Friday, October 30, 2009

Week-End Review - filling you in on two weeks' worth of linkage!

Happy Birthday to my sister Teresa, who has neither a blog nor a Twitter account - but she is spending her birthday at Disneyland!

I've changed the format of this post a bit - the links are at the end, so hopefully you won't leave before you read the rest of it!

New Arrivals in my Google Reader

BlogHer.com has announced the Call for Ideas for sessions at next summer's BlogHer'10 Conference! Do you have any to suggest? I'm mulling some over...they can be submitted until November 15!

Friday Fill-ins #148

Friday Fill-Ins

1. It was a dark and stormy night, so I curled up on the couch and hoped the power wouldn't go out.

2. I just don't get why some people don't enjoy reading, so I offered to take the books myself.

3. Rushing out, I'm almost guaranteed to forget something!

4. The coyotes must be out tonight...I think I heard a howl! (We live near an open-space reserve, where our neighbors include coyotes - who occasionally roam around the neighborhood.)

5. Shhhh... I think I hear some trick-or-treaters coming!

6. I'm starving, so please give me something good to eat!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a workout and a quiet evening at home, tomorrow my plans include setting the clocks back and enjoying my extra hour of sleep and Sunday, I want to remember to bring the gift when I take my sister out for a birthday lunch!

Dispatches: Links of the Week(s) - two weeks' collection for the price of one!

Friends answer the call, no matter when it comes

Is dysfunctionality in the eye of the beholder, or does everyone want to be on reality TV these days?
Speaking of dysfunctional: public schools really have MUCH bigger problems this this (but that still doesn't exempt students from following their rules)
Speaking of schools: school-bus safety and cell phones don't mix!
Speaking of buses: this would be one memorable ride

Manners are manners: 21st-century "mobile etiquette" isn't all that new and different

The pay's very good, but the working conditions...?

Grease and the dynamics of "Girl World"

This probably isn't the last word regarding the FTC guidelines and review disclosures, but it does help clarify a lot; perhaps this will too

Customer-service horror story of the week; swine flu doesn't have to be a horror story, says a pediatrician

My kid got them in first grade from his friend's baseball cap - have the lice come home with your kid yet? Regarding more appealing animals: now here's a catfight! Regarding kids and animals: why dogs really aren't "practice" children

Destined to be classics: quotes from actual college-level essays - yes, this is what becomes of those public-school problems! Already classics: 11 favorite Monty Python routines

Does the Halloween Fairy visit your house, leaving toys in exchange for candy?

A working digital camera made from Legos? I think a couple of boys in my family just found one more thing for their Christmas lists!

The thing I did NOT need to learn this week (and you probably don't need to either, but I had to share anyway!)

Happy Friday, and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tools of the (Blogging) Trade (Weekly Geeks 2009-40)

I didn't get the opportunity to post my response to last week's Weekly Geeks query, but since there wasn't a new one for this week - WG took the week off to observe Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon this past Saturday - I'm squeezing it in before the next theme goes up this coming weekend!

Last week, Ruth asked about Tools of the Trade:

Book blogging, as a concept, is essentially pretty simple: If you have Internet access and an opinion about a book, you can be a book blogger. However, actually maintaining a book blog is much more complicated -- our blogs are labors of love that require a lot of time, energy and devotion. For this edition of Weekly Geeks, I want to focus on the little things that make your blogging and/or reading life a bit easier. Do you use sites like GoodReads, LibraryThing or Shelfari to organize your books? Do you swear by Book Darts? Couldn't live without your Book Buddy? Love connecting with other bloggers on sites such as Twitter? Tell us about what makes your blog tick. Is there something specific that keeps you organized or inspired?

I'd never been successful at keeping manual records of my books or journaling my reading - and oddly enough, despite the fact that I'm an accountant and work with spreadsheets all the time, it had never occurred to me to use them in connection with my reading habits! Starting a blog turned out to be a great version of a "reading journal" for me, but it didn't really help much with keeping track of the books themselves.

One of the advantages of my Amazon Kindle e-book reader is that it essentially provides built-in cataloging for the items I read on it, and those items are starting to change my reading habits. The Kindle has already led me to purchase newly published "must-read" books without waiting the months until they're released in paperback, and I don't think I'll ever travel without it. But it's never going to break me from buying trade paperbacks, unless it actually forces them out of production...and for those "traditional" books, I still swear by Levenger's Book Bungees, which keep my place without any danger of falling out of the book.

I also swear by LibraryThing for keeping track of those "hard copy" books, and I visit the site almost daily to update my tags, edit my books, and add new titles to my "To Read" or "Wishlist" collections. Book bloggers are usually the original source for those additions these days, so I think it's totally appropriate to consider LibraryThing a "blogging tool" as well as "reading" tool. (GoodReads seems to be better for social networking, but if your interest is primarily in cataloging your books online, I think LibraryThing is the better choice.)

My blog has a custom domain hosted on Blogger; the domain registration costs me $10 a year (and I make slightly more than that in ad revenue from BlogHerAds, so it's worth it), and I really haven't had many complaints about Blogger itself. However, I find it a lot easier to compose my posts outside of it and just paste them in when they're ready, and I love Google Documents for that; I draft almost everything except for short, spur-of-the-moment posts there first. It's even easy to work with images in Google Docs; I've recently started using the online photo-editing app Picnik to play with the pictures I post, and even create buttons and banners. Once my posts are done, I can schedule when I want Blogger to publish them, and I'm usually able to have posts ready at least a few days ahead (assuming I can make the time to write them - does anyone know a tool or trick to help with that?)

