Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I always make them, and may or may not keep them. Here are mine for 2011:

  1. Finish both of my reading challenges.
  2. Finish all three of my knitting challenges.
  3. Eat more vegetables.
  4. Now that I have a Y membership, get good at basic swimming again so I can take a class (running has sadly gotten too hard on my leg joints, and after watching two relatives go through knee replacements, I have made the educated decision to give it up and swim instead).
  5. Take said swimming class.
  6. Try one new recipe a week (and blog about it!)
  7. Be better about updating this blog in a timely fashion.(In my defense, the last week, if it were made into a movie, would be entitled Lauren, Her Neti Pot, and the Jealous Box of Kleenex: A Love Story. I've been fighting something off for the last month, and it's looking like it might beat me.)
  8. Finish my grad school applications and GO ALREADY. 
  9. Volunteer more. 
  10. Work on my massive shyness issues and try to make some friends of my very own here. Maybe join a new knitting group?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

This is why we can't have nice things.

Cats are assholes.

I am telling myself that this is for the best. Much as I loved my mittens, the yarn was not a good choice. It wasn't plied very tightly, the texture was uneven, and it was fuzzing and pilling all to hell as I was knitting with it. They probably wouldn't have lasted long even if the kittens hadn't destroyed one of them.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Luckily for the cats, I already have a quantity of black Cascade 220 in my possession (which is a much better yarn choice for the project in the first place: tightly plied and quite sturdy), so all I need to re-knit the mittens is a $6 skein of lime green 220. That should be gotten easily enough, and I needed to go to the yarn store anyway. I am chronically bad at underestimating how much yarn I'll need for a given product, and need to pick up another skein of some Noro before they run out of that dyelot.

I'm still pissed at the cats, though. It's a good thing they're cute.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I've been a fan of Jasper Fforde for a while now. I read The Eyre Affair the summer after I graduated from college (2007), and have slowly working my way through his books ever since. I've finished the two Nursery Crimes Division novels, The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear, which were quite enjoyable along with the two following books from the Thursday Next Series, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots. I confess that I haven't read the two most recent installments, Something Rotten and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. It's not because I haven't enjoyed the first three; it's because I don't want the series to end. I guess this is a good enough time to admit that I occasionally become ridiculously attached to fictional characters and book series. I was pretty sad about Harry Potter ending, too.

Needless to say, I was delighted when I went to the library last month and discovered that Fforde had launched a new series. The first installment, Shades of Grey, was perched on the shelf right next to Something Rotten. (There will ultimately be three novels in the series.) I immediately checked it out and brought it home. Like most of Fforde's books, I finished it very quickly. Had I not had to work a ton of shifts that week, I probably would have knocked it out in a single afternoon. As it were, I wound up taking two or three days, and I enjoyed every single page.

I loved Shades of Grey for three key reasons:

  1. I am obsessed with dystopian novels. Ob-freaking-sessed. It is my favorite genre, and if there were enough of them to where I could read nothing else for the rest of my life, there's a good chance I'd do exactly that. I was hooked from the moment I finished reading The Giver in fourth grade. I'm actually considering hosting a dystopian novels challenge in 2012 (don't have enough time to get one together for 2011).
  2. I really like Jasper Fforde's previous work, and Shades of Grey is just as good, if not better, than many of his other novels. I know a lot of people aren't really into speculative fiction, but I have something of a soft spot for it. I don't generally care for science fiction or fantasy (too many spaceships and unicorns, respectively, substituting for plot devices and good writing), but I like the idea of A World That Is Kinda Like Ours But Not, that has its own set of conventions and rules that the author consistently follows. Fforde is an expert at crafting familiar yet disconcerting worlds that are plausible yet nevertheless keep the reader's curiosity piqued. He is also quite whimsical and silly at points, and the levity of carnivorous plants and the illegality of spoon production help to keep the story from becoming leaden and depressing. 
  3. I have spent excessive amounts of time contemplating the following things: why humans can't see color in the dark, what it's like to be colorblind and unable to see my favorite color (green), whether my cats can see in color, and why I sometimes dream in black and white and others in color. 
Shades of Grey, like all of Fforde's novels and pretty much all dystopian works in general, is a work of speculative fiction that takes place in a world that is very similar to the one that we inhabit, but has many disorienting differences. Foremost among these is that the world revolves around color and the ability to see it; one's social rank is determined based upon which colors you can see, and the extent to which you can see them. Color vision is measured on a 100-point scale, and if you can see two colors within a certain number of points of one another, you are designated a secondary color (purple, orange, or green). One's ability to see color determines everything, from one's employment to one's marriage prospects, leading to cutthroat competition to ensure that one's family rises through the perception ranks. For if one is Grey and sees no color at all, one is condemned to a life of servitude and menial labor. Most of the characters in Shades of Grey see only one (sometimes two) colors; anything of another color that has not been artificially enhanced through the application of distilled pigment appears grey. Also, they can't see in the dark at all. 

