Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book talk: "Girls Like Us," by Sheila Weller

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book for review via Nicole Bruce at The Book Report Network. I received no other compensation.

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller
Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation
Sheila Weller
Atria Books, 2008 (hardcover) (ISBN 0743491475 / 9780743491471)
Biography/music/history, 592 pages

First Sentence: One day after school, fourteen-year-old Carole Klein sat on the edge of her bed in a room wallpapered with pictures of movie stars and the singers who played Alan Freed's rock 'n' roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount.

Three sentences from Page 123

Book description: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. Each woman is distinct. Carole King is the product of outer-borough, middle-class New York City; Joni Mitchell is a granddaughter of Canadian farmers; and Carly Simon is a child of the Manhattan intellectual upper crust. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, a great swath of American girls who came of age in the late 1960s. Their stories trace the arc of the now mythic sixties generation -- female version -- but in a bracingly specific and deeply recalled way, far from cliché. The history of the women of that generation has never been written -- until now, through their resonant lives and emblematic songs.
Filled with the voices of many dozens of these women's intimates, who are speaking in these pages for the first time, this alternating biography reads like a novel -- except it's all true, and the heroines are famous and beloved. Sheila Weller captures the character of each woman and gives a balanced portrayal enriched by a wealth of new information.
Girls Like Us is an epic treatment of mid-century women who dared to break tradition and become what none had been before them -- confessors in song, rock superstars, and adventurers of heart and soul.
Comments: When I was offered this book for review, the PR e-mail had this to say:
"(T)his book isn't just for women who were kids when Carole King wrote the music for 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?'"

It's for women who just love pop music. Women who may not love music so much, but heard the songs of King, Mitchell and Simon as the soundtrack to their personal lives and struggles. The daughters of those women, who want to understand their mothers better. Fans of pop culture. And, not least, the men who love those women --- or that music.

GIRLS LIKE US can appeal to such a cross-section of readers because it's really two books in one. The first is a dishy triple biography that will keep readers awake --- and turning the pages --- late at night or on the laziest beach day. The second is a social history of the women's movement in America; it's a chronicle of a thousand crazy-quilt changes in relationships, careers and expectations."
A sales pitch, of course, but as it turns out, not an oversell.

During my childhood and early teens in the early- to mid-1970's, I remember frequently hearing Carly Simon and Carole King on the radio, and Joni Mitchell to a lesser extent; at the very least, we knew Carly's song "Anticipation" from those commercials for a very slow ketchup, and Carole's "You've Got a Friend" from youth group. And although my consciousness of the world, and what place I might have in it as I grew into an American woman, was being formed at that time, I wasn't aware of how these women were part of what was re-shaping that world. The generational "journey" that frames Girls Like Us is that of the generation just a bit before my own.

The context of social change and how it impacted women at that time, particularly the ones emerging into adulthood, gives the book substance, but the stories that it tells within that context are what make it a page-turner. Weller has done a lot of research and made good use of secondary sources in developing this parallel biography of three women who have more in common than you might have realized.

Weller does discuss each woman's particular musical career in (mostly objective) detail. Carole was barely out of high school in Brooklyn when she started out as a professional songwriter and arranger, and was a seasoned pro when, ten years later, she became a hugely successful singer-songwriter. Canadian Joni was always driven toward artistic expression, both musically and visually, and on her own terms. Carly's privileged Manhattan upbringing led to a relatively late start on her career, as it interfered with her being taken seriously. As Weller discussed the writing of various songs, quoting lyric passages here and there, I found that a lot of them were coming back to me, even if I hadn't thought of them in years.

The context is enlightening and the work is interesting, but the book is also a biography, and it's in these women's personal stories that the real fascination - and fun - is. While I didn't feel that Weller struck a gossipy tone at all, much of anyone's biography involves their relationships, and these three women definitely have had many of them in their lives. Carole was a teenage working mother, and played a maternal role with many of her friends as well - and this tendency was probably also a factor in her attraction to younger men (she's been married four times, and all except her first husband were younger). Both Carly and Joni were rarely without male companionship unless it was by their own choice, and both have been part of musical power couples at various times. Joni was the inspiration for Crosby, Stills, and Nash's song "Our House" (she and Graham Nash were living together when he wrote it), and later was James Taylor's girlfriend. James and Carole were platonic friends, but eventually Carly became his wife. The overlaps in all three women's social and artistic circles are interesting, if a little confusing. I really felt like I'd gotten to know all of them pretty well by the time the book wrapped up, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to do so.

Girls Like Us is put together well, and rarely dull reading, even if you're not a huge fan of these artists (not a big Joni fan, to be honest; I appreciate a lot of her songwriting, but never liked her much as a singer, and while her "beauty" is often mentioned in the book, I guess I just don't quite see it), although I think some familiarity with them will make it more enjoyable. It's a thick hardcover, though, so keep that in mind if you tend to carry your reading material with you.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My moment of Zen, or how I learned to stop worrying...sort of

Julie's question for this week's Hump Day Hmm:
What stunning realization has enlightened you recently, or at some point in your life, and caused you to take a turn, either in your life path or in your thinking? And...what happened next?
During my first husband's early-onset midlife crisis - you know, the one that included the affair, the separation, the unsuccessful reunion, and the eventual long-drawn-out divorce - I had no shortage of things to worry about. Of course, I had been raised by a worrier - my mom would be pacing the sidewalk if you were late getting home, and half-expected to see an ambulance or a police car pull up instead (this was in the long-ago days before cell phones). With that kind of an example, you can get pretty good at it yourself.

As might be expected, a lot of my worry had to do with my future, which was suddenly in limbo. I had never truly been "single" as an adult - I had never even lived alone - and I was looking at approaching forty and learning to be on my own for the first time. During this period, I did some reading in a genre I had rarely taken seriously before - self-help - and found that some of what I read actually was quite enlightening and, yes, helpful. Two books that made quite a difference for me were by Judith Viorst, Necessary Losses and Imperfect Control. Both of them contributed to my making a connection that later seemed obvious - as is so often the case - and has made a big change in how I engage with the world: worry is inversely related to control. The more control you feel you have in a situation, the less there is to worry about.

