The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year, all! To begin 2013 with a bang (having survived the apocalypse and all) I leave you all with the following:

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Cheersies!

PS: As my New Year’s gift to you, may I present my most favorite version of this song EVA. Even though its from a movie that ruined one of my top three favorite TV shows.

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[11] Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

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‘I did not know people your age still read books,’ Penumbra says. He raises an eyebrow. ‘I was under the impression the read everything on their mobile phones.’

Clay Jannon is a young man of the Google age who, after losing his job marketing the start-up NewBagel, gets a job working the overnight shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. There, a significant part of his job is to keep track of all the people who come into the shop – what they look like, what they buy (or borrow!), and what their mental state is. Soon, noticing an number of oddities about the job, the shop, and the clientele, and with the help of a tech-savvy roommate, rich best friend, and computer-genius quasi-girlfriend, he discovers a secret code buried deep within the books of the store – as well as a loyal cult dedicated to unraveling the code. Soon, Clay and his friends are harnessing the full power of Google, the expertise of librarians, and 15th century letter punches, to unravel the secrets of eternity. It’s an ancient tale spurred by the full reaches of contemporary technological power.

The shelves were packed close together, and it felts like I was standing at the border of a forest – not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvania forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.

One of the more stand-out things about this novel is the really beautiful and philosophical nature of technology. Not only is Google the most used search engine, but to hear Robin Sloan describe it, the people there are also pushing the boundaries of human existence. While I don’t believe I’m one of those “OHMIGOD FACEBOOK AND THE INTERWEBZ IS JUST THE BEST THANG EVA” people, but as this book points out, technology gives us the chance to question how we define and conceptualize what it means to be immortal, how we define time and space relative to factors like our instantaneous ability to share information over the internet, and what happens when classic and modern meet (ebooks? audiobooks? Goodreads and Librarything? Podcasts?)

To be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled with the actual plot of this book – weird book cults and rouge Google employees sounds good on the surface and is just…awkward on the page. I loved the scenes at Google (and naievely hope that they’re all true), and by far my favorite character is Kat Potente, the female Google goddess who, while expectedly pixie-like and psuedo-individualistic, is still totally adorable. All in all, the ideas in this book were way more exciting than the plot or process of reading the book itself.

Remember this: A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Rating: Okay

PS (because I’m me and I can’t kind of talk about philosophy – or do a post in general ever – without my favorite philosoraptor EVER):

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As Giddy As a Drunken Man

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I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo! – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Okay, so my family living room doesn’t look exactly like the one above – there are fewer corsets, fewer fiddles, and way more movies with Chevy Chase on the TV. But, at least for me and my family, Christmas always feels like the Victorian, chestnut-roasting and fire-side sitting affairs of ye olde holidaye time. Or something.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe – The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

What I’m trying to say, really, is that Christmas is my favorite time of year. We do the same thing basically every year (have I ever told you that I’m, like, an OCD stickler for keeping to traditions?) and it’s lovely that my family’s and my in-law’s plans mesh up perfectly. It’s 5:00 pm church on Christmas Eve, followed by my mom’s famous Celebration Soup, which we literally only have on Christmas Eve every year. Then it’s hanging out and watching Christmas movies until we go to my in-law’s church for the midnight service. The next morning, it’s up early with my family for presents (my niece is still young enough that we get up early. EARLY. ridiculously early – kill someone without coffee early), the over to the in-laws to do afternoon presents and spend the day until Christmas day dinner. Then it’s back to my parent’s place, in-laws in tow, for wine and dessert and cookies and more wine. It’s lovely and it’s soul-recharging and I adore it.

Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse. – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Of course, it’s still Christmas. My sister and I fight about going to church on Christmas Eve. My husband and I get grumpy for having to get up even earlier to drive to my parent’s house for the aforementioned early. I resent when my sister takes a nap and I get stuck helping clean up from Christmas morning coffee cake, and my grandpa just wants to watch golf. ALL. DAY. Golf. Do you watch golf? It’s one step below the Ken Burn’s documentary on sod. Seriously. But it’s like all this is just as much a part of Christmas. That, without all the bitching and bickering and yawns and gallons of coffee (not to mention daily “alone time” moments for all), it just wouldn’t be the same Christmas.