A few other Geeks mentioned Google Reader as a blogging tool, and I absolutely agree! So much of my blogging inspiration comes from what I read on other blogs, and having their feeds come into GReader is so much more convenient than visiting bookmarked sites all the time. My feeds are organized into folders, and I'll skim the contents of each folder in "list view." I'll be honest; I don't necessarily open all the posts and read them in full, but if the title and snippet grab me, or it's a post from a favorite blog (yes, we all have them!), I'll expand it to read the whole thing. One thing that helps with this is the Better GReader extension for Firefox; using the "Colorful List View" option makes scanning much easier on my eyes.

I've had an account on Twitter for a year and a half, and it's helped new readers find my blog. It's also helped me connect with other bloggers outside the comments section, and I've joined in on some very interesting discussions there (and watched even more without jumping in). I like using Twitter for interaction more than broadcasting, but it takes up a lot more time that way, which is the main reason I'm not a very consistent presence over there. I like it too much to give it up, though.

Do you have any other suggestions for things - software, apps, even habits - that can make blogging and reading just a little easier and more fun? I'm always open to trying out something new!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just Sick About It! (Weekend Assignment #290)

Because real life tends to get in the way sometimes, Karen's bad head cold has inspired this Weekend Assignment:

Weekend Assignment #290: Are you one of those lucky people who hardly ever get sick, or do you tend to catch every cold or flu or virus that comes along? And when you do get some infectious disease, do you stay home, or try to keep going?

Extra Credit: Are you getting a flu shot this year?

It seems to me that I got sick more when I was younger. I remember missing school for a week at a time a few times a year, but rarely for anything extremely serious - just a combination of symptoms that made staying home a lot more comfortable. The worst illness I can recall during high school, which probably was some form of the flu - I remember fainting a couple of times, and serious intestinal distress a few days later - hit during Christmas break. It's still true, even once your school years are over: being sick during vacation time is the worst. While my ex-husband was in grad school, we both were hit with a bad case of the seasonal flu one year. Then there was the time our friends came to visit for Commencement weekend and brought a miserable stomach virus with them, but we lucked out in a way with that one - it was somehow adult-specific. Neither their son (14 months old) or ours (almost 5 at the time) caught it, so we weren't trying to care for miserable children in our own weakened conditions.

At this point, I rarely take more than two or three sick days off from work a year - as a result, I have about six weeks of sick time accrued, which will be good if something major actually does happen to my health. This is partly because I really don't seem to get sick very often any more. I have sniffles and sneezes pretty often, but that could also be due to minor allergies. I get headaches when I'm overtired or there's a change in the weather looming; I have sinuses that seem to sense impending pressure changes or something. I may catch colds a few times a year, but they're usually minor - and yes, I am one of those annoying people who takes a cold to work with them. I'll only stay home if I truly don't feel up to working; otherwise, I'll get myself through the day and then crash early when I get home in the evening.

I think that when I was younger, part of the appeal of staying home sick was having someone taking care of me - that's less likely as we grow up, but in the last few years, I've grown more and more inclined to "tough it out" when I get a relatively minor illness. Becoming a parent myself probably influenced that, although I was tremendously lucky in having a child who was rarely ill himself. Living on my own after my divorce probably steered me that way even more, though, since I had to take care of myself, the dog, the house, and whatever else came up, no matter how I was feeling at the time. I still tend to think that way, even though I'm not by myself any more.

When I'm getting a cold, I usually know it first by a sore throat and an itchy feeling on the roof of my mouth, and then I start self-medicating. My preferred treatments are Ricola cough drops (honey lemon or green tea, both with echinacea), chicken-noodle soup, and Zicam. (The nasal-spray version of Zicam has been identified as potentially harmful to the sense of smell, but I've used it for years, and as the person who usually picks up after the dog, I can confirm that my sense of smell works quite well.) If I'm feeling particularly worn out or weak, I may stay home for a day, but otherwise I tend to just keep going.

I don't usually get flu shots. I got one a couple of years ago because I had a regular checkup scheduled during flu season and my doctor's office offered me the shot while I was there; if that happens again this year, I'll probably take them up on it, but otherwise I probably won't bother with it. My husband and stepchildren have already gotten theirs, though (the kids got the seasonal-flu shot; they may be going back for H1N1).

Has "cold and flu season" started up for you and your family? Will you stay home and convalesce, or tough it out?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Talk: "The Possibility of Everything," by Hope Edelman

Disclosures: This is a review of an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) requested and received directly from the publisher. The book became available in stores at the end of September 2009. *The purchasing link at the end of the review goes through my Amazon Affiliates account.

The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman

Ballantine Books, 2009 (Hardcover) (ISBN 0345506502 / 9780345506504)
Memoir, 352 pages

First sentence: "A ragged, mostly dirt road twists through six miles of rainforest in western Belize, linking the villages of Cristo Bay and San Antonio."

Teaser: "'How's Maya doing?' Michele asks. She's been getting the blow-by-blow about Dodo for the past month, but we haven't spoken for a few days." (page 55, ARC)

Book description: Rather than quoting and linking to the publisher's summary as I usually do in this section of a review, I'm going to let the author tell you herself, in this excerpt from a recent blog post:
"(O)ur daughter...had series of 'friends' at (the age of two). This alone was not a problem. I had an imaginary companion as a child; my sister did, too. Ours came and went freely, and appeared completely benign. My daughter, on the other hand, talked about one of her 'friends' constantly, in a manner more articulate and detailed than one might expect a two-year-old could manage. She described with utter conviction the island where he lived, a whole world she claimed she could see. As the months progressed, my husband and I became more than a little concerned.

Creativity or delusion? We couldn’t tell.

'It’s a normal developmental phase,' the pediatrician assured us. 'She’ll grow out of it,' the therapist with whom we consulted said. When my daughter's behavior became mildly aggressive and she attributed her actions to her 'friend,' we were told this, too, was within the normal range. But we were the ones who’d witnessed our daughter’s development every day since her birth. We felt that something else was going on, that the rote explanations we were given somehow weren't adding up.

