Month: December 2012

31 Dec 2012

best moments of 2012

As I have told you time and time and time again, 2012? Ridiculous year. I hope down to my bones that I will never have another year like it. Everything I predicted on January 3rd came true, except for becoming unemployed – I hung onto that one last part-time job until the bitter end. Stress has done a good job of casting a haze over my memories of 2012, but here are some things I would like to remember.


A Sunday in January, I worked my usual noon to four reference desk shift. I was probably wearing my exercise clothes under my regular clothes. There were friends going to a bar to watch the game, but I skipped out because I hate football and because I wanted to go to the gym. The college gym on a Sunday early-evening is a quiet place, but more so when the Patriots are playing in the Superbowl. Only half of the overhead lights had been switched on, and I had the tiny indoor track to myself. I listened to This American Life and ran three (very slow) miles for the first time in my life. Then I took a last lap and made it a 5k.

Then a security guard locked me into campus in fear of Superbowl related riots, but let’s just hang on to the first part of that night.


A Tuesday in February, I worked my usual four to nine reference desk shift. The Boy picked me up from work and when we made it home, he asked me to marry him. I said yes. Of course I will remember this.

But after that, there was this period of time – a week, two weeks, I can’t quite remember – when we didn’t tell a soul. The ring needed to be sized, we needed to tell parents and family before Facebook – all of these logistical reasons, but also I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was getting married. I am getting married. After eight years, a ring on my finger.

Those few weeks were a little bubble of excitement. On a day off, The Boy surprised me at work, delivering the re-sized ring and a large Marylou’s coffee. I wore it to my internship the next day because I knew nobody would ask. We talked about it only to each other. We spent an entire hour trying to figure out how to announce such a thing on Facebook on afternoon, and then we went to see The Hunger Games. Now I don’t notice this ring on my finger, I am doing stuff like premarital counseling, I refer to The Boy as “my fiance” from time to time, and it all seems quite normal, but for those few weeks, it was a strange new secret that only existed in our apartment, in our car, when we were together.


I started looking at jobs in late February and got excited about a few positions that seemed ideal. I polished up my resume and wrote cover letters, and a month after applying, I had heard nothing. By March, I wasn’t in the I-hate-myself dregs of job hunting yet, but the experience had certainly lost its luster.

One job in particular had caught my overachieving eye early in the job hunting phase. Not a job, but a fellowship, for children’s services, in one of the best public libraries in the country. Two year commitment, make 50K annually plus health insurance, stipends for ALA… but first, an appropriately rigorous application process. In February, I was geeked. By March, I was appalled. How many essay questions? No more than FIVE letters of reference?? A video??? Ugh.

A certain library someone sent me a link to the posting later in March. To him I said, “Ugh, that application sounds atrocious and I hate the world and how will I even get 5 LETTERS of reference before the deadline?”And he said back, “Well, you just ask for them.”

Oh. Well.

So I asked, I muscled through the essays, recorded a video, over-nighted my application packet, and a few days later, I got a Skype interview.

I did not get the job and I’d rather forget about that interview, honestly, but it was a nice boost at the beginning of my search, and really was an honor just to be considered.


One thing that is frustrating about growing up semi-privileged/growing up in a recession/growing up period is that despite what you have wished for, hoped for, and had been promised, successes are rarely straightforward. This simple transaction – work hard, produce something that shows your skills, and then be rewarded? This doesn’t happen that often.

Except that this year it happened to me. I took an unpaid internship. I showed up twice a week and did menial tasks. The interns were all asked to write a book review for the two publications. I wrote mine and submitted it on time. It was well-received and I was asked to stay on as a reviewer for both.

Obviously, there are other factors that led to this chain of events (see: writing XXX words about books here, for school, for other purposes over many years, paying to attend a particular Master’s program, having the relative luxury/insanity to work for free at an internship for a semester), but in the end, I wrote it, it was good, I got my reward.


