Friday, July 20, 2012

Inspiration!

Okay, obviously I have not been doing so well in the blogging department. I've been feeling guilty about that. There just never seems to be enough time!

But today I saw THIS.

(Thanks to Holly :) 

I promptly abandoned the chapter about dialects (yawn) and looked up more Lindsey Stirling. In my personal opinion, she is amazing. 


Even if quirky modern violin dancing isn't your thing, you have to admit she's an admirable person. She found what she loves to do and she just does it, even though it's different and some people say she can't make it. I mean, really--who cares? 


Can we all say that together now? Who cares? Who cares if you get rich and famous? Who cares if you're not as "good" as someone else (and, um, who defines "good")? Who cares if people criticize and say you're not good enough or your talent isn't good enough? The way our world measures success sure is mystifying to me anyhow.

Even though I'm not a dancing violinist (or a dancer, or a violinist), Lindsey Stirling inspires me.

So I'm saying goodbye to the guilt. Yes, I am a college student and I just can't write every day. But I have to remember that writing is what I love, and I can't abandon it. And I don't have to tie myself down to what I think people will like. I have the freedom to write whatever I want and not have to worry about whether people like it.

I'm still going to write as much as I can the rest of this month, but I'll be out of town and such, so I won't be able to write every single day. But I will write. Even though people (including myself) might think I'm not good enough. Who cares? 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum

Have you been wondering when I would EVER finish my next book for the summer reading challenge? Well, I have too, but after many snatched moments of reading, renewals, and returning the book to the library prematurely (and rescuing it two days later), I have finally finished reading Mort Rosenblum's biography of the world's most beloved food.

Photo courtesy of Everjean
The reason I took so long with this book certainly had nothing to do with hating it. I loved every second of Rosenblum's story of chocolate. He covered pretty much everything a layman could possibly want to know about the chocolate world, from cacao farms to the finished final products and the companies that sell them. The business of chocolate is a fascinating one.

I chose this book for the "pretty cover" category. I found it while in the library looking for a biography of Hemingway, and I happened to wander over to the section on (non-cookbook) food non-fiction. (I had no idea that section existed. I think I could live there...)

Of course, what first attracted me was the giant letters on the spine that read CHOCOLATE. But it wasn't just the subject matter; once I took the book down from the shelf, I saw the sophisticated cover with pale blue vertical stripes, brown and gold lettering, and a delicate drawing, outlined in gold, of cacao pods, cocoa beans, and a chocolate bar. And, of course, the clever subtitle. There were no rave reviews splashed across the cover demanding that the reader open the book or photos of the author scarfing down chocolate. Just the blue stripes with the hints of gold, seeming to say indifferently, "Open and read if you can possibly measure up to the level of sophistication required to appreciate me, but I'm certainly not going to beg."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Top Ten Things I Love Most About Non-Fiction: Part III

Note: I actually wrote almost this entire post yesterday! And then I meant to finish it "later" but...later didn't come until today, as you can see. Sorry! More to come! 


5. The book can be (relatively) good even if the writing is bad. 
A prime example of this is The Teacher Who Couldn't Read by John Corcoran. The writing style is sloppy and childish, but it was written by a man who had barely learned to write. If you're busy critiquing the writing style of that book, you're missing the point. Another, milder example is A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. The writing is pretty bleh (and sometimes vomit-inducing) but the story can be worth it. (Don't take that as a recommendation for all audiences. Only if you have a strong stomach.) This is rarely the case with fiction, at least for me. Never is the plot so interesting that I can summon the will to slog through horrific writing.

4. There are often fantastic illustrations or photos within the pages. 
This one is pretty indulgent and I wouldn't even say it's usually true, but it still seems to happen a lot more often than it does in fiction. (When fiction does have illustrations, I usually can take them or leave them. Exception: Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Again, requires a strong stomach, but for different reasons.) I might have added this to the list because I've been busy reading books about chocolate with both illustrations and photos. It doesn't get much better than that.