The "feeling of control" may not be the same thing as actually having control over something, and it's an important distinction. It's similar to the idea of the Serenity Prayer, which asks for "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I think the last of those is the most important, and coming to understand this was liberating. I started to see a lot of the situations in my life from this new angle, and realized that I had both more and less control than I knew.

Other people could control how I acted through the rules they set, but couldn't control what I thought or felt about those rules and behaviors. I couldn't control what happened in the larger world around me, but I could control how it affected me and how I reacted to it. I needed to be aware of possible problems, and in some cases have specific plans for how I might prepare for them, but I didn't need to waste energy fretting, or be afraid to do anything because of what might happen. I could stay more focused on the present and the short term instead of becoming anxious about an uncertain future. And feeling that sense of control - that I've done what I can, and the rest isn't up to me, because I can't bend the rest of the world in my direction - gives me a lot less worry and anxiety.

Getting back to that point about others being able to control my behavior but not my feelings - that one does, of course, work both ways. Your kids don't have to like doing what they're told, but they'll most likely have to do it anyway. Accepting that you really can't do much about what people will think of you is not a license to be thoughtless and inconsiderate, by any means. In fact, I think that knowing that other people's opinions of me will be formed based on what they observe about me makes it even more important to express my best self. But knowing that my influence is limited really has reduced the amount of energy I spend worrying about "what other people will think."

It's not true to say I never worry any more. When I married for the second time, I got another worrier. His style of worrying is more like the way I try to deal with worry now - when something's worrying him, he takes action to try to get control over it - but sometimes we feed each other's anxious tendencies. I'm not sure I'd want to be completely worry-free, to be honest, especially now that I'm aware of the ways that worry can spur action and positive change. I'm glad to do a lot less pointless fretting, though - it's nice not worrying about worrying so much anymore.

Are you a worrier? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ten on Tuesday - Some like it hot, but not us

Lately, I've been sharing the Ten on Tuesday prompts with Tall Paul when they come out (a week in advance - thank you, Yano!), and some of them are more inspiring for him than they are for me. This week's topic, "10 Things to Do When It's Too Hot to Go Outside," was one that I thought he'd weigh in on, because he's an expert. He avoids hot weather as much as possible - and since we live in Southern California, somewhere between the coast and the desert, that can be a challenge sometimes.

In any case, each of us came up with a list this week, and there was a lot of overlap. His list was based on literally not going outside - that is, not leaving the house. I came up with separate list of places you could go to stay cool. In any case, here are more than 10 things to do when it's hot out. Some like it hot, but we're not among them.
Tall Paul's list of (mostly cheap) things you can do at home when it's hot out (with comments by me):
Play with the kids. Maybe a board game (how embarrassing is it to have your 8-year-old consistently kick your butt at Connect Four?), something on the Wii, or (almost) anything else they would like to play. They grow up fast, so play with 'em now! 

Read. Crank up the AC, get a cool drink, kick off my shoes, put my feet up on the furniture, and catch up on books I've been meaning to read. (For the record, he has a much smaller TBR collection than I do, but this was definitely on my list too. And yes, feet do end up on the furniture. I have a reading chair with an ottoman; his will be on the couch - or the coffee table.)

Watch Movies. Crank up the AC, get a cool drink, kick off my shoes, put my feet up on the furniture, and catch up on movies I've been meaning to watch (or watch again). Don't forget the popcorn! (My preferred variation on this item is the TV-on-DVD marathon.)

Organize/Back-up computer. I try to back-up (my computer) regularly, and although I tend to be organized and don't just dump stuff on my computer (I'm not one of those people with 200 icons on there desktop - how do they stand it?), it can usually find a way to make it even more organized.

Order-in food. Too hot to cook? This seems like a no-brainer.

Weed-out wardrobe. Unlike somebody else who I live with (I won't say who, but she has her own blog), I don't have a lot of clothes - I would, if I could afford more from herehere, or these people, but I still have stuff that I just don't seem to wear anymore, so off to Goodwill it will go. (This was on my list too; I have to weed out stuff to make room for more!)
Email friends/family. Now is a good time to remind them of how much they should be missing me. (If he'd just start his own blog, they could read it and they wouldn't have to miss him so much.)

Shop online. If only I had the money to actually buy online. I could sure use one of these or thisor this or this or...
Clean? There's always laundry to be done and toilets to be cleaned (um, that's two separate jobs)(He usually does laundry, and I clean the bathrooms. It works.)
Hmmm, if the kids aren't around...

Bonus -5 not-so-cheap things that involve leaving the house and/or spending some money (but the car is air-conditioned, and so is the place you're going): 
  • Go to the movies (the original air-conditioned escape)
  • Go out for a meal (or two - don't heat up the kitchen!), or at least get some ice cream
  • Browse in a big bookstore or an indoor, enclosed shopping mall
  • Go bowling
  • Take a couple of books to the coffee shop and just hang out for awhile
What are your favorite ways to beat the heat?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekend Assignment #226: A musical interlude of sorts, or "Jukebox Brain"

Weekend Assignment #226: Is there a song that you're particularly enjoying at the moment, that's on heavy rotation on your iPod, the CD player in your car, or just in your head? If so, what is it? If not, what was the last song you were really into?

Extra Credit: What song, if any, has been playing in your head today, and you really wish it would stop now?

I don't have a specific answer to this week's question, but I'm not letting that stop me.