After a weekend of being touristy, a day of walking all over town and hitching charter buses and pinning hoods on graduation robes and deciding who would drive where with who and when, after walking across a graduation stage, so many of the people I loved gathered together from far, far away to sit with me and eat at Legal Seafood.

There was a bottle of wine. Life was good.


In late July, I took my 25-minute lunch break in the Starbucks across the street from my retail job. Things were not going well. I had a rotten commute. My days off were spent finishing up things at my other job, or going out on job interviews. I was getting job rejections. It was hot. I sweat through my work t-shirts every day. I wasn’t particularly good at the kind of retail I was expected to be good at. I started eating foods mindlessly in a way I hadn’t for years. I had no idea where I was going to live come September 1st. I was stressed.

I wrote a sad plan to myself in my little journal, there in the Starbucks with my iced coffee. I was about to go on a two week vacation – maybe I should give my two weeks when I get back, we can find a dirt-cheap place to live nearer to where The Boy’s new job, maybe out of town, and I can find another part-time job. There are other part-time jobs. Keep applying for library jobs. Slice the budget as close as you can. Defer loans. A sad plan, but at least I wouldn’t have to sit in a Starbucks in a sweaty t-shirt on a twenty-minute lunch break any more. There would be an end to this particular brand of misery.

I wrote it, then finished my shift and after, there was a voicemail on my phone. It was a job offer. The Job I Wanted job offer.

I gave my two weeks the next day, took my vacation, and when I came back, started this life that I am living now.


I have told you all about the books that have shaped my year, but I will also remember 2012 as the year of the podcast, of Adele’s 21, of Hunger Games the movie, of Breaking Bad, Pitch Perfect, and Skyrim.

28 Dec 2012

to share or not to share?

Listen guys. You know I enjoy telling y’all about the minutiae of my life, despite the fact that this habit may some day get me murdered or fired, and has more than once led to uncomfortable encounters with colleagues and family members alike. This doesn’t stop me. My big mouth is unstoppable. And you also know that I enjoy revealing my deepest desires and life’s grandest wishes. Someday I will indeed change the world/run a marathon/write the Next Great American Novel/actually floss my teeth, and I will be happy to share my ups and downs along the way and then write self-righteous advice once I achieve my myriad of goals.

It is December 28th, which means I am thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions. As per usual, I would like to make about 50 and I would like to tell you all about them and then update you as the year rolls on. Accountability is good for goal-making. Also, I am a raging narcissist, so any excuse to talk about myself.

I’ve been trying to talk myself down to 5 or 6 goals, but the ones that I feel really strongly about, the ones that really move me? Well, I just don’t want to tell you about them.

Maybe because I am learning the difference between public and private (haha). Maybe because I am afraid I might fail and would prefer to keep the option of a graceful bow out available without having to confess to you guys that I just suck.

But also, I have reason to believe that now that I have reached an extremely advanced age, I feel comfortable enough in my own skin to believe, deep down, that I can live my life the way I want to live it without making public proclamations. Without turning over a new leaf. I honestly spent many, many years of my life feeling miserable most days of the week because I wasn’t living up to my own standards. I felt lazy, ate the wrong foods, was messy, watched too much TV, didn’t do enough work. I’d write up a little schedule of “my ideal day” at nighttime, and then fail myself in the morning. The self-help solution to this problem would be to practice being kinder to oneself, forgiving of ones own humanness, etc. I did some of that, and I could do some more, but really, I just started living on my own and some time later, I was able to wake up and just DO all the things I wanted to do and be done with it.

I don’t feel that way any more. I rarely have “ideal days,” but most of the time I go to bed exhausted and feeling like I just had a day reasonably well-lived. I don’t need a New Year’s Resolution to help me turn over a new leaf. I’m here, on the other side of the leaf, living.

Some of the things I want to do this year are big and scary. Some of them aren’t “good” resolutions – easy to measure, to work toward. Some I will probably fail at. I think the heart of me is telling me to keep these goals close to my chest this year, to practice intrinsic motivation, to keep on living on the other side of the leaf.

