“I feel more self-righteous wearing it. Does that count?”

My aunt recently sent me a t-shirt from her trip to Disney World with her daughter. The shirt was made from 100% organic cotton.

Later, I modeled the shirt to see how it fit and show my mom.

Mom: “How does it feel? Does it feel any different?”

Miss Print: “I feel more self-righteous wearing it. Does that count?”

Mom: “No.”

You must not touch the bird.

Thanksgiving Day found Mom and myself getting the turkey prepped and cooking. All went smoothly until stuffing time arrived.

Mom: “We need to stuff the turkey and I need your help. I know you don’t like touching the meat so you can shove it in.”

Miss Print: “That counts as touching the meat.”

I wound up holding the bird upright with paper towels. Still gross.

Vibes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vibes by Amy Kathleen RyanKristi Carmichael thinks she has all the answers, which is part of why she stopped caring about just about everything two years ago. She knows all about her workaholic mother, absent father, and why the incredibly cute Gusty Peterson would never want to have anything to do with her. She can even understand the romantic thoughts and strange fantasies her friends Mallory and Jacob have for her. Of course, being psychic can have that effect on a person.

Part of having all the answers is being chronically unimpressed (definitely how Kristi feels about her free-spirited high school) and always playing by her own rules (that’s covered by the padlock on her bedroom door and the cat she hides inside it, not to mention the found wardrobe).

But as the school year progresses, Kristi finds a lot of things happening that she didn’t see coming–even with all the answers. The sudden return of her father, attentions from not one but two boy at school, and other surprises leave Kristi in a tailspin as she wonders if, maybe, the vibes she’s been getting were more bogus than psychic all along.

Such is the premise of Vibes (2008), Amy Kathleen Ryan‘s second novel (and the subject of a rumored movie adaptation according to Cinema Blend–although the fundamental inaccuracies of the basic summary there do leave me wondering about the accuracy of the rumor).

I really liked this book. The fact that Kristi is psychic is treated as a normal event–not a big deal, no worrying about why she can read minds–which I enjoyed since mind reading usually supersedes plot when it crops up in non-fantasy books.

At 249 pages, the book goes by fast but the story is still deep. A strong point of Ryan’s writing are the characters she has created. In the beginning of the novel Kristi and also the new boy at school, Mallory, are deeply troubled, something both teens try to deal with through anger. Kristi doesn’t mince words when she tells readers all of the reasons she has to be angry (there are a few). However, as the story moves forward and Kristi realizes that reading minds isn’t the same as understanding what people are thinking, she also learns that there is more to life (both good and bad) than she had first thought.

Because of her anger at, well, everything Kristi is initially not a sympathetic character. She is mean to her friends, her mom, and even strangers. Fortunately, because of the character development Kristi realizes this about herself and tries to do better.

One theme that the novel deals with well is self-esteem in that Kristi does have much at the start of the novel. Seeing herself as fat and ugly, Kristi doesn’t find herself very surprised when she hears the word “sick” in Gusty Peterson’s head whenever he thinks of her. Kristi’s low opinion of herself is hard to shake even in the face of positive attentions from Mallory and, of course, her family. To some readers it could seem over the top, but the truth is I was right there with Kristi and when those things came up in the novel, it felt like Ryan was quoting a page from my own life.

The other theme that was handled really well in Vibes is the absent father issue. There was a point in time where books about single mothers would always idolize the absent father (“Dad is so much cooler than Mom. It’s Mom’s fault he left. If Dad came back everything would be better . . .”) and that would be it.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a trend where children of divorce or the like begin to see their family situation in a more realistic way (A Thousand Splendid Suns and Absolutely Maybe are just two books in this trend). Kristi misses her father terribly, and in many ways does idolize him, but only until he shows up again. Then it becomes apparent that there was more to her father’s leaving that even a psychic could have guessed.

