Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cure for Brain Rot

My brain is rotting.

Though I have been doing better since I got my energy back, I've still needed considerably more resting time lately, and that has led to considerably more TV viewing time. I have been reading- about a book a week- but given the amount of time on my hands, that's no large accomplishment. I've spent most of my rest time with my good friend Netflix and his generous supply of TV series. And this has led to the inevitable slow brain rot, and forces the question that I've been wrestling with for the past year or so: is technology, specifically the ability to stream media from phones, tablets and computers, making me dumber?

I acquired an iPhone last winter, and an iPad this Christmas. Both have increased my productivity and become much more necessary to my daily routines than my previous phones or other technology. But I have also become increasingly spoiled by continual access to media. One of my favorite features of the iPhone is its speaker, allowing me to broadcast music without headphones. It's great for iTunes and internet radio, but I've recently started listening to audiobooks and podcasts this way, and that has become far more addicting than my favorite Pandora station. I used to spend my morning routine in relative silence, which helped me gather my thoughts for the day and created a sense of peace. Now that I'm addicted, I have an audiobook playing even while I'm in the shower. I often try to force myself to turn it off, or put on some classical music instead, but the pull of the voice coming from my speaker is too strong. This addiction may not be making me stupider- in fact, the podcasts are educational, and of course the audiobook is good literature- but it is intruding on my personal brain-processing time. 

The next step was discovering the Netflix app. We already had the live streaming subscription for our Xbox, and used it occasionally at home, but being able to take Netflix with me wherever I go, even if it is 3G-dependent, knocked down some huge walls for me. For one, I stopped reading at work. Now on the days that I take solo lunch breaks- a practice I enjoy, after being surrounded by kids all day- I watch Netflix while I eat. I used to keep a copy of The Fountainhead in my desk drawer for quick lunchtime reading. I haven't touched that book in over a year. I also use Netflix at home on a regular basis, especially since getting my iPad, which has a temptingly large screen. There is no doubt that my television consumption has increased greatly, especially during the "slow" seasons for network television. In fact, I'm not even aware of what's on our DVR right now, but I can tell you most of the television series that are available in Netflix. I set up my iPad in the kitchen and watch it while washing the dishes, eating snacks, and making lunches for the next day. I bring it with me to bed and watch it during my usual reading time. No wonder the pile of books on my bedside table has gotten larger lately. This addiction definitely IS making me stupider. I am spending less time on reading and thinking in general. With all of this media streaming, I'm keeping myself from thinking my own thoughts and doing more meaningful activities. 

I am not happy with this turn of events, and I want to make some changes. I probably won't be able to convince my husband to cancel our Netflix subscription, and after all, it can be useful. (I've noticed a lot of children's television shows on there too, for our future offspring.) But I need to guard against further brain lethargy. I've resolved that after I'm finished with my current Netflix series addiction (I have three episodes left) I will restrict myself to watching it only while on the elliptical, or if I have planned television time to spend. Otherwise, I'm getting back to the books. I just ordered a bunch on my Kindle (a piece of technology that is NOT rotting my brain) and checked a few out from the library. I may even set a book goal for the spring. I've also resolved to use my iPhone for more music, less audiobook/podcast, at least in the mornings.

The pull of technology is strong, but the risk of giving into it completely is a big one. Do we want to lose our brains to mindless television, and prevent ourselves from thinking our own thoughts 24/7? I know I don't, but I can't deny it's a big temptation. 

How do you handle the technology overload?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

Since this weekend has been all about the hype surrounding The Hunger Games premiere, I thought I'd re-post my original assessment of the series, posted back in September. I still stand by my opinion that while the first two books were works of creative genius, Suzanne Collins seriously phoned it in on the third. It was almost like Mockingjay was written by a completely different person, one without any experience in character or plot development.

Nevertheless, I do applaud Ms. Colins for her success on The Hunger Games and the movie adaptation that has, apparently, done better on its first weekend at the box office than any of the Twilight movies. (Source: Yahoo! movies: Yahoo! Movies Hunger Games) I'm looking forward to seeing it myself. This may actually be a go-to-the-theater movie, a rare occurrence for me.