3. It's not an escape from the world; it's an adventure into it. 
People are always talking about reading as an "escape." Well, that might be what some people need, but it's certainly not why I read. I don't read because I want to do less; I read because I wish I could do more. I wish I could spend weeks tasting French food, observing Buddhist monks, or building houses in Africa, but there are only so many experiences a poor college student can have (at the moment). And as much as I'm enjoying the experiences I am having, I like to be able to cram in more, however vicariously.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Top Ten Things I Love Most About Non-Fiction, Part II

7. The feeling of knowing the author personally. 
Of course, this doesn't always happen (remember, I'm writing about a very wide genre here), but often while reading a non-fiction book, I get a real sense of who the author is and what he or she is about. Even if the author is trying to be objective, they will occasionally insert notes about their own research process, sometimes even using the pronoun "I." Rather than in fiction, in which the author is a mysterious being who is either godlike or a minion simply transcribing the words on the page, non-fiction is powered by the person with the pen--their passion, their zeal, their desire to educate, influence, and change. I'll often turn the last page of a non-fiction book feeling like I've known the author for years, even though all I've done is read his or her book.

6. Instant application to real life. 
Sometimes this isn't true. Sometimes your knowledge of the rarest species of sloth does not actually change your life. But I would venture to say that most bestselling non-fiction applies, at least in a minor way, to real life. Often non-fiction educates us about an everyday thing that we never thought much about. Sometimes it encourages us to make a change because we never realized what we're missing. Sometimes all it changes is our attitude and the way we experience things. Whichever way, non-fiction generally applies easily and readily to some facet of our lives.

To be continued...


P. S. I'm sorry these are becoming so awfully short! While getting into some really wonderful habits, I'm apparently neglecting some of the ones that are most dear to my heart! I'm going to try to get better, but until then, please bear with me...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Favorite Genre

As you may know, I am not a big fan of fantasy or sci-fi. To tell the truth (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), I don't really like fiction either, unless it's classic literature, select historical fiction, or really excellent. So that leaves my favorite genre: non-fiction.

I really hate the fact that the name we use to designate the broad genre of non-fiction is just saying what it is not. As if fiction is what really matters, and non-fiction is just the secondary genre that you have to read occasionally for school or whatever. Non-fiction doesn't even get its own name; it's defined by what it is not.

But I digress. On to more important talk on the glorious nature of non-fiction. Here are...

The Top Ten Things I Love Most About Non-Fiction


10. You might actually learn something. And it might actually be fun. 
Publishers are trying to get books bought and read these days--which is why they publish non-fiction books that are so fun. It's such a wonderful feeling to know that I'm not wasting my time, I'm learning fascinating facts about wildlife in the Australian outback. Or whatever.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tragedy Strikes

Ahem. Well.

Yes, I've missed two days. I know it's a flimsy excuse, but I've been busy. But don't worry--I'm now more committed to NaBloPoMo than ever!

Anyway, without further ado....

A experienced a tragedy today.

I had to return a book to the library...before I had finished it. 


I know! You're shocked! I can imagine you now, having dropped your 70% cacoa chocolate bar (since, I assume, you always eat chocolate while reading this blog--for your sake, I hope you do), you are temporarily paralyzed, your mouth gaping in disbelief--and now you are burying your face in your hands, fighting back tears, hoping against hope that it's NOT TRUE.

Okay, congratulations; you've made it through my eye-roller exaggeration of the day.

Worst of all, it was a book I was really enjoying: Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum. It's exactly my kind of book--a non-fiction book about chocolate. Could it get any better?

I have been reading it too, whenever I get a spare moment. But I checked it out at the same time as I checked out Committed. I wasn't ten pages into Chocolate when I had to renew it. A fatal mistake.

I was honestly a little surprised at how sad I was to have to return it. I mean, I'm planning on going back and getting it tomorrow (I doubt anyone will have checked it out before then). But there's just that bitter sadness knowing that I failed. When I checked that book out of the library, there was an expectation that I would finish it in time. That book put its trust in me. It needs its pages loved, savored. And I betrayed it. I loved it and left it.

I just hope it takes me back...

Anyway, being a little more practical--you can all expect a post on that book very soon. After I get it back from the library (after begging it to come home with me), I only have about 75 pages left. It won't be long now...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Just checking in...

Disregard the date above this post. This post counts for SATURDAY, not Sunday, since I haven't actually gone to sleep yet. Ahem.