Weird hierarchies are a hallmark of dystopian novels, as are the mystery-shrouded origins of said hierarchy. Shades of Grey is no exception. Something Happened a long time ago, and ever since then, the world has been ruled by a book of occasionally relevant, sometimes obscure, and often ridiculous Rules that dictate everything from the necessity of team sports to the sanctity of queues to the banning of spoon production (spoons become a hot commodity as a result). Such orderly societies inevitably produce discontents, and Eddie Russett, the protagonist, is very emblematic of the accidental revolutionary who pops up throughout the dystopian genre. Much like Winston Smith in 1984, Eddie is very much invested in the social order; he is desperate to marry up-color into the Oxbloods, an old family that controls a large string empire in addition to possessing an impressive Red pedigree. When a childish prank gets him sent to the far reaches of Chromatacia with a humiliating assignment (conducting a chair census), he meets a number of individuals who turn his view of the orderly society upside down. Havoc ensues. 

I can't say much more without giving the whole thing away, so I'll stop here. I can't wait for the next installment to come out next year, and I highly recommend this book. 5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

We'll call this one "Cabin Fever"

Why yes, that is a stranded mitten with robots and hearts on it.

I'm about halfway done with the second one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I Feel Accomplished.

I have officially completed my tenth shawl for the 10 Shawls in 2010 knitting challenge.

Pattern: Haruni, by Emily Ross
Yarn: Yarn Chef Bouillabaisse in the "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" colorway. I did overdye it with red, as the first time I knitted with it, it came out Pepto Bismol pink.
Needle: US #6
Finished Size: GIGANTIC. 48" by 26"

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with how this shawl came out. I am also quite proud of myself for completing the challenge, as before it started, I had never made a shawl nor had I made any major attempt at lace knitting. Now, I'm 100% comfortable with both. The only downside is that I am now thoroughly addicted to making these.

Definitely looking forward to the 11 Shawls in 2011 challenge!

Why I'm Not Going to Work Today

We've already gotten over a foot, and it's still snowing!

They can't even keep the main roads plowed. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2011 Knitting Challenges

I'm doing two knitting challenges next year.

The first is 11 Shawls in 2011. I'm almost done with my tenth for this year's challenge, and I have enough yarn for at least 9 projects next year:

  1. Lacey Lamb for an Aeolian
  2. laceweight for a Citron
  3. Malabrigo Lace for an Echo Flower
  4. Berrocco Ultra Alpaca Light for a 198 Yards of Heaven
  5. Noro Sekku for a Swiss Cheese Scarf*
  6. Sanguine Gryphon Little Traveller for an Annis
  7. Zauberball (in blue!) for a mashup shawl that will feature a Lazy Katy body and an Aeolian edging
  8. Malabrigo Lace for a Wisp for me, which will be 100% black
  9. Mystery Purple Yarn (I have no idea what it is or where it came from) that will become a Pogona
That's just off the top of my head. I may have more in my stash.

This brings me to my second challenge, 111 in 2011. The idea isn't to make 111 new projects in a year, but to finish up languishing works in progress as well as use up neglected stash yarn. I doubt that I'll be able to complete that many projects, the aforementioned shawls and all of my mostly-completed works-in-progress included, but aiming high is good, right? I'm also tired of having so much random yarn laying around. No more! From here on in, I'm on a yarn diet until my stash is of a reasonable size. 

*The line between scarves, stoles, and shawls is often blurry. I maintain that a laceweight anything that involves over 500 yards of yarn should count for my purposes.

Friday, December 24, 2010


My sister's X-Mas 2010 scarf is finally finished!

Pattern: Wisp, from
Yarn: Zauberball, colorway Creme of Chocolate
Needle: Size 8 US
Finished Size: Approximately 13" x 73"
Notes: I used all but the last two or three yards of the skein. I did not do the eyelet rows, as this is intended to be worn as a scarf, not a hood or cowl.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A few notes

I've been working on a few housekeeping things for the blog. Most of it has involved label organization. I like labels, but I don't like them clogging up the sidebar, so I've made a few general labels for things like crafting, cooking, and reading that will show up on the sidebar, but each entry will have more specific labels that link to similar entries, but won't take up space on the main page. I'm trying to make things as easily accessible as possible without making my blog look too cluttered.

I hate clutter. Watching the TV show Hoarders makes my eye twitch unpleasantly.

