Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides is probably my all-time favorite writer. I first read The Virgin Suicides in high school, and it remains among the most beloved books on my shelf. It came into my life at just the right moment and continues to resonate with me years later. I imagine The Marriage Plot will occupy a similar place for me in the future; it was just what I needed to read at this point in my life.

The Marriage Plot departs from Eugenides' other works in a few ways. First off, it isn't set in 1970's-ish Detroit and Greek heritage and culture do not figure prominently in the narrative. It also has less of an epic scope to it than The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex; it's subject matter is comparatively banal. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying every page-- probably because of the extent to which I related to it.

When I posted about having finished and liked The Marriage Plot on facebook, the younger sister of a very close friend of mine asked if she would like it. "That depends," I responded, "How do you feel about dysfunctional, over-educated humanities majors who are having difficulties reintegrating into normal life?" As a member of that category, I have a love/hate relationship with the characters, especially Madeleine. On the one hand, I, too, majored in English because I liked to read and experienced a certain amount of personal fallout and professional angst as a direct result of that (in hindsight) incredibly poor decision. On the other, Eugenides managed to embody just about every thing I don't like about myself in her, so I often found myself incredibly frustrated-- just like the time I read Madame Bovary.

At the same time, though, the writing was really, really good and I found myself caring quite a bit about the characters and their questionable decisions. It was also remarkably true to life; even though it was set around students who graduated from Brown in the 1980s, it rang true to my (and my friends') experiences as students who graduated from Vanderbilt twenty years later. Some of us got menial jobs, others of us traveled the world and found enlightenment (...or lots of drugs, whatever), others went off to engage in scientific progress, most of us were underemployed, and virtually all of us made incredibly bad choices in our love lives (I had a particularly unfortunate knack for getting involved with crazy people). Much like Eugenides' characters in The Marriage Plot, we muddled our way through and emerged on the other side of our twenties more or less intact.

Strongly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A thing about which I am excited!

I ordered some fabric online and I reallyreally like it. 

It's "Downtown Dot" by Alexander Henry and I got it at Fabric Depot.

It's going to be a summer dress once I get my sewing skills back up to speed. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Start a revolution. Don't hate your body.

This is wall graffiti from one of my favorite bars in downtown Asheville, The Vault (home of $3 glasses of wine on Wednesdays, yeaaaaaahhhh!).

I'm posting it because it's a sentiment I've been feeling more and more lately. I fell down the Pinterest rabbit hole two weekends ago, and while I really enjoy the service, I've found myself really depressed by the amount of thinspo people I am following are posting.

Thinspo (or thinspiration), for the uneducated in internets feminism and eating disorder awareness, consists of pictures of incredibly thin women that are nearly always accompanied by "motivational" commentary like "Gotta get in shape!" or "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels!" I find it all incredibly depressing.

First, I don't approve of body-shaming, and that includes when people hate on their own bodies. That so many people I know are that down on the way they look is pretty disheartening to me. I don't think my friends are ugly or disgusting, and it hurts me to see them say that about themselves.

Second, I hate that I live in a culture in which so much of a woman's social worth is predicated upon how she looks and how much she weighs. Even though it's a system that benefits me most of the time, I still hate it because I see the way it chews up and spits out so many people I care about. I have more friends with eating disorders than I can shake a stick at, many more who fall into the somewhat-milder-but-nevertheless-devastating category of suffering from disordered eating, and still more who think that their lives would be so much better if only they were thinner, or prettier, or whatever.

I hate the way it makes me feel, too. I have better self-esteem than the vast majority of other women I know, and I still feel beaten down about my appearance and my weight sometimes. Some days, it's like a constant barrage of "You're not good enough," and my inner feministy whatever isn't always strong enough to drown it out.

As such, I refuse to feed it. I'm not going to post thinspo or diet tips or punishing exercise regimes or anything else that could be construed as endorsing the totally fucked up attitude that American society has towards women's bodies. I can't stop other people from posting it, but I'm not going to look at it; I am unfollowing any boards that are tagged as being about that subject matter. Life is too short to spend obsessing about other peoples' bodies while hating my own.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Fingerless Mitts

I started these almost two years ago, but never got around to finishing them.

I have a hat to match, and I'm looking forward to wearing them all together-- if it ever gets cold. Seriously, this is one of the warmest winters I've experienced in this area.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Fibble, The Fourth Circle of Heck by Dale Basye

I've been following the Circles of Heck series since the first installment came out in 2008. I'm a sucker for both young adult novels and satire (plus Dante), so I've really enjoyed the series thus far.

