Dear Committee Members

Months and months ago, Linda Holmes of NPR recommended the book Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher on my favorite podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Alas, at the time she recommended the book, she had read an Advanced Reader Copy and it wasn’t set to be published for months. In September, the book was finally published and since I was at the top of the holds list at the library I was able to start reading Dear Committee Members right away.

#31daysofreading

DCM is a short novel of letters from a professor of English at a small college to many, many people.  Professor Jason Fitger writes biting letters of recommendation for students pursuing jobs and degrees at a wide variety of institutions.  With a few exceptions, these are not positive recommendations.  In most of these letters, he is irritated at the requester or the intended recipient, and is not shy about his irritation.  He tells these committees exactly what he’s thinking, with no filter.  While these kinds of letters would be terrible to receive in real life, they are hilarious to read.  Professor Fitger writes what people actually think, but aren’t brave enough to say.

Mixed in with these letters of recommendation (or rather, un-recommendation) are yet more letters detailing his attempts to help one of his students publish a manuscript.  In each new missive, you discover just a little more about Professor Fitger’s life, relationships, and work.  Epistolary novels are so much fun to read: details are teased out piece by piece and you never know which letter will have a bombshell of new information.  DCM is an especially entertaining example, because it is filled with wit and humor.  If you like to laugh, you should read this book.


Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher, 5-stars, epistolary novel, hilarious, some swearing


Dear Committee Members

31 Days of Reading

I am a lifelong reader and book nerd.  Even though there have been seasons where I didn’t have the time or energy to read as much as I would have liked, books and reading have always been an important part of my life.  I also love sharing about what I’ve read, but I’ve never been very successful at actually writing down and publishing any reviews. When I came upon the idea of #31daysofwriting in October, I knew I had a topic ready-made for this challenge: #31daysofreading.  I’ve read 67 books so far this year (finished an audiobook in the car this morning on the way to work!), so I have plenty of material to review.  For this first day, though, I wanted to write about the tools I use to aid my reading habit, as well as what kinds of books I usually read.

#31daysofreading

While I already own hundreds of books, I also really like reading new shiny books.  Alas, my book budget cannot sustain my new shiny book habit, so it’s a good thing I work at a library.  I’m always hovering around my 50 items checked out limit, and I have over 80 items on hold.  Even though I know I won’t ever read them all, I love having choices and perusing these new shiny books.

One of my biggest partners in my reading adventures is Goodreads. I keep my imaginary bookshelves filled with what I’ve read, what I’m currently reading, what I’ve put in hibernating, what I’ve rejected completely, and what I want to read (the shelf that is ridiculously optimistic).  I can also record my reading progress (page number or percent completed), which is helpful since I tend to read 15-20 books at the same time.  I know many people can’t fathom reading more than one book at a time, but I love jumping from book to book and Goodreads helps me stay on track.

Goodreads also hosts a reading challenge every year, which I have participated in since 2011.  That year, I read 20 books, the next year I read 40, and last year I set a goal of 50 and read 53.  For 2014, I wanted to really challenge myself and decided to attempt to read 100 books.  The reading challenge lets me know how well (or not well) I’m keeping to the pace I need to be reading in order to finish 100 by December 31, and right now I’m 7 books behind the pace.

When I finish a book, I give it a star rating using Goodreads’ system: 5-stars: it was amazing; 4-stars: really liked it; 3-stars: liked it; 2-stars: it was ok; 1-star: did not like it.  Most of my books are rated 5s and 4s, because if I really don’t like it, I don’t normally finish it.  If I give a book 1 star, it generally means I hate-read it, meaning I disliked it so much yet I had to finish it because I hoped it might improve (see my 1-star review of The Magicians).

My favorite genre of books is memoir because I enjoy learning about life from someone else’s personal perspective.  Sometimes I choose a memoir specifically because the writer has lived a life very different than mine and I want to explore that difference.  Other times I choose one because I relate to the author and can place myself in her shoes.  Beyond memoir, you will also find me reading young adult fiction and historical nonfiction, with the occasional adult fiction and graphic novels.  Working at the library is expanding my reading horizons, but I mainly stick to these genres when I’m choosing my reading material.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, as well as some not-so-great books.  You can see them all on my Goodreads page.  I don’t plan on reviewing every book on my list from this year, so if there’s a book in particular I’ve read that you’d like to see, leave a comment letting me know.  I hope that with my #31daysofreading you’ll discover new books to enjoy.

Summer 2014: What I Was Into

May, June, July,  August: Summer 2014 flew by for me. I started a new job in the spring, muddled my way through my kidney problems and diagnoses, started new medications, went on vacation, came home and got a promotion, and now August is almost over and now it’s September.  It was a challenging summer, but a good one.

