Month: October 2012

30 Oct 2012

happy hunger games

Happy Halloween! I still hate you, Halloween, as a holiday, but let’s raise a pumpkin-flavored drink to…

  • Costumes that are free
  • Costumes that can be thrown together in a few hours or less
  • Costumes that ultimately consist of me wearing my black workout clothes with my favorite boots on top
  • Costumes that are children’s lit-based
  • Costumes that are beard-based
29 Oct 2012

2012: week forty-two

October 21 – October 27

I finally got a new computer and my sister was so kind as to mail me a special, special package.

Friends, after three years away, The Sims 3 is back in my life.

All I did this week was create a family, accidentally raise 6 children from birth to adult (I was aiming for 5 but had some surprise twins), rise through a business and culinary career, remodel the house, send two kids to boarding school, and take a vacation to Egypt.

Aka, all shirk every duty I had and sit at the computer and play.

What a good week.



  • Mad Men, Mad Men, Mad Men

Listening To:

  • I’m out of good CDs to listen to, so I’m turning to WXPN’s 2011 Top 50 list again. Listened to Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and some Paul Simon.
  • Finally got around to listening to author Sara Zarr’s This Creative Life podcast, about writing. Quite enjoyable, although I wish the audio quality was better.
27 Oct 2012

links i love

The Anxious Idiot

I am someone who suffers from a lot of free-floating anxiety. Maybe I’m diagnosable, maybe I’m not, but in order not to curl up into a ball and die, I sometimes have to focus really intently on separating feelings of anxiety from my intellectual knowledge of what those feelings are and how they act on my body. Daniel Smith writes this piece for a NY Times blog that hits the nail on the head – anxious people are fundamentally idiots, with the term defined as “an impractical and unreasonable person, a person who tends to forget all the important lessons, essentially a fool, one who willfully ignores all that he has learned about how to come to his own aid.” Word.


Straight White Male is the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

This is an article about race! Well-known genius, author Jon Scalzi, presents a shockingly straightforward metaphor for American race relations targeted at those who are most likely to misunderstand American race relations and the concept of privilege. You probably need a basic understanding of video games to get the full effect, but this is what I wish all cultural analysis was written like.


Boston From the Red Line

There is a part of the Boston subway that crosses from Boston to Cambridge via a bridge over the Charles River. It is perhaps my favorite part of Boston; when I was interning and taking class and working and exhausted, I woke myself up every morning from my red line snooze to take in the view. The creator of this site seems to agree – and he/she has an iPhone. 


Eight Hours of Sleep and Two Cups of Coffee

My favorite Ashley from Writing to Reach You talks about something that – as you might have noticed – has really consumed my thoughts for the past few years – exactly HOW do you remain a functional, productive, healthy human being? Ashley’s post is a bit more personal/nuanced, but Eight Hours of Sleep and Two Cups of Coffee is about as close to a life’s mantra as I have. Since my life has settled down and I’ve been eating nothing but meat and veggies and olive oil, I’ve been getting more sleep and sometimes not needing Cup #2, which is a great development, I think, but yes, this post hit home as I, too, am readjusting to a certain level of self-awareness that Crazy-Schedule-Jessica was not allowed.

Celebrate Nothing and Everything

I am a fan of non-holiday-related celebrations. Sometimes I neglect to inform those that should be celebrating with me, say, the last day of school, and then those that should be celebrating with me go out for drinks with coworkers and come home after 9 p.m., leaving me alone all evening in a decided state of non-celebration, but that is certainly a communication failing on my part, not a reason to skip random celebrations. The 20-Nothings blog has a great list of random celebrations to add to your life.



Scholastic’s Great Idea: The Legacy of the Babysitter’s Club

The Atlantic writes a little ode to a children’s literature bastion that was The Babysitter’s Club. Starting with the awkward tales of Karen Brewer in the Babysitter’s Little Sister junior series and moving on as I aged up a few years, the BSC was most definitely my multivolume, uber-packaged children’s series of choice. This article is sensitive and comprehensive; I especially liked the bit about how  young Scholastic intern David Levithan (see: Every Day) was charged with keeping The Babysitter’s Club Bible. I wonder how many pages of this tome was dedicated to keeping track of Claudia Kishi’s many outrageous outfits.

