what’s 2015 all about?

New year always brings new commitment, right? I’d like to re-dedicate myself to this space, sharing my thoughts about what I’m reading and seeing. Every new year we all try to be a little bit better, right?

Two things I hope to accomplish in 2015:
Walk/run 2,015 miles this year. That’s an average of 5.5 miles per day … Which I’m already behind on, but if I do a little extra each day this week, I should be back on track.

Complete 100 books … This definitely includes audiobooks! I’ve never tracked more than 75 books in a year, but it’s worth a shot, right? One thing I’m going to try to do towards this goal is to discard books I’m not enjoying and focus on what does interest me. I’d also like to focus on reading books I already own.

Those are my big goals for now. Here’s to a successful 2015! Happy walking and reading!!

winter’s tale

No, not the Shakespeare play … the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. If you read that book and enjoyed, I want to know! I would love for someone to explain to me what’s to like about it.

Reading all 783 pages was a slog. Every time I opened the book I’d like “it’s not so bad, I’m almost there!” And then I’d read a couple sentences and heavy-sigh.

So if some kind soul out there could explain to me what’s to like, I’d love to know!

I want to talk about World War Z

Until recently I thought very little about zombies. I thought about them only in passing, as in, “zombie movies are stupid” or “I am slightly freaked out by the concept of zombies, so I will not watch Shaun of the Dead.” I saw a play a couple of year ago that examined the repercussions of a zombie outbreak closely through two married couples as one spouse per couple became more and more consumed by the infection. It creeped me out. And while I sat through the entire play and it gave me the shivers, I never really thought through the logical implications of a widespread, unstoppable virus that reanimates the dead.

And then last week I started listening to the audiobook of World War Z. I was hooked immediately. Granted, I’d heard a glowing recommendation from Books on the NIghtstand for the audiobook, but it seemed like the perfect way for me to try out a new genre. The audiobook of 11/22/63 got me to start trying books by Stephen King, so why not give World War Z a shot? After finishing the book today, I skimmed reviews on goodreads and I noticed a number of complaints that there was no narrative arc and little character development. I didn’t experience any of those issues while listening to the audiobook. I was fascinated.

Brooks shifts perspectives, bringing together accounts from across the globe from survivors; civilians, military, men, women, even a “feral” adult who was a young child at the time of the outbreak. Through these shifting perspectives Brooks explores the political, economic and environmental implications of this widespread outbreak. I found the stories so compelling, in part, because it seemed so real. The great panic, the cover-ups, the American isolationism, the botched military efforts … This isn’t really a book about zombies, it’s about how people deal with fear and the unknown.

I can’t speak for the reading experience of the novel, but if the premise of the book sounds interesting, try the audio! The unbridged version makes use of a number of famous actors (both Carl and Rob Reiner!), which helps differentiate the voices. While sometimes I found it hard to distinguish between the survivors on occasion, I think that helped the overall “oral history.” So many of the stories are the same, but different. Clean, easy to follow character arcs have no place here. The tension lies in how the survivors managed, what their stories reveal about the experiences and how they feel about their place in the war. Hearing from a number of military contingents throughout the US and across the world revealed that everyone thinks their mission is the most difficult to some degree. Everyone is frustrated by lack of information or resources.

I don’t know anyone else who read this book, so if you have and you have something to say about it; I want to know! What stuck out to you? Which parts felt the most real? Can you even imagine what you would do in the event of a zombie outbreak?

One section that best embodied the conflict, in my opinion, was the part about full-on war. In that passage one of the American military men interviewed describes how fighting zombies was the first time in human history that we were actually fighting a full-on war because zombies don’t get tired, they don’t need food and you can’t cut their power supply. They just keep coming.

Ah! I loved this book and I’m so glad I tried it out. What do you think?

notes to boys is spot on

Pamela Ribon’s most recent book, Notes to Boys, captures the essential awkwardness, angst and yearning of adolescence. Through her own actual notes to boys from her youth, she explores that inability to fit in and the struggle when one is “not a girl, but not yet a woman.” Seriously, if you ever felt like you were just a tiny bit on the outside looking in as a teenager, this book will resonate with you.

Ribon doesn’t just provide her letters from her teenage years, but comments on them, throwing the experiences into perspective. Everyone looks back on high school and cringes, right? By baring her soul, Ribon allows us to cringe along with her and delight in how far we’ve come. While I related to most of Ribon’s pure angst, what rang the most true was her comment about high school reunions;

“the anti-reunion. There to remind you how far you’ve come from the time in your life when had no idea how to be who you were supposed to be.”

One thousand times YES. If aol away messages were still a thing, this would have a permanent place in my queue. Those four years drag interminably and for most of us the only way out is through.

war novels

It took me longer than I’d hoped to finish The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, but I finally and I’ve managed to read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (I mention the author because another novel by the same name, but different writer was also published around the same time last year and I wouldn’t want to confuse anyone!)

P.S. Duffy’s novel (Cartographer) is set during the First World War while Atkinson’s highly unusual novel follows a woman born in 1910 who is reborn over and over. As the main character lives longer, she lives through World War Two. Both novels address the stresses of war on both people on the front lines and those at home who must face the lost loved ones, diminished resources and fear. Because of the uncommon premise of Atkinson’s novel, the war isn’t always at the forefront, but I appreciated glimpsing a British perspective on the war. Additionally, each reborn life leads the main character down a slightly different path — from living through the war in different countries to different levels of knowledge about what is coming. Though Atkinson introduces the possibility that her heroine will find a way to stop the imminent destruction of much of Europe, forever altering our present day, she clearly renders the every day of a war torn country — the fear of bombs, the starvation and lack of resources and the occasional illicit liaison. In contrast, Duffy alternates between the family at home (in this case, Canadian) and those on the front. What Duffy brings sharply into focus is the uncertainty at home — what is really happening on the front, from action to conditions. Duffy also highlights the complexity of a soldier’s feelings towards the fight on the front, like the desire to stay with one’s unit, regardless of one’s own fitness to fight and the reticence to speak of the horrors of seen on the battlefield.

I haven’t read too many novels set during war times, at least not recently, but I appreciated the broadened perspective both of these novels brought me. In particular, both novels made me realize how resolutely American my learned history of both world wars is. Perhaps that is a subject I should add to my reading list for the year.

sketchbook 2014

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One of the pieces we design annually in my department is a holiday/new year sketchbook. We search for a recycled or sustainable material for the cover, design a cover and ensure the interior pages are properly updated (new sketch on the first page, short text explaining the cover material and updating the calendar on the last page.) Updating the calendars is the thing that makes me the most nervous … we inherently trust printed calendars (or at least I do) and I don’t want to be mess up anyone’s schedule.

This year we selected wood veneers as the cover. Wood veneers are made from the refuse wood when trees are harvested. Less than 10% of the wood is leftover once a tree is divided up for various purposes. Rather than discard the excess material, the manufacturer creates wood veneers that printers can use. We selected birch for the cover of our sketchbooks. The pattern printed on the cover is based on a facade design that ultimately was not used. The line work is copper foil stamping and the date is blind embossed. The cover feels wintery and fresh to me. Hope everyone who received one enjoys it. Happy 2014!