I've also added a few pages to the top. In an effort to keep track of my knitting and reading challenges, I've made separate pages for each. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Currently on the Reading Docket

  1. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (whose work I am reading thanks to my friend Dave's recommendation)
  2. The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS by Elizabeth Pisani (download it for free from her website until the end of the month)
  3. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  4. The Psycho Ex Game by Merill Markoe and Andy Prieboy (For nostalgia's sake. I'd say more, but my dad not only reads this blog, but has met the psycho-est of my nutball exes live and in person, so nobody gets to hear The Most Epic Story of Relational WTF-ery Ever, subtitled I Dated Howard Hughes Incarnate)
I've started #s 1, 2, and 4. #3 is my reward for finishing the others in a timely fashion. I love YA fiction almost as much as I love Shakespeare's problem plays, confessional poetry, dystopian novels, Robert Browning, literary non-fiction, and pretentious autobiographies.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things I am Enjoying Right Now

  1. Tea
  2. Staring at the wall (see previous entries)
  3. The kitties
  4. Oreos
  5. Watching Tron (the original 1982 version) with my boyfriend and his friends
  6. Looking forward to seeing Tron: Legacy on Thursday

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'd like to write something interesting or clever,

but my job has me so exhausted, all I'm capable of doing is drinking hot tea and staring at the wall. I don't even have the attention span for knitting or reading.

Maybe I'll watch television. I haven't done that in a while.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sorry guys, still an atheist

You know, I would have considered a simultaneous repeal of DADT and passage of the DREAM act a Christmas miracle, but since only the first part actually happened, I remain comfortably non-theistic.

Better luck next year, I guess.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Next year, I'm starting my knitted presents in February.

Though this experience has led me to a New Year's Resolution: Learn to knit and read a book simultaneously.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And the smallest of these was Madeline.

Matt's parents gave me a madeleine pan for Christmas.

As a result, I may or may not like them more than I like him.

I'm still tweaking the recipe, adjusting for different spices and different types of honey, but taste-testing them has been a blast.

So far, the favorite honey is the sourwood that one of Matt's distant cousins sent to us via his grandmother.

I am once again inspired to acquire a bee colony (the first time was after reading Plath's Ariel collection). Matt is oddly acquiescent on the subject, as he usually shoots my weird agricultural ideas down.

Maybe he likes the cookies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I don't even know what to say to that.

The top ten books over at

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  2. The Song My Paddle Sings by E. Pauline Johnson
  3. The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana by Vatsyayana
  4. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. How to Analyze People on Sight by Elsie Lincoln Benedict and Ralph Paine Benedict
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  8. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci — Complete by Leonardo da Vinci
  9. The Art of War by Sunzi
  10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Of these, I have read only three. I'll leave you to guess which. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

This sums up my entire opinion where Assange is concerned:

Naomi Wolfe's most recent blog post over on goodreads:
In other words: Never in twenty-three years of reporting on and supporting victims of sexual assault around the world have I ever heard of a case of a man sought by two nations, and held in solitary confinement without bail in advance of being questioned -- for any alleged rape, even the most brutal or easily proven. In terms of a case involving the kinds of ambiguities and complexities of the alleged victims' complaints -- sex that began consensually that allegedly became non-consensual when dispute arose around a condom -- please find me, anywhere in the world, another man in prison today without bail on charges of anything comparable.
Of course 'No means No', even after consent has been given, whether you are male or female; and of course condoms should always be used if agreed upon. As my fifteen-year-old would say: Duh.
But for all the tens of thousands of women who have been kidnapped and raped, raped at gunpoint, gang-raped, raped with sharp objects, beaten and raped, raped as children, raped by acquaintances -- who are still awaiting the least whisper of justice -- the highly unusual reaction of Sweden and Britain to this situation is a slap in the face. It seems to send the message to women in the UK and Sweden that if you ever want anyone to take sex crime against you seriously, you had better be sure the man you accuse of wrongdoing has also happened to embarrass the most powerful government on earth.
ETA: It probably bears mentioning that I find the other Naomi wolf article to be supremely screwed up and victim-blaming. Referring to Interpol as the "Bad Date Police"? Not. Cool.

This whole brouhaha has (once again) led to me being seriously disappointed with many male (and a few female) so-called progressives who seem to think that since Assange did Important Things, it's okay to treat the women who accused him of sexual assault like crap. His arrest and detainment are undeniably politically motivated, but that does not make attacking his accusers okay.

Another 2011 Challenge

I'm joining A Year of Feminist Classics challenge for 2011. Despite having minored in women's and gender studies, there are several works out there that I either haven't read yet, or probably should re-read because I only read excerpts the first time around.

Here's the list:

January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft AND So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
FebruaryThe Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill
March: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
May: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
June: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
August: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
September: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
October: Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks AND Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism Anthology
NovemberGender Trouble by Judith Butler
December: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

I'm looking forward to getting started!

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I accept it. I am the only person in the free world who thinks that Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sucks. It's awful. Horrible. One of the very worst books I've read in my entire life, and I have read a lot of crappy books over the years, between my mother's insistence that I read Christian fiction (including the wretched Left Behind series) and children's novels that were published in the 80's and 90's before Young Adult literature became a quasi-respected genre. This book is almost as bad as Twilight, and there are only two only things that keep it from being worse than Twilight in my mind: 1) it only has two sequels and there won't be any more (so I don't have to worry about being subjected to additional sycophantic praise of Larsson's "genius" when future works are released) and 2) nobody sparkles. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is that male equivalent of the Mary Sue Vampire Novel.