Kid Lit Election 2012

I am completely over Presidential election coverage. However, if Charlotte A. Cavatica was running against Jamie Kincaid, I would be glued to the screen. The clever folks at Horn Book have crafted this entertaining series that is distracting me from actual politics. Scroll back through the tag archives for the Democratic and Republican primaries.

10 Things I Never Learned in Library School

There are probably a billion of posts with this title on the interwebs – Library School is a strange beast of a professional program with questionable correlation to the actual profession.

However, this post is not about professional critique. This is about crazy things that happen in libraries. I’m sure many other jobs have laundry lists of strange happenings, but I am not sure that any happenings could be stranger than library happenings.

What To Read? 20 Book Club Recommendations

Holy treasure-trove of books! Janssen of Everyday Reading posted this mega-list of discussion-friendly, fairly-easy-to-obtain, relatively-contemporary titles to suggest to your book club. I went to a work-people book club last month (we read this ridiculous book), and while I am more excited about this month’s selection, this still does not feel book-clubby enough for me… maybe not enough baked goods, wine, and wearing my pajamas? I don’t know why I envision myself wearing pajamas at a book club… nonetheless I may be inclined to enact some sort of ChL Survivors Drunk Book Club/Pajama Party soon, and maybe I will yank a suggestion from this excellent list.

26 Oct 2012

Meltdown!, Black Gold, and Charles Dickens

We may have reached the point where I am not allowed to read anything other than middle grade and young adult nonfiction. This is unfortunate when you are 75 pages into Raven Boys and your hold on Happier at Home just came in, but alas, alack. Here is a random assortment of the true stuff I’ve been reading.

Meltdown!: The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future by Fred Bortz

I remember news coverage of the  2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and remember something about a nuclear something something, but because I am a privileged American, I let things go in one ear and out the other. Bortz pulls your attention into the geological factors that lead to such seismic incidents, cultural factors that allow Japan to, um, exist basically on top of a fault line, and, most significantly, how the world gets power from nuclear plants and how dangerous it is when these plants are damaged, like the ones damaged by the earthquake in Fukushima in 2011. This is fairly dry stuff – science and all – but damn if I learned a lot about nuclear physics, power plant structure, and the shocking SHOCKING capacity for human error. All this privileged American stuff sure requires a lot of trust that some dude will read a meter properly and not contaminate my home and the earth at large for HUNDREDS OF YEARS.

Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives by Albert Marrin

Speaking of terrible, problematic, dangerous power sources… how about a book about oil? I didn’t realize that I was reading two such similar books simultaneously until the final, almost identical chapters laying out the pros and cons of alternative energy means because where Meltdown! is science-heavy, Black Gold is all history. Did you know that cars used to be considered “clean” forms of transportation, because the alternative was piles of horse manure in the streets? Did you know that World War II was ended in a large part because Germany ran out of oil? Did you know that Britain invaded the Middle East (aka Iraq) in an effort to bolster their navy by securing some Middle Eastern oil? Did you know that no matter how expensive gas prices are at the pump, we are GOING to run out of oil? Maybe you are not a privileged American who spends her time reading romance-y books for teenagers and knew all this, but I didn’t. I found this book startlingly engaging.

And also, the answer is: solar.

Speaking of post-industrial angst… Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London is a little love letter to Mr. D, equal parts biography and amateurish literary analysis. According to Warren, Dickens was a God Amongst Men, walking around and writing stories that ignited the British Upper Class into their Oprah-caliber “best selves.” Before Oliver Twist, nobody gave a rip about the poor factory children! Thank you, Charles Dickens!

I am being facetious, because I have an academic distaste for children’s biographies that veer towards hero worship. It is a fine primer on Charles Dickens’s quite interesting life (did you know that for a spell, his family LIVED in PRISON while Little Dickens worked in a factory??) and an adequate overview of his important work, significant social influence, and the bizarre, exploitative economy of 1800’s Britain.

25 Oct 2012

Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

This is a review in two parts.

Part #1 – Satire

I think I alluded to being a comedy sophisticate earlier this week. That was probably a lie. I probably just like the comedy I like and the comedy I don’t understand, I poo-poo. Tim and Eric, for example – supposedly quite funny according to comedy “experts” and friends alike… but I can’t stand it.