Fibble begins where the previous installment, Blimpo, has left off. It continues to follow the exploits of Marlo and Milton Fauster, who have switched bodies and been sent to different parts of Heck. Fibble, the circle that is home to children who lie, is a demented circus run by (who else?) P.T. Barnum, with a special appearance made by Richard Nixon. Milton, in Marlo's body, must rescue Marlo, in his body, from Fibble and avert a giant celestial calamity.

Entertaining, as always! I really love the way Basye has adapted Dante. And I'm looking forward to the next book, Snivel, which is due out in May. 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 20, 2012

FO Friday: Quincy Hat

My first January project is complete!

Pattern: Quincy Hat
Yarn: Arucania Nature Wool Chunky #101
Needle: US #10.5
Finished Size: The pattern is one-size-fits-all, so I completed it more or less as written. 

Apologies for my ridiculous facial expression. This has has an unusual construction that is pretty hard to photograph. 

Here's what it looks like laid flat:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A different kind of WiP!

Now that I am working at a grownup job (of sorts), I have come to the realization that I have very little by way of professional clothing. My wardrobe primarily consists of t-shirts, minis, yoga skirts, the odd pair of jeans, and a few sweaters and hoodies for when it's cold. Needless to say, I wound up spending my birthday and Xmas money on textbooks and new clothes. While I have enough to last me until the end of the semester, my wardrobe still needs some serious updating.

Enter my sewing machine, Sparky the Singer.

I've had Sparky since 2007, but have neglected him since I left Nashville in 2009. A lack of space combined with laziness and general life busyness have caused my sewing skills and machine to fall into disrepair. My stepmother was able to fix my machine (the tension was funny and it desperately needed to be oiled!), but my skills, which weren't all that great to begin with, still need a fair bit of work.

My end goal is to be able to sew a good portion of my work wardrobe. I'm probably going to stick to skirts and (sleeveless) dresses (which I will wear with the 18,000 cardigans I own). Sewing them is generally more cost-effective than buying them. That's not usually the case with shirts or pants, and, based on my limited experience, shirts and pants are a giant pain to put together. Sleeves are hard. So are crotch seams, hidden zippers, and pockets that lay flat.

I'm starting out small with a quilt. When it's finished, it will be about three feet by four feet. Thus far, I have managed to:

  1. Cut out the pieces (more or less) without incident.
  2. Sew the triangles into squares that are (more or less) even.
  3. Sew the squares into long strips. 
After that, I will need to:
  1. Sew the strips into a completed top.
  2. Cut the underside of the quilt out of the leftover green fabric.
  3. Acquire the batting.
  4. Layer the batting, top, and bottom together.
  5. Do the actual quilting part.
  6. Cut out and apply the binding.
  7. Do whatever else I need to do to finish it off. 
It'll probably take me until the end of next week at the least. I've never made a full quilt before. Most of my previous sewing endeavors were pajama pants, tote bags, and wrap skirts, none of which are overly complicated or involve a lot of finishing. 

We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Scarftastic

I am making a clapoktus-- a mash-up of the incredibly popular clapotis and baktus patterns. I'm just over halfway finished with it. Hopefully, it'll be done by the end of this weekend, as I still need to finish my sock and glove projects for January.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

 A few weeks ago, I posted the following request for book recommendations on facebook:

I have $25 to spend on frivolous (read: not school-related) books. I am looking for recommendations.

Parameters: no bodice-rippers, crimesploitation, "chick" lit (if the plot could be an episode of Sex and the City, I'm not interested), spaceships, unicorns, dragons (this includes tattoos), sentient beings that ~sparkle in the sunshine~, architecture, or railroads.

YA is okay if it's well-written. Same goes for speculative fiction (think Jasper Fforde). French language recommendations are always welcome. I also enjoy non-fiction of a sociological bent.

A lot of my friends are avid book readers, so I knew that they should come up with a few good ones. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was mentioned by several people, so I decided to check it out of the library on my next visit.

Overall, this book was very good. I'm a sucker for modern coming-of-age stories, especially those involving the hopelessly awkward, so Oscar Wao was a character/novel after my own heart. Set in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao discusses the family's fuku, or curse, that had been set upon them by Trujillo, the brutal, American-backed dictator who terrorized the DR's inhabitants from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The fuku follows the family from the DR to New Jersey, ultimately afflicting Oscar, the youngest son, who is fat, nerdy, and terminally virginal.

Told from the perspective of multiple family members and set in a variety of times and places, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao paints an elegant yet terrifying account of the long-lasting effects of brutal, repressive governments and the immigrant experience. Diaz did an excellent job highlighting the differing experiences of the characters, deftly revealing the role that intergenerational trauma plays in current relationships. I also learned several Spanish words that probably shouldn't be used in polite company.