I think I've mentioned that my favorite iPod playlist is huge - it just went over 1500 songs, since my husband has been telling me all week that I must add the rest of Viva la Vida, the new Coldplay album, and I finally did it. That's his current musical obsession - he's been listening to the whole thing at work at least once a day. That playlist is mix of his and my largest playlists - we like a lot of the same music, but I eliminated duplicates for this list. My selections tend to be heavier on female artists, adult-alternative, and more recent music, his pull more from country and classic rock, and we both have a case of Stuck in the '80's. When I'm listening to my iPod at work and one of his picks comes on - especially if it's one that takes me by surprise, or I didn't realize (or forgot) that he had - it always makes me think of him and why the song appeals to him, and that brightens my day.

Tall Girl, my stepdaughter, is at the age (going on 14) where she's starting to pay more attention to music too. When her stepbrother, ten years older, was that age, I remember walking into his room one day, stopping for a minute, and then asking him, "What is this CRAP you're listening to?" (BTW, saying something like that is one of the Top Ten Signs You Live With a Teenager.) She was browsing through iTunes the other night, sampling songs she might buy, and I stopped to make sure I was hearing correctly. "You know this song?" I asked her. "I love this song," she said. The song in question was "Mexican Wine" by Fountains of Wayne. (OK, so not all of what she listens to is crap.) I'd like to take credit for her discovering it, but I don't think she's paid much attention to my musical selections - and I hope that finding out that FoW is one of my vary favorite bands won't make her change her mind about liking them.

I'm actually not in thrall to any particular song at them moment, although I certainly have been at times in the past. When I get hooked on something new, I have a tendency to make it repeat over and over for the first few days after I download it, so I can take it in - and try to make out all of the words, since I have a chronic case of sing-along-with-the-radio (or iPod, in this case). My most recent purchases on iTunes have been full albums - Rockferry by new Brit-soul artist Duffy (who sounds a little like this year's Amy Winehouse - one of my musical obsessions last year - but with more R&B influences and less jazz, and hopefully less drugs and alchol too); Blame it on Gravity, the newest by my alternative-country favorites the Old 97's; and Flight of the Conchords, which is basically musical comedy. But since the songs from these albums are all scattered through the big playlist, and my playlists are always on Shuffle, nothing's really jumped out at me yet.

This assignment made me curious about what the iPod itself was putting in heavy rotation, so here are the Top 25 Most Played:

"Rock this Town," the Brian Setzer Orchestra version
"Good to Go to Mexico," by Toby Keith (one of Tall Paul's contributions, but I like this one a lot too)
"Brown-Eyed Girl," by Van Morrison - one of my personal theme songs since junior high!*
"Love Shack," by the B-52's
"Hey Good Lookin'," by Jimmy Buffett and a bunch of country-music superstars (Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, and maybe one or two more that I'm forgetting)
"Hope of Deliverance," by Paul McCartney
"Goody Two Shoes," by Adam Ant - a.k.a. "my sister's ringtone" (it's one of her personal theme songs from college days)*
"The Galaxy Song," by Clint Black (yes, it is the one from Monty Python's Meaning of Life)
"Standing Outside the Fire," by Garth Brooks
"Chattahoochie," by Alan Jackson
"(What a) Wonderful World," by Louis Armstrong
"Faith," by George Michael*
"Dead Man's Party," by Oingo Boingo
"Moondance," by Van Morrison
"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band*
"American Girl," by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers*
"Domino," by Van Morrison
"La Vie Dansante," by Jimmy Buffett
"Centerfield," by John Fogerty
"Uptight (Everything's Alright)" by Stevie Wonder*
"Fortress Around Your Heart," by Sting
"Steve McQueen," by Sheryl Crow
"Word in Spanish," by Elton John

Well, that was interesting. Not exactly representative of my personal favorites, although the *'d ones would make my "all-time" list.

For good measure, I'm going to wrap this up with an iPod Random Ten, since it's been a little while since I posted one:

"Going, Going, Gone," Stars, KCRW Sounds Eclectic
"Straight Up," Luna, Guilt by Association
"Mambo Swing," Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
"Walk Away," Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway
"Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (now THIS one's in my personal all-time Top 25)
"King for a Day," XTC, Oranges and Lemons
"Cherchez la Femme," Gloria Estefan, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me
"The Waiting," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Greatest Hits (all-time Top 50, at least)
"Lay Down Beside Me," Alison Krauss with John Waite, A Hundred Miles
"Right in Time," Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

This is a lot more typical of my range of musical interests.

So, do you have a current musical obsession? Care to share five or ten random selections from your iPod? That's what the comments are for, folks!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Saturday Review of Scraps

The Bulletin Board:
*********I haven't moved, but my blog has a new address: it's now being published on its own domain. Welcome to www.3rsblog.com! I've changed the Feedburner settings, and bookmarks and links will redirect from the old address, but if you notice any problems, please bring them to my attention!

********Submissions for the August Bookworms Carnival, Edition 14 are already coming in - thanks, early birds! The deadline is Friday, August 8th. Please e-mail your links to 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com. Hopefully, this post answers all of your questions about it. Remember, "you're never too old" for children's and young-adult books! Also, many thanks to the bloggers who have helped promote the carnival (and are sending traffic over here): Dewey, of course; Becky at Becky's Book Reviews; and Melissa at Book Nut. If you've done a promotion post that I've missed - or you do one in the next couple of weeks - please be sure to let me know so I can acknowledge you too.

********In other Carnival news, the July Bookworms Carnival is now posted at Mixed Metaphor. The theme is "relationships" (not specifically romantic ones), and you'll find reviews of over a dozen books on the topic linked there. Please go check it out, and thanks to Jenn for hosting!

********I won a couple of books in giveaways last weekend, and wanted to acknowledge them. In Weekly Geeks #11, I'll be getting Dewey's copy of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar once she posts her mini-review of it, using the questions I submitted (I think I was the only one who picked that book, but hey, whatever works). Also, my comment in response to this post at Nouvelle Blogger was picked at random to receive a copy of Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama - thanks, Karen!