Our quest to help our daughter eventually brought us to Maya healers in the Central American country of Belize. The trip yielded inexplicable yet effective results--a wholly unexpected outcome for a self-professed cynic like me.

To say some readers have disagreed with the parenting choices I made puts it mildly. Some have labeled me over-reactive and overprotective. The more blunt ones have called me a total nutcase.

What can I say? I also questioned my judgment, my motives, and my sanity nine years ago, and again as I wrote the story down. What kind of mother, I wondered, allows her imagination to tumble into such extreme and dramatic territory? Why couldn’t I sit back and let the 'friend' disappear on its own?"
Comments: I first encountered Hope Edelman ten years ago, when I sought out her book Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss shortly after my own mother died. I was intrigued when I learned she'd written a new memoir from a mother's perspective, and I was quickly drawn into her story.

Edelman discovered that her young daughter had a new imaginary friend when she was bitten on the leg by the child, who blamed it on "Dodo." Imaginary friends can be disruptive, but the changes in Maya's personality and behavior since he turned up are particularly unsettling to her mother. Maya becomes increasingly challenging, and Hope's concerns are escalated by a history of mental illness in her family. She is also frustrated by a perceived lack of support; her husband is working incredibly long hours with a start-up, and she still feels isolated and out of place from their recent move to Southern California. Professional advice doesn't seem to help; the only thing that briefly improved the situation was a ritual performed by the family's Nicaraguan nanny, who believes "Dodo" is a malignant spirit. For that reason, and despite her own deep skepticism, Hope and her husband Uzi arrange to bring Maya to visit a shaman when the family takes a winter vacation to Belize. Uzi is open to "the possibility of everything;" Hope isn't really, but she's disturbed enough by their situation that she's willing to try something unconventional.

Domestic drama frames this story, but its heart lies in the family's experiences with a hospitable innkeeping family, their explorations of the rainforest and the ancient ruins of pre-Columbian Central America, and their visits with two healers.  Edelman's writing is conversational and full of detail, and her style is open and intimate; I found her voice appealing. I've never been especially curious about visiting Central America, but her descriptions of the sacred Mayan ruins made me think I'd like to see them. She brought me along on a journey with her family, and I never felt like an intruder. She revealed her self-awareness and shared her doubts and failings frankly; I was able to understand and empathize with them, even though I don't think I would have addressed things the same way. (Honestly, I do think she may have been a bit over-reactive to the imaginary friend.)

Openness to possibility and ambiguity is a quality I try to cultivate in myself, and I appreciated reading about someone else's struggles with it. While my own marriage and parenting experiences are quite different from Hope Edelman's, many of the challenges and self-questionings are similar. The Possibility of Everything was a satisfying read, and yet it left me with more questions to think about. I think it has potential to provide some excellent book-group discussion.

If you have read and reviewed this, please leave your link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to add it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The (reading) challenge of (Shelf) Discovery, and the Readathon Event Survey

I'm starting to understand how book bloggers get pulled into these reading challenges, although I've held out against them pretty well. I've only signed up for two so far, and they've both been targeted at trying to thin the TBR herd.

But here comes another that will not only add to the stacks - it's going to add books that I've already read! Granted, I last read them over 25 years ago, but it will be the first time I'll have to get books specifically for a reading challenge. I'm not sure exactly what I'm thinking here...except that I can't resist this one! I suspect the seeds were already planted, and the challenge is just giving me an excuse to work in the garden (not the best analogy, but it will have to do for now).

Julie of Booking Mama is hosting her first reading challenge: The Shelf Discovery Challenge! This six-month challenge starts on November 1, and is inspired by Lizzie Skurnick's "reading memoir" of young-adult literary classics, which I reviewed in September and truly enjoyed. It reminded me about so many old favorites, and mentioned quite a few books that I somehow managed to miss, too - and so, as I said, the seeds were planted for revisiting the YA of my day. Julie's challenge is providing the Miracle-Gro. (I have a black thumb and therefore don't garden in real life, so once again, another lame analogy.) Once I link this post at her announcement post, I'll be officially signed up! (If you don't have a blog, you don't have to miss out; just leave a comment on that post to let Julie know you're in!)

Here's what the challenge requires:

Grab the challenge button at the top of (the announcement post) page and write a post detailing what six Shelf Discovery books you are going to read within the next six months (you always have the option to change your original list).

On November 1st, 2009, Julie will place a Shelf Discovery Challenge button in the upper right hand corner of her blog. When you click on this button, you will see a post where all the participants are listed as well as the links to their Shelf Discovery updates and "book reports." So, every time you have a post relating to the Shelf Discovery Challenge (with the exception of your first sign-up post) you should leave a comment there with a link to your post.
It's very tempting - and very easy, to be honest - to make all six of my picks re-reads, but I feel like I should choose a couple of books that I missed during my own YA years. The list may change, since changes are allowed, but here's what I'm starting out with (new-to-me books are *'d):

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle (I still have a copy of this!)
The Arm of the Starfish, Madeleine L'Engle
The Moon by Night, Madeleine L'Engle
Forever, Judy Blume
Jacob I Have Loved, by Katherine Paterson*
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell* (to be borrowed from my sister)

Yes, I know it's a bit heavy on Madeleine L'Engle, but given that she's an all-time favorite author of mine, I can't pass up the chance to re-visit Meg, Polly, and Vicky, L'Engle's "holy trinity" of teen heroines. And I'm really curious to see what my adult perspective brings to re-reading Forever...

It's not too late to make some "shelf discoveries" of your own - sign up for Julie's challenge!