Take also for example, Penelope by Rebecca Harrington. Although almost nothing at all like Tim and Eric, I read this novel that is supposedly a biting satire of Harvard undergraduate social conventions and felt the same “Uh, I just don’t get this” feeling. Harrington’s heroine, Penelope, is a new freshman straight from the suburbs of Connecticut. Penelope’s “thing” is that she is unaware of social norms to the point of Aspergers, and she has only the vaguest, almost-academic interest in interacting with other humans. She discusses Agatha Christie novels with monied 19-year-olds at exclusive parties while accidentally drinking herself under the table, doesn’t notice her earnest neighbor’s advances but somehow allures herself into a friends-with-benefits relationship with a SUPER-monied, SUPER-elite monied playboy, and otherwise bumbles around this book seeming alternately cute and oblivious and vaguely mentally ill.

This is all supposed to be funny, but uh, I just don’t get this. If you want a top notch college satire, pick up Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons – it’s about a hundred times more subtle, complex, and compelling.

Part #2 – New Adult?

This is a book populated almost entirely by 18-year-olds. If the book had taken place three months earlier in time, this would be a YA novel. Or maybe not even that – take the 2010 YA book The Ivy. An assortment of college freshmen from various walks of life arrive in Cambridge and learn to social climb, led by one protagonist who is particularly normal and thus able to observe the absurdities of monied 19-year-olds, put these absurdities in relief, and then tug on the reader’s emotions when the protagonist loses her strong sense of self and begins to become absurd herself.

Anyway, I didn’t really like Penelope, but I liked The Ivy, I think precisely because The Ivy is YA. The Ivy isn’t a fine work of literary fiction by any means – it’s fluff, but it’s not trying to be literary. It’s satire, but it’s not trying to be satire. And also, throughout The Ivy, I actually cared about the protagonist and wanted her to succeed, even in her silly mission to oust popular mean girls and find a boyfriend. In Penelope there is this distance, like the author and the reader are just meant to observe Penelope and her silly 18-year-old self, to laugh at her, to poke fun at youth.

This is maybe the problem I had with Dare Me, except exaggerated because of the satire.

But for what it’s worth, maybe Harrington’s over the top exaggeration isn’t quite so exaggerated as I think – about halfway through the book, I observed that silly Penelope and her strange mannerisms, habits, and complete lack of self-awareness… and thought that maybe another academic observer might have thought College Jessica to be just as odd a bird. So it’s quite possible that this is a work of genius, a work of satire, and I am just a clod who likes what I like, and that is mostly young adult.

24 Oct 2012

nice girls manifesto

“I realized that at this particular time in my life, I was friends with everybody. I’ll admit that seventh grade was only one day old, but suddenly I had this new goal: to go the whole year with everyone liking me.  I don’t mean be “most popular girl” or anything; I just wanted teachers to smile when they said ‘Alice McKinley’ and the other kids to say, ‘Alice? Yeah, she’s okay. She’s neat.'”

In pursuit of a bit of preteen-Jessica lingering around in my psyche, I recently re-read a preteen-y book from my preteen days – Reluctantly Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Seventh-grade Alice has decided that all she wants out of middle school is to be likeable. Of course, Naylor obeys the first Law of a Decent Plot and immediately denies Alice her dearest want via a lumbering schoolyard named Denise Whitlock, but other than that Alice succeeds in making friends. Playing nice.

I don’t remember when I stopped playing that game, when it stopped seeming like an asset to play nice. I was thick in it in seventh grade, maybe all the way through high school, into college. My deepest pain was criticism because I was always always striving to please – all I wanted was to be liked, so why won’t you just like me already?

At some point after college, maybe in grad school, I read an article about how women send emails – that women are more likely to apologize in emails than men. That the apologies are usually needless – a pleasantry, a formality, a filler – that revealed a bit of that common need-to-please, that maybe made you look weak, unreliable, wishy-washy. I realized that I said “sorry” in almost every email I sent – sorry I didn’t have a chance to respond, sorry if you are too busy for this email, sorry for the trouble but I need xxx from you.

I stopped, because it seemed suddenly very clear that at any given time, there is likely something more important to me than feeling liked, being nice, having people say “Oh, Jessica? She’s okay. She’s neat.” That I should be looking out for my goals, my interests, and not apologizing so damn much.