In summary, Ryan blends a lot of different themes and genres to create a new kind of story that readers (teen and otherwise) are sure to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti, Paper Towns by John Green, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

On boxing yourself in when it comes to musical tastes

I’m sick (agian, yes) but decided to take a minute to post another retro post, this time from March 2007. As part of reducing my Internet footprint, I’m deleting my “other” older blog archive and integrating any of the good posts here.

Without further ado:

A few nights ago “Chelsea Girl” and I were having a conversation via myspace comments about music. “Chelsea Girls”’s new favorite band is Augustana–good choice–so I recommended that she check out Daniel Powter who has a similar sound. She responded: “yea i know him too. i dont know y but i like bands better., There should be a word for a person who prefers bands over solo artists and the opposite, dont u agree?”

I did: “I like “groupists.” I think that works nicely with “solo-ers.” They’re similar enough but not too similar that people will think they are the same thing. This will all be documented in a blog later. Watch for it.”

And now here’s that blog.

* Groupist: A groupist is a person who prefers bands. For our purposes a band is defined as a group of two or more people who perform music. They sing, as well as play instruments. If you are a groupist with similar tastes in music to me and Chelsea Girl, you might consider checking out: Augustana, the Raconteurs or the Goo Goo Dolls.

* Soloer (alternate spelling: solo-er): Solo-ers are people who prefer solo artists. For our purposes, this means any musician who perfoms on stage alone. They can sing and play instruments or only sing. If you are a solo-er with similar tastes to me (since we have established that Chelsea Girl is a groupist) you might listen to: Daniel Powter, James Blunt or Jason Mraz.

* Groloer: This is a term for people who like bands and solo artists equally. In addition, it can also be used to refer to people who like musicians that do not fit neatly into either category. Examples include: Five for Fighting (one guy but it sounds like a band), The Pussycat Dolls (a band, but none of them play instruments), and Rob Thomas who should still be with Matchbox 20. Sorry, ignore that last example. I still really miss that band.

Not a Box: A Picture Book review

Not a Box by Antoinette PortisYou know how young children will sometimes receive a super amazing fantastic gift and proceed to derive much more enjoyment from the cardboard box the gift came in? Well, according to Antoinette Portis‘ 2006 book Not a Box, young rabbits do that to.

There are a lot of reasons I enjoy this book, the first of which is because of its design. The book looks like a box (even though it’s not). The cover is made of brown-cardboard-feeling paper. The weight (11.5 ounces) is clearly marked on the front, while the back notes which side is up. The cardboard theme understandably continues in the book’s interior.

The structure is the same throughout, so I’m just going to go through the first one:

Brown lefthand page reading: “Why are you sitting in a box?”

Righthand page: black and white drawing of a young rabbit sitting in a box.

Turn the page.

Red lefthand page: “It’s not a box.”

Righthand page: color (red, black, yellow and white) illustration of the young rabbit driving a race car.

The same scenario is repeated several times until the clever ending.

At first I had thought that this book would be a hard sell for a read-aloud because, well, there isn’t a lot to read. However, after discussing the book with “Tori” I came to a different conclusion. Tori suggested that the book would work better in a more non-traditional storytime where the kids get in on the act. Ask the kids what they see in each picture, let them describe the story. If the children are older, you could also ask them to find the “original” box in each of the rabbits imagined scenarios.

The book would also work well in a one-on-one reading between parents and their own children, which is the scenario I had initially imagined for this book. I like the story because it’s simple with nice drawings that children can clearly interpret thanks to the thick lines and limited palette. Also, since most children do enjoy a good cardboard box, it’s likely that they’ll be intrigued by the rabbit’s scenarios and perhaps find ideas for their own playtime.

I’m not the only one that enjoyed this book. In 2007, Not a Box was selected as a Theodor Seuss Geisel  Honor Book. The award was established in 2006 for the author and illustrator who annually make “the most distinguished contribution to beginning reader books.”