#kidneyproblems

Where do I begin with my #kidneyproblems (I’ve decided to stop fighting and simply embrace hashtags)?  Between insurance changes and long wait times before I could see a specialist, I didn’t visit a nephrologist (kidney specialist) until the end of May. The only way to find out for sure what was going on with my kidneys was to have a biopsy of my kidney.  Alas, with more insurance confusion, it took almost another month to schedule and then have the procedure.

 Within a week of the biopsy, though, I received a diagnosis: a kind of glomerularnephritis (kidney inflammation) called IgA nephropathy. According to my kidneys, I’ve had this inflammation for 5-10 years, without symptoms.  When I caught a virus in the airport or airplane on my way home from Mexico, it set off the underlying kidney inflammation.  All those unpleasant symptoms I had in April, May, and June (including kidney pain, overwhelming fatigue, and other unmentionables) had nothing to do with being in Mexico–I’ve had this disease for years.

After receiving this diagnosis, I started medications to try to reduce the inflammation, which I’m still taking as of this writing.  Almost immediately after starting the medication, I felt like I woke up from a three-month long fog.  I finally had energy again and I no longer felt fatigued all the time (just some of the time).  Alas, even with these benefits, my medication also has its downsides, including sometimes causing me to wake up at 4:30 AM and making me want to eat all the time.  It’s been a long summer of figuring out how to handle being on all the different new medications and coping with their side effects.  In September, though, I may be able to start making some medication changes—I’m just waiting on my next nephrologist appointment.

Vacation

There are few things I love more than vacation, and particularly a vacation at Lakeside.   For one week every year, I am able to go to my happy place.  I have a whole week to read, spend time with family, and eat delicious food, and it is glorious.  While I was more tired than usual this year (thanks kidneys),  I still found a way to finish twelve books, enjoy my family, and appreciate sunsets on the dock.

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Promotion

I started working at the library in April as a Bilingual Circulation Clerk. As will shock no one who knows me, I love working at the library.  I have direct access to nearly any book I want AND I get to help people: two of my favorite things.   In July, I went on vacation for two weeks in Ohio (and it was GLORIOUS).  Upon my return, I was offered a promotion to Library Associate–and I took it! It meant a chance for more hours as well as a significant pay increase.  Instead of working in Circulation, I now work at the Information Desk at the same branch of the library.  I work with people from so many different walks of life–I never know what kind of problem people might need help solving.  I sometimes help patrons find books or research information, but I primarily help troubleshoot computer, email, and internet problems. I also teach computer classes in Spanish twice a month.  This new job has been a great opportunity for me and I’m excited to see where it leads.

Books

As will surprise no one, my love of books has only been encouraged by my library job.  I’m still not quite where I need to be to meet my 100 books-in-2014 goal, but I made a lot of progress this summer.  You can check out my Goodreads page (if you have a Goodreads account) for the full list, but here are some of my favorites from this summer.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (memoir)

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb (memoir)

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe (audiobook memoir)

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (true crime, polygamous mormons)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (young adult fiction, WWII)

A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier (young adult fiction, 1917 influenza epidemic)

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger (epistolary fiction, law)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (suspense fiction, dinosaurs)

End of Summer

At the end of each month this summer, I would think about writing that month’s “what I’m into” post.  Alas, I could never muster up the energy and thinking skills to actually write something. Being sick all the time will do that to you.  Here’s hoping that this fall, things will be different.  I have some ideas about what I would like to write and publish here, most likely including reviewing some of my favorite books I’ve read this year.  We shall see what my kidneys decide.

WMMHTW 1

My favorite podcast is NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, “NPR’s entertainment and pop culture round-table podcast features spirited discussions of movies, books, television, nostalgia, and — every time — what’s making us happy this week.”  One of the best parts of the podcast is the last part of that description: what’s making us happy this week. This segment is where the four members of the round-table share some pop culture-y thing that they have enjoyed recently and think others would enjoy. This item could be a new band, a comic book, a tv show, anything entertaining.  They have a rule that they generally follow where what is making them happy should be relatively accessible, and not just, “I’m going on vacation.”  Let’s face it, though, sometimes the prospect of vacation is so exciting that they can’t help but share anyway.

So, in the tradition of PCHH’s what’s making them happy segment, I am going to attempt something like that, as an even more regular tracking of what I like, instead of the “monthly” posts on what I’m into. Sometimes collecting a whole month’s worth of entertaining items can be overwhelming, as evidenced by the fact that it’s June and I’ve written twice in 2013 about what I’m into.

