Thursday, March 31, 2016

Monthly Favorites: March 2016

March was a really hard month for me.  It's my birthday month and I have always found my birthdays to be a trigger for my depression.  As a result, I spent most of the month in the grips of a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) and was trying to make it through each day moment-by-moment.  When I'm in a tenuous place emotionally, my therapist always tells me to take care of myself and to surround myself with things that bring me happiness.  In an otherwise dreary month, there were a few things that brought me joy:

|1| Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This was the best book that I read in March and the best novel I have read all year.  I will be doing a full review on the book in the next week [watch this space!], but I will say that it is about a tragedy that completely upends a family and forces them to reconsider everything they ever knew about themselves and one another.  It'

|2| Disney x Vans Jungle Book: For my birthday I finally got a pair of the Jungle Book Vans that I have wanted since the fall.  If you love your classic skateboarding shoe and enjoy a Disney movie or two, you might want to scout out this collection.   

|3| Marona Polka Dot Tote from Target: This was a late birthday present from my mom and I love it.  I wear this cross-body and am able to carry my day to day stuff as well as some of my work related materials with me. I like a bag that is cute, fuss-free, and can hold two pounds of crazy-- this one fits the bill!

|4| Target's Pillow Fort Line: This line of children's bedding is  Since my dog sleeps on my bed, I often by children's bedding because it is more durable and stain resistant.  Pillow Fort, in addition to its durability, is incredibly whimsical.  I have the "Best Bears Forever" set in my room.  Who needs adulthood, eh?  

|5| It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream: My skin has been a bit wonky lately with all of the emotional upheaval I have experienced as of late and this stuff has helped to neutralize some of the blemishes, redness, and oiliness I've had.  Contrary to what you might think, this CC cream can be built up to full coverage and can hide a multitude of sins.  The one draw back to this product is that the color range is a bit limited; I am a MAC NC20 and I wear the shade Fair.  I would imagine someone who was a lot lighter or a lot darker than me would struggle to find a shade that matches their shade and undertone.  

|6| Saga: This month I started reading the Saga series and have grown to love it.  When I read the first volume I wasn't sold . . . but then I wanted to know what happened to the one character I did like so I had to read the next book.  Suffice it to say, I'm not in for a pound.  I will be finishing volume three this evening and I already have the next three volumes on hold at the library.  If you enjoy graphic novels like Watchmen (and I do!) you'll probably like this one, too!

|7| PaperMate InkJoy Pens: Life is too short to write with sub-par pens.  I, however, have found the penultimate ballpoint in these bad boys.  Not only are InkJoys aesthetically pleasing, they are well pigmented and write smoothly on a variety of paper textures.  You can pick up a small multi-colored pack at Target for around $5, more expensive than a package of Bics but well worth the added expense!

|8| Loose Leaf Teas: My local supermarket has started to stock loose leaf teas in bulk bins and I have loved getting to try new flavors of herbal and fruit teas this month.  My personal favorite is a watermelon one that is so fragrant and lovely it perks me up no matter what time of day it is.  

How do you take care of yourself when you're feeling down?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review: The Dover Reader: James Joyce

When it comes to reading the classics, it's often difficult to know where to start.  Those of us who majored in English were spoiled, we had professionals point us in the general direction of the world's best literature with little to no solicitation.  But what about those who majored in something else?  What about readers who never went to college . . . or haven't finished their secondary education yet?  
This is where The Dover Reader series comes in.  The Dover Reader is a series from the fine folks at Dover Thrift Editions, home of the cheap and cheerful paperback, which collects some of the most famous works of noted literary giants.  If you have ever struggled to find your way in the literary cannon, here are your compasses.

Recently, I requested the newest addition to The Dover Reader*, this one on James Joyce, on Net Galley and the publisher was kind enough to share it with me.  This volume contains The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (the most accessible of Joyce's novels); all of the stories in Joyce's Dubliners collection; an excerpt from Joyce's magnum opus, Ulysses; his play Exiles; and Chamber Music, an early book of poetry that predates Joyce's fiction.  

