. In the car, I’m “reading” the Steve Jobs biography. Fun fact: Steve Jobs was kind of an asshole. And never bathed. 

+ LISTENING: Passion Pit. I have tickets to their upcoming show at the University of Minnesota, and the first thing I did after learning I had tickets was to google a  photo of the band. No surprises there.

+ LOVING: fall. I tried saying “pumpkin spice latte” three times in front of a mirror and no girl in yoga pants showed up, which was disappointing because I would have LOVED to discuss the merits of pumpkin spice Hershey’s kisses with someone.

+WRITING: on the back porch, wrapped in a blanket. Because, you know, FALL. 

(joining Lauren’s Sunday currently this week)

Blogtember: things that scare me

Blogtember Day 4: tell us a story about a time you were scared.



(semi-related: scariest piece of art maybe ever.)



We bloggers apparently have some sort of condition: on Fridays, we can only read blog posts consisting of links. It started a little over a year ago, when our ADD and 90s nostalgia combined into a fierce, chronic disease — and the only cure is link roundups and Buzzfeed articles (and maybe a Trapper Keeper emblazoned with a purple dolphin).

Stay strong, y’all.  

Rush hour reading: audio books v. 1

blogtember day 3: pass on some useful advice that you’ll always remember

This summer, I heard a piece of advice that blew. my. mind. And it’s all because I couldn’t take another second of Call Me Maybe.

I’ll explain: last summer, my commute suddenly went from five minutes to one hour. Another thing that happened last summer: Call Me Maybe came on the radio approximately every eight seconds.

Luckily, I quickly discovered The Current, but not even good music could keep me entertained for two hours every day. Thus began my love affair with audiobooks. This summer I’ve listened to nine. Thinking about it makes me want to cry: 9 audiobooks, at approximately eight hours apiece, equals SEVENTY TWO HOURS sitting in my car.

But at least I have characters like Bernadette, Andre Agassi and Eleanor & Park to keep me company.

I know I’m always hesitant to commit to an audiobook — what if the narrator is terrible? What if it’s just one of those books that doesn’t translate well to audio? —  so I’m going to do my part to make the world a better place and keep you up to speed on my audiobook reviews.

And if you don’t listen to audiobooks in traffic? Well, you should. Not only do I feel less like I’m wasting my life, I am also proud to say that, due to my lack of radio exposure, I am the only person on the planet who hasn’t yet become sick of Blurred Lines.



Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

So, above, when I said I had spent 72 hours in my car listening to audiobooks this summer? That might have been a slight exaggeration because of books like this one; books I listened to while cleaning my house and walking the dog. I listened to this book at the height of the Gatsby craze, but I would still be just as interested today in this glimpse into Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s world. Definitely recommended for fans of Midnight in Paris or The Paris Wife. Also recommended if you loved the audio version of The Help — this narrator, Jenna Lamia, read Skeeter’s part in The Help and she does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

I’m super late to the party on this one, but I chose this book because Jenna Lamia (see above) narrates. Well, it turns out my library had an older version, and instead of Jenna’s youthful voice I got an older, stuffy British woman. The actor didn’t match the character (a teenage girl), which was disappointing, but I was still sucked into the story. I can see why this one was a best seller, but I think my favorite part was the description of the Dutch town of Delft, which I visited last year. 

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Again, I chose this book because Jenna Lamia was listed as the narrator — I’m probably starting to sound like a Jenna Lamia super fan, right? Are there audiobook narrator groupies? — and I vaguely remembered someone saying they liked it. Well, I wasn’t a fan. The story, about a midwestern girl with a screwed up family who is plucked from her life and taken to live with her super rich aunt in Savannah, was silly, predictable and unrealistic. 

Sisterland

I was a little torn on this book. I liked the premise and was entertained throughout, but I can’t say that I loved it. I think part of it had to do with the actor — her version of the main character, Kate, was kind of monotonous and I kind of hated Kate by the end of the book for having ABSOLUTELY NO PERSONALITY. 

However. At one point in the book, Kate mentions that her mother never taught her to shave her knee while her leg was straight. UM, NEITHER DID MINE. I tried it that night and basically if you’ve seen me since then, I’ve just been stroking my knee with a smile on my face because it has never ever in its hairy life been so smooth. And that, my friends, is the piece of advice that I’ll never forget.