Rooster Update #1

You may remember a few weeks ago I told you about my goal to read all the books that will be appearing on the brackets in The Morning News 2019 Tournament of Books.

So far I’ve read:

The Parking Lot Attendance, by Nafkote Tamirat. A young Ethiopian girl and her father move to the mysterious island of B— from Boston, the narratives flips back and forth in time to tell how they got there, why, etc. I thought this was certainly well written and interesting. But I would only rate it probably a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s weird, it leaves a lot of things uncertain, and I wasn’t really sure what the ultimate point was.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje. Two kids are mysteriously abandoned by their parents in their London home at the end of World War II. This started really slow for me, at first I wasn’t even sure who the narrator was. But as it went on, it really sucked me in. It’s a very languid novel, it moves slow, glacially, like pouring out a jar of molasses, but as the layers build it gets more, and more, and more satisfying. I really loved it in the end.

Now I’m reading:

A Terrible Country, by Keith Gessen, about a pseudo-academic who moves home to Russia to help care for his grandmother. It’s got some funny moments and some interesting ones, but so far almost nothing has really happened. It’s basically a disgruntled guy just going about his disgruntled life. At first I thought that was all setup…now I’m wondering if my expectations of a plot are too much for this book. We’ll see! 🙂

Books you should go read, now.

Hello, 2019. Let’s talk about 2018 some more. I have done a terrible job of keeping this blog up to date–in fact, this year I completely failed to keep up any of my lists (books, movies, concerts). Fortunately with books, it’s not a complete disaster as I do keep my Goodreads pretty much 100% up to date at all times. So, if you want to see my ever evolving list as it evolves, follow me there.

In 2018, I read 110 books, which is fairly normal for me. I generally read around 100 and am bitterly disappointed if I read less. This school year has started off strong, as I’ve instituted a goal where in the morning on the way there I read my current YA or middle grades book and in the afternoon on the way home I read my current adult book. It’s really kept things going, and it’s easier to notice when I clearly don’t like a book because I keep not reading on that leg of the journey! 😉

Just roughly looking over the list, I read 33 books by minority authors, 36 books that were clearly sci fi/fantasy, 4 teaching books, 6 nonfiction (not counting the teaching books, which would make it 10 which is…kinda high actually! ha!), and about 18 of my 110 were graphic novels.

Here are my top 10 reads from 2018: (not in any particular order, just numbered for the sake of numbering)

  1. Cravings 2: Hungry for More by Chrissy Teigen (cookbook). I absolutely love this cookbook, I love the way she writes, her enthusiasm and bubbly personality come right off the page. I’ve made 8 things out of it so far and they’ve all been fabulous!
  2. If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already, by Cordell Strug. Yup, my dad’s book is in my top 10. Apparently I read a draft of this many years ago, but I didn’t remember that much of it. If you like Confederacy of Dunces, or Straight Man, I’d suggest you check this out. It’s a comedy of errors and quite enjoyable.
  3. Electric Arches, by Eve Ewing (poetry). A Chicago poet who also published this year a non-fiction text on southside Chicago schools, these poems tell the story of her childhood and her growing up and her growing understanding. If I was raising black girls, I would make them read this. But as a whitey white, there were so many moments in here that also resonated deeply with my childhood. Here’s how I started my GoodReads review: This book is so good I kept right on reading it at a bus stop in 20 degrees without mittens while the chill wind snapped the pages back against my numb fingers. 
  4. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth book 2), by N.K. Jemisin. The middle book of a trilogy–all of which are amazing and all of which won the Hugo in their year of publication!!–this was the one I loved best of the three. So, so, so good. Best sci fi/fantasy series out there right now. Read it!!!
  5. Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer book 2), by Laini Taylor. Another series (a duology, thankfully) I feel like I was waiting for this book forever and when it finally arrived, I just swallowed it up. The magic and the imagery in this series is just unmatchable–so evocative, and sensual, and scary, and intense.
  6. Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. This book has a slow start, it’s got multiple first-person perspectives, it jumps wildly from mind to mind, country to country. And it’s so damn powerful and good. Who has power, who matters, why, who do we love, why, what makes a person worth something, what doesn’t. Deep ideas, deep down in this fairytale word. I was breathless at the end.
  7. Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate. Not at all the next book I expected from the author of The One and Only Ivan, this is high fantasy at a middle grade readability level. Fascinating world building, great character development. I can’t wait to see where this series goes!
  8. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. Like Spinning Silver, this dips deep down into fairytale foundations to tell a story so true and real, it’ll break your heart. It had been in my classroom library for a while before Gabriel and Natalie told me READ IT! and wow was I missing out!
  9. Monstress Volume 2, by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda (graphic novel). Second book of what has been three so far but will be going on for quite a while, I expect. Another sci fi/fantasy world full of different factions fighting for control–I actually had to reread the first book a couple of times to keep track of who was on which side of things. The art in these books is amazing, the mysteries are intriguing, the monster is bewildering and terrifying. They’re super, super cool.
  10. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black. I read this at lightning speed, it’s SO GOOD. Gave it to a student, and honestly we have been counting down the days until book 2 comes out (this month!!). It’s SO right on with the stings and tangles of growing up, of finding yourself, of being left out, of being let in. Oh, it’s just…bitter and beautiful and so very good.