New In Google Reader
Nouvelle Blogger
Boondock Ramblings, via Unfinished Person
Evany's Extended Cake Mix
Pensieve, via Candid Karina
Urban Mama
Greek Tragedy
(The Customer is) Not Always Right, via Evil HR Lady
Midlife Bloggers, via Average Jane - because, well, I basically am one

Random reading:
I mentioned that I'm now contributing to another blog - am I insane? If so, this was a great post on managing the insanity logistics of writing for multiple blogs. (BTW, this is my most recent post for the LA Moms Blog - which made the SV Moms Blogs' Hot Posts list for the week ending July 19!)

BlogHerCon recaps and reflections from those who were actually there, unlike me: BusyMom, Everyday Goddess, Pause (truly an insider's view), Who's the Boss?, Julie Pippert, Jamie at Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Average Jane (parts one and two), and Surrender, Dorothy (parts one and two). There was swag, and lots of it, and some strangeness at the closing keynote. On the way to BlogHerCon, this happened.

Life outside the Internet - sometimes I forget, and I need reminders like this one.

You'll negotiate better if you care less about the outcome? I think there's something to that - things may be more likely to go your way if the other person knows you're honestly willing to walk away.

Want to keep your house clean, yet still looking lived-in? Try these suggestions.

Taking a stand on meme-tagging; taking a stand on IKEA, and on not taking stands

If you were ever an X-Phile (and if you don't know what that means...well, then you probably weren't), what would it take for you to consider this weekend's release of I Want to Believe a success? The Park Bench offers a 10-item checklist. Or is Mamma Mia! more your speed? And speaking of Hollywood, here are some questions for celebrities. For those who'd rather read, here's a story of an encounter at an author reading.

Wedding planning by committee, or the pitfalls of a close-knit and opinionated family; but before any wedding happens, some mating rituals may have occurred.

An enjoyable trip back in time - well, for me, anyway, to the summer when I was fourteen years old. I'm not sure whether it's pleasant or disturbing that I easily remembered every one of these songs...

The naked city, even more so...

Spam subject line of the week: "Angelina Jolie and Madonna Compete for Adoption of Jamie Lynn Spears' Baby." It's like the National Enquirer e-mailed itself to me.
(I may make this a recurring feature. Send me your spam-box's greatest hits to be included!)

This week's Book Wishlist

I've never really kept a book wishlist before, but since I often find myself leaving comments on book-review posts saying "I'll have to keep an eye out for this one," I thought maybe it would be a good idea to start keeping track. The links are to the blog posts where I heard about the books; click them to find out more about the book itself.
Loose Girl, by Kerry Cohen
Keeping the House, by Ellen Baker
You're Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self, by Claire Mysko (for my teen stepdaughter)
Lady of the Snakes, by Rachel Pastan

Friday, July 25, 2008

TBIF - Thank blog it's Friday!

Tuesday Thingers (hosted by Marie of The Boston Bibliophile)

Today's topic: Recommendations. Do you use LT's recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the "special sauce" recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?
I've glanced over the Recommendations that pop up on my LibraryThing home page, but really haven't followed up on any of them. Since they're based on my catalog as a whole, and not just on the books I've already read and/or given a high rating, I really don't know why they'd be any better than the recommendations I get from Amazon based on past purchases. LibraryThing more directly influences my interest in particular books through the Early Reviewers program. If I spent more time trolling around the libraries of my LT friends, I'm sure I'd get a lot of ideas about books to add to my wishlist, but I just don't seem to find enough time to do that much.

When I read newspapers and magazines more regularly, they were my main sources for learning about books that might interest me; they still play a role in that, but it's much smaller now. Sometimes I'll hear about books from friends, particularly the ones in my book club, but these days I find out about books from the place that most book-bloggers do - other book-bloggers!

Booking Through Thursday: Beginnings (hosted by Deb)

Suggested by: Nithin
Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.
What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
In my comment on Gautami's post for this week's BTT, I summed up my thoughts on the general topic of first lines from books:
A great opening line - or even better, opening paragraph- can definitely hook me, but by the time I'm further into the book I've probably forgotten it. (I)t's how the story develops from there that interests me more, and a good beginning doesn't guarantee a strong ending.

I know some classic first lines from works of literature that I've never read, and they're probably the same ones everyone else knows too, like "Call me Ishmael," and "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." As a grade-school kid, my favorite book opened with these lines:

"'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug."

This year, I started recording the first sentence of every book in its review post, and without doing that I'd have no memory of most of them. I don't intend that as a reflection on the writing; I've just reached an age where my mind is quite cluttered, and it takes more for things to stand out. Also, I find that if a novel is so well-written that I'm making note of it, chances are there will be other passages besides the beginning that are memorable, and these sentences may well surpass the first one. This first line from a recent read sticks with me because it's a recurring phrase throughout the novel:

"Here is the truth, this is what I know..."

A recent post at Books. Lists. Life. reminded me of another recent novel whose opening sentence is a classic in its own way:

"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus."

But for the most part, I just don't tend to remember things like this if I've only read a book once, and since I rarely re-read these days, I've forgotten a lot of first lines. What about you - do you have any favorites that you can remember?

Friday Fill-Ins #82 (hosted by Janet)

Questions 4-6 this week are courtesy of Sherry! I like it when people give me questions on a wicked busy day :-) Thanks!

Here we go:

1. I believe whatever doesn't kill you is weaker than you are.

2. If you're good at something, it's really nice if it's something you can get paid to do.

3. Why so tired?

4. Something is out there, it sounds like a train going by. (We live right by the train station, so it probably is, actually.)

5. If my life were a sitcom, it would be titled "Murphy's Law."

6. Sitting on my back porch [if you don't have one, use your imagination] I see the hills wearing their lovely summer color - dried-out brown. (Ah, southern California...)

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to getting home after work and an airport run, tomorrow my plans include reading, writing, and grocery shopping (oh, yeah, probably better get some housecleaning done too), and Sunday, I want to have a nice, relaxing pedicure, and read some more!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

At the movies: "The Dark Knight"

The Dark Knight
Action/drama, 2008

Welcome back to Gotham City, not exactly the most welcoming of places.