Here is my original post, from back in September (you can also find it at Words From the Sowul: A Book That Let Me Down, Part 2):

My second disappointing book experience this summer was...

Okay, it wasn't actually The Hunger Games, book 1. It wasn't even Catching Fire, book 2. It was really...

Let me start from the beginning. I had heard a bit of buzz about this series, and found that they were on sale as a three-book bundle in the Kindle store. So I went ahead and made my purchase. I have to say, I really loved The Hunger Games. In fact, it's a good thing that the Kindle allows me to read one-handed, because I pretty much walked around holding it in front of my face for two days. For those of you who haven't read the series, it's based on a futuristic world called Panem, where twelve districts (formerly thirteen) serve a corrupt and gluttonous Capitol. Each year, for the enjoyment of the Capitol, the districts are required to send one girl and one boy, chosen by lottery (in a scene very similar to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery") to the Hunger Games. They are released into an arena where they have only two objectives: to survive the environment, and to be the last one alive.

The main character, Katniss, is exactly the kind of main character a science fiction series needs: unique yet relatable, strong on her own yet emotionally connected to others. The world of pain and emotional torture Suzanne Collins devises is incredibly imaginative and yet easy to envision. I spent most of the book honestly wondering if Katniss was going to survive the arena, even though I knew there were two more books to come.

I was slightly less in love with Catching Fire, book 2, but I did spend the following two days in the same nose-to-Kindle position.

Where Suzanne Collins lost and disappointed me was in Mockingjay, the final book of the series. For those of you who are interested in reading the series (and I do still recommend this, because of the first two) I won't give out any spoilers. But I will say that Katniss became a completely different character to me: whiny, weak and frustrating. All of her former strength seems to disappear in the face of very similar adversities. Collins seems to be showing us through Katniss's actions and choices that the girl is now insane, but she doesn't think like an insane person. Moreover, the plot is not nearly as clearly laid out as in the first two books. The story jumps around a lot, and Katniss, who is the point-of-view character, misses some crucial action, namely a certain rescue scene that is a major plot point. There are some scenes that just need to be described, not glossed over.

As always, if you disagree, feel free to comment. If you haven't read them, I still think the first two are well worth the read, and the third as well, if only because a series should be finished. Even if "Return of the Jedi" was terrible, people would still watch it to see what happened to Han and Luke and Leia. (Of course, it is not terrible. It is, in fact, the best of the three. All Hail George Lucas.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Pop of White

On Monday night I dashed through one of the quickest books I've ever read: Betty White's latest memoir.

It took me about 40 minutes, cover to cover. That's 258 pages. And no, I wasn't speed-reading. The chapters are really short, there are lots of pictures and filler pages, and the margins are wide. It was also just an easy read. Nothing earth-shattering in any sense of the word: no real drama, no absorbing humor. I really like Betty White, and I thought her writer's voice was pleasant. But I'm wondering if I should read some of her earlier memoirs; maybe she'd just run out of her A-material by the time she wrote this one. 

I did particularly enjoy her warm references to her late husband and her intense gratitude for her inclusion in three hit television shows in which the cast felt like a family (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland). I'm pretty sure that the common denominator in all three shows, Betty herself, had much to do with their success both as shows and as wonderful workplaces, but her humility prevents any hint of that thought in her writing. If you love animals, you'll also enjoy her many chapters about her animal friends and the charities she works with, as well as a cute anecdote about the stuffed animal room in her house.

So if you want a quick read, go for it!

Meanwhile, here are some books I'm looking forward to reading in the near future:

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Rescue by Anita Shreve
In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Fairy Tale Quartet

It hurts me a little to admit this, but I am kind of a snob about certain kinds of books. One genre that I almost never read is romance fiction. I mean, sure, when I was a teenager, I might have grabbed a few bodice-rippers off the romance shelf at the bookstore, looking for one of "those" scenes. But in general, I steer clear of any book that has a man and woman on the cover locked in a passionate embrace. That's not to judge anyone who does read those books. I just... well, I'm a snob. It comes with the territory when you have English teachers as parents.