I just read Nova Ren Sum’s post about her 2012 resolutions – she wrote down 7 writing goals in January but didn’t share them on her blog, and just this week revealed her successes and failures. This I love, because her goals were big and burly and there were too many of them, just like my own goals are wont to be. And because she missed the mark on so many, but still admits to a good 2012.

Maybe I’ll do a big reveal in  2014, let you know how things worked out. Or maybe I’ll break down and tell you about every last detail. Maybe I’ve changed a lot, maybe I’ve changed a little. Maybe I’ve got a long way to go, or maybe I’m already there.

27 Dec 2012

Christmas 2012

This is the only picture I have from this Christmas; apparently my camera decided to eat them all. No matter, this picture is more than adequate to capture the spirit of the day. We hung around in our PJs. We dressed ourselves in our new Christmas finery as we unpacked (see: a purple scarf from my Smallest Sister). My parents sent us his and hers electric blankets which are divine. Peach, as you might note, agrees. I introduced The Boy to the American classic that is A Christmas Story. Let’s not talk about how in the world one can live nearly 28 years without seeing this film.

Our first Christmas without our families. Our first Christmas together. What with an unexpected midweek trip to the Midwest and all, I didn’t have a heck of a lot of time to sit around and scheme about what could make this holiday special.

So I went with old standby, the obvious choice for memorializing any occasion: making a shit ton of food. Far too much food for two people to ingest in a reasonable amount of time. After multiple trips to many different grocery stores, I prepared the following menu:

Christmas Eve

  • Appetizers
    • Fancy brie and sharp cheddar with toasty white bread
    • A cheesy frozen appetizer from Trader Joe’s
  • Dinner
    • Marinated sirloin. Cooked in the broiler despite every internet site insisting that in order for sirloin to be edible it simply MUST be grilled. It came out fine, guys.
    • Brussels sprouts with bacon
    • Mashed red potatoes with roasted garlic
  • Dessert

Christmas Morning

  • Tackett family traditional sour cream coffee cake
  • Tackett family traditional sausage gravy
  • Biscuits from the NYTimes (first batch came out flat, second came out poofy! A Christmas Miracle!)

Christmas Dinner

All this talk of tradition, which ones you will bring together, which new traditions will you create. This is strange for us, in particular, because The Boy is the youngest of two – most of his childhood traditions in his home have long been abandoned in favor of sleeping in until 1 pm and opening presents whenever. And me? Well, I don’t love traditions as much as require them. I hoard them. Some I likely urged upon my family as a youngster – or more likely, cried my eyes out when that tradition did not appear in subsequent years and then whatever it was would reappear the next year. Lately my sisters and I have turned traditions into sport. For example, as I was Skyping home on Christmas morning, I was informed by my sisters that they had begun a new annual holiday tradition of singing Christmas carols in the style of Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln. I have no idea what this means, but there you have it.

I chose to bring to the table the Traditional Tackett Family Christmas Breakfast, and bought him a Traditional Tackett Extremely Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle for us to enjoy. He enforced his own family’s tradition of attending a motion picture in the evening. I forced upon him my own traditional love of musical theater and bought tickets for Les Mis without consultation.

As for new traditions, I decided that my life does not allow nearly enough opportunities for mimosa-drinking, so we cracked open a bottle before noon. Merry Christmas, indeed.

23 Dec 2012

Habibi by Craig Thompson

#1: Habibi by Craig Thompson

I read Craig Thompson’s Blankets many, many years ago. I had never read a graphic novel before, didn’t really know that such a thing existed. Comics were about superheroes, were slim, made of crunchy paper as far as I was concerned. I was too busy falling in love to be surprised that Blankets was none of the above – it was a doorstop of a book full of thick lined illustrations, teenagers in love, and a protagonist that was just the kind of boy that I wished would jump off the page and just love me already.