This year has been truly amazing, full of blessings and wonderful moments (getting married, Mark getting one amazing job followed by another, even more amazing one, moving back closer to the people I love, starting this blog and beginning to explore myself as a reader in a way I haven’t since my first few years of college). I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings – good and bad, because I’m starting to believe that maybe it takes on to really see and cherish the other.

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Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. – Norman Vincent Peale

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[10] “Funeral Blues”

524417Written by W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues” is one of my absolute favorites by the poet.

He was my North, my South, my East and West/ My working week and my Sunday rest/ My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;/ I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

This sad and demonstrative poem originally contained far more political pomp-and-circumstance, leading it to be read far more as a kind of mourning for the death of a state official. However, with the edits present in the version of the poem linked above (the predominantly published version after 1936), it reads far more romantically, and has some definite homosexual underpinnings, although this feeling may just originate from the fact that Auden was a male and this poem speaks of a male subject as the love object.

The first stanza is basically composed of prime directives, orders of things to be halted after the death of the “He” (“stop all the clocks”; “silence the pianos”). These kind of mundane details  convey a kind of practical sorrow, of the immediacy of pain that refuses to be delayed or ignored. After that, however, we move into requests that are the complete and direct opposite of practical requests. The poem and poet reach for a level of sorrow that stretches to the far expanses of the universe (“the stars are not wanted now; put out every one,/ pack up the moon and dismantle the sun”). The reason I love this poem, however, is because the narrator of the poem invites commands others to join him in his pain. It’s consuming him, as well as the reader, and it’s hard to walk away and shake that sadness from your mind, not without time separate from it.

Rating: OMFGZ!

It’s a powerful poem, and any fans of the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral will most likely recognize the following scene. It’s a really heartfelt reading of the poem by a homosexual character speaking at the funeral of his lover. It’ll make you do one of these:

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[09] Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

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For what is curiosity if not intellectual temptation? And what progress is there without curiosity? On the other hand, can you call such a profound weakness a gift, or is it a design flaw? Is it temptation itself at fault for man’s woes, or is it simply the lack of judgement in response to temptation? In other words, who is to blame? Mankind, or a bad designer?

Lamb follows Christ (called Joshua, or Josh) and his best friend Levi-called-Biff from childhood (when they first meet Mary “Maggie” Magdalene0 through Joshua’s crucifixion. Covering both the later events covered in the Gospels, the book describes Josh and Biff’s adventures East to search for the three Wise Men – whom Josh believes will teach him how to be the Messiah. From the Wise Men, Josh learns about the Great Spark (that the power of the universe is in and around all of us – something Josh ends up calling the Holy Ghost) and sees a caste system at work in India that is so abhorrent to him that he vows to make sure all who ask to be allowed in his future kingdom will be allowed in – including sluts and Romans. After returning to Bethlehem and following the events of the Gospels, Biff and Maggie watch their best friend tortured and sacrificed. Learning it was Judas who was responsible, Biff runs off after after him and kills him, shortly after which he kills himself. We learn all this because Josh, from Heaven, has decreed that Biff be brought back to life in order to write his gospel and finally have the chance at life with the woman he loves – Maggie Magdalene. Maggie will always love Josh more, but then again, so will Biff.

This book was not only a quick read, it was FREAKING HILARIOUS and surprisingly thought provoking and mostly just really really filthy. Of course, as the afterword reminds us, there is no real knowing what happened to Josh during the 30 years the Bible doesn’t cover, but this explanation seems as good as any to cover how Josh became the man the world knows, as well as some of the strong similarities between the teachings of Jesus and the philosophies of many of the Eastern religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism). It was also a favorite part of mine to see Josh’s really early years of life, when he was being a petulant brat and causing accidental miracles and giving Joseph shit about not really being his father, so why should he listen. There is something so touchingly real about a teen Josh wondering if he’s really the Messiah, and if he is, how to be that way and what to do. It turns like, like, literally larger than life story into something relate-able and understandable – in a way other mediums fail to do.

