Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Book #3 Brain On Fire

Just completed Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan.

It's a memoir of her struggle with mental illness -- she refers to it as a month of madness.

I'm not sure whether it's even accurate to call it mental illness, since (no spoilers, this is clear from the beginning) they uncover a cause that is autoimmune, but in the most literal sense, it's certainly an illness affecting mental health. 

Anyway, this was the scariest thing I've ever read. First, the kind of loss of control and autonomy associated with being in an institution -- not even necessarily a mental institution, even a hospital, but much more so when you can't just choose to leave -- is scary to me. Throw in not being able to control or trust your brain, having a doctor write down false information about you and dismiss your illness as alcoholism, and being ill with something rare enough and little enough known that getting diagnosed is a matter of luck (and luck leaning on privilege at that) and it's a true horror story. Freddy Krueger has nothing on this.

Furthermore, a common problem with true stories is that not everyone is a writer. In Cahalan, the reader is blessed with a storyteller who knows how to tell a story. She draws you in and even when discussing technical details, her work reads like a story, in a place where it could have easily sounded like a chapter you were required to read in a class you hadn't wanted to take.

I was surprised to hear it over so fast, and I will say I wasn't left with a sense of relief at the end. This isn't a horror story where the monster is slain at the end -- the reader knows it could come back and could be lurking in any of us, waiting to attack. 

Bonus: narrator Heather Henderson renders the story beautifully. She sounds like your friend sitting on your sofa sharing. Her reading holds emotion that carries the narrative without ever going overboard and detracting from it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 Book #2

Second book of 2017 completed: the fourth in the Maximum Ride series.

Review much as the previous. The global warming stuff all comes across weird, like the author doesn't believe it but finds it a convenient plot device.

I'll probably finish the other four in the series but I have to take a break from them. I want to hear the end of the story but also definitely have to step away from this writing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Books 2017

Jan 3 -- first book completed of 2017.
'Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports' by James Patterson. Third in the series.

These books are awful, especially the audio versions, and yet I can't seem to stop listening.

They could serve as a teen lesson in what isn't a romance, for one thing. Fang's behavior throws up so many red flags. And the writing is just...gooey and weak.

God knows I'm not pretending I can do better, but it just isn't what I'd normally read on purpose. But apparently maybe it is because as bad as it is, from plot holes to weak devices barely outside the 'all a dream!' cop out (okay actually *including* that one) to gooey unbelievable characters, less flat than squished, I want to hear the end of the story.

I'm listening to the fourth now. There are eight in the series, I think, and my library has all in audio, so I guess finishing them isn't a terrible idea, but I keep wondering why I want to.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Challenge for 2017

This is my book challenge for the year. I know reading this amount is no problem but I tend to stick to what I know, so this might broaden my horizons a bit.