It took Thompson seven years to complete his next book – Habibi. I was excited, but wary. From the descriptions, it sounded like a completely different story. When I find an author I love, I hope that they will keep making great books, but maybe I also hope they will keep making the same book. An autobiographical coming of age graphic novel told in the Midwestern USA begets another. Habibi was fiction – fantastic fiction, nonetheless! – about non-Western culture. I was wary.

Change of scene: Christmas Day 2011 at my parents’ house. Just like any other Christmas of my life, the day is fun because A) I get to lounge around in your pajamas all day with your family B) I get to eat delicious foods and C) there are new games to play, books to read, CDs to listen to, blankets to cuddle under, movies to watch, etc. You will never be bored on Christmas Day.

But unlike any other Christmas day before it, all I want to do on December 25th, 2011, is read a library book. Habibi.

The story is set in a fictionalized present-day Islamic world – a setting that feels more like a desert, timeless, fairytale landscape than anything else. Our protagonist is Dodola, a very young girl who has been sold into marriage to a much older man, a scribe, who teaches her to read, to write, and the relationship between stories and words to their shared religion. Dodola is kidnapped, but manages to escape and finds refuge with a very young boy – Zam – who has escaped slavery of his own; the two form a family, holed up together in a wooden ship stranded in the desert, growing up together and surviving together, even when that survival means making unspeakable sacrifices.

Over the course of the novel, Dodola and Zam are children and they are adults. They love each other as family and sexually. They are separated and reunited. They are powerful and powerless. Dodola saves Zam and Zam saves Dodola, each in turn. They travel through the desert, into fairytale-like palaces, and then urban slums. They come together, they come apart, and their story is interwoven with stories from the Q’uran, stories Dodola and Zam both turn to in their times of need. Epic is probably the only appropriate word for this story.

But all plot aside, the art. Oh, the art! What Thompson has done with his art is nothing short of breathtaking. Is there such thing as epic art? Yes, and it is here. From the end papers on through all 700+ pages, each spread is a dream, a fantasy – ornate and embellished with dizzying patterns.The single and double page spreads are a particular joy; the art extends to the edge of the page, making you want to stare into each piece until you’re certain you’ve gotten all you can from each one.

I’ve had friends and professors tell me that reading graphic novels should take longer than prose, because it takes time to take in each image and how it relates to the text, how the story moves from panel to panel. I, however, am more prone to flip through them like I’m eating a bag of chips – enjoying but not necessarily nourishing myself or feeling great about the whole greasy mess. As I entered my second day of reading Habibi, I started to think that my preference for haste had been proven wrong. But then again, maybe I’d just never encountered a graphic novel that begged me not just to read, but savor.

And with that, we have reached the end of the 2012 Best Reads Extravaganza! I am exhausted. If you missed any posts, check out this page to catch up. Thanks for playing along friends – I hope y’all had as pleasant a Reading Year as I did!

21 Dec 2012

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

#2: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

A few months after I read Life: An Exploding Diagram, I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Peet make a small speech regarding his book. Without trying too hard to paraphrase, the gist of Mr. Peet’s message was that despite trying very hard to bore, perplex, or perhaps even offend an American audience with the content of his latest book, by gum, here was an awards committee that not only read the darn thing, but decided to give it an honor.

This book spans generations, straddles genres, is questionably even young adult literature, consists of only about 65% narrative, and stars a usually heroic young American President in a decidedly unflattering light.

But I love love loved it anyway; it’s one of those books that you tell everyone to read even though they might not like it and then your heart might break, but then they all do love it, your picky friends, your not-so-picky friends. Your sister leaves you a voicemail asking “Clem and Frankie end up together… right?” and you know immediately who she is talking about. And it warms your damn heart, restores your faith in the world a bit, that books like this can exist and you can share them with the ones you love.



Let me tell you this about my grad school experience… early in 2009, I was putting concerted effort into “reading widely across genres.” I gave myself 10 “slots” for books each month, and tried to fill in the first five with different genres – YA Fiction, Juvenile Nonfiction, Adult Fiction, etc. By April, I had set my academic course (aka wrote some deposit checks) on a path towards a children’s literature degree. By April, I’d also become weary of “reading widely.” It was hard. Uncomfortable. I would rather just read and re-read my favorite books and authors, ya know?