Lately I have been working on building up habits. Habits like...blogging every day. And eating healthy. And exercising. And getting my homework done before midnight. (Which tonight, unfortunately, did not happen...but not for lack of trying!)

The wonderful thing about habits is that once you have them, it's easy to do the right thing. The nasty thing about habits is that it's so much easier to get into bad habits than it is to break them. And it's so much harder to get into good habits than it is to break them. 


For more talk about habits, I recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. What he says about habits, and how to get into the very best habits, has really stuck with me in the past few years since I've read the book. I just discovered another great tool to help build good habits called HabitCal. It's an extremely simple, easy-to-use (and completely free) tool that just helps you track how well you're doing with your habits. If you're like me and you like to check a box, cross something off, or create anything else visual to show how well you're doing, HabitCal is great. It's awesome to click a box green! (You'll have to try it to see what I mean.)

So, that's what I've been up to the past couple days. Trying to get into lots of good habits that I've lost. Today I've been swamped with homework and other important things...not to mention, I just realized that the next book I've been reading for the reading challenge is due in 2 days! And I still have 150 pages left! So hopefully I'll be able to finish the rest of that over the next couple of days, and then I'll have a blog post up about it. I've been enjoying the book immensely (check out my Goodreads widget...it shouldn't be too hard to figure out why). I can't wait to write about it!

A quick note about progress on NaBloPoMo. I have been loving it so far. Blogging every day has really gotten me into a blogging frame of mind. I always have lots of ideas for posts now, whereas before I used to avoid blogging because I "couldn't think of anything to write about." Writing so much has kept me a lot more...sane. (And trust me, I've needed it.)

Last, I would like to thank you all so much for reading and commenting! I keep close track of the page views of the blog and of each post, and each one really counts to me. And getting comments--even small ones--totally makes my day! Thank you for being part of this blogging journey with me. (I feel like I've been using the word "journey" way too much lately...is that super corny or what?) I'm learning a lot about writing, and I wouldn't have the motivation to do it without your support!

Thank you! And have a wonderful day!

Friday, July 6, 2012

5 Words You Always Wished Existed

Have you ever tried to describe something and just wished there was an actual word for it? As I've been learning French, it's started to become increasingly clear how many words we're missing in the English language. For instance, a plural "you." (The Southerners were awfully innovative with "ya'll," but...we're not going to go there.) There are countless words that seem to be missing from English.

Personally, I would like there to be multiple words for the idea of "love." I think there should be different words each for familial love, friend love, and romantic love. And maybe another separate word for a love for things or loving to do something. As it is, I constantly declare that I "love" the cat down the street that I've seen twice, the computer lab on campus, my professors, the manager of my complex, reading classics, and my roommates. What do all these things have in common? ...Well, nothing, really. I don't love my professors in the same way as I love the cat down the street. In fact, I feel totally differently toward each of them. So why must I use the same word for a different feeling?

Photo by Mauro Cateb
A guy named Gelett Burgess understood this sort of experience, and he decided to take action. He realized that there are lots of concepts that we talk about all the time and need words for, so what did he do? He came up with new words, of course!

Unfortunately, this valiant endeavor was rewarded with very little attention. Out of the 100 words that Burgess proposed, only one of them survived and is actually used: blurb. (However, it's not used exactly the way Burgess originally intended. The original definition: "Praise from oneself, inspired laudation.")

Some of Burgess' words seem like they would actually be pretty useful. (Find the full text of his book here.) For example:

Gixlet: One who has more heart than brains, an entertainer. 

...I know several gixlets. Maybe it's a good thing it's not a real word...

Or how about this one?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Experiencing Books

A year ago, I liked to write straightforward reviews of books. I liked to critique, examine a book's flaws as well as its good points, and give it a certain number of stars. Nowadays, though, as you may have noticed, I avoid doing that. Actually, I have no desire to do that anymore. The thing is, books have come to take on an entirely different meaning to me lately than they used to.

By Juan Antonio Flores Segal
I hardly have time to read for fun while I'm in school, so when I do take a few minutes away from my studies to crack open a book--without any assignments or deadlines looking over my shoulder--it's like drinking a glass of clear water after trying to strain mud through my teeth. So, of course, I'm not going to look for the one speck of dust floating in it. When I'm done, all I'm going to remember is how refreshing and beautiful the experience was.