  • 1. Read a book originally published in a language you do not know
  • 2. Read a book by an author born in the same country as you
  • 3. Read a book from the Horror genre
  • 4. Read a Romance and/or Erotica book
  • 5. Read a book written before 1950
  • 6. Read a book written by a man
  • 7. Read a book written by a woman
  • 8. Read a book in the Science Fiction genre
  • 9. Read a book in the Fantasy genre
  • 10. Read a book labelled as Young Adult
  • 11. Read a nonfiction book
  • 12. Read a book with a contemporary setting
  • 13. Read a book written after 1949
  • 14. Read a book published this year
  • 15. Read a popular book, with at least 1 million ratings on any one website
  • 16. Read an unknown book, with no more than 100 ratings on any one website
  • 17. Read a book that was turned into a movie
  • 18. Finish a series
  • 19. Read a History book, fiction or nonfiction
  • 20. Read a short story, one with less than 5,000 words
  • 21. Read a short book, one between 5,000 and 100,000 words
  • 22. Read a long book, one between 100,000 and 250,000 words
  • 23. Read an epic book, one with over 250,000 words
  • 24. Read a self-published book
  • 25. Read an indie book, where the publisher is a small or niche house and not one of the top 6 publishers
  • 26. Read a book published under one of the Big 6 publishing houses
  • 27. Read a Biography, whether normal, Auto, or Memoir.
  • 28. Read a book labelled as a Best-Seller from this year
  • 29. Read a book about Politics and/or Religion
  • 30. Listen to an Audiobook
  • 31. Read a book on paper
  • 32. Read a book that was, or currently is, banned by a government
  • 33. Read a book in the Thriller or Suspense genre
  • 34. Read a Mystery book
  • 35. Read a book labelled as Dystopian
  • 36. Read a debut book from this year
  • 37. Read a book by or featuring a character that is LGBT
  • 38. Read a book in the Paranormal genre
  • 39. Read a book with pictures in it
  • 40. Read a book for the second time
  • 41. Read a book that’s been on your to read-list for more than a year
  • 42. Read a book that features animals
  • 43. Read a book where the main character goes on a journey
  • 44. Read a book where a stranger comes to town
  • 45. Read a book labelled as a Satire or Allegory
  • 46. Read a book from the Self-Help, Health, Travel, or Guide category
  • 47. Read a collection of poetry
  • 48. Read the first book in a series
  • 49. Read a book that won a literary award
  • 50. Read a book set in your country
  • 51. Read a book not set in your country, but exists today
  • 52. Combining all the letters of all the titles of all the books you’ve read this year, complete the alphabet

Friday, December 30, 2016

'Blindsided By Your Friends' -- A Different Take On Cole Swindell's 'Middle Of A Memory' (Creepiest Song In A Long Time)

If you haven't heard 'Middle of a Memory' by Cole Swindell, I'm sorry to subject you to it, but you need to hear it to get this. Basically, it's one of the creepiest songs I've ever heard. It's this guy singing about how he was interacting with a woman and her friends showed up and pulled her away too soon. But to me, it sounds like a guy who has no idea how creepy he was being, and a girl getting rescued.

Every time I hear it, I feel sick to my stomach and think how glad I am that this girl got out of the situation. I mean, minutes into meeting her, this guy has robbed her of every autonomy -- one look at you, changed my one drink order to two (did you even think to ask what she was drinking?), I was about to lean on in (nothing about her actions, did she give you any signs she wanted you to kiss her?), why'd you have to go then (like she couldn't have given you a number or name or kissed you or gotten a ride later if she had wanted -- she wasn't forced to go, she chose to walk away from you because you are being creepy), and so on.

Everything is his action -- nothing from her. It would be a different story if he'd talked about, say, 'as soon as you sat by me' and 'you led me onto the floor.' Something that gave her some autonomy, some choices, some existence of her own. But in this song, she's purely an object for him to hang a story on.

The other day it occurred to me that maybe they weren't even her friends. Maybe they saw this going on and decided to help, because it looked as creepy to them as it does to me. So I wrote the story from the POV of the women who intervened.

In case it's in any way unclear, this is a fictional story, and I don't own the lyrics or the song that inspired it. 

'Blindsided By Your Friends'
by Steph Bazzle
Inspired by the lyrics of 'Middle of a Memory' by Cole Swindell

The woman sitting alone wasn’t at the next table from Janet and her friends. She was in a booth, with one table between. Janet, who liked to refer to herself as ‘a little bit bi,’ noticed her though. She was the kind of woman she couldn’t help but notice.

The woman was pretty in a way that looked accidental. If she was wearing makeup, Janet couldn’t tell from this distance, especially with the young lady’s head bent over the book and legal pad. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and her t-shirt and jeans completed an appearance of a casual meal, rather than a quest for companionship.

As far as Jan could tell, Lydia and Kassidy didn’t notice the woman. They were in the quietest corner of the bar, and Janet gave a fraction of a second to worrying that the noise the three could be expected to make as they unwound from the day might bother their nearest table neighbor, but Kass was saying something about margaritas and steak, and Lydia was laughing and the music changed to a louder more rambunctious number, and the general whirl of activity pulled Jan away from any thoughts of the quieter corner of the WhoopTee Bar and Grill.

