Monday, December 31, 2012

Challenge Accepted!

Dear 2012,

I am grateful you are over.  It's not you, it's me.  I'm just tired.

No, but seriously, the past two years or so have been a bit of a rollercoaster.  I have had wonderful, fantastic, stupendous things happen to me.  But, on the other hand, I have had horribly disheartening, terribly upsetting things happen to me the past year or two, as well.  So maybe I will make a list.  Two lists.  Because it's more easily encapsulated than me sitting around and talking about them forever.

The List of Wonderful, Fantastic, Stupendous Things:

2.  I got a real job.
3.  I moved out of Phoenix.
4.  I moved to Flagstaff.
5.  I learned how to drive stick shift.
6.  I discovered the joy of Gordon Ramsay television shows and the subsequent need to cook food using good, honest, locally-grown produce.  Yum.
7.  I ate a lot of delicious food.
8.  I discovered the joys of destroying your core with exercise.  Awesome.
9.  I learned that I love 5th grade.
10.  I get 120 little minds to mold and have fun with on a daily basis.
11.  I got a whole new set of friends through my colleagues and co-workers.
12.  I got my first grown-up apartment, and a bunch of things that go with that, such as:
               a.  A couch
               b.  A fancy coffee machine
               c.  Outdoor chairs.
               d.  The Indiana Jones Trilogy on Blu-Ray
13.  My husband had a lot of personal success.
14.  My husband and I figured out our personal recipe for our finances.
15.  I got a fancy new phone.
16.  I completed my goal of reading 50 or more books this year.
17.  I was responsible with my health (i.e., I saw doctors and got vaccines and had cavities filled).
18.  My husband and I discovered a bunch of new games.
19.  A lot of my friends had a lot of personal success this year, as well.
20.  I got to spend a lot of lovely time with my friends and family.

Now, the doozy. . .

The List of Horribly Disheartening, Terribly Upsetting Things:

1.  I got fired.  Not only was that upsetting, but it very much destroyed my self-confidence and made me depressed for a while.
2.  I have had some really upsetting moments in school.  Kids being jerks, parents being jerks, me being a jerk, et cetera.  I've only had a few crying episodes, and none of them really in front of my kids.  Woot.
3.  I have eaten way too much of things that are bad for me.
4.  I have not exercised enough.
5.  I have had some interesting community interactions.
6.  I spent the first half of the year wildly stressed out because of my wedding, moving, and finding a job.
7.  I spent the second half of the year wildly stressed out because of my job.
8.  I didn't read as many books as I would've liked.
9.  My husband was very stressed out a lot of this year.
10.  I would've liked to spend more time with friends and family.

So, it turns out that the bad list is half of the good list.  Score!

Now I have three or four pithy, vaguely required resolutions:

1.  Eat better.
2.  Exercise more.
3.  Read at least 50 books.
4.  Write down one good thing in my diary a day.

And now for the most exciting thing -- THE CHALLENGE FOR 2013.

You may think that I will merely read 50 books.  YOU WOULD BE WRONG.  My husband challenged my to read Bleak House (by Charles Dickens) and a collection of Jules Verne novels (including A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days) by the end of summer.  So, by the end of summer, I will have my requisite Charles Dickens book for the year read, and I will have become a mild expert on Jules Verne novels.  I will rule all books mwahahaha.

Erm.  Anyhow, HAPPY 2013, PEEPS!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review of The Casual Vacancy

NOTE: If you cannot get past the fact that authors are people and don't have to write the same stuff over and over again, don't read this book and don't read this review. If you can separate Harry and Jo, then READ THIS BOOK.

I understand if you can't do that.  Harry Potter also very much shaped my childhood.  I wept openly all through the second half of the last book and the last movie (even though the movie wasn't actually that good except that it symbolized the ending of an era).  Harry will always have the most special of places in my literary heart.  Having said that, I made a conscious effort to put aside my associations with Harry and Rowling in order to give this book a fair shake.  I didn't want to read this book just because Rowling wrote it.  I wanted to see what she could do, yes, but honestly it was the type of book I thought I'd enjoy.  I love a good, sleepy, character-driven novel.  Obviously, since I am a huge Dickens fan.  He does nothing other than giant, sleepy, character-driven novels mired in the ordinary.  AND I LOVE THAT.  So, I was curious.  I was able to look past HP and try something without the shackles of the beautiful world of magic around my intellectual ankles.  I am not trying to sound righteous or snobby.  I am usually not able to separate authors and their work.  For some odd reason, it worked this time.  If you can't do it or don't think you can, there's no shame.  This was a fantastic book, but there are lots of fantastic books extremely worth your time.  This doesn't have to be one of them.  However, if you can work through it (and the first 300 pages), then this is a book very much worth your time.

I sincerely enjoyed it. This book honestly shows what a brilliant writer Rowling is. It was a gritty, realistic, character-driven portrayal of the black and dubious goings-on in a tiny British town.  Nothing was sugar-coated.  Another reviewer pointed out that it's not so much gritty as it just is starkly realistic.  Right, again.  It's just that reality is so painfully grimy when you look beneath the sheen of the surface reflected back to us in cheerily false commercialism.  Also, if you are not a fan of books which are mainly based on characters and not on plot action, put this one back. It is plodding for quite a while, but if you stick with it you are rewarded. 
The setting up takes about 300 pages or so. Things all weave together seamlessly, though, at the end of the book. Like HP, everything has its proper place. Everything makes sense and there is nothing frivolous in Rowling's work. She does not place words there without meaning. It really reinforces why I prefer novels written by people who have actual purpose and talent, rather than drivel. As much as drivel can be fluffily entertaining, as much as it can be exciting, at its root it has no substance. Reading fluff novels is much like eating fluff. It is satisfying at the time, but you will feel rather disgusting in about a half an hour. The high of the rush will end, and you feel dirty and empty. When you eat a real meal or read a worthwhile book, you relish the savory and sweet flavors, you take your time, and you are satisfied long after the meal has passed. I found this book to be a proper meal, rather than a sugary snack. 
Gritty and hard-hitting though they may be, Rowling's character depictions are insightful. She manages to get at the root of people's unhappiness, and the consequences the actions of unhappy people can reap. This book is paradoxically about the reaping of what some people had sown, but also about some situations which feel virtually inescapable. Although all of the characters struck home for me, shadows of people I have known, one in particular felt uncomfortably familiar: Krystal Weedon. How many girls did I know growing up who had home lives bordering on her own? How many have I known since who have either escaped from horrible fates or else were hopelessly enmeshed by them, never to emerge? Krystal Weedon aside, every character seemed laced with reality, and I could see faces of people I knew in each and every one of them. Like I said, some of them were disconcertingly life-like. It made the plot all the more believable, and I felt very much so that Pagford was a real place and that these characters were merely put to page by Rowling, instead of total creations by her. 
Like I said, however, this book is not a page turner. Rowling, ultimately, is a dangler. She lets slip tiny pieces of information, tantalizing you with the hope of some big, juicy secret, some crucial bit of information that will let loose your gossipy imagination. Be honest, you were hoping for that too. But she continues to merely dangle. She keeps you in for the long haul. It's worth it. If you stick with it, you will be amply rewarded. I read the last hundred pages at a sprint. Those last hundred flew by as I was completely submerged in the story. The twists and turns at the end were compelling and horrifying. 
All in all, I would sincerely recommend this book for people who like a good character-based read, and for people who can look beyond the world of Harry Potter into a completely different story by a talented author. Rowling is always worth reading.