Let's look at it this way: Stephenie Meyer is a boring, bookish woman leading a quiet, mundane existence who writes a bestselling novel about a boring, bookish teenage girl who falls in love with an extraordinary man (a sparkling vampire, no less) and goes on to have Big Adventures. Stieg Larsson was an investigative journalist who wrote a bestselling novel about a investigative journalist who gets a Big Assignment and is only able to complete it with the help of an extraordinary woman (a delinquent super-genius who is covered in tattoos and piercings), and they go on a Big Adventure. Both are examples of self-indulgent fantasy literature, pure and simple, and that alone puts Larsson straight into the "mediocre writer" category for me, and that's not even touching on his writing style (which almost put me in a coma) and the exploitative, prurient treatment of sexual violence that occurs throughout his novels (vomit).

I'll tackle the writing style first: it's boring. Mundane. Ho-hum. Feels like slogging through cold mud on a lukewarm afternoon. Thoroughly unenjoyable, and I swear to the god I don't believe in, if I read one more description of a cheese sandwich, I will disassemble my nook, find the sharpest component, and use it to cut my wrists because SERIOUSLY, this is one of the most tedious books I've ever read, and I majored in English. I've read the entirety of Dante and the bulk of the Hawthorne oeuvre. I've conquered The Faerie Queene. I finished the unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo in French, and most of Dickens' collected work, including the really dull ones like Bleak House and Hard Times. None of these (with the possible exception of The Faerie Queene) approaches the pure, unadulterated sluggishness of the up-til-the-last-fifty-pages-or-so of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was bad enough that Larsson felt compelled to regale us all with every aspect of Blomkvist's dietary habits and sartorial choices, but the insistence upon providing pages upon pages upon pages of unnecessary exposition upon every character, major and minor, was what really did me in. This book had all the pacing of a funeral march, which isn't something I find compelling in a novel that's supposed to be a thriller. Like Twilight, it could have been a good 100-200 pages shorter without sacrificing the story. Where have all the editors gone? It's not like authors get paid by the word anymore.

The aspect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I have found the most infuriating is that it's being presented as a work of feminist literature because the main characters kick the crap out of/kill sexual predators who inflict horrific acts of violence on women. I'm hardly one to complain about a rapist being on the receiving end of a good ass-whooping, but I don't think that something like that qualifies a work as feminist, especially when it 1) fails the Bechdel Test, 2) the female characters of the book are all pathetically obsessed with the Larry Stu main character, and 3) depicts said acts of sexual violence in a way that is, frankly, stomach-churningly voyeuristic, objectifying, and exploitative, causing it to read like rape porn. That Larsson goes into graphic detail in the rape scenes but not the scenes involving consensual sex further squicks me out. Like, consensual sex is too boring to be described, but sexual assault should be depicted in a downright titillating fashion? Riiiiight.

I also really hated the fact that Lisbeth Salandar's massive issues (that probably resulted from her being sexually assaulted as a child) are depicted as being quirky and adorable. PTSD isn't cute, people, but I'll save my lengthy rant on the literary treatment of mentally ill women for another day.

I'll end on this: It is a truly sad state of affairs when a book in which the female characters are basically props that also features a multitude of prurient descriptions of violence against women is hailed as some gigantic feminist statement because the author put quotations and statistics about domestic violence being bad at the beginning of the chapters. I find Larsson's treatment of female victims of violence to be both condescending and exploitative, and the whole book left a really bad taste in my mouth. After reading the opening scene of the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and feeling the bile start to rise, I decided to cut my losses, call it quits, and read something decent instead.

I give it a 0.5 out of 5 stars (because it's not as bad as Twilight), or an F-.

ETA: More feminist killers of literary joy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Books!

I've received a few Barnes and Noble gift cards this year, and purchased a few new ebooks:

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

I generally to buy non-fiction and check fiction out of the library because I tend to use my non-fiction books as references, but I usually only read novels once. There are some that I read over and over, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

One exciting thing about next year's Victorian Literature challenge: all of the works are in the public domain and I won't have to pay for any of them!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bend to my will, feeble human!

The I Didn't Give You Permission to Stop Petting Me Death Glare

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season(s), SO THERE.

In case any of you were wondering why I'm kind of a grinch, read on:

When I was about eight or nine, my mother (and her boyfriend at the time) scarred me for life.