Lydia was irritated about a man in the accounting department, who had a long-standing habit of pretending he hadn’t received Thursday afternoon and Friday morning receipts, so he could be out by three on Friday.

“He knows the cut-off is Friday noon, and he just doesn’t want to do the work. But if he puts it off until Monday, that’s money that isn’t available for projects until a week later, and it looks to the customer like we haven’t done the work. I’ve started cc’ing Annika on the emails, so she’s aware, but that doesn’t change how it looks to the clients.”

This wasn’t news to Janet or Kass, and they knew it wasn’t new to Annika, who managed the accounting department, either.

“I don’t know why she doesn’t fire him, or at least say something to him on Fridays and not let him get away with it,” Kass agreed, before the conversation was cut off by a waiter delivering drinks and menus. He had a fourth glass in his hand, which he placed on the table where the lone woman continued to pore over her book. Janet couldn’t hear the conversation between them, but the woman looked surprised and the waiter pointed toward the bar – enough to figure out that the drink was sent from someone across the room.

The lady shook her head lightly, brown curls bouncing, but the waiter hadn’t stuck around for her response, and was already gone.
The perusing of menus and ordering could have been a replay of the same moment from any of a dozen visits to the WhoopTee in the past year. Janet ordered a medium-rare steak. Kass agonized over the entire menu before picking a sampler platter that saved her having to settle for a single entrĂ©e. Lydia had already chosen her dish before entering the building, and didn’t even open her menu.

A man was pressing past the table, and he brushed Janet’s shoulder as he went by.

“Um, BOUNDARIES!” Lydia said loudly.

“Oh my God,” Kassidy agreed, “There is so much room between these tables, he did not have to touch you.”

The man approached the lone woman at her table, leaning over her and closing her book. The woman pulled the book closer to her, and Janet watched the man gesture at the drink, untouched, that the waiter had delivered earlier. Placing his own drink on the table, he slid into the booth – next to, rather than across from, the young lady.

Janet thought, “They’re sure right about his lack of boundaries, anyway. I hope she’s okay.” She made a mental note to keep an eye on the pair, but as it turned out, she wouldn’t watch long.

As the waiter returned for their orders, Jan saw the man stand, and had a moment of relief. Good. The lady had been able to get him to leave her alone. But after confirming her drink order and asking for sour cream for her baked potato, she noticed the imposing man was still standing against the booth, blocking the young woman’s path.

She glanced up, thinking perhaps the waiter could notify management that a customer was being harassed, but he was already gone.

She addressed her friends instead. “You guys know those memes on Facebook, where the girl pretends to know somebody to get out of a creepy situation?”

“Oh yeah,” Kass chimed in, “But they aren’t really memes, they’re like, screenshots of Tumblr posts. And it’s always like, ‘Every woman should do this, if you’re creeped out you should be able to go up to any woman and pretend to be her friend.”

Mimicking the images in question, Lydia added, in a mock dramatic tone, “I will NEVER not reblog this!”

“Okay, yeah, those. Well I think we just landed in one.”

The man now had the girl by the hand, and was tugging her out of the booth. She looked reluctant, but was moving under her own power. He led her to the dance floor. Jan thought she could see the young lady looking around for help, but her gaze passed right over the three friends’ table, and Janet was unable to catch her eye.

She gave Lydia and Kassidy a quick rundown of the situation, and they caught on quickly. By the time all three were on the same page, it wasn’t even like making decisions anymore – it was just a single group motion. They were out of their seats and moving toward the floor, where the man had a firm grip on the young woman’s waist. Her hands, by contrast, appeared to be placed on his shoulders in an attempt to keep him at a distance. Janet recognized the tune as an older country song, and the pair was moving too slowly for it, in their awkward dance.