But I still want to be nice. That doesn’t go away, and neither does the pain of criticism.  And that’s part of why I love Alice, why I love YA and children’s lit; those identity struggles never truly go away, and for children and teens, the struggles are that much more raw and on the surface. Reading about that rawness reminds me that I am still raw, that I am grown up, but still in that struggle.

Maybe that’s not me anymore, but Seventh-Grade Jessica will always be a nice girl.

23 Oct 2012

reading wishlist: books for grown-ups

Not all the books I come across in my work duties are completely horrifying. Some of them are enticing.

Aaaand most of them are for adults.

What can I say? It seems that despite the circles I tend to run with, the general populace of Boston has yet to catch onto the kidlit bandwagon.

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen

As a nerdy child, I used to take nerdy pride in watching the British Whose Line before Drew Carey made it a household name, memorizing “Chopping Broccoli,” staying up late to watch Monty Python on PBS; my recent love affair with all things podcast has rekindled all that. I have always liked female comics more than men (sorry, dudes), and I’d love to learn more.

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

Apparently this book is about a broken marriage, a father’s suicide, a one-night-stand, and a super computer. I do not know how this all adds up to sound like a good book, but there you have it.

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Another book about a failed marriage! This, however, is a memoir, and whatever review I read recommended it to fans of HBO’s Girls, which I am.

Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin

This book I have checked out from the library 5 times in 5 years. Now, this book has become a movie that I am obsessed with, so many I will check it out for a 6th time.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Okay, so this one doesn’t come out until like, May, but oh, oh, oh, I want. I loved French Milk. This is her follow up, but more about food, which, oh, I love.

Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox

A glowing review from Allison at Allison Writes, a plot that covers high school, college, and beyond. Sold.

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

I love it when a graphic novel for adults gets a good buzz going… this is a story about 19th century New York, riverboats, reclusive authors, and maybe a mermaid.

18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman

This is one of those books that had me by the title – Mr. Bregman, how did you know that I suck at focus, get distracted way too often, and never feel like I’m being productive in the right way.

I now realize that maybe this title is pandering to my various insecurities. I don’t think that bothers me as much as it should.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Would I like to read J.K. Rowling’s latest title? Why yes, I would. So would 600+ other citizens of Boston, so this one will have to wait awhile.

Motherland by Amy Sohn

This title could probably be classified as Aspirational Mommy-Chick-Lit or some other semi-derogatory non-genre. No matter. I am completely down with reading fictional Park Slope family and social mama drama. I might save this one for next time I’m in a slump and need a little… uh…fluff.


22 Oct 2012

2012: week forty-two

October 14 – October 20

Social Butterfly Jessica outdid herself this week.

Sunday afternoon: Bowling

Did I mention that  The Boy and I have joined a bowling league? Oh yes, we are that cool. For what it’s worth, we joined with some of our friends, and we had a Groupon. The league is six weeks long, though, so you get 90 minutes of bowling for 6 weeks, no additional fees, free shoe rentals, etc, for 45 dollars a person: a good deal. I was skeptical, but yeah… it’s fun. I like that it doesn’t take that much time, I get to see my friends, and I feel like I’m actually improving my game. Against my better antisocial instincts, I’ve been looking forward to Sundays.

Wednesday after work: Drinks and bar food to celebrate finishing Whole30

We met up with one of our friends after work to mingle with his new law school buddies and indulge ourselves for finishing 30 days of health and happiness. I managed to keep myself to a Blue Moon, a moderate amount of nachos, a cheese stick, and a few pieces of boneless chicken wings, and went home feeling fine.

The rest of the week, not so successful. See: Chipotle, a Reeses peanut butter cup pumpkin, and a Greek salad at lunch. I’ve not been feeling so hot…

Thursday after work: Free movie screening

The boy met me at work at 5 and we headed over to the movie theater at Fenway to meet up with our friends who scored free movie screening passes to Paranormal Activity 4. We were early, so we killed time getting Starbucks, Chipotle (terrible idea), pretending like we were rich at West Elm, and buying craft items at Blicks.

We walked into the theater and called our friend… and while we waved our hands in the air so he could spot us in the line, we realized that we were in the wrong theater.