I hadn't believed in Santa Claus since I was about four or so when I realized that it was impossible for someone to be alive and well long enough to have delivered presents to my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother as well as me (in a fit of curiosity, I had interrogated my whole family about this mighty suspicious Santa Business), much less being able to defy the laws of physics and deliver presents to every child on the face of the earth on one single night. I figured he was dead and either parents or some third party was filling in. I related this theory to my sister and younger cousins and got in a ridiculous amount of trouble over it. Seriously. You would have thought I'd set the family cat on fire, the way I was treated over that.

I ultimately decided that recanting was my best option. I didn't want anyone to be mad at me and, ever the pragmatist, wanted to continue to receive goodies every year. So I pretended to buy my mother's explanations about how Santa wasn't really dead (and children who don't believe in him won't get any presents), went on with my life, and kept up appearances in order to ensure that the gifts would keep coming...

...until I was around nine or ten, when my mother's boyfriend decided that it would be really hilarious to put switches in my stocking. I'm not sure what made them think following through with that plan was a good idea. Maybe they thought that I'd take it as constructive criticism from a totally objective third party and mend my sister-tormenting, smart-alecking ways, or that I'd take it as a joke. I didn't, of course. Since I knew that Santa wasn't real, I took the presence of switches in my stocking as proof positive that my mother thought I was a bad kid and didn't love me anymore (and, of course, liked my sister better than she liked me). I cried for hours and my Christmas was totally ruined.

It didn't ruin all Christmases forever, of course, but it's still one more item on my gigantic list of reasons why I'm not really a fan of the last two months of the year (my birthday excepted, of course). Others include the obnoxious music, poor behavior of people I am stuck being nice to (I've spent the past few years in the service industry), and, of course, the preempting of my favorite television shows in favor of shlocky Very Special Whatevers. I also don't like the way red and green look together. So there. Again.

I may have officially gone insane.

I've decided to sign up for the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011, and as I'm a "go big or go home" kinda gal, I'm shooting for the top tier: Desperate Remedies, which will involve reading 15+ volumes of Victorian literature. I'm pretty sure I can handle it. After all, I read Dickens compulsively when I was a child and I took an upper-division Victorian Lit class my first semester at Vanderbilt and made an A in it. Despite my fairly extensive reading in that subject, I still haven't come close to everything. After all, Dickens was only one guy and the class I took primarily focused on poetry. So while I've read a crapton of Tennyson, the Rossetti siblings, Robert Barrett Browning and, of course Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browing, there's still a lot of ground for me to cover.

Case in point: I have been chronically unable to finish Wuthering Heights. Seriously. The same goes for The Woman in White (due in large part to Collins' condescending treatment of women. It's hard to read and give your book The Finger simultaneously...) and much of Oscar Wilde. I should probably remedy this (in the same way I should remedy the fact that I've never read a Jane Austen novel despite being a twenty-six-year-old woman who majored in English). It will make me better read and well-rounded-- or at least, that's what I tell myself when I'm engaging in the literary equivalent of eating carrots. I hate carrots. Blergh.

Anyway, here's a tentative list of what I'd like to do:

  1. Finish Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White.
  2. Read The Picture of Dorian Gray
  3. Re-Read Heart of Darkness and throw in a viewing of the redux cut of Apocalypse Now
  4. Read Middlemarch by George Eliot
  5. Read something by Dickens I haven't read before (or in a long time)
  6. Re-Read Bram Stoker's Dracula
  7. Read Thackeray's Vanity Fair (even if it kills me)
  8. Read Jany Eyre (see above)
  9. Read something by Lewis Carroll I haven't read before.
  10. Re-read the more complicated Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
I'll leave the next five spots open.

I've decided to count re-reads in this list simply because it's been 10+ (sometimes 20+) years since I read some of these books the first time. I mean, come on, I was eleven when I read Dracula. and it's almost certain I wasn't capable of fully appreciating it at such a young age. The same applies to Dickens, Conan Doyle, Carroll, and the other authors I read as a kid. I'm sure some of them will be like new. 

I'm really looking forward to reading Wilde. I've heard so many good things about him, but he was never really covered in any of the classes I took. I did read The Importance of Being Earnest in high school and enjoyed it, but I never got the chance to enjoy is prose. I'll probably throw in some early sci-fi (like R.L. Stevenson and H. G. Wells, even though they're not considered Victorians by some) and possibly a few volumes of poetry. I never did read much Swinburne back in the day, despite getting my fill of Tennyson, the Brownings, Kipling, and the Pre-Raphaelites. I may re-read Christina Rossetti, as she holds a special place in my heart.

I also have very pre-Raphaelite hair: long and wavy. Well, maybe moreso if I were blonde.

We'll see how this experiment goes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I got my GRE writing score. 6.0!

Yeah, I'm awesome.

On the other hand, I need to stop procrastinating and finish my personal statement. Seriously, it's the only thing left.

Book Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Today is my day off, and I spent it visiting the gynecologist, picking up application materials for a local charity, and checking a big stack of books out of the library. I've already read one of them: Hate List, by Jennifer Brown.

