Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Trouble with Tomes

When I decided it would be a good idea in 2014 to read all of the novels I own but have not yet read, I underestimated my bibliophilic buying tendencies as well as my stunning lack of follow-through when it comes to actually reading the books I purchase.

The list clocks in at 70 novels.

This doesn't count the collections of short stories and poetry, the memoirs, the plays, the various nonfiction tomes that have taken up residence on my shelves over the years (nor does it include the pile of books tagged for giveaway, many of which I also have not read). That's more than a book a week! (I can math, too. Cool, right?)

While I am a skilled and confident reader, that number is daunting, particularly considering that according to my Goodreads profile, I only read 23 books in 2013. Granted, this doesn't include books I re-read but rather only books I was reading for the first time. Even so, I'm fairly certain my 2013 reading didn't even come close to 70 books. Some of these are beastly long, too: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind; Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace and Anna Karenina; Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Oof.

Is there time enough in a year? Should I split it up over two years? Three? I mean, three years would put me about on par with this year's reading, but is that making it too easy? Besides, I don't know how I'd choose. Plus, it's all so heavy, and I'm sure to get distracted. I didn't plan on reading half of what fell into my lap in 2013, and look what happened! Not that it wasn't heavy. A lot of it was. I mean, I read George R.R. Martin's whole Song of Ice & Fire as released to date in less than two months. (Did I accomplish anything else? Not really, but what's a bookworm to do when she's stuck in an epic series of novels?!)

Okay, so I guess I'll just read and see what happens. If I get through them, great. If not, 2015 is just around the corner. Besides, I'm more than a third of the way through the first book on the list (admittedly the lightest book on the list when it comes to content) so maybe . . . oh, wait. I forgot about Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Unless I trade my NYE movie marathon for a night with a book, I'm unlikely to finish that one before the new year begins. So 70 it will be.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

What are you reading this year?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

intellectual conversations with a guy you once had a crush on

This post is part of a writing project called #30daysofessays. For more about the project, click here.

He intimidated me. Easily the best-looking, most crushed-upon guy in town. Plus he was smart. Talked about books and music and social issues. And he listened to me when I talked. *Swoon*

But seriously. We would never be a thing. Acquaintances. Game for a good conversation. Now and then, he'd let me have a free cup of hot tea at the bakery I frequented and where he worked. He was nice, you know. He smiled. Not just at me. A lot.

And I looked forward to encountering him. Mainly for the banter. Sometimes I still had trouble stringing words together. I wanted him to think I was smart. I forgot that I actually was (am) smart. I didn't have to pretend.

I've gotten past the idea that it's better to act like I know what he's talking about rather than just to admit I don't. Have you read this author? No. What's she written? This is happening here and it's amazing. Oh, really? I had no idea. Tell me more.

I'm making things up now, but conversations with him almost always brought intellectual stimulation. I felt selfish talking with him because he was giving me so much, and I didn't think I had anything to give him in return.

We'd known each other a while before we finally sat down to have lunch as actual friends to talk about this essay he was writing. It had been a while since we'd even had much of a conversation beyond hellos. Casual meetings in the street. Waves across a crowded bar or through a shop window.

But we sat for an hour and only briefly talked about his essay. Conversation careened from topic to topic. Highs and lows. You look happy, he said. I am.

Story after story after story. Mundane and exciting and covering so much ground. I wasn't hunting for words, worrying what he'd think of me if I said this or that, hoping he'd like me, over-eager to be the one he's paying attention to. I was those things once, but we were just talking, and I realized I'm not anymore.

Then it was over. Back to work for me, to the essay for him. We smiled and said good-bye. I saw him sitting in the window another day. Once upon a time I'd have ducked in to sit. Any excuse to bask in his eyes. I smiled. Waved. Kept walking.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tucson, AZ, Spring 2008

This post is part of a writing project called #30daysofessays. For more about the project, click here.

She was taking pictures of them as they stumbled from the bus, their belongings in plastic grocery bags. Tying shoelaces. Fastening belts. Herded like so many cattle back to the border. They might have called a handful of different countries home, but dropping them just that side of the dividing line put them out of our hands. America's hands.

We attending a hearing in Tucson. Not for those people. For others like them. People we call "illegal." (Because people can be "illegal"...) One man had crossed the border and been sent back thirty-seven times. Others just once, twice, half a dozen times. Those for whom the court could not provide a translator were released on time served and sent back across the border. Others would serve longer sentences before they, too, were returned to the desert. We learned many of these would attempt again to enter the country. They had nowhere else to go.

At an aid station near Nogales, Mexico, we saw the effects of prolonged exposure in the desert. Burned and calloused feet. Mouths dry with thirst. Skin parched from the dry heat. Water barrels marked by blue flags are scattered along the US-Mexico border, filled regularly by Humane Borders volunteers. Opponents of the organization's work contend that such provision encourages illegal crossings. Research refutes this idea, but research cannot stop the destruction of barrels and the waste of a life-sustaining resource.

They're breaking the law and should be treated like criminals, one side argues. This means robbing them of their humanity. Reducing them to less than livestock. Turning a blind eye to officer behavior that would not be out of place in a concentration camp. Deporting people to a place that is not their home. Naming this justice because it appeases the supposedly law-abiding masses. Because at least it looks like some effort is being made.

But to what end?

A nation built on the backs of immigrants turns its nose up at a new generation of immigrants. Their path may be different, but that doesn't make them unworthy. A person willing to trek thousands of dangerous miles across hot sand just to attempt to gain entrance into the United States seems like a person with the kind of work ethic held in such high esteem here.

That ethic is irrelevant because that person failed to obtain a visa and enter the country legally. Why? Surely, the system is perfectly formed and allows entrance to all people and doesn't put any kind of barriers in place that would limit people's opportunity based on economic status. That's an absurd suggestion. Is it? So he sits in limbo, waiting, expecting to be deported, to end up in that aid camp in Nogales. No better prospect awaits him than to try again and again and again. Until maybe one time he slips through and gets a low-paying, long hours job and hopes against hope he isn't found out.

Forced to march with dozens of other migrants across the border while a wide-eyed college student takes his picture.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I was having lunch with a friend last week and telling him about this bizarre day at Rotary the week of the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. He asked if I ever thought, during an experience, that if it were happening to David Sedaris, he'd write an essay about it. I really can't say I've ever thought that. Until now.

Of course, I'm not David Sedaris. I can, however, write an essay so I figure I might as well. I've let enough time lapse since college without adequately exercising my creative writing/critical thinking/whatever brain muscles. Hopefully they haven't atrophied too much in the intervening years.

So here's the deal:

I've got this bag of writing prompts. Sort of. They're just tidbits of things I find interesting or want to write about or that strike me on a given day enough to write them down and toss them in the bag.

I'll choose a prompt from the bag each day and write about it. A page or two. Maybe less. However long it takes until I'm finished.

(I'm writing from the library now and there's this clock at the bottom of the screen telling me how much time I have left in my session. Ticking the seconds away. It's making this feel rather like a test.)

Whenever I can get to a computer, I'll upload the essays to the blog and publish them one by one. Essay one will make its debut tomorrow.

The days might not be consecutive. Here at Day 3, I'm doing all right.

If you're reading and think I should write about something specific, let me know. If you like a piece, don't like a piece, feel really middling about a piece, leave it in the comments. I like to know what you think.

You can follow this project on twitter at #30daysofessays or just subscribe here or just check back now and then to see what's new.