End of Event Survey for the 24-hour Readathon

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hours 9 and 10 were a bit difficult, as I hit a mid-afternoon lull, but some coffee and The Hunger Games kept me in the game. I hit the wall ten hours later, though - despite desperately wanting to finish Catching Fire, I couldn't keep my eyes open any more, and bailed at the beginning of Hour 21 (1 AM Pacific time).
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
The two I just mentioned are ideal Readathon material, actually, but so many people have already read them by now. Hopefully by this time next year, the last book in the trilogy will be out too!
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really. I know a few things I'd do differently for myself, but I think that it was really well organized and run.
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The cheerleaders did a fantastic job!
5. How many books did you read?
I finished two books (I was already 60 pages into my first one) and got about 3/4 of the way through a third.
6. What were the names of the books you read?

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
8. Which did you enjoy least?
I liked them all!
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I'm not sure at this point. I got a lot of reading done, which I loved, but didn't do so much on the blogging/commenting side, which is probably why I totally forgot about the mini-challenges! I think I might be an official cheerleader for a couple of hours the next time, and an "unofficial" reader, but I'm not making any decisions yet.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Salon #4: Wrapping Up the Read-a-thon, and other Bookkeeping stuff

The Sunday Salon.com

See below for my final Read-a-thon Update!

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Book reviews posted this week:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (this post includes a guest review from my sister)

Next reviews scheduled:
The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman (ARC from the publisher)

For the "To Read Again" collection:

New additions to the Wishlist*

The Life You Longed For, by Maribeth Fischer
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City, by David Lebovitz
Trouble: A Novel, by Kate Christensen

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

This probably isn't the last word regarding the FTC guidelines and review disclosures, but it does help clarify a lot of the questions book bloggers have raised recently

If you find weeding out your bookcases a challenge, try weeding out an entire library

For a town not really known as a literary hot spot, it's exciting that four Los Angeles bookstores are among the "10 Most Popular Bookstores on Twitter"! (And I need to add three of them to my "follow" list...)

Read-a-thon Wrap-up!

This is my fourth and final update.

Quitting time: 1:00 AM PST (No, I didn't make it all the way, but I'm only mildly disappointed about that.)

Estimated total time spent reading since 5 AM: 14 hours (reading only - I didn't count Twitter/blog update/commenting time toward my Read-a-thon total. If that's added, the total is probably somewhere between 16 and 17 hours.)

Total Pages read: 952 (2 books finished, 1 75% completed)

Books completed: Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book almost finished, but couldn't stay awake (to be finished later today):
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

What's next?
  • Finish Catching Fire and make notes for review!
  • Write reviews of three books read during Read-a-thon and schedule for posting over the next couple of weeks
  • Return visits to commenters/cheerleaders and respond to blog comments here. Thanks so much to everyone who dropped by to cheer, both here and on Twitter, where my updates were more frequent.

Read-a-thon Reflections:
  • I am seriously impressed by those who were able to make the rounds of participants as Cheerleaders and still get some reading of their own done! I was pretty sure I couldn't manage both, so I chose to focus on the reading...and that leaves me feeling that I missed out a bit on some of the social/community fun of Read-a-thon. I did pop in on Twitter pretty regularly, but I decided to limit my blog time to updating and visiting between books, and since I only finished two of them, I just didn't get so much of that done!
  • I completely blew off the mini-challenges and didn't do a single one. I didn't even think about checking in to see what they were, to be honest - I kind of forgot about them! I definitely missed a community opportunity there.
  • Having said that, I have few regrets about how I did spend my Read-a-thon time! I really liked blocking out a day to read, with minimal computer activity (by my standards), and I'm pleased with the reading I accomplished. I wish I'd finished Catching Fire and made it to at least one more book, but I'm not losing sleep over it (pun intended, since I didn't last the entire 24 hours!)
  • I'm really glad to have experienced my first Read-a-thon, and I'm thinking about scheduling "reading days" for myself on occasional weekends going forward...but at this point, I'm not sure I'll participate in the next Read-a-thon itself. It did disrupt my family's weekend, and that's about the only thing I do regret about it - and I hope they know that I truly appreciate their going along with the plan!
How was your Read-a-thon experience?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Readathon Update #3: The Games are ON!

Current local time: 6:30 PM PST

Estimated total time spent reading since 5 AM: 9.5 hours.

Total Pages read: 652 (2 books)

I don't usually track that, but it seems appropriate to the occasion.

Books completed: Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

What now?
  • Return visits from cheerleaders and visit a few other Read-a-thon participants at their blogs
  • Make notes for review of The Hunger Games
  • Walk the dog
  • See about something to eat for dinner
  • Get back to reading again in about an hour!
What to read next?
Catching Fire  by Suzanne Collins

What's after that? It depends on whether I can make it through one more book, to be honest!
I feel like I've missed out a bit on the social aspects of the Readathon, but I chose to get into it for the reading this time. I don't know how some folks are managing both reading and cheerleading!

Read-a-thon Update #2: One book finished!

Current local time: 11:15 AM PST

Estimated time spent reading since 5 AM: 4 hours.
I was away from reading for over an hour starting around 6:30 AM (showered. got dressed, walked the dog), and have taken shorter breaks (5-10 minutes at a time) throughout the morning, including checking in on Twitter.

Pages read: 282
I don't usually track that, but it seems appropriate to the occasion.

Book completed: Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin (I started it on Wednesday and was on page 60 at the time the Read-a-thon kicked off)

What now?
  • Return visits from cheerleaders and visit a few other Read-a-thon participants at their blogs
  • Make notes for review of Love the One You're With
  • Get back to reading again within the hour!
What to read next?
The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins

What's after that?
  • Another update post in a few hours
  • Possible change of reading venue (taking my book to Starbucks)
  • Hoping my husband and the kids are enjoying their day out and about in LA (they went to Universal CityWalk, and may go out to Santa Monica later - it's a beautiful day, and I'm in the house reading!)
How's YOUR Read-a-thon going?