What makes this volume a superior introduction to Joyce, is the organization of the works.  In many ways, Joyce's reputation for impenetrability proceeds him.  The volume begins with Dubliners, a short story collection, which allows readers to "get a feel" for Joyce's prose and, if need be, skip between stories.  Next, the volume transitions into The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the most accessible of Joyce's novels, which is then proceeded by the first episode of Ulysses, Telemachus, where Portrait's Stephen Dedalus is a prominent character.  While the inclusion of the Telemachus chapter make sense in terms of character continuity, it's not the best representation of Ulysses's narrative beauty.  For the purpose of best representing Joyce and Ulysses, I can't help but think the Sirens or Penelope chapters would have been preferable inclusions.  

This collection wisely concludes with Exiles, Joyce's only published play (written around the same time as Dubliners) and Chamber Music, a poetry collection written early in his career, allowing readers interested in Joycean "deep cuts" to have their fill.  

Taken as a whole, this collection is a comprehensive, accessible introduction to Joyce's work and provides the reader glimpses into some of the lesser read corner's of his his bibliography. The Bottom Line: If you're a Joycean noob and want a gentle introduction to his work, this is a great place to start.  If, on the other hand, you are an experienced Joyce reader, you would probably find it more useful to seek out single editions of the author's longer works, most of which are also available from Dover.
Friday, March 25, 2016

Monthly Wrap Up: February 2016

Just as in January, I managed to complete six books in the month of February: three audiobooks, two eBooks, and one traditional printed text.  While I am pleased with the amount I read in February, I wasn't, for the most part, enchanted with the texts themselves.  Since I didn't enjoy a lot of what I read last month, I feel like I ended up sliding into a reading slump that I am still trying to shake off.  Why is it that a crappy book (or a series of crappy books) can throw off your reading mojo for weeks?  Life's mysteries never cease to amaze me!

In any event, here is what I read in the month of February:

|1| A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
[My GoodReads Rating: 3/5]
A Tale for the Time Being is a novel narrated by two characters separated by time and geography: Nao, a California-raised teenager living in pre-2011 tsunami Tokyo; and Ruth, a Canadian-American novelist living on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia.  Ruth finds a diary and some trinkets inside of a Hello Kitty lunchbox on a beach near her home.  The diary is written by a fifteen year old Nao, a girl who is struggling to find her place in Japan after living most of her life in California.  Ruth, who is struggling with writers' block and feelings of isolation, connects to Nao and her narrative.  The novel bends genres and blurs the line between writer and reader.  Despite its unconventionality, I found the book deeply engaging although I ultimately gave it a three our of five on GoodReads because the ending felt a bit rushed.  Had more time been taken to resolve the intricacies of the plot, A Tale for the Time Being would have been a solid 4/5 read.

|2| The Dumb House by John Burnside
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
I wrote a full review of The Dumb House a few weeks ago [you can read that here].  I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that though I found Burnside's prose to be startlingly beautiful,the plot was too horrifying for me to bracket.  The novel is a lyrical and intoxicating trigger warning in protracted form, hence the two star rating.

|3| On the Road by Jack Kerouac
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
A lot of people in the book-blogosphere adore Jack Kerouac's On the Road, I am not one of them.  Loosely based on Kerouac's own experiences, the novel is about a collection of hipsters who cross the country, moving from odd job to odd job, from lover to lover, and back again.  At the hear of the story is Kerouac's analog, Sal Paradise, and his fascination with the freewheeling Dean Moriarty.  What bothered me most about the novel was a pair of common complaints: the treatment of women and the romanticized portrayal of poverty.  The female characters in the novel are one-dimensional sex objects that are easily disposed of by the male characters.  No amount of geographical wistfulness or deference to the "coming of age" genre could makeup for the unease the status of women in Kerouac's novel caused me.  Similarly, I was off-put by the choice to be impoverished that some of the characters made.  In lieu of continuing their enrollment at elite schools or capitalizing on their profitable connections to friends or relatives, many of the characters chose to travel the country ostensibly on their last dime.  The only types of people who can make that choice of their own freewill are those that are privileged: you can only travel on your last dime if your last dime isn't your last dime.  Romanticizing poverty is the auspice of individuals who have resources to fall back on and to cast poverty as a choice that is easily reversed is an insult to the millions of people who struggle to break the cycle. Okay, rant over.  