The premise of Hate List is simple: Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy and girl get bullied. Boy shoots up school. Everyone blames girl, who they believe is responsible because she wrote out a "hate list" that included a number of classmates who wound up getting shot by her boyfriend. Girl's entire life falls apart, and she has no idea how to glue it back together.

Valerie Leftman is a normal unpopular kid on the morning of May 2, 2008. On school bus on the way to school, a bully harasses her and breaks her MP3 player. Furious, Val exclaims that she wants to kill her when she meets up with her beloved boyfriend, Nick, in the parking lot. Much to her relief, Nick promises to take care of it for her. They walk into the Commons, or school cafeteria, to confront the bully. Instead of talking to her, Nick pulls a gun out of the heavy coat he is wearing and shoots her in the stomach, launching a bloodbath that leaves a number of students and at least one teacher dead, with many more wounded. Val is among the wounded; she stops the shooting by jumping in front of Jessica, one of the popular girls who had previously delighted in calling her "Sister Death." After realizing that he has shot his girlfriend, Nick kills himself.

Despite stopping the shooting and saving the life of a girl who had bullied her, Val is blamed for the massacre because she kept a "Hate List," a notebook filled with pages upon pages of people and things that pissed her and Nick off. Several of the students who were killed were featured on the list, along with algebra, teachers, cheesy movies, saccharine news reports, and other banes of a cynical teenager's existence. To Val, it was a way for her to vent her frustrations about her classmates who bullied her, the teachers who didn't care, and the stupid world that rewarded the popular bullies while continually punishing the less popular "bad kids." She never intended for it to be a hit list, and had no idea that Nick was serious when he talked about death and violence. Blinded by love and typical teenage naivete, she insists throughout the book that she had no idea Nick was actually violent, though her accounts of his behavior reveal an individual with serious anger management problems and obvious emotional dysregulation. Val eventually comes to terms with the complexities of Nick's personality, but far too late.

Much of the novel centers around the aftermath: Val returns to school and attempts to come to terms with the effect that the events of May 2, 2008 have on her friends, classmates, teacher, and family. The story is narrated in pieces, shifting back and forth between May 2, the days that initially follow it, and Val's return to school that takes place some six months later. The flashback pieces are integrated via newspaper clippings that describe a victim and aspect of the shooting that's relevant to Val's memories of Nick and the events that led up to the shooting. It mostly works, but the book nevertheless feels a bit disorganized. Perhaps that's an intentional commentary upon the scattered mental state of the narrator, but I nevertheless found the constant skipping around jarring. I also found some of the secondary characters a tad unbelievable, particularly Frankie, Val's younger brother, Briley, her dad's twentysomething secretary-girlfriend, and Bea, her art instructor.

Overall, though, the book was well-written and enjoyable as well as an excellent first effort. Despite its structural difficulties and handful of implausible characters, the action and characters really resonated with me, and I found myself unable to put the book down. The majority of the characters were very well-rendered, particularly Nick, Val's mother, Ginny (a classmate), and, of course, Jessica, the mean girl whose life Val saves that later befriends her. Brown has a gift for negotiating intriguing interpersonal dynamics between her characters; the relationships are just as expertly crafted and put together as the characters themselves. I also give Brown props in her handling of the issues associated with school violence and bullying. Her take is honest and real, and doesn't fall prey to preaching or moralizing. I also appreciate that she acknowledges that teenagers will continue to be jerks even in the face of extreme adversity: Val's classmates continue to antagonize her and one another (though their enthusiasm for being assholes is somewhat dampened). All in all, very good.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, or a solid B+. I look forward to reading Brown's future novels.

Also: I had a hate list of my very own back in middle and high school (circa 1996-2003). I think most teenagers do at some point or other.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're gonna need a bigger boat.

The kittens have gotten big enough to where they can push open the bedroom door even with a full laundry basket behind it. Damnit.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can't Blog. Busy Reading New Book.

So I'll leave you with this quote, from Sam Harris' new book, The Moral Landscape:
Knowing that the Creator of the Universe believes about right and wrong inspires religious conservatives to enforce this vision in the public sphere at almost any cost; not knowing what is right-- or that anything can ever be truly right-- often leads secular liberals to surrender their intellectual standards and political freedoms with both hands. 
As someone who is not religious in any way, shape, or form but also isn't a fan of relativism (it bears mentioning here that, despite that, I am emphatically not an Objectivist), I like the direction in which Harris is heading. Dawkins did something similar in The God Delusion and while it made a good bit of sense to me, I think Harris' more philosophical bent will ultimately serve me (and this debate) better.

Next on the list is Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, if I can make my nook account cooperate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A few glasses of wine later...

...and I'm okay with talking about snow. Snow and I have a love/hate relationship, and my return to the mountains has complicated it further.