And so it begins: Readathon Update #1

According to the clock on my computer, it's 4:50 AM as I write this - T minus 10 minutes to Read-a-thon blast-off!

I plan to start off a bit slowly - read for 60 to 90 minutes, then take a shower/dog-walking break. I'll read through breakfast, of course (which may be accompanied by a little extra coffee).

The first book I'll be reading is one already in progress - I'm on page 60 of Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin.

I'll be checking in here and on Twitter every so often, but trying not to get too sucked in, since the priority for the day (and night, however long that goes) is READING!

Good luck, Read-a-thoners!

Friday, October 23, 2009

We interrupt our regular schedule for a Read-a-thon Preview!

There's a 24 Hour Read-a-thon going on tomorrow, starting at 5 AM Pacific time. (On Saturday?! Oh, what the heck, I get up at 4:30 most mornings anyway.) I have the day off from work today to get some chores and errands out of the way before the event gets started, and another vacation day on Monday for additional recovery time!

I posted my prospective reading list in my Sunday Salon post earlier this week. I've thrown a couple of other books into the mix since then (partly because I finished the book I reviewed yesterday and pulled another out of the Read-a-thon pile to start reading next):

There's no way I'm going to last the whole 24 hours, despite the "encouragement" of my husband, who tweeted this in response to my saying that I'd consider it a "raging success" if I manage 12-14 hours of reading:
RamsesTMagnum: @florinda_3rs WHAT?! I can't believe you are considering going "Sarah Palin" on this. My motto is "Read 'till your eyes bleed!"
WHAT? "Sarah Palin"?!? Is he suggesting that I may be a quitter? It's on the record: I'm no quitter! I am, however, a realist. But seriously, he does intend to facilitate my activities by getting out of the house with the kids for most of the day. Thanks, honey! And maybe I'll shoot for 16-18 hours of reading...

In this as in so many other things, the tricky part will be dividing time between the books and the blogging. At this point, I'm planning to post updates every few (4-6) hours both here and on Twitter (with the #readathon hashtag); they may be more frequent on Twitter, but they'll be a bit longer here. I'll post a final wrap-up in the Sunday Salon. Given the extra posting activity during the weekend - and all that time spent reading instead of writing! - next week's posting schedule may be a little out of whack.

I'm not sure how much I'll be getting around to visit other Read-a-thon participants, considering that there are over 275 of them...but if your blog is in my Google Reader subscriptions and you're posting updates, I'll try to come by to see you - and leave an encouraging comment - at least once during the festivities! And for those of you who are nice enough to comment on my own updates, my apologies in advance if I'm not as faithful about replying to those comments as I usually am - thanks for understanding!

I do intend to write reviews of every book I get through during the Read-a-thon, so some of my "reading break" time will be spend making notes for those. I won't draft a complete review after I finish each book, but if I don't get some impressions down, I'm sure they'll all blend together before too long...and the whole reason I started book-blogging in the first place was to get away from that!

I'm excited about my first Read-a-thon, however long I make it last! Good luck to everyone who's participating, whether you're a newbie like me or a seasoned pro.

As far as my usual Friday content goes, I'll be posting two weeks' worth of Weekend Review links and such next week, so brace yourself for that!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book talk: "Still Alice," by Lisa Genova

Disclosures: I bought this book for my personal library, and I intend to keep it indefinitely. *The purchasing link at the end of the review goes through my Amazon Associates account.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice
Lisa Genova (blog)
Pocket Books, 2009 (paperback) (ISBN 1439102813 / 9781439102817)
Fiction, 320 pages

First sentence: "Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom, distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor."

Random clip: "Sitting on the bed, she read page after page of her daughter's dreams and confessions. She read about blocks and breakthroughs in acting classes, fears and hopes surrounding auditions, disappointments and joys over castings." (page 164)

Book description: Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life -- and her relationship with her family and the world -- forever.

Comments: For personal reasons, I have held off on reading this book for months, despite all the good things I'd heard about it. I have to thank Lisa at Books on the Brain for the review, and subsequent e-mail conversation, that gave me the nudge to dig it out of TBR and make a plan to read it in October, when I would be participating in the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk with my family. We participate in this annual 5K walk to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Association and its work in raising awareness, supporting research, and providing resources for Alzheimer's patients and their families. We're involved with it because my mother, who passed away ten years ago after seven years in a nursing home, may have had early-onset Alzheimer's.

I say "may" because we don't officially know, but it's the most common of a few possibilities, so that's what we go by. There are other forms of dementia that present in similar ways, and are more likely to be found in younger people; my mom's symptoms began to show when she was in her early fifties. However, because she had a lifelong fear of doctors, we were unable to get her to seek medical attention for the changes she was going through while she still could have talked about them and been tested. Even so, a brain biopsy is still the only way to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, and it's performed after death; although we asked him to, my father didn't make the necessary arrangements for that to be done, so we're lacking some very important information. The fact that early-onset Alzheimer's usually has a strong genetic connection makes not having a definite diagnosis especially problematic; I don't know of anyone else in my mother's family who had it (although some relatives did develop the more common elderly version), but what does it mean for my sister and me?

Whether or not EOA actually was the cause of my mother's dementia, what I remember about the onset and progress of her condition is a lot like what Alice Howland, the title character of Lisa Genova's novel Still Alice, is going through. Alice is 50 years old, the mother of three grown children and a prominent professor of psychology and linguistics at Harvard, when she finds herself lost and disoriented while out running one day. She's been forgetful lately too, but she's been attributing her mental lapses and other slip-ups to menopause and"normal" aging; now she wonders if it's something else. After she sees a neurologist, she learns that it is indeed something else; her tests come back indicating a probable diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's, and a genetic screening confirms that she does have the accompanying mutation. Drugs are prescribed that may help slow the progression, but Alzheimer's is incurable and unstoppable, and Alice's life will never be the same. Little by little, and all too soon, she will lose nearly everything that has made her who she is.

Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist by training who originally self-published this novel, has done a remarkable job of truly getting inside the mind and emotions of an Alzheimer's patient. She includes a lot of real information about the disease and its effects in ways that don't distract from the story, and she effectively captures its disruption and alteration of family, career, and daily life, but the fact that it's all told from Alice's perspective makes it unique and unforgettable. The reactions of Alice's family and colleagues to her condition rang true, but  Genova makes the reader grasp Alice's own reactions too.  The instances where the author "loops" an episode by repeating its opening paragraphs at the end,  and when she frames  Alice's behavior with someone else's response to it, do an especially good job of illustrating what's happening and making the reader connect with it.

I could feel Alice's fear and frustration over the changes she was experiencing  most specifically  as she was losing communication and reading comprehension; those are two things I particularly remember about my mother's condition. In addition to the mental illness - technically, that's what Alzheimer's is - my mother had low vision for her entire life and was nearly blind during her last years. I knew she hadn't been reading for a while before she entered nursing-home care, but I'd thought it was because of her eyesight; now I realize the dementia may have been part of it as well. (If you know me through this blog, I'm sure you can imagine how unsettling this is.)

I had postponed reading Still Alice because I was pretty sure it would be a difficult book for me, emotionally - and it was, but not quite in the way I expected it to be.  It got under my skin, and it's stayed on my mind. It made me sad, although it didn't make me cry; but more than that, it scared the hell out of me. I was engrossed and moved by Alice's story, and I feel that it gave me a lot of insight into Alzheimer's that I didn't have before - but knowing more has made me more afraid of experiencing this than I was before, too. I'm just five years younger than Alice, and not much younger than my mom was when she began to slip away - and I DO NOT WANT THIS to happen to me.

I'll be keeping this book, and recommending it to everyone, whether or not their lives have been touched by Alzheimer's - it's frightening, but it's also enlightening, and it's a tremendously worthwhile read.

Rating: 4/5

Reading Challenge Commitments: #15 of 20 pledged for the Read Your Own Books 2009 Challenge; #1 for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge (25% of books read in October and November 2009)

Related: a need for greater understanding of the physical impact of Alzheimer's and other varieties of dementia - it isn't just "mental" illness with little effect on the body

When I mentioned here on the blog that I was planning to read this book during the week of our local Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk, I asked if anyone would be interested in reading it with me. Wendy of Musings of a Bookish Kitty took me up on it, and shared her impressions earlier this week. If you've read Still Alice recently too, please leave a link to your review in comments! These bloggers did:

The Book Chick

My sister Teresa doesn't have a blog of her own, but she also read the book, and gave me her review to post here:
When my sister asked me to review the novel, STiLL ALiCE by Lisa Genova, I was hesitant. I said to my husband, “This may be difficult.” In truth, parts of the book were hard to read, but not because of Lisa Genova’s writing – because of novel’s content. Alice, the main character in the book suffers from early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. She is only 50 years old and an acclaimed linguistics professor at Harvard. The novel is told from her perspective. It is an interesting, thought provoking approach to view the progression of the disease. It is ironic that Ms. Genova decided to have Alice specialize in linguistics, for language and communication are so greatly impacted by Alzheimer’s.

My mother was a victim of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Honestly, I wish I had a book such as this to read 17 years ago when she could no longer communicate well and could not take care of herself any longer. This was a really quick read for me. Despite its content, I felt compelled to keep picking it up – each time getting closer to the painful, inevitable conclusion. The story is broken down by months showing the progression of Alice’s disease and her response (along with her spouse’s and children’s responses) to it. Lisa Genova is very adept at presenting both intellectual and emotional responses from and for the character. While I personally had an emotional connection to the subject matter, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone who has not. Awareness of this disease (particularly early-onset Alzheimer’s) is not that high in comparison to awareness of other diseases. It’s time for that to change.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Encore: The Anniversary Waltz

Today is the third anniversary of my second marriage! I celebrated the first one here with two posts of wedding randomata, but that was a couple of years ago. Readership was in the lower double digits back then, so I thought I'd revisit the event today with a (somewhat) condensed version of the original posts - after all, if you didn't read it the first time around, it's new to you :-). I hope you'll enjoy sharing this very happy day with me one more time. (We'll be going out for an anniversary dinner tonight...without you.)

When you're over 40 and are marrying for the second time, you may feel more free to plan a wedding that's less bound by tradition and convention than a younger couple might. When Tall Paul and I started planning ours - and we were planning it, make no mistake; this was not "the bride and the guy along for the ride" - we wanted an event that was both formal and fun.

One thing we agreed on quickly was that this wasn't just a couple uniting, it was a family - and our children would be part of the event. The nondenominational minister we selected to officiate our ceremony encouraged us to customize and personalize it, and as we reviewed our options (she had five different ceremonies, and we were free to pick and choose what we wanted to include in ours from any of them, plus additions of our own), we decided we wanted to include a variation on the Blending of the Sands ceremony that would include all five of us.

Our kids has more conventional roles as well. My son, a college senior at the time, escorted me to the ceremony platform (we had an outdoor ceremony, and the site didn't have a center aisle, just a sidewalk down one side) - but he did not "give away" his mother. Tall Paul's children helped give out programs, and escorted the grandparents to their seats as the ceremony began.

Since we felt so strongly that our wedding was about family, we did something unusual during the "grand entrance" at our reception. First our kids were introduced, and then our best man made his entrance accompanied by his wife and sons; our matron of honor was also escorted by her husband and sons. We didn't have a head table, so the wedding party members sat with their families, and Tall Paul and I were together at a "sweetheart table" in the middle.

