What I’ve Read / What I’m Reading

DISCLAIMER: ALL OF THESE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE LIBRARY. FOR FREE. F-R-E-E.

The holiday season approacheth, and what better way to get in the spirit than with good eating and psychopaths! And now that I live in the land of wind and snow, I don’t have to feel any guilt at all about curling up with a book instead of prancing around at some sun-drenched pool like an idiot.

What I’ve Read

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley15786110

I enjoy books about cooking. I think they are nice. My Life in France by Julia Child was endearing and amazing. I like when Hemingway discusses wine. Smitten Kitchen has taken up a bit too much of my work day at times. So coming across Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley was an especially pleasant surprise, not only because it is about the young author’s lifelong obsession with good eating, but also because it is a graphic novel adorably illustrated with oodles of details. Knisley is the product of a chef and a gourmet, chowing down on salmon mousse and Shiitake mushrooms before she can barely walk. The book follows her childhood and early adulthood in New York, Chicago, Mexico, France, and Japan, as she works her way through everything from 23-course gastronomical extravaganzas to the crappiest mac n’cheese a box can provide. Interspersed with these chronicles of her youth are recipes for chocolate chip cookies, sautéed mushrooms, sangria, sushi rolls and more. I would be jealous of her beautiful, interesting upbringing, but Knisley is just too damn likable. She’s like that friend you have who enjoys a well-made Big Mac as much as a five-course meal. The colorful, charming cartoon drawings cover every inch of the page, and pack a lot of information into a small space. Relish, like My Life in France, will really make you want to go out and find your own favorite restaurants, something I often have a hard time doing not because I don’t enjoy a good meal, but because I am lazy. Well, here’s another New Year’s resolution to add to the pile.

What I’m Reading

The Psychopathy Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon RonsonPsychopath-Test-Journey-Through-Madness-Industry-Jon-Ronson-Tantor-Audio-books

Well, it’s actually not “reading;” I should say, “ear reading” or “listening to.” In a never-ending effort to find an interesting audiobook (because even though I started a lovely new job, I still have quite a commute—thank you, stupid north Jersey), I am currently listening to The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, and it is amazing. Ronson is a journalist that’s contributed to several This American Life episodes. He also wrote several books, including The Men Who Stare at Goats, an interesting story about a secret segment of the U.S. government of which they based a very meh movie on. Also, he’s Welsh.

The Psychopath Test is Ronson’s quest to understand what it means to be a psychopath. Through several first-person accounts, he explores the many facets of being diagnosed as a psychopath, the impact psychopaths have on the world, and the strange allure that comes with a psychopathic persona. He interviews a man in Broadmoor Hospital, a notorious mental institution in Great Britain, who faked his way there in order to elude a jail sentence, and now can’t seem to convince the doctors that he’s really sane. He researches Elliott Barker, a Canadian doctor in the 60’s who believed the only way to cure psychopathic disorders was to get a bunch of psychopaths together, give them LSD, and have them act as each other’s therapists in an isolated place, whilst unclothed. It did not work. Ronson also shares how the characteristics of psychopathic disorders (as defined by Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist) are actually quite similar to traits displayed by some of the world’s most successful tycoons and entrepreneurs.

As if the subject matter wasn’t interesting enough, Ronson’s voice (Welsh!) is clever and sarcastic and self-deprecating and at times completely off-the-wall. He presents these accounts in such a funny, memorable way that I have no problems at all retaining the information and then sharing it with my husband in order to prove once and for all that I am not in fact, a psychopath. I’m not!

Advertisements

Why I Am Sad Blockbuster is No More

tapeIt was announced this week that Blockbuster Video is officially closing its remaining locations and calling it quits. And this makes me sad. It actually does! Not “tearing up in the car after Perfect Day came on the radio the day following Lou Reed’s death” sad, but a bit sad nonetheless. I have kind of a weird history with video stores. I love them.

1) My mom used to own a shop next to a video store called VideoMasters (can’t you just hear the lasers?), and with some after-school time to kill (time I should have spent playing sports, making friends, etc. etc.), I enjoyed going to that video store and reading every single video cover on display. I couldn’t rent anything, but I could certainly browse the hell out of that place. It’s how I developed an uneasy fascination with A Clockwork Orange before I even knew what the film was about. I also attribute my semi-encyclopedic knowledge of crappy mid- to late- 80’s movies to this period in my childhood. At this point, I’d like to apologize to the clerk who must have wondered why a creepy little girl silently perused the entire collection without renting anything. Every day.