The fun continues in with a piglet in Not a Stick.

The Young Widow: A (mostly) Chick Lit Wednesday review

Annette Berowne had a sweet, heart-shaped face. She had honey-blond hair and wide brown eyes. She was not beautiful, and certainly not glamorous, but only Phillip Bethancourt noticed that.

The Young Widow by Cassandra ChanSo begins Cassandra Chan‘s debut novel, The Young Widow (2005), in her debut mystery series of Phillip Bethancourt and Jack Gibbons mysteries. But before discussing Annette Berowne, it is important to know about Gibbons and Bethancourt.

Bethancourt and Gibbons could not be more different. Everything comes easily to Phillip Bethancourt, a young and wealthy Englishman with a model girlfriend and posh apartment to match his high standard of living. Jack Gibbons, on the other hand, is more of an everyman–an ambitious detective sergeant at Scotland Yard, Gibbons has his eye on more important things than parties and women: he’s watching for a career-making case. Despite their differences the two men strike an easy friendship, largely because of Bethancourt’s interest in all things criminal and his knack for helping Gibbons with his more, shall we say, complex cases.

Annette Berowne, meanwhile, is the not beautiful nor glamorous widow of the murder victim in Gibbons’ latest case. From the start, Annette Berowne seems like the obvious suspect, a young woman married to a man who could be her father usually is. Especially when that woman has been married to two other older men. Men who also died under unique circumstances.

However, as Jack and Phillip soon realize, Annette is not the only one who would benefit from Berowne’s death. In fact, the small town near the family estate is ripe with suspects, as is the family itself. Still, the investigation seems to perpetually turn back to the enchanting Annette Berowne. No matter how desperately Gibbons tries to find a more likely suspect.

As Bethancourt observes his friend’s, indeed everyone’s, growing infatuation with the young widow his initial detachment becomes worry as Bethancourt begins to wonder if his friend could be walking down a path that will shatter his ambitious career before it’s really begun.

The Young Widow is what I would call a quiet book. Chan’s prose is witty and sharp, but it is also subtle. The book is rich with humor, but it is the restrained kind so usually associated with the English. The writing here cannot be devoured, rather it has to relished–readers have to linger. Both myself and my mother found the characters and the plot to be thoroughly enjoyable even with slight confusion at the beginning due to an influx of many characters’ names over a short number of pages.

One of the particular strong suits of the writing here is Chan’s use of dialogue where she mixes humor, plot, and character interaction in perfect combination. One of my favorite excerpts will hopefully illustrate that point with a conversation between Bethancourt and his young nephew:

“I’ve got to dress,” said Bethancourt, stubbing out his cigarette. “Then we’ll go for a drive in the country.”

“I just came in from the country,” said Denis.

“I can’t help that,” answered Bethancourt. “Anyway, this will be different country and you can ride in the back with Cerberus.”

He fled to his bedroom.

Although the story centers on the murder investigation, Chan’s characters are fully-realized in her crystal clear representations of Gibbons and Bethancourt who seem ready to walk right off the page and into real life. This novel falls into the mystery genre without being formulaic (although I did guess the murderer, but since that rarely happens it was more enjoyable than annoying). Chan gives equal time to plot and characters to create not only a wonderful first book but strong footing for a series that already has three books to its credit.

You can read more about Gibbon’s and Bethancourt’s investigations in Village Affairs (2006) and Trick of the Mind (2008).

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

This blog title is from a quote by one Roger Penrose in one The Emperor’s New Mind (chapter ten). But this post is not about any of those things.

In the spring of 2006 I went through what might be called a rough patch. It felt like everything around me was in flux and, in terms of goals or even focus, I felt adrift. I didn’t know what I wanted let alone how to get it. When I feel like that, I usually write. Poems, mostly.