So one of the things I found exciting about a children’s lit degree was the prospect of a Syllabus! I longed for someone to tell me what to read (see also: Marriage). And although I watched new releases pass me by for three years, and every semester I reached a point where all I wanted was to read ANYTHING that wasn’t 19th century/realism/taking place on Mars, I discovered so many genres and authors that I never would have given a second chance otherwise.

See: Historical Fiction. If you had asked me in 2009 if I would like to read a book about teenagers in Scotland in 1952 (that starts with 50 or so pages detailing THEIR parents’ and grandparents’ heritage and history), and that can also legitimately classified as a book ABOUT the Cuban Missile Crisis? I would have certainly laughed mightily, either in my mind or later after you left the room. Perhaps I would discredit your future book recommendations completely. Who knows, it was 2009, I was ruthless back then.

However, it is 2012, and I just read Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram and I loved it I loved it I loved it so much. It is everything I described above, yes, but don’t be afraid. The family heritage bit is actually pretty brief, and mostly humorous. The historical retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis is actually interesting, especially for me, who felt suddenly shamed to realize that even after XX years of history courses, I knew NOTHING about this incredible moment in US history. The narrator is a likeable, knowledgeable, and cheeky guide through this all.

But what wraps it all up in a delicious package is The LOVE STORY. Oh, there is a love story, a first love story, that is so evocative, so touching, and at times, downright steamy. Peet knows what he is doing when he alternates chapters here, teasing you into being interested in JFK because you know there’s another chapter of romance when you finish.

And the ending. Agh, the ending! This is a terrible review, I realize, but after you read this ending, you will think that every other novel’s conclusion was more of a lame fizzle, a drag-out, a ramble on. Peet? He has written here an Ending, capital-E-, practically Hollywood worthy, throw your book down and gasp-worthy.

Gush gush gush glow glow glow, please drop what you are doing and pretend like you are desperate to learn more about JFK’s early presidency so you will not waste another moment of your life not reading this book! Consider it your syllabus for the month.



20 Dec 2012

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

#3: Bomb: The Race to Build –and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

by Steve Sheinkin

Once upon a time, I heard Mr. Steve Sheinkin give a speech regarding a little book he wrote about Benedict Arnold. Sheinkin, if I recall correctly, charmed all of us graduate students. This is probably not saying too much, since in the midst of seemingly interminable swamp of academics, job juggling, and constant overachieving anxiety, the promise of a free glass of wine and a plate full of cheese was enough to charm us – the presence of any young-ish, attractive-ish man who knew how to sting together a witty sentence or two was enough to send us into conniptions.

“Charming,” I recall thinking, “but the chance of me reading a book about Benedict Arnold is just exceeding, overwhelmingly slim.”

It took me about 25 years to actually give a rip about history. I don’t know what’s to blame – uninspiring public school curriculum, torturous memories of My Brother Sam is Dead and Sign of the Beaver, the overwhelming reading assignments in HIS 107, general Gen X/Y narcissism. I don’t even remember what tipped me over, but I get it now. The feeling of fascination when you learn something about your world that you didn’t know, that you probably couldn’t ever imagined. The feeling of incomparable smallness when you realize how much in the world you have missed, that you will never fully understand, that you will never experience. The feeling of divine interconnectedness when you realize that these fascinating events, these people who will never meet, the heroes, the villains – you are all part of this world puzzle, your life significant and insignificant in equal measure.

Maybe if I’d read Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon when I was an eleven or twelve year old, then I would have caught the bug. It’s one thing to read in a textbook that World War II ended when we dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. It’s quite another thing to have Sheinkin tell you, piece by piece, week by week, how political decisions led the US to pursue an atomic bomb, how a motley crew of the finest scientists were recruited to leave their careers and studies and figure out just how build one, how German, Russian, and American spies risked their lives to keep nuclear secrets from the enemy, or destroy the enemy’s attempts. This is nonfiction, yes, but this is nonfiction that rollicks and rolls and  reads like a spy novel… but a spy novel populated with geeky scientists, so much better than an actual spy novel.