What is making me happy this week? With my new bounty of time, I’ve been diving in to my piles of unread books. And then, a book I’ve been waiting months for finally was ready for me at the library: Eleanor and Park.  It’s come highly recommended on my corners of tumblr and twitter, especially by author John Green.  I’m just a few chapters in, and I already love it. It’s set in the 80’s, a love story between two high school students. I’m excited to see where this book goes.

What I’m Into: March, April, May 2013 Edition

This post started out as What I’m Into: March 2013. Well, it’s June now, so whatever. 2013 continues to be an exercise in learning to put up with “things I do not want.”  Stress, disappointment, frustration, you name it, 2013 has brought it.  March has been notorious in my life for being weird and disappointing and great all at the same time. April wasn’t any improvement. May and early June could be classified as some of the worst weeks of my adult life thus far.

Enough about bitter disappointment, that’s a story for another day.  There have been things I’ve liked these past months that have brought some happiness into some of the blergh and awful that seems to be 2013’s watchword.

TV

I fell in love with Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler? I am her, people. I am her. Ok, not all of her, I like to think I’m a bit more self-aware and I don’t really care about parks. But the episode where she visits her manfriend in Washington DC? And she has detailed plans of everything she wants to see and do in DC? That is exactly me. I share her unbridled passion museums and history and other random things. And Ron Swanson? He is literally the best.

Books

I haven’t finished a book in quite awhile. In March, I read a few comic books, Plain Janes and Friends with Boys. They’re so short, but I really enjoy a graphic novel now every once in a while. The best book I read in March, though, was Brain on Fire. It’s the horrifying true story of a 24-year-old woman’s descent into madness because of a rare autoimmune disease, a diagnosis that took time and $1 million of tests.  As I was still 24 when I read this book, all I could think was: This could have been me. Some true stories never hit close to home because they could never possibly happen to me–but what happened to her is not that impossible. This woman’s story is powerful and fascinating: read it.

Music

I saw Muse in concert. It was absolutely magical. The concert was truly an amazing multimedia experience. I had never been to the BOK Center in Tulsa before, and I was amazed at all they could pull off  in one concert. A mountain of video screens coming down from the ceiling. Live video of Muse performing on those screens that looked so polished that it took quite awhile for me to figure out it was live. It was so good, it ruined me for listening to their music on just a plain old laptop.

Movies

I saw one movie in March. Admission, with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. And it was AWFUL.  Let’s never speak of this again.

Other

I don’t know how I neglected The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last month, but I did. Let’s be honest, the LBD was one of my favorite media experiences of late 2012 and early 2013. This retelling of Pride and Prejudice in modern-day America was spectacular.  It ended in late March, 100 episodes of hilarity, happiness, tears, and magic. Watch it. Seriously.

Here’s to the rest of June bringing better things.

Vote

I voted today.  I’ve voted before, but only by absentee ballot.  Today was the first time I’ve ever voted in a polling place by my home.

I vote because I like being involved.  I listen to NPR, read the newspaper, and make myself informed.  Even when my candidate or position isn’t elected or approved, I still take great pride in voting.

I vote because 100 years ago, I would not have been allowed.  Simply by virtue of being a woman, I would not have been allowed to vote (or considered a full citizen, really).

I vote because I’ve been in the home of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. I stood in the driveway where he was assassinated, saw what’s left of his blood stained onto the concrete, heard the story of how his wife watched him die then fought for three decades for justice.  I learned how Medgar Evers fought so that African-Americans in the Deep South could exercise their Constitutional right to vote. He was killed because of that fight.

I vote because I’ve met Medgar Evers brother, Mr. Charles Evers. I listened to a man (who has personal photos with every recent president, knows personal stories about the Kennedys, and refers to conversations with President George W. Bush as “When I was talking to George”) talk about the importance of voting, being involved in what’s going on in America. He knows. His brother was murdered, assassinated for the right to vote.

I vote because I’ve stood just steps from where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated.  He was murdered because of his fight for the rights of others, including the right to vote.  I’ve learned the history of the movement for which he is the face at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorriane Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve seen through pictures, movies, and stories how he and others sacrificed to bring civil rights to all Americans.

I vote because when half of America doesn’t get their way tonight, no one will riot or turn to extreme violence to try to get their way back.

I vote because I have had so many opportunities to learn about America’s history.  Through reading books, traveling around the country, meeting people, and hearing stories, I have learned the importance of voting.

I vote because the sacrifices of others made it possible for me and for others to exercise our right to vote, peacefully.

I vote because I want to keep it that way.

I vote because as a young white woman in the Midwest, no one will question my right to vote. I want to use my votes, my knowledge to do everything in my power to ensure others have that same privilege.

I vote because I cannot remain silent.

I vote because that gives me power.