We had a brief moment of insanity when we considered writing our own vows - I bought a couple of books for help and inspiration - but our minister helped us get over it. She spent enough time meeting and corresponding with us to craft a ceremony that contained what we wanted to express to each other and our guests, and her opening remarks reflected the time she spent getting to know us. (We're not regular churchgoers, but we wanted a minister to marry us.) And the vows that she composed for us did not include the word "obey" for either of us.

Both of us have pretty strong opinions and preferences in music, so we decided that rather than hire a band or DJ, we'd create our own soundtracks for the ceremony and reception in iTunes, and we asked a close friend to operate the iPod/speaker set-up and act as MC. We set up the playlists so that they'd be easy to follow - numbered in the order they were to be used, with the songs in alpha order within them so they could be selected quickly as needed. We had about forty minutes of upbeat vocal selections to play before the ceremony began, but the processionals were instrumentals - a selection by Enya for the parents' seating and matron of honor, and the theme from my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, for my entrance. We didn't have any music during the ceremony itself. Our recessional was our only major musical snafu - the ceremony was held outdoors, and we forgot extra batteries for the speaker setup, so I'm not sure anyone really heard "Happy Together" by the Turtles as we walked out. Once the music setup was relocated to the reception room, it was hooked into the sound system there, so it was loud and clear for the rest of the festivities.

Aside from the processional/recessional choices, the musical moment that mattered most to me was the first dance, and that was the one that made Tall Paul the most anxious. We decided to address that anxiety by taking some dance lessons, and went through the Intro to Ballroom Dance class offered by the local Parks & Rec - twice. We didn't tell anybody we were taking the class, just in case we still sucked, but as it turned out we made a reasonably good showing with our foxtrot to Clint Black's "When I Said I Do." (I thought so, anyway. However, Tall Paul still says that may be the last time he ever dances in public...)

As I said earlier, we wanted a wedding that was both formal and fun. For the guys, "formal" meant tuxedos, of course, with waistcoats (dark red for Tall Paul - our wedding colors were deep red and purple, suitable for autumn - and black for the rest). But my husband hasn't owned a pair of traditional dress shoes since he was 15, and soon after our engagement he went on the lookout for just the right pair of cowboy boots to accompany formal wear. He found them in July - black cherry leather, nicely hand-tooled - which gave him some time to break them in. My boot-wearing groom inspired me to go in a similar footwear direction; not Western-style, but a pair of mid-heel, ankle-height, lace-up bridal boots proved a comfortable choice for a day that would involve a lot of time on my feet. And I was not going to wear a veil; my hair ornament was a decorated comb that I found in the wedding-decor section at Michael's.

While we did have aspects of our wedding that we splurged on - most notably the venue and the photography - there were others, like the music, where we went the DIY route. If organization via spreadsheet played to my talents, a lot of the "real" paperwork of the wedding - invitations, programs, place cards - was right in the field of expertise of my soon-to-be husband, a graphic designer. While we both worked on text, he did all the actual design, paper selection, layout, and printing of our invitations, envelopes, and programs. When we decided that we would "name" our reception tables for TV and movie couples instead of using boring numbers, he came up with the list, found all the pictures, and created and printed the signs.

Tall Paul also created a logo of sorts for our favors. On one of the wedding websites that I frequented during my engagement, I stumbled across a link for Fancy Fortune Cookies, which bakes fortune cookies in about a dozen different flavors and lets you customize them by including up to five different enclosures. We didn't write "fortunes" for ours, exactly; we selected a few short quotes about love and marriage to go in our cookies, and we packaged them - along with a few Jordan almonds, for tradition's sake - in miniature Chinese-takeout-style boxes (also from Michael's), to which we applied a decal that Tall Paul designed. The favors ended up being relatively inexpensive, unusual, and consumable.

Our wedding didn't have a theme, but Tall Paul likes to say that if it had, it would have been "When Nerds Unite." The best example of that comes via two of our favorite wedding props, both cake-related. One day on his lunch hour, Tall Paul called me from the mall to say "The knife store is having a going-out-of-business sale. What would you think of a replica of Sting (not the singer - Frodo's sword from The Lord of the Rings) as a cake cutter?" After I stopped laughing, I said he should go ahead and get it. While that was a serendipitous find, our search for an appealing cake topper was getting more and more discouraging until we finally decided to give in to what we really wanted, and ordered a Simpsons cake topper on eBay.
The cake cutter and topper still occupy places of honor on our living-room mantelpiece. (We did clean them both off first, of course.)

If you're on Twitter today, send an "@" message to RamsesTMagnum and tell him his wife said you should wish him a happy anniversary, too!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quitting time - times 5! (Weekend Assignment #289)

Weekend Assignment #289: Sooner or later, we all quit something that was once important to us: a job, school, a club, an addiction, a relationship, and probably other things I haven't thought of. Tell us about something you quit, and why you did so.

Extra Credit: Did you ever regret your decision?

Don't call me a quitter; I don't call myself one. Having said that, I've done my share of quitting at one thing or another.

There have been times when bailing on something was the right decision - sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on, but sometimes it's felt good and sometimes it hasn't. There have also been times when I didn't do that soon enough - I hung on longer than I should have, trying to fix something broken, only to give up the effort much further down the line. And regrets? Oh, I've certainly had more than a few...

I quit my first job out of college after three years, and should have done it at least a year earlier - that's a case where I regret holding out more than I do leaving. But it's hard for me to let go of things sometimes, and I felt the need to undo a lot of mistakes. Most of them probably didn't matter in the long run, and I did learn from the experience; it certainly contributed to some growing up that I needed to do. But if going to work makes you feel frightened and physically sick on an almost daily basis, you and your job - the work environment, if not the work itself - are probably not well-matched.