2) Growing up in a suburban New Jersey wonderland did not exactly expose me to cutting-edge cinema. Certainly, I could have hopped on a train to New York and spent some time at the Angelika, but conductors don’t really look kindly on 11-year-olds riding the train alone. Knowledge was also withheld from me based on the primitive technology of the time: I could count on one hand how many friends had access to hideously slow dial-up Internet connections at their houses, and school computers were devoted to endless rounds of Logo, Oregon Trail, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. My only real experience with non-mainstream films came from Hollywood Video, specifically the Cult Classics section. This is where I was able to rent Cemetery Man, Meet the Feebles, and Through a Glass Darkly. Granted, it’s not Jodorowsky’s El Topo, but hey, at least it wasn’t Forrest Gump.

3) While in the middle of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at New York University, I thought, “What would be the most satisfying work experience for me at this point?” Working at Kim’s Video on Avenue A for $5.15 an hour, of course. Sike! I just really needed a job. The place was dirty, the porn room leaked (from the ceiling!), other employees smelled bad, the pay was abysmal; I once had to trek from Astoria to the East Village during a pretty severe snowstorm so the store could open. You know, so that one jerk could rent Magnolia for the 30th time. I stayed there for two years; it remains one of my longest-held jobs. Why for God’s sake, you ask? First, not only could you be mean to the customers, it was encouraged. Second, any film you could ever think to ask for could be had there, legitimate or bootleg. Even that animated Nelvana film starring Debbie Harry and Robin Zander as an anthropomorphic animal singing duo in a post-apocalyptic world (Rock & Rule!). Third, not all of the customers and employees were idiots; some of them were actual filmmakers and film students and you could talk to them. About film. Fourth, you could drink in the back.

Even though I haven’t patronized a video store in several years (Netflix all the way, friend), I definitely think that my exposure to films has waned considerably because of it. It’s kind of like how I feel when everyone goes on and on about how eBooks replace regular books in libraries. Yeah, eBooks are great (as a librarian, I’m legally obligated to say that), but you can’t browse them physically, you can’t notice someone else reading one, you can’t really start out looking for one and end up with something completely different. It completely changes the experience of reading, which in turn could possibly completely change your tastes and opinions, and subsequently the person you become.

Would A Clockwork Orange have made less of an impression on me if instead of staring at that lurid, mysterious video cover in a rundown video store, I came across it on a random website, pulled up the Wiki entry, and then watched the whole thing in pieces on YouTube? Would I have become the upstanding citizen I am today without my string of scuzzy, endearing video stores?


An Auditory Quandry

discmanI have a commute to work. A big sucky commute. Even driving through gorgeous autumn foliage does not make this commute easier. And while New Jersey’s superb radio stations are pretty good at making the time pass, I’ve been trying to listen to audiobooks to actually engage my mind, keep awake, and not plow into the car next to me (Note to reader: do not drive next to me).

However, I’ve never been an audiobook listener. I love the heck out of reading print books, I listen to NPR. Avid reader + talk radio listener = audiobook fan, right? Wrong. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to get into an audiobook, for the mere fact that there are just SO MANY ways an audiobook can turn deadly for me. Here’s a few:

  • Boring book: Listen, I’m not a history buff, but I love a good story, and there are definitely some amazing things that have happened in history that I would not mind hearing about. Also, it makes me look smart to name drop “Robert Todd Lincoln” at gatherings. (Yes, I go to gatherings where that earns respect.) However, there are a couple of non-fiction books that people have sworn to me are amazing…..and I’ve turned them off after the first ten minutes. When you are fast forwarding through an introduction….then the prelude….then the first chapter, you’ve lost interest, people. You can have the most amazing voice talent ever, but I will never get into Founding Brothers, or David McCullough’s John Adams, even though these are both books that I have sampled in print and found quite interesting. Why? It is the “wordiness” of the writing? Is it the narrator? I don’t know!
  • Boring voice talent: Imagine being back in that class in high school where the teacher drones on and on and on and you really honestly have no idea what he is saying because you can’t even follow his train of thought and you just want him to stop before blood starts pouring from your eyes and my god why won’t he just stop?! Well, I don’t know how it happens, but there are actual audiobook narrators that WERE PAID to read these books….and they sound like these same monotonous droners. Maybe they were friends with the author. Maybe they ARE the author. Either way, it’s a fast way for my mind to drift. Yet, ironically enough……
  • Great voice talent:  I once attempted to listen to Brideshead Revisited as read by Jeremy Irons. Anyone who has heard the silken English tones of Mr. Irons knows that he is one good speaker who knows how to emote. He was Scar, for god’s sake. The problem was that I became so auditorially intoxicated by Mr. Irons, that I did not pay attention to the story at all. To the point that the disc actually ended, began again, and I didn’t even catch it until ten minutes had passed. When you are starting an audiobook over for the third time because you still can’t keep the characters’ names straight, there’s a problem.