So, Sheinkin has thus succeeded in making rote history (that I was supposed to learn about in five or ten history classes of my youth) interesting. Good job, Steve – your skills in plotting and tension are admirable. But what about all that feeling… that part that makes history not only interesting but meaningful. Well, let me assure you, Bomb has this in spades. With very careful research and top notch characterization, Sheinkin lets you know who each character is and why you should care about them, and why you should care about their contributions to history – large or small – and how their bits of influence have impacted our country, our culture, our world. This is especially commendable because, as you can imagine, the cast of characters that had their hands in the nuclear race and surrounding political conflicts, was vast. You will get to know them all.

And in case that wasn’t enough, I will tell you that the ending punched me square in the gut. I raced to finish, I was horrified of what I read, I stayed up late but wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep.

This was a long way of saying, yeah, I’m gonna read that book about Benedict Arnold.


19 Dec 2012

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

#4: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I like book awards good and well, but some book awards I ignore because I assume that since a book has won that particular medal, I will not like this book. Pulitzer, Nobel, Booker, National Book  – awards that supposedly go to the cream of the crop.The dual-edged sword of book awards, I suppose.

Why? Well, I am a curmudgeon with a taste for YA, no patience for the Long and the Dense, and prefer narratives that deviate from the Western White Male experience. Also see: curmudgeon.

Junot Diaz is an author who wins these big awards. But I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao anyway. And instead of gaining a new respect for these venerable awards, instead of saying “Well, these Pulitzer winners must not be all that bad!” Instead of either of those logical reactions, I found myself wondering why in the world these award committee and critics would latch onto  a book that is so… not long not dense, neither Western nor White? Huh?

Now, I liked Oscar Wao, yes. But This Is How You Lose Her won me over. Written as a series of interconnected short stories, This is How You Lose Her is Yunior’s life, moving back and forth from his childhood, teenage, and adulthood, and focusing on women. His mother. His brother’s high school girlfriends, hanging around the house when Yunior was a child. His own high school girlfriends, his fiancee as he begins a career as a writer and his many girlfriends on the side. The woman who is pregnant with his child.

I wish that I could do this book justice here, but I really can’t. If you haven’t read Diaz’s prose, then you are missing out – it is fluid, readable, clever, and casual. This is a book about love and its many faces, and how people become the people they are – some of my favorite things to read about. I wish that all big award winning books could be like this one, and I hope that your library’s wait-list isn’t as long as mine.


18 Dec 2012

Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach

#5: Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach

I don’t have a tremendous amount of background in this particular breed of nonfiction, but is it just me or are we in the midst of some kind of literary-cookbook renaissance? A few years ago I checked out Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food looking for a little kitchen inspiration (I’d probably just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, forgive me) and read it cover to cover. Read a cookbook. It was a strange feeling, but it sped by just like any other nonfiction text, only when I was done my book was full of post-it notes flagging recipes I wanted to try. I know that cooking memoirs were a thing, but this kind of book was more food than memoir, but just as readable and interesting.

Would it be cheesy to say I devoured this book? Well, I did. Ate it right up. Rosenstrach, who you might remember from this New York Times article or from her popular blog is just a ridiculously affable narrator of her own life. The book moves chronologically. Rosenstrach is a young urban professional looking for impressive dinner party recipes to squeeze in between trying new restaurants. Then she is a newlywed, beginning her life with a similarly foodie husband, their busy professional lives meeting every night at the dinner table. Then she is a new mother with a commute still determined to put something healthy on the table, then a stay at home mom. Probably drawing on her impressive Dinner Diary, Rosenstrach shares the best recipes of each season of life, the ones she relied on most, the ones worth remembering. As someone who can’t even remember what she cooked last week much less last year, this is an interesting, thoughtful way to frame a life.