But there are differences between bodice-rippers and general romantic fiction, as I've learned recently. Since I'm completely in the dark about this side of fiction, I picked up an audiobook written by Nora Roberts, without knowing that she's an eminent romance novelist. The book was Vision in White, which is Book 1 of the Bride Quartet series. I listened to the book, and while I found it a bit lacking in the literary sense, I did like the characters and the setting. So I moved on to Book 2, Bed of Roses; Book 3, Savor the Moment; and Book 4, Happy Ever After. 

It didn't take me long to discover that these are, in fact, romantic novels. If the writing style and heavy emphasis on relationships and sex hadn't given it away in Book 1, I certainly would have been tipped off upon discovering that the title of Book 2 was Bed of Roses. But despite my book snobbery, and despite, as I mentioned, some literary deficiencies, I did enjoy the books enough to keep reading the series. Here's a little synopsis:

Mackenzie, Emma, Laurel and Parker have been friends since childhood, when they used to play "Wedding Day" together in the backyard. When they grow up and choose their careers, they find that all of their chosen paths can be merged together to form one business, a wedding planning affair called Vows. Mac is the genius, slightly off-beat photographer; Emma, the romantic florist; Laurel, the sarcastic but fun baker; and Parker, the savvy, smart businesswoman. Parker, who along with her lawyer brother Delaney, comes from a long line of wealth and influence, commandeers her family estate as the base for the business. The four women live and work together on the estate, creating weddings that are both works of art and well-oiled machines for the women of Greenwich, CT.

The four novels follow each of the four women, though the point of view is still somewhat universal, not always specific to the main character of the book. They also follow through a calendar year. Mac's story, in the first book, is told from January to about March; Emma's in the spring; Laurel's in the summer; and Parker's in the fall-winter, ending on January 1 of the following year. Each woman, during her few months, manages to fall in love, sometimes with a new man, sometimes with a man already in her life, and also manages to get engaged to that man within that time period. At the close of the year, all four women are madly in love with seemingly perfect relationships; all are engaged, except Mac, who is already married; and the Vows business is more thriving than ever, as all four are exceptionally talented at their work.

Happy Ever After, indeed! This is a fairy tale, only with four princesses instead of the usual one.

And that is the main thing that is both right and wrong with this series: it's completely implausible. The story lines are way too neatly wrapped up. There are some relationship twists and turns along the way, to be sure, but the reader is always confident that each woman will wind up with the man she loves, and that a ring will appear at the end of the book. I would have found the story more realistic if the time periods and book formats weren't all exactly the same. People do not fall in love and get engaged within three months. Okay, maybe the odd-out couple does, but not four women within the same year who are best friends and live and work together.

On the other hand, its implausibility is exactly what makes the story fun to read. As children, we all read and enjoyed fairy tales. Why not have them for adults, too? We're not going to consider it a great work of fiction, but no one will deny that having four beautiful, fun, accomplished princesses find their happily-ever-afters isn't a bit gratifying for the rest of us and our much less romantic lives.

My only true complaint is that while the princesses are well-written, strong women, their princes leave a lot to be desired. They're described as great men, but their dialogue is flat and uninspired. They say things like "Damn right" a lot and talk about baseball and beer. The best-written male character is actually Mac's love interest, an English professor named Carter who is both socially and physically a bit awkward. The other three are perfect specimens of male stereotype.

The dialogue between the women also leaves something to be desired. Roberts uses dialogue over-much, to describe things that people in the story should already know. For example, Laurel might describe her cake, or Emma her flowers, in full detail to a person who is standing right there and can see for herself what it looks like. Putting some of that dialogue into thought or scene description would make it less cringe-worthy, at least for me.