What were your favorites this year? Leave me a comment or send me an email, because if I haven’t read it yet, I probably want to! 🙂

p.s. I saw The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on a lot of 2018 lists–just thought I’d point out that I do love that book, but I read it in 2017.

ETA: (edited to add) WOW, I am so forgetful that I didn’t realize that a lot of what I said here, I already said in my very most previous post on Dec 14th. DOH. I recommend most of the same books and tell you the same story about the bus. Welcome to past-middle-aged me, you can probably expect a lot of that kind of repetition. HA.

À la Super Eggplant, currently, I am…

…posting to my blog for the first time in over a year, WHUT. There’s a few technical things I’ve been vaguely waiting to fix behind the scenes, and then there’s LIFE and all that, and… yeah. HI. ‘Sup?

Watching: OK, I was rewatching all of the original Charmed, but I got to around when SOMEONE becomes a SOMETHING (no spoilers)…and I just sorta stopped. I did miss those goofy witches. I watched the first couple episodes of the new Charmed (which is really what sent me back) but it really annoys me that they got such a cool cast of girls and then put this doofy white dude in charge of them a la Giles from Buffy and so yeah I haven’t watched it after the first three. In current TV, I still adore Blackish and Chicago Fire. New TV wise, I am liking A Million Little Lies, even though it 100% has party-of-five syndrome (too many issues in one small group of people), and New Amsterdam, which makes me break down almost every week. But it’s good. Best hospital show in absolutely years. I started watching The Patriot (TV show not the dumb old movie) on Amazon–but I can only watch it when I stay late at work on that laptop b/c neither my personal laptop nor my home desktop are updated enough to currently watch shows on Prime, yes I’m pathetic, and now that I’ve made a personal vow to leave with the kids every night, well, I haven’t been able to watch anymore of it. But it’s SUPER cool and SO quirky. Oh, but the best, best, BEST thing I’ve seen in absolute years is Killing Eve, which I completely inhaled a weekend or so ago and cannot stop thinking about ever since. So good! So so so sadly I have not been to a movie in at least a few months… I’m having a hard time even remembering what I saw last! OMG THAT’s SO HORRIFYING. 🙁 I’ll come back and talk movies in another post if it comes to me.

Reading: I’ve instituted a new system where I read a YA or middle grades book in the morning, on the way to work, and an adult book on the way home. It’s been working great until I get stuck in a book I don’t want to read and then the system sorta breaks down and I listen to tunes instead, HA. Anyway, since I haven’t posted here all year, I haven’t made a book list (I KNOW, DID YOU JUST DIE OF SHOCK!), but I do have goodreads COMPLETELY updated (it’s got an app, it’s easier…) so you can check there. Some recent reads I would recommend are: 

Adult:

  • Friday Black, by Nan Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, a short story collection, the first and last stories of which are just mindblowingly good.
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, a slow (slow) burn but it really pays off in the end, a modern fantasy fairytale.
  • Graphic novel series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn (I’m caught up to Volume 9) and Monstress by Marjori M. Liu (there are three volumes out, GO START!), I love them both so much.
  • Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor, the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, both of which are amazeballoons.

YA/Middle Grades: 

  • Kendare Blake‘s sister queen series “Three Dark Crowns“, ALL of those books were fabulous.
  • Endling: The Last, by Katherine Applegate, the beginning of a new high fantasy series by the author of Ivan!!
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, a good kid book alternative to Spinning Silver mentioned above.
  • And anything by Jason Reynolds or Kwame Alexander, two of the hottest young authors out there. And by hot I mean happening and in the news, as I have now had to clarify to numerous groups of silly students!