Am I being the pickiest listener ever? Probably. But the thing is, I DO know that there are good audiobooks out there. I listened to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, and aside from being an interesting, engaging story about her tour of presidential assassination sites, her quirky, infinitely intriguing voice kept me hooked from the very first chapter.

So where are they? Anyone have recommendations? Should I just give up and stick to the Alternate Side? Or attempt to read while driving and murder us all? Lives hang in the balance, people.


Fall….into magic!

I love fall. I LOVE IT. The leaves changing color, extra-crispy air, apples, pumpkins, Halloween-themed impulse buy candy at the registers. I even love the earlier dusk. I AM A SUCKER FOR FALL. I made my husband leave a cherished tropical paradise just so I could experience it once again. And experience it I will! Here are some fall-oriented events I will move four states for:

  • Haunted house at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Have you heard about this thing? Because I certainly want to go.
  • Pumpkin-picking. Years and years and years ago, I invited some friends from NYC to come pumpkin picking. We found a patch with an incredible corn maze that scared small children. For the life of me, I cannot remember where it is, but I WILL FIND IT. And even if I can’t, I’m definitely making a trip to another pumpkin patch to get some more of the sweet, sweet apple cider I am addicted to.
  • And speaking of sweet, sweet apple cider, why not make it alcoholic? I attempted beer-brewing in Miami and was not pleased with the results, mostly due to the fact that it is just TOO DAMN hot (seriously, the highest temp for any kind of proper fermentation is 78 degrees, which, ugh, is just not happening). Maybe it’s time to try brewing some hard cider?
  • Costume-making. Even if I don’t actually do anything for Halloween, I still make a costume. This I have done for the past 25 years. Some of them have been lame. Some of them have made me especially proud. I’m tempted to pull out Bride of Frankenstein again, since I don’t think she got her proper due a couple of years ago. But there’s still time to make something else:  Rosemary Wodehouse of Rosemary’s Baby (complete with devil baby)? Pig butcher? That horrifying super shrimp they just pulled out of deep sea? Talk my husband into being Morticia Addams? I’d make a fine Gomez!! (Also, invite me to your Halloween party. I bring candy.)
  • Did I mention watching leaves change color? I don’t know what it is, but they have a strangely soothing and hypnotic effect on me. All those colors, twirling in the breeze, crackling under foot……..gaaaaaah……

Do you love the fall? If you do, you’re my friend. If not……you probably have a great personality.

creature


What I’ve Read / What I’m Reading

DISCLAIMER: ALL OF THESE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE LIBRARY. FOR FREE. F-R-E-E.

Only 51 days until Halloween! I’ve already got my special Halloween issue of Martha Stewart magazine, so I am READY TO GO. In honor of this illustrious holiday, I’ve been reading some horror-based literature. Or that’s what I read normally. You figure it out.

What I’ve Read:

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez250px-Joehilllockekey

If you haven’t seen this graphic novel series yet, you are completely missing out and I recommend you finish this blog post, then go to a library and borrow a volume. Because it is good.

Written by Hill, Son of Stephen (King), who’s a better writer than I would like him to be (jealous!), and illustrated by Rodriguez, the story follows a family that moves into a giant, rambling, scary old house after the untimely murder of their father, and a bunch of weird stuff happens involving keys. I purposely undersold it so that you can try the series and be like, “Deidra is such a stupid idiot. This is the best.” and then feel better about yourself for your literature choices. You’re welcome.

Evil forces, gender-bending, epic battles, bizarro monsters, and the absolutely most wonderful teen heroine I’ve encountered in almost forever….it’s all here, fantastically drawn and intricately detailed. I usually have to go back and re-read a volume to get all the little nuances, and my brain is as fast as a CHEETAH. I’m not exaggerating.

There’s 5 books so far in the series, and the final one comes out February 2014 (Boo!). Yes, I realize someone who’s not into graphic novels will be hesitant to pick it up, but if you enjoy great characters, horrifying situations, and like looking at lush, incredible illustration, check it out now before Brad Pitt and Hollywood destroy it.