The Dark Knight picks up about a year after Batman Begins, and some of Gotham's citizens believe that things have gotten worse since Batman came on the scene - and at times, Batman himself wonders the same thing. He has his (not very effective) imitators, and his detractors, including Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent. Since he operates as a vigilante, no one really knows what rules he follows, and he only has the trust of a very few people - and at least one of them, Gotham Police Lt. Jim Gordon, doesn't know his true identity. Gotham's criminal mob doesn't care much about who's under the mask; they just know he's making life difficult, and the proverbial wild card comes their way to present a solution. "Wild Card" is a far more accurate description of the menacing, dangerously unpredictable character better known as The Joker - he is not at all a funny guy.

My husband absolutely loved Batman Begins and has been eagerly anticipating the release of The Dark Knight all year. I was far more ambivalent about it, since the first film never really connected with me - I respected it artistically, but I just couldn't warm to it - but I was pretty sure I'd see it with him anyway. Excellent decision. Whatever elements I felt were missing in Batman Begins are present in The Dark Knight, and by that I mean far more than storyline and special effects, neither of which was really a problem in the earlier movie. Having said that, I think the story in The Dark Knight is much more compelling; while I find superhero "origin stories" interesting, sometimes the sequels are an improvement (no, seriously) because the background's already been established and the movie can get directly into the crisis at hand.

What makes the crisis at hand particularly involving here, from my perspective, is that the story's focus is fairly well spread among three main characters this time: Bruce Wayne/Batman (still conflicted over his mission); Harvey Dent, the DA whose crusade to clean up Gotham mirrors Batman's, although it uses very different tactics; and The Joker, a force of anarchy like no one has ever seen before. Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker has been justly praised; this character is truly scary, and impossible not to watch. But don't for a minute think that this is a character study, though; even at 2.5 hours running time, it's a fast-moving, intelligent (if sometimes a little confusing, at least for me), high-intensity action drama.

Batman was the first "superhero" without superpowers, and his "hero" qualifications aren't always clear-cut, which is what makes him interesting. He's not a "white knight" who will deliver Gotham out of the hands of the mob, but a dark knight - and while eventually he may be able to achieve the same goal, his methods will be very different.

As I mentioned, I didn't really warm to Batman Begins, but The Dark Knight engaged me from the very beginning. It's not a "feel-good" movie, and not even particularly fun - if you want a fun superhero movie this summer, see Iron Man (again) - but it's a really good movie that's well worth seeing, even if you didn't see how it all "began." (NOTE: It's NOT a movie to take your kids to, though. It's rated PG-13 for good reason, and is not appropriate for young children unless you really want to give them nightmares.)

Random bookworminess and Weekly Geekiness

Thursdays are usually review days around here. Today I'm offering a movie review - because I haven't managed to finish my current read - but not wanting to stray from books entirely, I'm answering this week's book-themed "Randomness" meme.

Randomness: Bookworms (hosted by Naida)

1. What are you currently reading? Still reading Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. It's a long book, so I'm not sure how soon I'll get it reviewed, but it's provoking a lot of response from me so far.
If you're not reading anything right now, what was the last book you read? I'm never "not reading anything":-).
2. Where is your favorite place to get your books from? I'm definitely a book buyer, so the answer is "bookstores in general," but most of my business seems to go to Borders and Amazon.
3. Name a book you read and did
not enjoy. The Bridges of Madison County. Don't get me started.
4. How has your taste in books changed over the years? What types of books do you read now as opposed to five years ago? I answered a similar question here:

When I was younger, I read more genre - mainly mystery and fantasy - than I do these days, but fiction is still my first love book-wise, and probably always will be. I'll branch into nonfiction mainly for memoirs, biography, and history, and I try for every third or fourth book I read these days to be nonfiction, which definitely is a change for me.
I have noticed in the last few years that I prefer reading books that are a bit less "literary;" critics may swoon over them, but I have found that some are too self-consciously "modern" or gimmicky for my taste, or more about style than content. I appreciate good writing, but not so much writing that calls attention to itself. Call me old-fashioned, but the traditional elements of character, plot, and theme still work for me (and generally in that order). I think my tastes probably qualify as solidly middlebrow, but not necessarily mainstream. Trade-paperback, non-genre, sometimes award-winning, sometimes book-club-sanctioned (any book club, not necessarily mine) fiction is what usually grabs me.
5. When you walk into your favorite bookstore, where do you go? Mystery...Romance...Latest Releases....Non-Fiction...etc?
I'll usually head straight to the "new in paperback" display table when I first come in. Next stop, if I'm in Borders, is usually the "3 for 2" paperbacks, and then I'll go to the best-seller shelves. If there are any special seasonal displays, I'll browse there, and then I'll finally make it to the Literature & Fiction secton.

Weekly Geeks #12 (hosted by Dewey)

1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you finish this week.
2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.
3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. I’ll probably turn mine into a sort of interview-review. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).
4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions!
I try to do my reviews as soon as possible after I finish a book, so I'm not behind on anything, except for the book I mentioned above that I'm still reading. So, do you have any questions about Girls Like Us? You may want to know a little about the book first:

This is a parallel biography of three of the most important and influential female singer-songwriters of the late 20th century. It's also a story of the 1960's and 1970's and how American society was changing for everyone, but especially for young women. It's a story of friends and lovers, and career/family choices. The book delves into creativity and collaboration, opportunity and talent and luck, and considers these individuals in the context of their times.

If you're interested in knowing more, please leave your questions in the comments!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weekend Assignment #225: You can't spell "routine" without "rut

This week, Karen says: "Okay, this one is more participatory than most Weekend Assignments. I'm not just asking you to write something; I'm asking you to do something. Are you up to the challenge?"

Weekend Assignment #225: What are you going to do this weekend (or on your next day off) that's different from what you usually do? Make plans to break out of your usual routine, and tell us what they are.