Listening to: I have bought sadly so very little music this year. It’s actually really stressing me out. The three albums I have listened to the most this year are Kylie Minogue “Golden”, Meg Myers “Take Me to the Disco”, and Matt Nathanson “Sings His Sad Heart” (wow, what a step up in quality!!), and I’ve been dipping into Cat Power “Wanderer” in the past few weeks. I do have a list of four albums I think I want from various top-10 lists out there (the latest from Kasey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Mitski and Lucy Dacus) and I want the boygenius EP (the boygenius that Lucy Dacus is a part of, not any of the various boygenius things that come up when I search iTunes) but not sure it’s out yet? I also want to check out No Name, a female rapper.

Eating: Cooking all my breakfasts and lunches every week, as I generally do during the school year, and particularly obsessed with Chrissy Teigens’ Cravings 2: Hungry for More book. Everything I make out of it has been delicious.

Drinking: Coke, coke and more Coke. Oh, Coke, why can’t I quit you?

Knitting, quilting, sewing: I’ve done a TON of sewing throughout 2018 (9 dresses maybe? tunic/dress types) and I’ve still got quite a bit of fabric and new patterns to try. I made two new ones from the Lou Box Dress pattern just last month–a knit dress version that is perfection (OK, maybe a little wide in the neck but perfection, srsly), and a woven tunic version that is basically a wearable muslin. I haven’t got the fit right in the woven for a dress yet. I’m knitting a brioche scarf, and I have a sweater I have sort of gotten back to that I believe I started in January (oops). I want to make that my Christmas break project… we’ll see. 🙂 No quilting has happened recently though. 

Focusing on: Separating home life and work life. Trying to leave with the kids or as close to it as possible. Not bringing any grading or work home AT ALL. I get it done at school, or I don’t get it done. I’m not going to get into an argument with people about the insanely overworked, underpaid status of teachers these days but let’s just say I’m done letting myself be a victim of a sick system that gets millions of hours of free work from its primarily female workforce. It’s sexist bullshit frankly and were the majority of teachers men there would have been a government-sanctioned revolt a million years ago. But then again, would we even still have public education these days, if it wasn’t primarily women doing all the work???? 

So, that’s me. How about you? Leave me a note and let me know what you’re reading!

Rooster 2019 Preparation

As some of you know, I have been pretty obsessively following The Morning News’ Tournament of Books for many years now. I usually read at least some of the books on both the long and short list–some more years than others, of course–but regardless I read the reviews every day, enter the winners on my bracket and just generally adore spending March hearing about books that, for the most part, I haven’t heard about anywhere else!

I’ve learned about so many new, cool authors through this Tournament (maybe I’ll come back later and point out a few specifics) and it’s one of my favorite annual events.

They’ve released the 2019 short list what seems like shockingly early this year and tonight I made the snap decision that I will try to read as many as possible before March!  I printed out the list, starred the two that were also on the New York Times’ best of 2018 list as I think those may be two I want to buy, figured out which book is available and can be picked up at the library on my way to work tomorrow (yes, I still work Saturdays at the Salon if you’re wondering), put three more of the books on hold at the Library, AND also, most importantly, did decide which book I will for sure NOT be reading, which I will tell you is “Census” by Jesse Ball. I know he’s just all the rage in some circles (especially in Chicago as he lives and works here), but I read one book of his on my own (in a previous TOB I believe) and part of another book when my bookclub read it and no no no no thank you I am very much done putting my time into his books. 

But other than that, I’m over the moon excited. I mean, it’s been a rough year, yes for all, but this school year? I can’t even. It’s bad enough that I’ve been googling “next career for ex teacher” and things like that. Yup. Anyway, here’s something a spinster can really get excited about–trying to read 15 of the 16 books on a list before March 1. Ready, set… 

À la Super Eggplant, currently, I am…

Watching: Grey’s Anatomy. I always need a show I’ve either seen before OR don’t really care too much about paying attention to, to watch while I’m doing school stuff (planning, grading, etc.). So I restarted Grey’s from the beginning. Turns out I had stopped watching mid-season 3. I’m in season 11 now and finding something to cry about almost every episode. HA.

Reading: Like a maniac. I’ve been very focused on devoting my 45-min each way bus rides to books so I’ve been flying through a lot of YA/middle grades stuff lately (I was roadtesting books to use with my class). And now I’m deep into “The Half-Drowned King” by Linnea Hartsuyker and loving it.

Listening to: The new National “Sleep Well Beast.” Oh my oh my do I love this album. The music is, as per the National’s usual, dark and deep and sometimes turgid. The lyrics are fraught with tension and anxiety and longing. It’s beautiful.
I’ve been talking about you to myself
‘Cause there’s nobody else
And I want what I want
And I want everything
I want everything

You are in this too
Can’t you find a way?