I enjoyed Rosenstrach’s life story, yes, but I also appreciated the somewhat multimedia approach she gets at this story. Yes, there are vignettes, yes there are recipes. But there are also family photos, humorous conversations between Rosenstrach and her husband, handwritten bits, must-have kitchen items, etc. I especially liked her How to Feed A Family of Picky Eaters With One Dish technique of deconstructing traditional “grown-up” dishes to please most palates – any mother who can turn a frustrating dinner situation into a culinary challenge is the kind of mother I’d like to be.

This would be a lovely book even if all the recipes were complicated, gross, or inedible. But they are not. They are my exact kind of recipes – simple enough for weeknights, made of real foods, tasty and straightforward. I checked this book out and have renewed it a million times and have probably dirtied it up beyond acceptable library condition. I have little “DALS”‘s written all over my own dinner planning sheets. Favorites? Chicken and brussels sprouts and spicy zucchini eggs. You can probably find them on her website, or you could just do yourself a favor and buy the book. But ultimately, I don’t think I would have made so many of these recipes if I didn’t like the rest of the writing, the package, the Rosenstrach charm. The best part about these cooking memoirs and guides and blogs is that the writing and the stories create a sense of intimacy and trust that “celebrity chefs” just can’t do, inviting even novice chefs to try their hand at feeding themselves and their families. I make a “DALS” recipe because I trust it – Jenny wouldn’t do me wrong. I am glad that while I learn how to cook, I have these at-home chefs to ease me along and help me eventually trust myself to make tasty food, every night.



17 Dec 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

#6: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

I know, I know: the least shocking addition to this list. The inclusion of John Green’s latest is probably only surprising to those who did not laugh at this article about 2012’s most overlooked books. Seriously – how can a book that got a full page review in Entertainment Weekly and named Best Book of 2012 by Time Magazine be considered overlooked?

Sometimes I forget how small the kid lit/YA lit-o-sphere really is. We are a small portion of the population. We are growing, but still mostly overlooked. In The Fault in Our Stars, Green writes a satisfying, emotionally complex follow-up to three previous satisfying and emotionally complex novels. But he also did something with TFioS and Hazel and all those nerdfighters to capture a bit of the mainstream limelight. That is great. Welcome to the fold, new friends.

To be honest, I am 100% glad that I don’t need to write this post right now, that I have already read and reviewed this book many, many months ago. I am having a tough time thinking about it, a tough time wanting to write about good books – happy or sad – a tough time thinking that this world is a good place. I mean, I know we are all stuck here and need to make the most of it, but you know, there is just so much tragedy. I spent all weekend trying to enjoy a weekend with my future in-laws without fixating on twenty small children and their families, and then my grandmother died. I am headed to Ohio tomorrow, and maybe in a few months I should re-read this book and learn something about grief and life, but for now, I can’t. I can just keep trying to write these barely-reviews and go to work and shop for gifts and keep my head up.


I don’t feel like I am qualified to write a decent “review” of this book because yes, I am a full-fledged John Green fan-girl.

To my credit, I was a fan-girl before it was actually normal to say you were a fan-girl of John Green (iosome people prefer the term “nerdfighter”). No, I was just an adoring college student with a very tiny literary/not-so-literary crush on an author and his work.

But let me tell you this: despite years now of fan-girl-dom, I find that the more I read Green’s books, the more I like them. The more meaning I find within them. The more they stir up my emotions. I first read Looking for Alaska when I was a senior in high school; last summer I read it for the umpteenth time for a class and found myself Crying While Using Public Transportation.

Despite the near-continual hype – the tour bus, the video blogs, the thousands of signed books – Green continues to deliver.