My only complaint about the book is that the pacing was uneven, making a few parts in the middle something of a slog to get through. Otherwise, it's a great read. 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 16, 2012

BAND: January Prompt & An Exciting Announcement!

Learn more about BAND here.

Joy of Joy's Book Blog asks:

What book or books have you used or are you using to support a goal, resolution, or project?

I am hereby pleased to announce that I will be hosting August in the 2012 Year of Feminist Classics. We'll be reading The Bluest Eye, and I'm pretty excited about hosting the discussion. After all, I did write my undergraduate thesis on Toni Morrison. 

Other than that (and the other books for the challenge along with the ones from last year I didn't get to), I don't have any specific books that I plan to read this year. There are some new releases I'm looking forward to (the sequel to Delirium, for example, and I think Jasper Fforde has a new book or two slated to come out this year as well), though. I'm trying to keep my standards low in case grad school eats my life again.

Friday, January 13, 2012

FO Friday: Juneberry Triangle the Second

This is another project that I started in 2011. It took me ages to finish, though, as lace projects do not mesh well with knitting in class (the rule: if it has a chart, it's not a good class project) and I lost some of my blocking supplies in the move and hadn't gotten around to replacing them. It's also taken the better part of a week for this sucker to dry thanks to how cold and wet the air is in my dad's basement/ garage this time of year. 

Pattern: Juneberry Triangle by Jared Flood
Cascade 220
Needle: US #8

Finished Size:  Not quite as ginormous as the first one that I made, but nevertheless Pretty Huge, as far as shawls go.  56" wide and 29" deep.

I modified this pattern by not completing all of the repeats in the second chart. I think I stopped 10 or 12 rows early and did a little fudging so that the next chart would line up right. If you look at the chart, it's fairly easy to replicate what I did. 

One thing that I think is really amazing about knitting lace is the way that blocking totally transforms what you've made. This is what my shawl looked like before I blocked it:

It's lumpy, uneven, you can't see the stitches or the pattern, and it's kind of on the small side. 

When you block something, you soak it in water until the yarn has been thoroughly saturated. Then, you stretch it to a more desirable proportion and pin it out so that it dries that way. 

When it's done, you can see the stitches and design much better and it's a lot larger (note the relative size of the box of tea bags). 

Big improvement, yes?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Things I'm Excited About

  1. I have joined the intelligentsia and subscribed to The New York Book Review. I also have subscriptions to The Nation, Atlantic, National Geographic, and Wine Enthusiast. Nook magazine subscriptions + my tablet = best thing ever.
  2. I tried a beer this weekend that tasted like beef Ramen noodles. True story. (It was Abita Winter, if you're curious or like beer that tastes like extra salty, artificially meaty noodles.)
  3. They are finally airing new episodes of the TV shows I like.
  4. My internship. It's pretty amazing, and it really sucks that I can't blog about it here, because damn. THE STORIES.
  5. My classes thus far: I like my electives. I don't have the required ones until Friday. 
  6. Not having to work until mid-February.
  7. And still getting paid. Yay, funemployment!
  8. Possibly visiting Canada at some point this year.
  9. The fact that the school library allows grad students to check out books until the end of the semester.
  10. My hair. It looks pretty awesome these days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Blue Socks, Take the Millionth

This is the FOURTH FREAKING ITERATION of socks made from this yarn. No matter what I do, it pools or stripes, and it is driving me slowly insane.

I have given up on finding a pattern/stitch/gauge/whatever combination that fixes the issue. I will have slightly striped socks and I will like them, damnit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown

I am often asked why I read so many science books. The answer is simple: I ended my formal science education in high school, and books, news articles, and magazines are my only means of keeping my knowledge current. I read the Health, Science, and Medicine sections of the New York Times religiously, have a few science magazine apps on my tablet, and always peruse the "popular science" shelf in the New Books section at the library. I ran across How I Killed Pluto (and Why It Had It Coming) by Mike Brown that way.

Mike Brown is an astronomer whose life's goal was to find new planets. He devoted much of his career to scanning the outer reaches of the solar system, eventually stumbling across three planet-like objects that were even further away from the sun than Pluto (two were smaller, one was larger). Rather than hailing himself the discoverer of three planets, he concluded that none of them were truly planets and that Pluto wasn't one, either. How I Killed Pluto documents Brown's research, the development of his thoughts on the subject, and the inevitable drama within the scientific community and the media circus that followed it.