|4| Chu's Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Adam Rex
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
Chu's Day at the Beach is another installment in Neil Gaiman's series about the adventures of the titular panda cub.  I listened to this an audiobook on a down day.  While I enjoyed the story it lost some of its magic in audiobook format.  I'll probablt read this book again in the future, but in print . . . and probably to my pug!

|5| Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside by Frank Lesser 
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
Sad Monsters is a collection of short stories about the fraught emotional lives of monsters and other mythical beasts. Lesser used to be a writer for The Colbert Report. On paper, this book had the makings of a hilarious read: a great concept and an author with a sterling comedic pedigree.  In execution, however, the book was lacking.  I didn't laugh out loud or laugh at all, really!  I read this as an ebook, but the format wasn't the issue; it just wasn't funny.  As a result, I gave Sad Monsters a 2/5 stars primarily on the basis of concept.  Other than being a great idea, there is little to recommend the book in any format.

|6| Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
[My GoodReads Rating: 4/5]
The best book that I read in February was Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  In this novel, the title character, at the prompting of his girlfriend, tracks down his high school group of friends.  During his first years of college, Tsukuru's friends inexplicably exluded him from the group.  This break and the emotional fallout from it had a profound impact on Tsukuru's life.  The novel follows Tsukuru as he tries to piece together this traumatic mystery from the past.  Anyone who has ever struggled with being inexplicably excluded from their friendship group while growing up will empathize with the titular character.  I gave this book a 4/5 on GoodReads.

What did you read last month?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev .
Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Just For Fun: Overdrive

I am always on the lookout for a good deal.  If there is a coupon code or free trial to be had, I will not stop until I get my gnome-like hands on it.  I always want a deal.  Even if I am getting a deal, I want a better deal.  Blame my Dutch heritage or my competitive personality all you want, I just want to get the most bang for my buck.

It's this dogged pursuit of a good deal that has given form to my antipathy for Audible.  Anyone who has watched a YouTube video in the past two years has certainly been bombarded by Audible-sponsored content offering *new* subscribers a free audio book to test out the service.  The catch to this promise of a "free audio book" is that you are signed up for Audible membership which can cost a minimum of $14.95 and you're only guaranteed one audio book a month.

Let me tell you about a cheaper, easier alternative to Audible available from many public libraries: Overdrive.  Overdrive is a website and app that allows users to download audio books and eBooks for free using your lending privileges from your local library.  To sign up for an account you just need a library card in good standing and an email address.

You can download a temporary file to phone, tablet, or eReader and enjoy your digital text for the entirety of the lending period (7-21 days depending on your library and the item).  In the event you want to access your digital checkouts and cannot access your mobile device, you can listen or read your materials directly from your web browser (a Godsend if you're at work . . . believe me!)

If an item you are interested in is checked out, you can put an electronic hold on the item and you will be notified when your item is available for download on the app.  Similarly, if you're "not feelin' it" with a title, you can return the item early.

The number of items you are allowed to download from Overdrive at one time will depend on your library.  For instance, in my county, we are allowed to checkout three items in any combination of formats at a time; in others, like Multnomah County ('sup Portlanders!), allows you to have ten digital checkouts from Overdrive at once.

The one drawback to using Overdrive, in addition to their being a limited time frame to read your book, is the selection.  While there are hundreds of thousands of titles available from the service, that is no guarantee that the book you would like to read is available.  If, however, you are the type of reader who likes to discover new titles by browsing you'll probably get the most out of the service.

Seriously, why pay for Audible when Overdrive allows you free access to hundreds of thousands of titles in a number of formats and on most of your devices?

Have you tried Overdrive?  How many checkouts are you allowed?  Tell me on Twitter @thelexicondev .