Extra Credit: What else would you do that day, if you had the time and the money?
...And when her shift is over she goes back to Mineola,
Sits on her couch, opens up a diet cola and says

"I'm so, I'm so sick of this place
I'm so ready for a change of pace
I'm just looking for a new routine"
So she spins a globe, and the next thing you know
She's living in Lichtenstein

              - Fountains of Wayne, "New Routine" (from Traffic and Weather, 2007)
To be honest, for the most part I actually prefer routines, and I'm sure that stems directly from my personal control issues. I function best when I know the plan, and I know I'm not unusual in that way. At the same time, though, I'll make jokes about the routine - "Off to Target - another exciting Friday night for the Vasquez crew" -  and I do chafe against it sometimes. After all, you can't spell "routine" without "rut."

I didn't exactly break my routine wide open this weekend - shoot, going to BlogHerCon would have really fulfilled this assignment! - but I did shift things around a bit. Sometimes, it takes baby steps.

To begin with, we did NOT go to Target on Friday night! Tall Paul and I went out for some dinner, with the intention of a trip to what Elder Nephew used to call "the circle store" afterwards, but we decided to go home instead, relax on the couch, and watch the previous night's episode of Burn Notice from the DVR. (BTW, people, are you watching that show? It. Is. Awesome.)

On Saturday, after coffee with my sister at Starbucks - a part of my weekend routine that will actually be suspended for the next couple of weeks while she and her family are on vacation, so I didn't want to change it this week - I did the Target run, as well as my other weekend errands. My husband, meanwhile, was at the movies without me, seeing Hellboy II: The Golden Army (which he really enjoyed, by the way), and my original intention was to use that "alone time" for some writing, but - well, I was already out, and we should all be conserving gas by combining trips, right?

I spent a good part of the afternoon writing, though - more productive than usual, because I actually closed  Google Reader, which is without a doubt my favorite place to procrastinate. I do have a little extension for Firefox (Google Reader Watcher) that keeps up with my unread-feeds count, so I really don't need to keep my Reader tab open all the time. And since that actually did help me get stuff done, I've adopted the same policy at the office (see? new routine!)

Not being churchgoers, our Sunday mornings are open, and we spent this one at the movies, seeing The Dark Knight (review to be posted tomorrow). Afterwards, we had lunch at Octopus, a Japanese-fusion restaurant that we'd only been to once before - and we both ordered different things than we'd had on our first visit, so I think that qualifies as trying to avoid starting a routine/rut. Once we got home, I did have some parts of my weekend routine that I'd been procrastinating about; I did a couple of them, but I'll be honest in telling you I skimped a bit on the housecleaning. If there's anything that feels more rut-like than the chores, I'm not sure what it is.

It's good to tweak the routine, or out-and-out let it slide, sometimes; it gives me a change in perspective, and things usually don't fall apart. Thanks for the nudge, Karen! I'd like to do this more often, but if I make too big a thing out of it, it may become a routine too.

As for the extra credit, I'd play hooky from work for a few days - with no plans at all.

Have you felt like you're in a rut lately? How do you plan to shake up the ol' routine - or do you like it that way?

Change of address!

I haven't moved, but my blog has a new address: it's now being published on its own domain. Welcome to www.3rsblog.com!

I've changed the Feedburner settings, so hopefully this post will be showing up in your feed reader or e-mail just as it usually would. (If you recently saw a bunch of older posts dumped into your reader, it had something to do with the address change/re-set of the feed.) I've been monitoring the feed from my end, and it seems to be picking up everything, so I think that worked - you shouldn't have to change your subscription settings at all.

Bookmarks and links are supposed to redirect from the Blogspot address; if you've linked here, you may notice the change in the links themselves without your having to do anything. Searches should still end up here with no problem. If you have the site bookmarked or listed in your blogroll, you might want to switch to the new address within a few days, once it's "live" all over the Internet.

If you notice any problems, please let me know about them!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ten on Tuesday, sort of: Celebrity Edition

This week's Ten on Tuesday topic, "10 Least Favorite Celebrities," really isn't doing much for me. I try to stay away from the entertainment-gossip-oriented websites and TV shows (although having said that, TMZ on TV can be hilarious, mostly because of the snarky voiceovers), which helps limit my exposure to so-called celebrities who may have been on a reality-TV show once or twice, but are now mostly famous for being on gossip websites and in tabloids. That means I'm having a hard time thinking of ten celebrities that I'm sick of - that aren't the same ones that everyone else is sick of too. Also, it bothers me that, for the most part, the celebrities that come to mind are women, but as long as the media keeps spotlighting their foibles more than men's, this is what we have to work with.

On first thought, a few names came to mind:

and then I stalled. Then I decided it wasn't worth trying to come up with any more.

Instead, I'm going to go the "Just pick one already" route, via Meg Fowler (who calls it "Choose Ye.") I'm not sure it's easier, but it's a little more positive. The rules are simple, per Meg: "No 'it depends' or 'both!' or 'neither'… you must choose!" My choice in each pair is underlined - and to be honest, some of them are just completely random.

Robert Redford or Paul Newman?
Bill Murray or Steve Martin? (mostly because of Groundhog Day)
Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
Elvis Costello or Elvis Presley?
George Clooney or Brad Pitt? (not as tough as choice as you might think)
Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday?
Garrison Keillor or David Sedaris?
Stevie Wonder or Al Green? (sorry for betraying my Memphis roots on this one)
Sophia Loren or Marilyn Monroe? (Some Like it Hot, my friends)
Lawrence Welk or Percy Faith? (in honor of my great-aunts, who watched him on TV every week)
Miles Davis or John Coltrane?
Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman? (Total no-brainer. Tina Fey is a nerd goddess, and 30 Rock has 17 Emmy nominations!)
Denzel Washington or Russell Crowe?
Ron Popeil (of SET IT AND FORGET IT fame) or Billy Mays (OXY CLEAN!)
John Cusack or Matthew Broderick? (Bueller? Bueller?)
Benicio Del Toro or Javier Bardem?
Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino?
Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn?
Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant? (See The Philadelphia Story, and you get both!)
Bob or Doug?
Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon?
Roger Moore or Sean Connery? (Sorry, but he's the Bond, James Bond I grew up with)
Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz?
Matt Damon or Ben Affleck?
Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett?