That's why, lately, I've been more focused on writing about my experience with a book than I have been on critiquing it. Reading is so much more personal to me than it has ever been before. I feel like I'm having a conversation with the author. Trying to rate it would be like leaving a deep discussion with a friend and saying, "Hmm...well, it was fun, but not my favorite conversation...3 stars."

That's why my reviews of The Sun Also Rises, Committed, and Notre Dame de Paris were more of my thoughts on related topics than they were actual reviews. I feel like if I didn't enjoy a book--especially a book that is generally regarded as a classic--then it's probably my fault. Maybe I just wasn't engaging in the conversation enough. And frankly, I don't have time to not have a wonderful experience with a book.

Half the experience, of course, is where and when I read the book. I'm beginning to believe that if I read a book outside on a sunny day, then I will probably feel totally different about it than if I read it under my covers in the middle of the night with a flashlight. (I did that all the time when I was a kid...maybe I should resurrect the tradition.) Or if I read it snuggled on the sofa with hot chocolate on a snowy day. Or if I was trying to read it, but kept pausing to laugh at my roommates singing along to Justin Bieber.

I hope that you all have similar experiences with many of the books you read. Sometimes I get caught up in just crossing another book off my internal list and don't focus so much on--as corny as it may sound--the journey. That is the true reason I love books.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

In the past few years, the 4th of July has become less and less exciting for me, as pretty much every holiday seems to do as I get older and more boring. (Now, the best thing about holidays is just getting enough sleep.) Today, though, I got to spend the holiday with my sister and her kids, and I remembered what the 4th means to a kid. It means pancakes for breakfast, parades (and incessant waving in order to have candy thrown to you), outdoor barbecues, fireworks and sparklers, and red, white, and blue everywhere. It means a special day, which is exciting no matter what the special part actually is.

Funny enough, the kids' excitement may have been just the thing to remind me of what this day really means.

I was looking forward to the parade mainly because I would get to sit and relax in the sun for a while and watch the kids. But of course, at the very front of the parade was the flag, and we all stood.

Normally, the sight of the flag, especially on the 4th of July, is not a particularly exciting event. I've stood for the flag and put my hand dutifully over my heart hundreds of times. But today, something was different. As I put my hand over my heart, I realized what that signified. I was saying that this flag is close to my heart--this flag, and everything that it stands for.

Have you thought today about what it stands for? I didn't, until that moment. It stands for liberty. Pride in the fact that we care about liberty--even at the expense of wealth or power, if need be. And whether we are conservative or liberal or moderate, Democrat or Republican or Independent, no matter what political party we identify with or which politician we vote for, we're trying to protect our liberty.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

You may have noticed (if you ever happen to glance over at my Goodreads widget) that I was reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo, for a good long time. No, I didn't simply forget that it was there (although that wouldn't be a bad guess). I actually was spending several weeks on end immersed in this classic tale.

Okay, "immersed" might not be the right word. It was more like I dipped a toe into it every once in a while. Hence, the embarrassingly long time it took me to finish. I kept it off my summer reading challenge list because I was already a good way into it before the start date of the challenge. (Ahem. Yep, it took me a while.)

I started reading it with absolutely no intention of finishing it, by the way. In my English class, my teacher put us in groups of three, and we were supposed to help each other out with topics and material. We each chose  a book for the project (if you haven't already heard, mine was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell). Whitney's was Pride and Prejudice, which I had already read, but Holly chose The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I had never so much as considered cracking open. Lately, I've been trying to branch out and read lots of different authors rather than lots of books by the same author, and having read Les Miserables, I had an unspoken agreement with myself that I would keep Hugo on the back burner. But Holly's passion for the book was contagious, so I hopped on over to the library and picked myself up a copy.

I almost considered trying to read the thing in French. After my common sense came to the rescue, I chose a small, lightweight English copy, bound in plain green hardback, probably published in the late 19th or early 20th century. The pages were old and delicate and carried the smell of a different time.

I planned on just reading a few portions, for Holly's sake, so I would understand her project a little better and be a better group member. My first mistake was to start from the beginning (although not from the true beginning, because the first page was unfortunately ripped out). I read 90 pages the first day (despite having other homework to do). After that, I was hooked.