I really liked this book. Brown is an engaging writer who is skilled at distilling complex ideas (and procedures!) into language the reader can understand. Though I wasn't nearly as upset at Pluto's loss of status as some of my contemporaries, it's good to know that it happened for several very good reasons.

4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Current Book Docket

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
The Adoration of Jenna Fox (audio) by Mary E. Pearson
Water for Elephants (audio) by Sara Gruen
Matched by Allie Condie
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolfe

Friday, January 6, 2012

FO Friday: Taffy Socks

I'm not sure if I should consider these my first FO of 2012 or my last FO of 2011 since I started these in early December and they're not part of my New Year's Resolution to knit from my stash. Either way, I'm pleased that they're finally done. I took a day off of working on my sister's scarf to finish them.

Pattern: Sock Recipe by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
OnLine Supersocke Streamer Color in #1110
Needle: US #1 and #2

Finished Size:  Fitted to my feet!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Origami Hat

I'm making a red Quincy hat for myself. I really love the pattern and its unique construction, but garter stitch takes foreverrrrrr, even in bulky weight yarn. I've finally made it to the crown decreases and would finish tonight, but will be attending a sleepover at a friend's house instead. I'm trying to be more social this year (on top of everything else).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

You guys, I was visited by The Suck Fairy the last few weeks. I first read Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in middle school after a classmate had gone on and on about how good it was. At the time, I thought it was hilarious and enjoyed it immensely. I decided to pick it up again at the library last week for a bit of light reading. The fact that I remember Catch-22 as a light-hearted wartime frolic rather than an extremely pessimistic, black-humored gape into the void speaks quite well as to how incredibly naive and immature I was in middle school. The fact that I considered it among my favorite books speaks to how unaware of racism and sexism I was at that point, as well.

So, while I can see why it's considered a classic piece of social criticism and war commentary, I can't enjoy it anymore. Sadtimes.

(No plot summary because everyone has read this, seriously.)

3 out of 5 stars. :(

Monday, January 2, 2012

An assortment of plans for reading, knitting, and blogging this year.

My main goal for the blog this year is to update it regularly even when I'm in school. I have decided to accomplish that by post-dating entries. Rather than posting content as I generate it, I'm going to spread it out more evenly. Take book reviews, for example. This year, they'll be posted on Tuesdays. Once I have read 52 books and posted a review for each Thursday of the year, I'll go back and start adding more in between. The same goes for knitting WiP and FO posts.

I'd like to update four times a week: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and one other randomly-selected day.

As far as books go, my ideal is to average one non-school-related book per week. Given that I'll have a little more free time this semester and I'm not planning on taking summer courses, this should be relatively easy to accomplish. I'm also planning on making good use of audiobooks, as I'll be driving down to Western twice a week again this semester. Hopefully, I'll be able to carpool again.

I mentioned my knitting plans in a previous post. In an effort to put a dent in my stash, I have assigned myself projects for each month: one hat, a scarf or a shawl, a pair of socks, and one glove/mitten/wristwarmer (or pair, depending on the size/intricacy of the project in question). I think it's manageable, particularly since I knit in class a lot because it helps me focus (that reminds me; I should probably e-mail my professors about that). I've never been formally diagnosed, but all available evidence strongly indicates that I have inattentive-type ADHD. I've never gotten tested because I don't need medication to manage it and have never required special accommodations in school other than professors allowing me to knit in class.

I'm fairly confident that all of these goals are manageable. Now, to stop writing and start reading/knitting/exercising!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: 2012 Edition

It's that time of the year again! Here's what I'm hoping to do next year.

  1. Continue to rock the grad school thing.
  2. Learn more Spanish.
  3. Not allow grad school to interfere with the timely updating of this blog.
  4. Keep up the good work on the running/exercising front. 
  5. Read at least one book a week, and participate in a few challenges (more on that tomorrow).
  6. Listen to more audiobooks, since it's looking like I'll continue to log a fair amount of time driving to Cullowhee and back.
  7. KNIT EVERYTHING. Seriously. My stash needs an intervention, and I am Not Allowed to buy any more yarn until I put a sizable dent in it. To that end, I have organized most of it into monthly tote bags that have assigned knitting projects. Each month, I will (attempt to) knit a hat, a scarf or shawl, a pair of socks, and a mitten/glove/wristwarmer. 
  8. Make better choices where interpersonal relationships are concerned. 
If last night is indicative of anything, 2012 is going to be awesome. I went to a party at LAB with my best friend from elementary school and her little sister. We talked, we drank, we danced, and at midnight, I crossed an item off of my bucket list: I kissed a stranger on New Year's Eve. Two, actually. 

You know it was a fun night when your shoes are crusted in dried beer and champagne the following morning.