On one hand, snow is pretty and I'm stoked to live in a place that has seasons other than hot, hotter than the hinges of hell, kinda hot, and clammy-rainy. I also can't shake the childlike glee at not having to go to school tomorrow, even though I haven't been in school since 2007. (My sister, on the other hand, wears her PJs inside out whenever snow threatens. She's a teacher.)

On the other, snow is a pain in the ass. It covers cars, it freezes doors shut, it wrecks my hair, and it makes the roads difficult at best. When you live in a tourist town (like Asheville), the road woes are compounded because they're covered with snow, ice, black ice, AND flatlanders who can't navigate twisty, hilly roads in the sunshine, much less when it's dark, snowy, and the roads are coated in ice. It's like a perfect storm of I Hope You Didn't Really Like Having a Functional Car, Because You're Not Gonna Come Tomorrow.

I left work at 6:30 this evening, and the roads were already a mess. I'm not sure if the city didn't treat any roads at all or the Biltmore Forest/Sweeten Creek/Oakley areas are just special, but there was ice everywhere, even on the main roads. I was skidding at intersections that led into interstate on-ramps. Fortunately, I drive a stick shift and know how to drive on snow and ice, which were the only things that prevented me from braking straight into a ditch on a couple of occasions. I spent the last two miles of my commute home in first gear, and while I'm pretty sure my car/engine/mileage hate me, at least I made it in safely...

..only to almost wipe out in the driveway. Smooth, Lauren. Real smooth.

I would like to fire my sinuses.

I have had chronic sinus problems my entire life. According to my parents, I've been having sinus infections since I was two or three years old, and no amount of regular nose-blowings, trips to the ENT specialists, sinus surgeries, steroids, antihistamines, allergist visits, or doses of Bendadryl have given me anything more than momentary relief. 

I remember having a lot of sinus infections when I was small, and they were pretty miserable because, back then, they would nuke you with antibiotics and hope for the best, as hardcore sinus-drainers like Mucinex hadn't been synthesized yet. Amoxicillin and I were off-and-on BFFs for many years during my childhood and adolescence, because the infections kept coming back for no apparent reason. 

When I was eight years old, I had sinus surgery. The doctor was supposed to vacuum out my sinus cavities in hopes that the hardened snot would take whatever bacteria were causing the infections with it. He wound up having to remove my adenoids while he was in there, because they were swollen to the size of his thumbs. The recovery was miserable. My throat was always sore, I kept getting nosebleeds, and having to squirt warm saltwater up my nose was pure, unadulterated hell to my eight-year-old self. 

To add insult to injury, it didn't work. I continued to get semi-annual sinus infections (usually in the Spring and Fall), and they continued to make me miserable. 

When I was in seventh grade, I went to see an allergist. I'd apparently been to one when I was very young and they hadn't found anything, but as my infections had been getting progressively worse, my pediatrician hypothesized that I had developed allergies over time. It's not unheard-of at all, he explained, for people to gain and even lose allergies over the course of their lives, and it was possible that I'd only been slightly allergic to something as a toddler (so it wouldn't have registered on the initial tests), but that it had developed into a big allergy over the course of my childhood. While I wasn't a fan of getting scratches all over my body from the test, I liked the idea of having a solid diagnosis that could be treated with shots and targeted medications instead of the symptom relief I'd become accustomed to. 

PSA: Allergy testing sucks. Someone scratching you over and over and over and over with a metal toothpick for over an hour is not a pleasant experience. My entire back and left forearm were covered in tiny, tiny dots. Of course, my results were negative. The only scratch that got inflamed was the control scratch. The rest? Nothing. Nada. Zip. They tested every environmental allergen they could think of, including all of the common plants to the area. Nope. I'm apparently not allergic to any environmental allergens (I am, however, allergic to sulfa and cough syrup). 

I did get a diagnosis out of the experience, though: non-allergic rhinitis, which apparently stands for "You get persistent sinus infections for no apparent reason. We have no idea what causes it, so here, have some steroids for any inflammation and some decongestants for all that snot. Oh, and if it gets really bad, have some more amoxicillin. Have a great day!" It's really quite frustrating, to be honest. In my case, my pediatrician believed that my nasal passages are sensitive to particulates, which results in inflammation and infection-like symptoms at times of the year when there's lots of crap floating around in the air. It explained why my infections would always happen during allergy seasons (Spring and Fall), even though I don't actually have any allergies, as well as my very strong reaction to cigarette smoke. Rapid changes in weather also trigger reactions, which is apparently a common symptom among non-allergic rhinitis sufferers. 

Nice as that explanation is, it hasn't helped me much as doctors don't know what causes non-allergic rhinitis, much less how to treat it. The only thing that's helped me so far is living in concrete jungles and staying away from smokers. When I lived in Nashville, my sinus problems decreased dramatically because I wasn't constantly exposed to pollen-and-mold-spewing nature, and it's illegal to smoke in restaurants and many bars in Tennessee. I imagine the relatively stable temperatures there helped, as well. Now that I'm back in Appalachia, however, my sinusoidal woes have returned with a vengeance. Thanks, nature/crazy mountain weather. Thanks a bunch. 