But despite that, it is fun to spend time with these four women and their wedding business, and if you're a girly-girl, you'll enjoy the descriptions of flowers, wedding cakes and bridal moments peppered throughout the books. And even if you're not, don't be a snob like me. Try out a new genre, if only to see what you've been missing. Even if it doesn't blow you away, you'll likely get something new and enjoyable from the experience.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Great "Expectations"?

After finding out I was pregnant, one of the first things I did was make sure I got a copy of the so-called pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You're Expecting. 

Now in its fourth edition, it has sold over 16 million copies, at least according to the flag on the cover. It also has spawned several related books, including What to Expect Before You're Expecting, Eating Well When You're Expecting, and What to Expect the First Year. It was written primarily by Heidi Murkoff, a layperson who was frustrated by the lack of pregnancy books available that addressed all of her concerns. She conceived the book and delivered the proposal hours before delivering her first child, and has now developed that proposal into an empire of books, websites and even smartphone apps. According to USA Today, What to Expect is read by 93% of all women who read a pregnancy book. Wow.

However, this book is not a complete success story. It has been criticized for being alarmist, judgmental, and needlessly detailed. Some of these criticisms are gentle; some border on vitriolic. Case in point: this review from the Huffington Post, recently sent to me by my sister-in-law:

Huffington Post What to Expect

Umm... yikes! This reviewer not only despises the book, but actually accuses Heidi Murkoff of spawning a generation of paranoid parents, who have gone forth and multiplied in the world and the World Wide Web, to pass their own alarmist judgement onto the next generation of innocent new mothers.

To this reviewer, and to all new mothers out there reading this book, I say, "Lighten up!"

Yes, being newly pregnant is scary. From the day the double pink lines appear on the stick, your life changes completely. The early worries about the health of your body and your growing fetus grow into bigger worries and burdens. Can we afford the extra expense? Should we find out if its a boy or a girl? I don't know how to diaper! I don't know how to bathe, swaddle or breastfeed! And wait, we're supposed to pick a name that this child will carry around for the rest of his/her life? AHHH!

But mothers- and book reviewers- we all must relax. Pregnancy, childbirth and raising children has been going on since Eve, and I'm pretty sure she didn't have a copy of What to Expect hidden away in the Garden of Eden. We live in an age of over-information, over-stimulation, and more knowledge than we can process, mentally or emotionally. Recognizing this is the first step to understanding that all information needs to be taken with a grain of salt and an ounce of perspective. In fact, in contrast to the Huffington Post reviewer, I actually think Murkoff does a good job of keeping that perspective. For every concerned question ("I'm 12 weeks pregnant and shocked to find I'd already gained 13 pounds!") there's an equal but opposite question ("I'm in my second trimester and haven't gained any weight at all"). Yes, there are some very scary chapters. I suggest not reading the one on miscarriages unless you're at serious risk. But the book is informative and helpful. It's up to the reader to choose which things to be concerned about and which to pass over, and to keep a healthy emotional distance.

As a first time pregnant woman, am I worried about things I've never had to worry about before? Yes. But am I going to let it take over my life? No. And frankly, if you're going to let a book do that to you, you're giving it way too much power. (I'm talking to you, Huffington Post reviewer.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lost and Found: A Book Miracle

Sometime during the midst of my pregnancy-related hiatus, I had a small gift conferred on me, via a friend, by the Goddess of Books and Reading. (Is there such a god/goddess? If not, there should be.) There's a long-established used bookstore in my town called the Bookworm that's quite popular among the local literati. I often bring in a load of books that I no longer read frequently enough to warrant space on my shelves, and rack up a bunch of credit that I usually put toward paperback beach reads before vacation every summer. A few years ago, I brought in some books from my young adult collection. I still read a lot of young adult books- The Pushcart War and The Westing Game are two of my favorites- but there were some that I decided to let go in the name of spring cleaning.

Well, imagine my surprise several weeks ago when a friend- the director of my husband's Big Band, actually- sent my husband home with a copy of this book:

I opened the inside cover, and here's what it said:

For those of you who don't know, Markowitz is my maiden name, and this is NOT my current handwriting. I wrote that when I was about ten or eleven years old.