Eating: Finishing off the summer with Elote from around the corner every other note (OMG it’s good). Lots of ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on a toasted onion roll (because these rolls are basically challah or egg bread and my grocery store never seems to have egg bread anymore, sigh). Either that or pumpkin-spice Cheerios (they aren’t great, the pumpkin definitely tastes artificial, but they’ll do.)

Drinking: Obsessed with the Molokai Coconut Bai. I gave up soda, kindof, in the hopes of dropping some weight. Nope, not an ounce. Oh well, this stuff is still pretty delicious. And since dropping soda made no difference at all, I am letting myself get a frozen Coke one morning a week.

Knitting, quilting, sewing: Woops. Haven’t done a single stitch since school started. Maybe the Columbus Day weekend will let me get back into it? (Remember, I work Saturdays at the Salon, so my weekends are only one day.)

Focusing on: My PT exercises for my messed up foot and half-broken back. Foot is getting a LOT better…but I still look like a cripple for the first few minutes/steps I walk after I get up (from any sitting/lying down). Back is a mess, but working really hard on “neutral spine” is definitely helping those deep background muscles to engage so…maybe I’ll see some progress soon. Haven’t been in the pool because maintaining my teal hair is a higher priority right now HA.

Summer at the Movies

Wonder Woman: I thought it was just as crappy as 90% of the other super hero movies out there. And the ending? Where she funnels her power from…LOVE? Yuck. The only part of that movie I really enjoyed was the Robin Wright fight scenes. Those were fierce.

Baby Driver: Quirky and weird and really sweet.

The Big Sick: Wow, this movie takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was just so full of real life. Fantastic.

A Ghost Story: Awful. Dumb. Painful to watch and sit through. A movie I would have happily left the room to go to the bathroom during. Yup, that bad. There were maybe 7 minutes of dialogue in the entire movie. It’s laughable to say that Casey Affleck starred in it — he’s got maybe 7 scenes? I read this interview where it said he didn’t want anyone else subbing for him under the sheet, that he felt it really needed to be him? HA. PRETENTIOUS. It could have been anyone under that sheet and it definitely felt like it was just anyone. The ONLY part I liked was at one point, he hands his wife headphones to listen to a song he’s composing. That song was pretty.

Atomic Blonde: 100% engaging, invigorating, amazing. My favorite flick of the year so far (although this may be my fewest movies seen year ever). The fight scenes were fantastic. The sets, the clothing, the soundtrack, the atmosphere. And Charlize, who was all anyone could ever want as THE NEXT JAMES BOND. The ONLY bit of the movie I didn’t love was the very last scene–I felt like it stripped away a little of her agency. I understand the reason for it–it provides justification for a whole bunch of things–but I still would rather have ended with her as an independent operator.

American Assassin: Technically I’m sure this is a decent action flick. But it seriously suffers in comparison to Atomic Blonde. The fight scenes weren’t as tight or serious, the noir wasn’t as deep or intriguing, it just…WASN’T what it could have been.

Duff at the Movies 2017

Repeat from 2016 disaster: Um, what? I never created this list back in January? And I haven’t realized that until now (August?) Ughhhh….. Off to attempt to recreate… Might be missing something…

  • American Assassin (9/23)
  • Atomic Blonde (8/8)
  • A Ghost Story (7/x)
  • The Big Sick (7/18)
  • Baby Driver (7/17)
  • Wonder Woman (6/11)
  • Fate of the Furious (or as I call it “Fast 8”) (4/16)
  • Get Out (2/25)

Big Screen: La La Land

This was OK – probably a 3 on a 5-star scale.

The downfalls for me were a) not enough music and b) doesn’t seem to quite live up to its premise.

Also depends on why you chose that movie that day (don’t all our reactions somewhat depend on our expectations): I wanted a feel-good, make me grin happily at the end, movie. And this isn’t a fairytale romance, or a sing-along. This, when it comes down to it, is a very realistic look at the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, of an adult relationship, where often what you might want isn’t going to work with everything else in your life that has its own timeframe.

That said, both stars were lovely in this. And the thing that happens in the girl’s head at the end of the movie…is really lovely also. 😉

Big Screen: The Arrival

Fabulous. So many neat (and unique) ideas about the power of language and our understanding of time. Just super cool.

Somewhat spoiler below….

Also they did a great job of coming up with a completely different idea of what an alien life form would look like, sound like, act like, etc. So many alien movies fall into tropes. Not here.