But the unfortunate truth was that I didn't have time to bury myself in a thick tome, no matter how classic, and still keep up with school and the whole social thing. (No man is an island, they say--apparently, I'm a buzzing metropolis, whether I like it or not.) So I started a kind of strange habit: reading while walking to campus.

Maybe it's silly, but it's a 20-minute walk to campus, each way. That's forty minutes I could be reading. Once I realized this, Hunchback started getting read, little by little, a few pages a day.

By ell brown on flickr.com
After the story had become weaved into my day, it started to embroider itself into the edges of my life, in such a tiny way that I hardly noticed it. Instead of walking home on cracked sidewalks in the sunny, dry Utah heat, I was treading through the streets of Paris in the rain, watching La Esmeralda dance, in the imposing shadow of Notre Dame. For the first time in a long time, I really felt the meaning of getting lost in a book. The first day I walked to campus after finishing Hunchback, I felt useless and empty without it. I realized how big a part of my life it had been.


Such is the beauty of Hugo's writing. I had the same sort of experience with Les Miserables. Even though the lives of the characters couldn't be further from my own, they were still totally ingrained into my life somehow.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Reading, Reading, Reading. :)

I saw this meme over at A Room of One's Own the other day and, since I'm kind of a bookish blogger (not a book blogger, per se--just a bookish one), I thought I might do it, just to change things up a little. Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack: Not surprisingly, I love to eat chocolate while reading. The darker the better. What is your favourite drink while reading? I don't drink anything while reading as a general rule, but sometimes during the winter I curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. It's more my living a romanticized fantasy than it is a habit, though. Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? The idea used to horrify me, but now I do occasionally mark my books. I really treasure the notes I've made in the margins of some of my books, but I don't really like to sit there with a pen as I'm reading. I like to buy used books with margin notes. It's like a strange connection with the reader before me. How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? I use "bookmarks"--aka whatever smallish slips of paper are handy. I mercilessly dog-ear the pages of my school books, but I refrain from dog-earing my favorites. I'm not afraid to leave the book lying open. I don't try to keep my books pristine; I like my books to look well-loved. Fiction, non-fiction, or both? Non-fiction for sure, unless it's classic literature. I do occasionally read modern novels (I'm currently reading one, as you can see from my Goodreads widget), but they're usually historical novels, or at least realistic. I don't like fantasy or sci-fi. Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere? "I'll just read to the end of the chapter" is my go-to excuse to read when I should be studying, so I usually read to the end of the chapter. I don't mind stopping in the middle, though. Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? I will definitely throw it. The heavier the book, the more satisfying the throw. The moment I finished Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged provided an excellent book-throwing moment.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Being a Kid.

Today is the start of NaBloPoMo! I'm excited. As you can see, I have already added the badge to the sidebar, so you don't forget (and I won't either). This is going to be a fun month!

The theme for the month, rather inconveniently, is "Kids." Thankfully, this includes "kidding around" in addition to actual children. We'll get to that eventually. For now, on to the more obvious meaning of the word.

You might be wondering what a single college student might possibly have to say about kids. I hardly ever even see kids--the only kids in my life, really, are my sister's.  I'm the youngest in my family, so I don't even have younger siblings to write about. Obviously, I'm not going to be giving any parenting advice, or recounting hilarious anecdotes of the "kids-say-the-darndest-things" variety.

I don't really know a lot about raising kids, but hey--I was a kid at one point in my life. (Arguably, I'm still rather a kid.) Albeit probably a rather unusual kid, but still a kid nonetheless. 

By andreshm1 at fotocommunity.com

I was the sort of kid who spent as much time outdoors as possible--not really to play sports, but because it was much easier to imagine that I was in some kind of enchanted forest that way. I was always somewhere else in my mind. When I wasn't outside, I was reading books like Dealing with Dragons and Ella Enchanted. I imagined myself in magic castles, on pirate ships, in space. 


But my most exciting dreams weren't fantasy--they were of my own future. I spent most of my childhood wishing I were older. I wished I were 16, or in college, or married with kids. I was so aware of my own ignorance, naivete, silliness, awkwardness.