On April 2, 2006 I wrote a list poem of all of the things I wanted. I added to it periodically, but the core list was from around that time. By the time a month or two had passed the list was finalized. My wants, as delineated on that list, ranged from the prosaic (wanting to be on staff for my college’s literary magazine and winning one of the English Department’s writing contests) to the more esoteric (one day having a dog named Azrial or Rose) to the completely random (getting to a dentist).

The list has 73 items. As time passed, I would continually go back to the poem and mark off items that had been completed. To date 52 items have been completed. That’s a little over 71%, even counting esoteric things that will never happen. And that isn’t too bad.

I never delete my poems, but this one I will. Because its work is done. I don’t know anything about Roger Penrose, but I think he’s right. Maybe the universe isn’t made of stories per se, maybe it’s made of lists. Maybe the universe does listen to all of our wants and hopes. Maybe that’s the first step to actually getting what we want.

Mission Reorganization: Internet (Hippie) Edition

I don’t know if this reflects my getting older, or just a shift in priorities, but I’ve been getting rid of a lot of my computer files lately. Old writing I’ve never been able to use, instant messaging conversations I saved for reasons I no longer remember. I’m letting it all go.

This weekend, that extended to facebook. I updated all of my privacy settings to be more secure, removed tags from photos I no longer wanted to be associated with (because I looked stupid), and deleted a lot of old postings. I deleted all of my status updates and a significant number of posts other people had left on my page.

While deleting my status updates, I realized they were very similar to my tweets on twitter. They also confirmed that I was often concerned with being cold and that I do in fact have my own unique lexicon. (Recurring words included “crazy” and “whoa.”)

When I started deleting posts by others I found information from friends I no longer speak to. After they said some harsh words to me, I cut off all ties. These posts were from when we were still friends though. But reading them confirmed that these people–the ones that I had called friends until they hurt me with their words–had always been jerks.

Even when a friend was being nice to me, she was somehow belittling what I said. My friend asked about what was going on in my life, but didn’t pay enough attention to keep details straight. One girl, when I told her I was going to library school, had said “that’s funny.” Sometimes I would look back and regret losing touch with these people. But now I’m glad I did because I realize more clearly than ever that they brought nothing but negative energy into my life.

During the purge, I was surprised to realize how much information the site stores. I had “site activity” updates going back two years. The process was tedious and annoying, but it was also cathartic. I feel lighter. I’m no longer tied to past events. I define my past. It does not define me.

My diary screaming out loud

This Friday I took part in a student reading at Pratt’s library. There were five other student readers and I think it was half reading fiction and have reading poetry. I was really nervous, as is my way, but still pushed myself to go because it just seemed like something I should be doing (the same way my fledgling review and journalism “careers” started).

When I got there and finally saw the other readers face-to-face, my suspicion was confirmed that most of them were older than me. Most graduate students, it turns out, do not go right into graduate programs after college so I am quite the anonmaly at 22 years of age. More to the point, I don’t have as many bullet points on my resume (like the earlier Masters degrees and publications that others had). So, in a kind of self defense I pulled out my standby mention of three minors and added that I graduated Summa Cum Laude (hearing all the different pronunciations of that never gets old).

I was the first reader. My poems got some laughs, in the right places and everything. After the reading I also got compliments from a couple of guys (there are guys in training to be librarians, who knew!) who liked my poems. The other readers ranged from good to just interesting in a train-wreck-kind-of-way.

The weird thing is that a lot of my poems, really most of them, are not about my life. They are inspired by something I see, or hear, or something that happened. But then I go off on tangents and they become not my life. But standing on that podium, reading my words to a group of mostly strangers, it felt like I was reading secrets from my diary. It was scary, but once I got over the nerves (and kept my hands against the podium to hide the shaking) it was easier. It was even fun. And, I guess given what it felt like up there, it was nice that people did like my stuff.

Chick Lit Wednesday will be back next week

I’m on vacation and preoccupied with preparations for a reading I am taking part in. Check back next week when the review situation will be more under my control.