Who do you choose? Tell us in the comments, or post them on your own blog!

Traveling again...

I'm holding down the fort at Sunshine's place today. She issued an invitation a few weeks ago for guest bloggers to contribute posts talking about what's great about their home states. My current  state of California was already spoken for, but this is where it comes in handy to have moved around as much as I have - I was able to but in a bid to post about one of my previous home states. Bending the rules just a little, maybe - but she said I could do it if no one who still lives there asked for it.

Well, I guess no one did, because today I'm hosting your virtual tour of Tennessee over at ...and the pursuit of happiness. Y'all come over and see me! Please? Thank you, thankyouverymuch. Oh, and if you have comments, please leave them on the guest post (not here) - don't worry, I'll still get them!

Monday, July 21, 2008

BlogHerCon post-mortem, in absentia

For the record, this is Post #600. Yikes! 

This past weekend, the annual BlogHer Conference took place in San Francisco. You may have heard about it somewhere - going or nor going to BlogHerCon has been quite the topic of blogversation lately, although no one but me has called it "BlogHerCon," as far as I know (no, wait, someone has); most peple just call it "BlogHer," and its "official" short name is "BlogHer08" (this year's model). But since BlogHer is also the community for women who blog that organizes the conference every year (and which provides the ads in my sidebar), I'm going with BlogHerCon. Maybe it will catch on next year. Hey, my nerd factor is a matter of record - every conference or convention is a "something-con."

If you normally spend your time in parts of the blogosphere where the topic of BlogHerCon rarely, if ever, came up, and you're wondering what this is all about - well, wonder no more! And it's not just the conference itself that gets people wound up; it's the parties and mixers and face-to-face meeting and networking that surround it too, as hundreds of women bloggers get to match a face to the words. Many of the blogs I subscribe to are women's personal blogs, and last week, a lot of them were talking and Twittering about BlogHerCon - either they were excited to be going, or they were regretful that they weren't. The excitement and the regrets seemed to be at least as much about the surrounding socializing as they were about the conference content. And many of the attendees kept up the talking and Twittering with live updates from BlogHerCon - the sessions, the parties, the swag - once the event was underway, keeping everyone informed.

If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned it here before - well, I didn't go, and I really didn't have a whole lot to say about that beforehand; therefore, you may be wondering why I would have anything to say about it afterwards, given that I...well, wasn't there.

I first became aware of the conference last year, but felt like far too much of a blogging newbie even to consider going. This year, on the other hand, I did give it some serious thought. In fact, I thought about it for so long it ended up being too late to do anything about going. Procrastination over a decision sometimes winds up making the decision for you, I've noticed. And in this case, in some ways it was a relief to have it decided. My introversion and discomfort with in-person networking are as much a matter of record as my nerd factor, and the idea that I would willingly step into a situation that's so heavy on the networking is ...well, at least a little out of character. And given the fact that this year's conference sold out, with literally a thousand registered attendees, I can easily see being overwhelmed by it all.

As I said, I'm somewhat relieved and not sorry that I didn't go this year. I've read some attendees' dispatches from BlogHerCon, and have most appreciated the live-blogs and reports from particular talks and panels. That's the real meat of a conference, and to be honest, there's a fair amount of it that I would have been interested in hearing. Besides, when you're in an auditorium or conference room listening to speakers, you're there for a reason, and in a crowd of unknowns, I'm much more comfortable with structure. At the same time, I got the message from some people there that it was all very big, crowded, and could indeed be overwhelming.

It's the surrounding social stuff that makes me more nervous. Some attendees admitted, via blog and Twitter tweets, that they were spending more time at parties than in sessions. That's worthwhile; bloggers come to feel like we know each other because we share so much online, but actually meeting in person and spending time together makes our relationships truly personal. However, reading about who was at which parties, and who else was there, and what people were wearing loses its appeal for me after awhile - it can start to sound more like name-dropping and "look at what I got to do!" than "let me share this experience so you'll know what it was like." That's too much like the outside-looking-in high school experience that I prefer to forget, thanks. I think that's also one reason why some bloggers who couldn't attend, or chose not to, just get tired of hearing about it all, or outright backlash against it.

The vendor handouts - the swag - don't really excite me, and honestly make me just a bit uncomfortable. Some attendees talked about getting three or four goody bags, from various parties as well as the conference itself, and they weren't full of trinkets and cheap T-shirts. There has to be an expectation that people will blog about what they got - this is a big marketing opportunity, clearly. You know, I'm still writing most of my reviews here about books I bought myself and movies that I've seen on my own (well, usually with my husband, but you know what I mean); I don't seek out freebies. I'm still getting used to the idea that people offer to send me books for free, and I probably decline more than I accept, because it's still interest-driven for me. I'm really trying to keep it that way.

But despite uncertainty, reservations, and the backlash, I'm seriously thinking about attending BlogHerCon next year - location, timing, and cost all permitting, of course. I've never been to a blogging conference, and I do take this seriously enough that I think I could learn a lot. As far as the social side of it goes, thanks to my new association with the LA Moms Blog (oops, I'm guilty of a little name-dropping there myself), I actually will know a few bloggers in person by next summer, and that will help make it a little less intimidating. Would any other newbies be interested in taking on BlogHerCon 2009 with me? Let's start talking about it soon. And if you went to BlogHerCon this year, what's your advice?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Q&A - this time, it's a classic

Tuesday Thingers 7/15 - Book-swapping (hosted by Marie of The Boston Bibliophile)

Today's topic: Book-swapping. Do you do it? What site(s) do you use? How did you find out about them? What do you think of them? Do you use LT's book-swapping column feature for information on what to swap? Do you participate in any of the LT communities that discuss bookswapping, like the Bookmooch group for example?