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Turning this story into essentially a bromance between Josh and Biff not only made me laugh my ass off, but it helped to provide insight into a “character” that is difficult to consider as a character. Perhaps one of the unintentional effects this book had was making me think that, rather than being a spin on the “facts” of Christianity, it’s really a spin of a story: we don’t really have many ‘facts’ about Christ, and what we have in the Bible is still a collection of stories – Josh himself teaches in stories and parables throughout the Bible.

‘Compassion is the same way,’ said Joshua. ‘That’s what the yeti knew. He loved constantly, instantly, spontaneously, without thought or words. That’s what he taught me. Love is not something you think about, it is a state in which you dwell. That was his gift.’

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[08] Rocket Boys

Growing up, I was never a science kid. Anyone who knows me knows this isn’t at all surprising, as I am even less of a math person – give me English, history, or the social sciences any day of the week! But reading Rocketboys was the chance to see what it would be like to indeed be a science kid, the kind of person who can look at pages full of equations, diagrams, and numbers and see not chaos, but something supremely beautiful, bordering on magic. That’s the kind of experience Homer Hickam Jr. tells in Rocket Boys, a book that was turned in to the AH-MAZING Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky. Homer and his friend Odell, Roy Lee, Quentin, and Sherman were all teenagers in 1950’s West Virginia, living in a small mining town named Coalwood, deep in the valleys of the Appalachian mountains. Fascinated by space and the launch of Sputnik satellite, Homer and his friend learn everything they can about building rockets – through trial and error, self-teaching from textbooks, and the support of a speculative and unsure, but ultimately loyal, community. The boys end up winning the National Science Fair, and many of them go on to careers involving the space program.

This book made me interested in rockets and physics and chemistry in a way that no book has since I read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. Not only does Homer do a great job of breaking down the science and taking the reader through his thought process as he and the boys tried and failed and tried again. But more pervasive throughout the book is the feeling that Homer has of not belonging, of being a part of a community that just can’t understand why and how a boy like Homer Hickam is supposed to go to college and join the likes of Warner Vaun Braun in the space program. The feeling of being suffocated by the community and physical geography around you is made crystal clear, as Homer describes time and time again how the mountains that surround his village, at once beautiful and comforting, are also a physical manifestation of his feelings of being trapped in a place that he desperately wants to escape.

By the end of the book, Homer comes to realize that it isn’t that he doesn’t belong in Coalwood – indeed, the people of his town made him who he was, that from them he learned resilience, hard work, and supreme loyalty. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the tension established between Homer, his father Homer Sr., his mother Elsie, and the Coalwood Mining Co. Homer’s father is unable to show any kind of sensitivity towards his younger son, who he can’t understand and has nothing in common with (as opposed to Homer’s older brother, Jim, a football star). Homer’s mother tries, and loves Homer, and hates the way his father treats him, but is ultimately the loyal wife. Homer Sr., however, is a company man, and will do any and everything the company asks. As the book progresses, we begin to see that there’s more to Homer Sr. than meets the eye, but we never quite come to a place of complete redemption where he is concerned.

None of these thoughts are coherent. I blame lack of sleep for that – the semester just finished up, but I promised myself I’d get this up before I go hibernate take a nap. Long story short: West Virginia sounds beautiful; coal mining would suck; space is cool, but I still am really bad at science; this is one of the few books that also made an awesome movie.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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Conscious Reading

young-woman-reading-by-a-window_delphin-enjolras-2012 was kind of an interesting reading year for me. I started the year in a very different place, both physically (still living in my college town) and emotionally (working a job I hated, which didn’t last long, after which I was unemployed and out of school for the first time in 23 years – it put me in kind of a weird head place, to say the least). Add to this the fact that I read quite a few HUGE books this year – mostly from The Song of Ice and Fire series, which I may or may not ever get around to writing about – and I felt like I have read more books in the past few months than I did in the first 2/3 of the year combined. I’m usually far more of the school of steady if slow reading, but I got slightly out of that habit this year, and I think I’m going to enjoy going in to the New Year on such a high point, reading wise.