What I’m Reading:

10281556Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and it’s….pretty good. Not fantastic. Not awe-inspiring. Not what all the reviewers are friggin’ salivating over. But pretty readable. Excellent premise: a disgraced investigative reporter follows up on the wonky suicide of the daughter of a mysterious film director, a sort of Kubrick-Polanski-Coppola hybrid who may or may not be dabbling in some f’in dark magic. There’s definitely some very tense, scary imagery in there, but the characters are kind of flat, and the whole gumshoe-esque dialogue gets a bit stilted and unrealistic after a while.

And then I realized this author also wrote Special Topics in Calamity Physics which I also enjoyed the hell out of in the beginning, hated for its unrealistic characters towards the middle, and ultimately ended up being really disappointed in at the end.

Then again, I did recommend that one to a past book club (aka, “Miami Reads, Bitches!”), so I’ll plod on and see what happens.

(I’m also jealous of this author, too.)

Happy Early Halloween!


Dark Days for Miami-Dade

1150288_294707040672418_1932481084_nAs a recent transplant from Florida back to my motherland, New Jersey, I’ve been keeping up with what’s happening with the Miami-Dade Public Library System. This system was my place of employment for four years, where I started as a volunteer, moved on to page, library intern, and eventually librarian. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of my interesting (and slightly, um, eccentric) coworkers and patrons; which is why it’s been really horrifying to see what’s happening down there right now.

In a very tiny nutshell, because the library system gets it’s funding mostly from tax revenue, and because taxes have not been increased in about a billion years in Miami, there has been heavy usage of the library reserve funds to cover costs. These reserve funds were also sometimes diverted to other county organizations, as well. This has left the system with practically nothing to go on.

Last year, voters agreed to slightly increase taxes in 2013 in order to throw some money at some pretty worthwhile causes, including the library, the fire department, and animal services.  This 5.37% increase works out to almost $25/household….for the entire year. There was much rejoicing and I actually thought the government was doing something right for a change.

AND THEN, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the board of county commissioners decided that they were going to take too much heat for the increase, and in a pretty short-sighted maneuver, decided NOT to increase taxes. They just decided it. Like that.

Bottom line: the system will have to downsize in a major way, meaning layoffs and the closing of library locations.

Now, being as how Miami-Dade relies on the public libraries in a BIG way (they provide dozens of services like online access, programs, heck, even meeting spaces for public officials like, ahem, the commissioners) there was a pretty strong public backlash to Mayor Gimenez’s decision to close 22 of the 49 library locations and lay off employees.  This might have also been because the majority of the branches that were going to close were in poor areas; you know, the places where people need libraries the most, but don’t exactly look the prettiest on a press packet.

So what was Mayor Gimenez’s solution? To not close any libraries….but still lay off more than 150 workers. Meaning service is going to take a GIANT hit; meaning library branches will be opening and closing at ridiculous hours (some branches at 16 hours a week…..seriously, 16 hours for a WEEK); meaning programs for kids, teens and adults are going to suffer; meaning the already anorexic budget for new books and materials will get even leaner; meaning you are going to have some tremendously over-worked staff trying desperately to do the job of two or more people, and getting completely burnt out.

And this is all because a small group of people decided that Miami-Dade tax-payers simply cannot afford a slight tax increase….even though it has not been increased for years and years and years. (And even though spending on other let’s say, impractical, things like a new baseball stadium don’t seem to hit too much of a roadblock, ever.)

I’m still hoping that something good can come from this situation, although what that may be, I have no idea. From what I’ve heard, lots of co-workers are already looking into other avenues of employment; can you really blame them? What competent, educated staff would be willing to stay with a system (and government) that seems intent on working them to the bone and then hauling out the threat of layoffs every single budget year?

So so sad.

For more coverage of a dark situation, check out the Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries page on Facebook.


A visit to Grounds for Sculpture

As I was perusing classified ads a few weeks ago (I peruse, by the way, I don’t hunt desperately for a job. That’s uncivilized.), I came across a job listing for Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. Although I was a teensy bit underqualified, I applied anyway (reach for the stars!). And even though I didn’t even get an interview, I was sufficiently intrigued with the place to decide to make a visit there.

I was completely blown away! Grounds for Sculpture is 42 acres of gorgeous park land, situated on the old New Jersey Fairgrounds. Dispersed throughout the really amazing landscaping are some incredible works of sculpture from a huge collection of artists, including George Segal, Kiki Smith, Seward Johnson, and even Gloria Vanderbilt. They’ve also got a great little collection of galleries, and a supposedly incredible restaurant called Rat’s, which I am unfortunately too poor to eat at. You can get more info here: http://www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Totally recommended for anyone that likes to look at interesting things and be outside. Which should be everyone.