Well, I have to say "yes and no" to the "Do you book-swap?" question. Inspired by the "read and release" philosophy of BookCrossing (which I joined almost six years ago [as bookcookie39] but where I'm no longer very active), I rarely hold on to books once I finish reading them. I'll give them away to friends (my off-line book club includes a book swap our meetings), donate them to the Friends of the Library for their bookstore, or just leave them in a safe place where they might be found and taken. When I was an active BookCrosser, I did quite a lot of "releasing by mail," sending my used books to other members who requested them. In that tradition, these days, when one of my blog readers leaves an insightful comment on a book I've reviewed and expresses the intention to keep an eye out for it, I've been known to offer to send her my copy - if I didn't plan to keep it anyway, it's nice to know where it's going (and look forward to another review!). I actually like doing this, except for the part that involves going to the post office - and that part is the admittedly lame reason why I do much less of it than I used to.

I've never been all that big on true book-swapping, though. I'm happy to give you a book I've finished reading, but I'll rarely take one in return. That's another BookCrossing-related thing; when I was arranging to send someone one of my books and she offered "something from (her) BC bookshelf" in exchange, I started finding it tiring and time-consuming to browse all those other people's collections, especially when they didn't seem to have much in common with my own, so I basically copped out on trading and just gave away books. (Responding with "Oh, it's fine, you can just have it," seemed more polite than saying, "Sorry, you just don't have anything that I want.") In-person swapping, with the books in hand at the time, is much more manageable for me. If I ever change my mind about that, though, I may have to check out LT's swap-sites links. If the book "giving" and book "getting" are separate transactions, that may be worth trying. If one of you book-swappers can enlighten me on how all that works, I'd appreciate it!

Vacation Spots - Booking though Thursday (hosted by Deb)

Another question inspired by the Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard having burned down on the Fourth of July.
Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?
I’m still devastated about the Bunch of Grapes, even though I usually only got to visit it once or twice a year–it was such a vital part of my trips to Martha’s Vineyard. Its (hopefully temporary) loss won’t affect my day-to-day book habits, but it was such a wonderful store on one of my favorite places. Stopping there was such a strong tradition, and I’m going to miss it as part of my vacations. But it made me think–I always buy books when I’m away from home. They’re as much of a trip-souvenir as any t-shirt or trinket. Better, even! And it occurs to me that I can’t be the only one of us who does that, huh?

I partially answered this question in last week's BTT response:
There are usually some books in my TBR collection that I have mentally set aside as "good vacation reading" for time or thematic reasons (if not both), and I'll take a few of them with me. I'll usually take more books than I think I can possibly get through, just in case I have more reading time than expected - I would not want to run out of reading material! However, if that should happen, it would just be a good excuse - as if I need one - to check out a local bookstore, which is something I'll rarely pass up an opportunity to do.
Since I don't have a "regular" vacation spot that I return to every year or so - my in-laws do have a fishing cabin in the Eastern Sierras, but there are no bookstores for miles - I don't have a specific "away" bookstore that I visit. But it's rare that I don't end up in a bookstore at least once during any vacation (or at least check out the books display in a gift shop). It may be an intriguing-looking local shop - sometimes I've found books in those stores that wouldn't have crossed my radar at home, and bringing them back with me has turned out to be a very good decision. At other times, it may be a nearby Borders or B&N, just because I'm jonesing for some new reading material (even though I did bring books with me).

Because here's the thing about me and bookstores - if it's rare for me not to end up in one, it's extremely unusual for me to leave one empty-handed. What about you?

Friday Fill-In #81 (hosted by Janet)

All questions this week are courtesy of Sherry; thank you, girl!

1. If I could be a fly on the wall I would listen in to what goes on in some of those meetings I'm not invited to (boring, huh?).

2. Jealousy is occasionally motivating, but usually just unpleasant.

3. When I see a shooting star my wish would be that I could have three more wishes.

4. I'd rather be early than stuck in traffic any day!

5. Certain songs when I hear them make me wanna push the "skip" button on the iPod or change the station on the radio.

6. If time were in a bottle I'd use an extra couple of hours of it every day (most likely for sleeping)!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to something I haven't quite planned out yet, tomorrow my plans include writing, reading, and maybe even some housecleaning and Sunday, I want to see The Dark Knight with my husband, and then write a review of it to post here!

I haven't started a new book this week - still reading Girls Like Us - so I'm bypassing the Page 123 meme. Instead, here are my responses to the Classics Meme that has been making the rounds. It was started by Kristen at Book Club Classics to promote her new site LitGuides.com (a site dedicated to helping teachers/students navigate classic literature), and I've seen it at Just a (Reading) Fool, Blue Archipelago, and My Own Little Reading Room (and I'm sure there are others who have posted their answers too - I just haven't seen them myself!)

  1. What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)? Huckleberry Finn. I read Tom Sawyer on my own - it's more of a kids' book, in my opinion - but might not have read Huck if it weren't required American Lit. reading. It's a good story with a great main character, but from where we are now, it's also an important historical document in context of its time and place.
  2. What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)? Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff isn't a tortured hero, he's just a beast. Far too much romantic mythology about "the bad boy" sprung from here. Sorry, I can't really be objective - I just heartily dislike this book.
  3. Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)? Slaughterhouse-Five. It's a more modern "classic," granted - it may even be postmodern in its blend of elements (history, science fiction, existentialist absurdity) - and that in itself is enough reason to read it. So it goes.
  4. Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)? Beowulf. I took Shakespeare instead of British Lit. in high school just to avoid it :-). Seriously, though, I don't really have an answer for this one - I suppose I could vote for Wuthering Heights, though.
  5. **Bonus** Why do you think certain books become classics? They're well-written, their themes are universal and timeless, and they have at least one appealing, sympathetic character.
What would your answers to these questions be?