I am well aware that by some people's standards, I ultimately quit my first marriage...and to be honest, part of me agrees with them. But another part of me knows that they weren't there, and they don't know everything from the inside. There are things I would do differently if I were back there now, but for the most part, I doubt that the person I was then could have tried much harder than I did...and I think that applies to my ex-husband as well. Part of me will always regret that we couldn't reconcile things. However, a larger part of me doesn't regret the necessary learning experiences during my single years after the divorce - and without them, I wouldn't be the person I am now, and in a second marriage where we're much better matched for one another! (And neither would my ex-husband, who re-married before I did.)

Ending my first marriage did lead to the decision to quit a city that still feels like home, and that required me to quit the best job I've ever had. I wish both of those things hadn't been necessary, and I still miss them. Still, seven years later, I remain certain that literally moving on - eighteen hundred miles west - was essential for my future growth, and I don't regret that at all.

In another Weekend Assignment a few weeks ago, I talked about quitting Weight Watchers meetings. I still don't really regret that in itself, but I certainly do regret the consequences! But I'm slowly making progress in improving my eating and exercise habits, and getting my body back to a place where I like it better.

I haven't decided on this for certain, but I'm considering quitting coloring my hair. I wouldn't mind saving both the money and time involved, but I have an appointment with my stylist today, and I'll talk to her about it. Chances are that I might regret that decision a lot...or not. Sometimes it's clear right away that quitting something is a good move, and sometimes it's hard to know for certain until after you see how it turns out.

Something major, something minor, something smart, something dumb - what's something that you've quit, and how do you feel about it?

Monday, October 19, 2009

OK, I'm making this up...

Lip gloss I used to find them rather amusing. No matter how casually they were dressed - even in running shorts and T-shirts - every day these Southern ladies greeted the world with fully made-up faces and perfectly styled hair. The Memphis humidity made this an even more impressive achievement.

Aside from the fact I wasn't a native Memphian, I wasn't one of those women, and didn't think it likely that I would become one. There were  aspects of my life that just didn't encourage it, including a pretty casual workplace - literally, it was a zoo - and a husband who made no secret of his preference for a makeup-free face, to the extent of seeming disappointed when I did wear it (even if he otherwise complimented my appearance).

I no longer live in Memphis (or with a makeup-averse spouse). And it occurred to me not long ago, as I was applying eyeliner and mascara and putting on some lip stain, that I have become one of "those women" who almost never leaves the house without putting on makeup. Heck, some days I put it on even if I'm not leaving the house. How did this happen?

...The answer to that question can be found in the rest of this post on the Los Angeles Moms Blog.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Salon #3 (10/18): The Read-a-Thon Awaits!

The Sunday Salon.com

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Book reviews posted this week:

Goldengrove, by Francine Prose

Next reviews scheduled:
The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman (ARC from the publisher)
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (RYOB Challenge, Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge) - still reading this weekend to coincide with the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk that my family and I did yesterday, but I plan to finish and review it before the end of this week

New to my LibraryThing "To Read" collection:
For review:
The Longest Trip Home: A Memoir, by John Grogan (for TLC Book Tours)

The publisher surprised me with two other books in the same package:
Now & Then, by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Hidden: A Novel, by Tobias Hill
Since both of these were unsolicited, I don't feel obligated to read and review them, but at this point I let them hang out in TBR Purgatory for awhile - they both seem to have possibilities (despite their ratings on LibraryThing not being terribly impressive). They could end up as giveaway fodder at some point, though...

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

10 things bookstores should do to help themselves - would they help get you in the door and make you stick around? Also: what defines an "independent" bookstore?

Book bloggers have made a difference - how will the new FTC disclosure guides make things different for them?

The Book Case is compiling a new blogroll of "Book Blogs We Love" - check out their first highlights, and share your suggestions!

Is "common reading interests" one of your couple-compatibility tests? Also, the quest to create a reader...may actually be succeeding, even if it doesn't quite look that way

Dawn enjoyed The Lost Symbol, and I enjoyed her review of it!

Books that won't make your TBR list, because they don't actually exist

Book Events: Read-a-Thon Prep!

As I mentioned last week, I've signed up for the Fall edition of Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon - this will be my first one!

I have no illusions that I'll actually make it through 24 hours of reading, although my husband is considering going off with the kids for part of the day to leave me with my books. Still, there will probably be a few things to do that can't be put off, and I won't skip sleeping entirely. There may also be periods of stir-craziness that won't be satisfied by writing a progress update; I may need to step away from both the books and the computer now and then. Still, like many other Read-a-thon participants, I'm going through my shelves and putting aside some selections for next Saturday, looking for books that are not too long and could theoretically be fast reads. Here are my "possibles" ("(R)" signifies a book received for review):

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (these two are my "priority" reading for the weekend)
Nothing but Ghosts, by Beth Kephart
Best Friends Forever: A Novel, by Jennifer Weiner
In the Woods, by Tana French
Crossed Wires, by Rosy Thornton (R)
Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin
Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster
The Longest Trip Home, by John Grogan (for the upcoming tour mentioned above) (R)
Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself and Betsy Was a Junior/Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace (I've read them all before, but not for over thirty years)

After I took the photo, I went through my "2009 Book Acquisitions" list and found a couple more to add to the stacks, since I'm rather short on nonfiction:

And the thing sitting on top of the stack is my Kindle. I may start a new book on there too - most likely either The Help by Kathryn Stockett or This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.

Most of the books I've picked qualify for at least one of the two reading challenges I'm working on.

Now I see why people get so excited about participating in the Read-a-thon - I can't believe how much I'm looking forward to digging in to those piles of books!

Are you participating in the Read-a-Thon too? Tell me about your reading plans!

What are you reading right now, and how are you enjoying it?