I do think, however, that I want to do a bit of pushing myself in the coming up year. Not in the way I usually do, which is to make these crazy lofty plans and then follow them like a dog for, on average, like three months before just saying “fuck it” and crawling in to a hole for the next month or so, after which I come to a kind of ambivalent equilibrium which will no doubt last me until the following January. As you can imagine, it’s a cycle I’m well familiar with by now.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week (I have been feeling pretty sick and not going in to work much, which leaves me ample time for said thinking) about this blog, and about how much I’m enjoying the experience. I’m making the concerted effort to make visiting, writing, and participating in my blog, and it’s making a far less stressful experience than the ones I’ve had in the past (failed blogs that have dragged on far beyond their prime). But I also think that, in order to keep things new and fresh, I’ve got to add some slightly more rigid structure to my “go my own way” reading scheme. A blog I adore, Maple & a Quill, recently discussed a similar feeling in this post, and I really, REALLY like the list she came up with in order to read 52 books in 52 weeks in a variety of categories:

  • 2 African-American works
  • 2 books on writing
  • 2 classic poetry collections/epic poems
  • 2 contemporary books
  • 1 Depression-era America
  • 1 essay collection/long essay
  • 2 Greek classics
  • 2 rereads
  • 2 Romantic era/Regency
  • 3 American Civil War era
  • 3 classic translated
  • 2 feminist/women’s studies
  • 3 history non-fiction
  • 3 lit studies
  • 2 pre-1800s books
  • 1 pre-WWI America (post Civil War)
  • 2 WWI era
  • 3 WWII era
  • 1 Vietnam era
  • 3 biographies
  • 3 children’s books
  • 3 Victorian novels
  • 4 Shakespeare plays

I like the idea of keeping the categories general enough that I’ll still be able to read “what I want”, meaning that there are ample options to fulfill each category, and I love that the categories are diverse enough that there are several categories in which, I’m ashamed to admit it, I haven’t read books in in quite a while (primarily Shakespeare plays. And feminist works. And biographies. And anything poetry, espeically epic. Damn – more than I thought).

So, in order to keep it loose and fun, that’s the only “challenge” I’m committing myself to right now. I know  very well that that may change between here and January 1st. Or here and tomorrow.  But for now, I’m  going to revel in my non-challenge-joining feelings of self accomplishment. Enjoy the GIF:

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[07] The Fault in Our Stars

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‘All salvation is temporary,’ Augustus shot back. ‘I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour that buys them a year. No one’s going to buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.’

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace are both 17 years old, and both have cancer. They meet one another one week at a support group, and begin the process of changing each others lives. Augustus uses his Make a Wish to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, to get questions about her favorite book answered. The author is a lout, drunk and cruel, and the two leave the authors house without any answers. Their trip isn’t wasted, however: they fall in love, have sex, and Gus tells Hazel he’s no longer in remission.

Once they’re back in the States, Gus quickly goes from bad to worse, and he has to leave Hazel behind. But not before offering Hazel’s favorite author a little redemption, and not without leaving Hazel a eulogy worthy of both her and Augustus.

You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.

The kids in this book are all smart. Like, smart talkers in the vein of The Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek. And while normally this annoys me to no end, I felt here it bordered on just possible enough that I enjoyed it – I found it endearing without being too obnoxious. However, although I really did love the characters, and felt myself being sucked in to the story, I’m not sure how I feel about the novel now that I’m on the other side of it. Of course it was romantic and sad and made me ‘le sigh’ – its a book about terns with cancer who fall in love. Its a well-written Lurlene McDaniels book. I also appreciated and loved the sense of humorous that John Green managed to keep alive (pun intended, obvs) throughout the book:

‘I don’t think you’re dying,’ I said. ‘I think you’ve just got a touch of cancer.’