So we took the T back into town to the Boston Common theater and ate our burrito bowl while having our first taste of the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Friday night: Cabin in the Woods and dinner w/friends

Some friends (our bowling friends, actually), were very excited to watch their new Blu-ray of Cabin in the Woods with some people who hadn’t yet seen it. I was very excited to watch Cabin in the Woods, so we trucked it out to East Boston with our dinner (Roasted Pear & Goat Cheese salad) and added it to spaghetti, garlic bread, wine, and a cheese plate.

The movie: good. The food: better. The stomachache: legendary. Granted, I hadn’t quite recovered from the Chipotle the night before. This is quickly becoming a recap of my digestive health, though, so I will stop talking about food.

Saturday night: Halloween Party

Friend in Law School invited all his law school buddies over for an early Halloween party. I did not have a costume idea until about 4 p.m. and constructed my costume entirely out of clothing I owned and other craft supplies I had around…. and our costumes were sweet and we won the costume contest. Pics to come.

And on the seventh day, we rested.

Just kidding, we did laundry and bowled.




  • Shameless, Shameless, Shameless.
  • I made it through 50 minutes of the Presidential debates before becoming too irate to exist.
  • Aaaand on Friday? My hold on Mad Men Season Five came in. Sorry, Shameless, Don Draper’s in town.
  • I may have accidentally watched an episode of Top Chef… and liked it.

Listening To:

  • So, Spotify and iTunes are really excellent repositories for such hard-to-find musical gems as a cappella CDs. We’ve come a long way since the same 100 tracks available on Napster, all attributed to Rockapella. This is all to say: I listened to a lot of random a cappella this week. Blame Pitch Perfect.
  • Got back into listening to Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now again, and I’m really digging it.


20 Oct 2012

an oscar reading list

Two problems:

Problem #1 – I have this deep, cosmic feeling that before I see a movie based on a book, I must do my best to read the book.

This isn’t always a successful or useful endeavor. I end up speed-reading books in the parking lot of a movie theater (Coraline), I criticize the movie when the book is too fresh in my mind (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and I still haven’t seen The Lord of the Rings.

Problem #2 – I like watching the Oscars and I like watching the nominated titles beforehand. However, every Oscar-nominated movie seems to be released between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I just don’t have the time or money to see that many movies in a theater.

The smart, obvious answer? Spend this downtime reading some of the many books that made it to this year’s Oscar-worthy-films. That way, if I get the chance to see a movie, I’ll be prepared.

Except for the part where two of the big movies are based on Massive Tomes of European Literature. I might have to make an exception to Problem #1 if the book is over 500 pages.

Either way, here are five books to get you ready for February 24.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo – in theaters December 25

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – in theaters November 11

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – in theaters November 21

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – in theaters November 9 (I think?)

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – in theaters October 26



19 Oct 2012

home sweet home

I am a commuter with a bad shoulder and a secret desk drawer full of library books. I have to be choosy about what I take home and when, as to not over-encumber myself, aka trigger pain, whininess, and potential migraines.

Last Friday, I had a full bag of Cybils nonfiction ready to take home for the weekend, when one last hold appears on the shelf…

… seven pounds of Martha. Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook, to be exact.

I stuffed it into my Desk Drawer of Shame, of course, and saved it for another day, a day when I would bring a rolling suitcase into my office and heft this baby home.

But of course, that is a lie. I wasn’t even sad to learn that this book was so ginormous – I was giddy, and I stuffed down seven other books on science and history and took it straight home so I wouldn’t have to be without it for an entire weekend.

Martha, where have you been all my life? And where were you when I was trying to be a better housekeeper last month? You have lists of what to clean and when, and how! And after twenty-seven years, I now know how to do  the dishes properly, despite the complete lack of counter space to do so.

Maybe I threw out my shoulder. Maybe I tried to read this in a the subway station on my commute before I realized what a crazy person I would look like trying futilely to shove a Cleaning Bible into my purse as the train pulled up. But I also voluntarily purchased cleaning products, did seven loads of proper dishes, finally scrubbed my stove-top that has been impenetrable since Sept 1 (the final solution: Brillo pads), and my apartment almost looks like grown-ups live here.

Well, at least it did for a few days, before we went back to work and cooked and lived and shamed Martha and spray bottle and her giant tome. Maybe this weekend I’ll redeem myself by scrubbing some baseboards and vacuuming curtains.