They were almost completely alone on the floor, but either no one else had noticed anything amiss, or no one else was willing to do anything about it. Janet reminded herself that it could just be her own intuition misreading the situation, but she didn’t think so.

“Omiiiigaaaaawd!” Lydia’s screech was another mimicry of an extreme stereotype of a giggly girl.
“We finally found you!” Kassidy was pretending to be too drunk to notice that the girl wasn’t alone. She shoved her body – the body of a hard worker who filled her weekends with sport, a strong solid body – between the two. Unable to stop the motion of his head, which had been ducking toward his captive’s mouth, the man bumped his chin against her head. “Um, excuuuuuuuse me!” Kass laughed at him. “We are TALKING here!”
“Geeez, is he really so clueless? What kind of guy are you picking up here?” Janet asked the young woman.
“Hey, come on, are you ready to go?” Lydia asked.
“Yeah, we’re gonna get them to box our food up, did you order anything?” Janet was crowding next to Kassidy, putting another body between the aggressor and the young woman.
Kassidy reached for the girl’s hand. “You’re coming with us, right? Nothing here worth staying for.” She turned a hard glare on the man, who was rubbing his chin and looking dumbfounded.

The woman looked at the three, and then at the man behind them.
“Yeah.” She answered. “Yeah, I’m coming with you guys. Just let me get my stuff.”

As it turned out, she didn’t have to collect her things. Kassidy and Lydia walked her out, stopping at the door for a chat with a bouncer, who turned and gave the man, still standing alone in the middle of the room, an appraising look before walking the women out. Janet, meanwhile, asked for their food to be boxed up, and collected the book, legal pad, pen, and purse from the nearby booth.

By the time she reached the car, the others were able to introduce her to their new friend, Abby. Abby had stepped in to get out of the weather and study until the next bus came through, and would absolutely accept a ride back to campus. She confirmed everything Janet had thought – she was scared out of her mind at this man, who had only introduced himself as ‘the man you’ll be hanging out with again tomorrow night.’

“He kept saying we were going to dance until they closed the bar, and telling me that everyone who could see us thought we’d been together for years. ‘We look like we belong together,’ he says. He said, ‘They’d never guess we haven’t even hooked up yet.’ Ugh. He used the words ‘hooked up’ like it was just this sure thing and like everybody around us was imagining us having sex. What a creep. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

As Kassidy opened a styrofoam container and handed their passenger a fork to share her sampler platter, the memory of their own conversation came back to Janet in a rush. It had only been minutes before but it felt like a week ago.

A Tumblr post. Well, better a Tumblr post than a crime report.

[photo credit: Thomas Hawk Legs via photopin (license)]

Monday, September 19, 2016

Homeschool days 3 and 4

I didn't write up day 4 on Friday. All kids were asked to continue math review and devote time to reading. 8th grader began writing/social studies project, writing to elected representatives to share his opinion about homeschool access to school sports.

Day 5
5th grader: Spend an hour reading. Math chapter review. Read first chapter of North Carolina textbook. For writing, blog 1-2 paragraphs about our state.

8th grader:
Math -- practice solving equations. Continue writing/social studies project. Download copy of periodic table and begin exploring contents. Reading as normal.

9th grader:
Math chapter 7 prep. Review first section in America: History of Us. Reading as normal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

School Day 2

9th grader: continue math review as discussed yesterday. Reading assignments as previously discussed. Social studies: can you name 3 symbols of North Carolina? If not, look them up. Can you sketch the state's flag from memory?

8th grader: Chapter Review for Chapter 7 in Pre-Algebra text. If you don't know it, don't guess. Instead, mark for review. Social studies: look up 3 symbols of our state. Draw a sketch of the state flag. Continue reading as assigned yesterday.

5th grader: Math (the one with the rubber-band ball on the cover) page 226-227.  Social studies: Portrait of America North Carolina book, read pages 7 and 46. Writing: name your favorite symbols of NC. Why do you think those were picked? Why do you like them? Don't forget a half hour of reading!