I acquired a Neti Pot in the interest of not losing my mind over this, and it's worked okay. I'm still not a fan of pouring salty water up my nose, but at least I'm getting measurably good results (read: I can breathe through my nose again) without the fun and exciting side effects I've come to associate with steroids, decongestants, and antibiotics. It's definitely been necessary and helpful over the course of the last week, in which temperatures dropped about thirty degrees and the precipitation went from rain to sleet to snow. 

More on the snow later. I'm still recovering from the drive home from work. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snowy Sunday

On the rare occasion that I have a weekend day off, I like to make breakfast. Sometimes I make the traditional eggs, bacon, and (fake) meat, sometimes I make French toast, others I make cheese grits with fried eggs (scrambled for Matt, as he has a pathological aversion to runny yolks. Whatevs), but mostly, I make pancakes. Pancakes are the preferred breakfast food around these parts, especially when they're served with MorningStar Farms Hot & Spicy Veggie Sausage Patties, which, I swear, taste better than their meaty counterparts.

(Side note: Neither Matt nor I is vegetarian. We like some vegetarian products and prefer tofu to chicken in our Thai food, but it's a combination of laziness and deep love of bacon, sushi, and the occasional cheeseburger that prevents either of us from making the full switch. Well, for him, anyway. I'm anemic, so an 100% vegetarian diet leads to me being sick 24/7.)

Anyway, Pancakes. I use this recipe, and it always comes out well despite the stove I have to work with, whose temperature regulation is capricious to the extreme. You'll often find me cursing at it when I'm cooking, especially when things that require even heating, like pancakes and sauces, are involved. I long for the day when I will have a grown-up kitchen that features novelties like gas burners, more than one oven, a built-in griddle, and a dishwasher that actually cleans the dishes placed therein. Yes, internet: I dream big.

Seriously, though. I'd sleep in a hammock in a yurt for the rest of my life if I could have an awesome kitchen. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's a lump.

Lace shawls don't look like much before they're stretched and blocked.

Pictured: 2/3 of a Haruni shawl.

Friday, December 3, 2010

This Week in Review

Here we have:

  • This year's Christmas scarf for my sister.
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  • The Bon Appetit Cookbook
  • Yarn for a new scarf for me.
Not pictured:
  • A half-drunk Newcastle
  • A slightly-over-halfway-finished shawl

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The kittens have discovered that if they simultaneously throw themselves into the bedroom door, it will pop open. Matt says it has something to do with it being the winter, but I think his door isn't latching correctly. His solution was to stack a couple of full laundry baskets next to the door so that even if it opened, they wouldn't be able to push it far enough to where they could get in. That worked okay, but it hasn't stopped them from throwing themselves against the door (while meowing pitifully).

I'd let them in, but Cataclysm tries to nest in/nurse on/lick clean my hair (NOT OKAY, Cat, and I will not have you editorializing on the state of my hair) and Catastrophe pounces, claws outstretched, on anything that moves beneath the blankets. They are also notorious for hosting Kitty Deathmatches on top of us while we're trying to sleep, and use our bodies as strategic cover. Needless to say, when we let them in, nobody gets any sleep (except for them, of course).

On the other hand, sleep is proving elusive when we don't let them in. Argh, cats.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big Debate

I managed to get most of my graduate school applications knocked out. There are only a few things I still need to do:

  1. Wait for my GRE writing score to arrive so I can add it to my applications.
  2. Send the recommendation forms to my letter-writers. Thankfully, NC uses an electronic system.
  3. Edit and type up my personal statement. 
  4. Contact Scripps and Vanderbilt and have them send my transcripts to the schools I'm applying to.
  5. Pay the fees and submit.
I also have to decide which programs I am going to apply to. Sort of a problem, yes? I sent my scores to the big public schools here in North Carolina, so now all I have do do is decide which schools and which specific programs I'm interested in.

My dilemma is this: I would like to get a Ph.D. in sociology. However, I would also like to be gainfully employed after I complete my graduate studies, preferably in my current location. These are two large wrinkles. I know enough about academia to know that 1) the job market in the humanities and the social sciences is pretty terrible and 2) you pretty much have to go where the work is, running the risk of teaching in BFE forever. There's also the not-small matter of spending another five to seven years as a full-time student (and part-time teacher, yeesh), along with the fact that the only doctoral program in sociology is at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is all the way across the state from where I live now. It's not very feasible, but I still really want to do it, and feel rather whiny and petulant that I can't.

I guess I should suck it up, be a grown-up, and get a practical degree (because I will have a nervous breakdown if I continue the cycle of underemployment I'm in), but I can't help but wish I could stay in school forever, instead.