But, for a book that spends a great deal of time and glib attention talking about stereotypical cancer books that heroize their children heroes, the book does essentially just that. Hazel and Augustus are ultimately the brave, kind, cancer-fighting people they mock; even if they do curse and have sex and make mean jokes about each other. The book makes some interesting differentiations between Hazel, who has always been a terminal patient, and Augustus, who went in to and came out of remission – how that difference effects their views, their hopes, and especially Augustus’s ceaseless obsession with feeling that he has to do something to make his life and death mean something.

Rating: Okay, with some Hell Yeah! bits

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[06] Tumbleweeds

Oh, Tumbleweeds. There you are, just out there, floating in the wind (cue wonky sad guitar music). Which is basically just my horrible metaphor for saying that this book took off STRONG, gathered a brambly bunch of steam, and then just rolled across the prairie kind of…meh.

GOODREADS ACTIVATE:

Recently orphaned, eleven-year-old Cathy Benson feels she has been dropped into a cultural and intellectual wasteland when she is forced to move from her academically privileged life in California to the small town of Kersey in the Texas Panhandle where the sport of football reigns supreme. She is quickly taken under the unlikely wings of up-and-coming gridiron stars and classmates John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall, orphans like herself, with whom she forms a friendship and eventual love triangle that will determine the course of the rest of their lives. Taking the three friends through their growing up years until their high school graduations when several tragic events uproot and break them apart, the novel expands to follow their careers and futures until they reunite in Kersey at forty years of age.

In the pursuit of complete mostly honest revelation, I mostly picked up this book because the book jacket talked about a super-smart girl who moved to Texas to grow up around some potentially not so smart individuals. And also because the book jacket is really, REALLY pretty. So, maybe not the best reasons to read a book, but it works. And for the first, like, sixty pages, I wasn’t at all regretting whatever reasons had led me to it.

Cathy Benson is a rather remarkable heroine, not because she silently bears her burdens a la Hester Prynne, but because she gets mad and pissed and ends up stuck in a life she didn’t intend – but she gets herself out of it. She makes due, she gets by, she isn’t the eternal victor. But she’s strong. And she’s determined. And, at the end of the book, she’s relieved of the confusion of her life and is rewarded for her experiences. Her two male counterparts are nice but obvious foils for one another (John is sweet and nice and caring, while TD is all tortured and dark and feels less-than: think Cory v. Sean, which is basically how I pictured them in my mind the whole time), and the tensions between the three are developed rather realistically, which was nice pacing to see take place in a book that’s essentially just one long love-triangle.

Keeping up with Dark Places, this is one of those books that kept me guessing as to the next plot point for a good majority of the book. The first big “GAH!” moment takes place about 1/4 of the way through the book (ask my husband – I literally, like, slammed the book shut and said “ohmygodohmygodohmygod” for, like, five straight minutes. And yes, I know you can’t really ask him. Just take my word for it, mmmkay) and from there the whole book operates on this level of “OH CHARACTERS! IF YOU ONLY KNEW THE TRUTH!” Which, of course, they never do, which really just amped up the engaging reading tension. It literally kept me turning the pages as quickly as my eyes could physically read them. But then I was just over it. Tumbleweeds is one of those books that just keeps throwing big “GAH” moments at you until they basically lose their effect – kind of like getting shot with one bullet, which hurts like a bitch, versus a million bullets, which really you probably won’t even feel after the first few.

That’s basically how I felt the last few 100 pages of the book or so. And I was just done. The book wrapped up in  way that felt satisfactory, the characters got what I felt like were their “just rewards”, and there were certain mysteries that were solved in a way that made me go “hmmmm”, but seriously? By the time I closed the book, I was wishing that the final 1/4 of the book had been about 100 pages and 3 big twists shorter. Over it.

Rating: Okay
PS: That GIF doesn’t really make sense. I know that. I don’t care. It’s my favorite GIF of all time.

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my thoughts are stars

I just finished The Fault in our Stars.

Later there will be much to say. Now there is just much to think about. And tears. Ugly tears.

Thank you, John Green. For this little book of big things. For this star crossed love story. For writing a funny book about cancer.

I just…its beautiful. Saying more than that would expose the picture to light before its ready.

So now? Sleep. And memories. And more ugly tears.

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