The Fault in Our Stars put my little bit of Looking for Alaska train-boo-hooing to shame. Narrator 16-year-old Hazel has cancer. For three years, she submits to the gamut of painful treatments, comes very close to dying, and transforms from a normal teen to a sick one. She does survive, but only by the benefit of an experimental treatment and constant oxygen supplementation – she’s still frail, but now she’s isolated too. But when her parents force her to attend a kids-with-cancer support group, Hazel meets Augustus – a cute osteosarcoma survivor with a prosthetic leg who sets his sights on Hazel.

They fall in love. They take a trip to Amsterdam to track down Hazel’s favorite reclusive author. They get sicker, they get better, they get sicker, they get better. But even when they get better, there’s always the promise of getting sicker. And if they get sicker, there’s the promise of dying too soon.

Of course, this is also a very sharp, deeply funny novel. It’s not all kids-with-cancer. But what Green captures brilliantly here is that even when your daily life/immediate thoughts are not about suffering and unfairness and the insane brevity of life and death… your life is still about cancer and suffering and unfairness and the insane brevity of life and death. When you are a kid with cancer, these things are just closer to the surface. In many ways, this book reminded me not of other young adult fiction, but of books like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; narratives that transcend narrative and become primers for death, grief, and, ultimately, life.

So go read this book and laugh and cry because… yeah. Life. That’s it.

16 Dec 2012

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

#7: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Once upon a time there was a bandwagon that I was too stubborn and busy to jump on, even though all of my reader-friends who know me the best tried over and over again to pull me up along with them. Then Ms. Perkins finally showed up on a syllabus, and y’all know about me and syllabi – I obey, I follow, I worship.

The name of that bandwagon? Stephanie Perkins.

Now, I earlier this week I told a lie. When talking about how much I liked Anna’s follow-up – Lola and the Boy Next Door – I said that I am always looking for romance authors that I liked as much as Sarah Dessen. This is false. I am interested in new contemporary YA romances, but I rarely actually read them. I do not know why. Maybe because I am busy reading other stuff. Maybe because I am busy re-reading actual Sarah Dessen books. Maybe because I don’t feel like I need a “new” Sarah Dessen, because, um, she’s still writing new books regularly.

Or maybe because every time a new romance comes out, everyone insists that “fans of Sarah Dessen will just love this!” and then I read it and wonder what Dessen these reviewers are reading. Just because there is a boy and a girl who fall in love by the end of the book does not make the book any good.

We have established that I am a weird, old curmudgeon about teen romances, which makes me even weirder and curmudgeonly. That being said, Stephanie Perkins completely deserves any Dessen-related comparison. The bandwagon was right, and I am 100% on board.

Anna and the French Kiss has A Girl – Anna, senior, daughter of divorced parents, one of which is a fictionalized Nicholas Sparks of a Dad who thinks sending his daughter to a Paris boarding school for her senior year against her will is a grand idea. She has a best friend and an almost boyfriend at home in Atlanta. She loves films (not movies). She does not speak French.

Anna and the French Kiss also has A Boy – Etienne, senior, son of divorced parents – mother who raised him in LA, wealthy, douchey Parisien Dad.

Anna starts to fall for Etienne, a little bit, but of course Etienne has a girlfriend, and then we have a number of conflicts and oh-they-might-kiss!! moments and later, rinse, repeat, romance.

This could be any not-so-great romance, though. Perkins does the genre its due, yes, but also nails Anna’s narrative voice – quiet but likeable, tentative but not shy, trying to simultaneously discover her interests and motives while navigating the new waters of boarding school without dismantling longstanding social structures (see: Etienne & Girlfriend). The story is well-paced, the writing is smart, the characters are fun and likeable and realistic.

And – get this – you get this weird impression, as you read, that Anna and Etienne, those destined lovers you know will fall in love/hook up/get married before the end of the book? It seems that they actually like each other. This is what makes for a sizzling romance, in my eyes – the slow attraction, the wavering affections, that transition between nothing to friends, friends to more. Nothing Bella & Edward, no Perfect Chemistry.

Call me an old curmudgeon if you want.

But I think Maureen Johnson’s blurb really says it best:

“Very sly. Very funny.Very romantic. You should date this book.”