Let me add something more:

1. I NEVER write my name in books. EVER. I didn't then, and I don't now. I've always felt like books belong to the reading universe, not to me specifically, and should be leant and borrowed freely. Thus, no personal ownership, and certainly no name labels.

2. I also never wrote cute sayings in books. Except for this one time. You see, "If this book should ever roam, box its ears and send it home" is a direct quote from the book itself. In Daddy Long Legs, the main character, Judy, finds an old book (I think it may have been Treasure Island) with that inscription in it, and the name "Jervis Pendleton," who is her roommate's uncle and a future romantic interest. I'm guessing here, because I was only ten, but I think I liked the book so much that I thought it would honor the author by putting that inscription inside the book cover.

Of course, when I sold it to the Bookworm, I had completely forgotten my name was in it. I never expected to have this or any other book returned to me, ever. But it was a delightful surprise. So thanks, Goddess of Books and Reading (I really need to find another title for her) and thanks, Dave, for passing the book along! It was a tiny little miracle during a time when a lot of things felt uncertain in my life.

And in case you were wondering, it is an excellent book. Jean Webster, the author, was educated at Vassar College, another local institution, in the early 1900s. The book consists solely of letters, a device that has become popular in YA literature again lately, except with emails, texts, tweets and Facebook updates. The letters are a correspondence between Judy and her mysterious benefactor, a trustee at the orphanage she lived in for her entire childhood, who decided to anonymously sponsor her to go to college. Judy's voice is spirited, lighthearted and intelligent, and it's fun to read along with her as she experiences a new world as a college coed with a great appreciation for the freedoms she did not have at the orphanage.

To close, a question: How many of you write your name in your books?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Girls in White Dresses

This book was not what I expected.

Here's an excerpt from the book jacket:

"Isabella, Mary and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with."

When I read that, I assumed the book would be a typical light, fluffy tale about young women, possibly envious over their friends' marriages, searching for and eventually finding love. But from the opening chapter, it became obvious that this isn't your typical book about girls and weddings. It is much, much darker than that. There are breakups and failed friendships, miscarriages and relocations, and lots of crying and drinking. The women, far from being desperate for marriage, aren't even sure if they like the men they're with half the time. One of the characters, Isabella, spends a weekend with her boyfriend Harrison at his friends' house, and seems to fluctuate between loving and hating him with every new activity the four attempt. Lauren dates a man who gives her a goldfish on their second date, and mid-relationship, claims he never wants to live with anyone, ever. Mary kisses an engaged man at work without realizing he's engaged, and later winds up marrying a man with a mother named Button. And there's their friend Kristi, who has six bridal showers and dozens of other little tiny bridal "events," all of which she expects her bridesmaids to attend, forcing them to see how shallow she is and ultimately end their friendships with her.

I can't say I actually enjoyed any of the characters. In fact, reading this book broke one of my rules: I usually stop reading if I don't care about the outcome. (See my post The Turn Off.) But I kept reading this one, for two reasons. One, I liked the format. Every chapter was a little vignette about one of the characters. Mary, Lauren and Isabella were the recurring ones, but there were also stories from their friends' points of view. Two, I liked the style. Jennifer Close writes in blunt, plain language and in the present tense, which is my personal favorite writing tense. It feels fresher and closer to the reader than past tense. 

When I finished the book, I wasn't really sure how I felt or what I thought about it, but it stayed on my mind for a few days. And that, I think, is the mark of a great writer. 

Also, during the days in which the book was sitting on my bedside table, I frequently had the song "My Favorite Things" stuck in my head. It took me a depressingly long time to figure out why.

"Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes..."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can Rowling Recapture the Magic?

I recently came across this news item in the Huffington Post that stirred intense excitement, mixed with some trepidation, into the cauldron of my heart:

New JK Rowling Book

Obviously, I'm excited to hear that the author of my favorite book series, a writer I respect intensely, and the lead invitee to my fantasy celebrity dinner party, is publishing another book. Moreover, this book, unlike Harry Potter, is meant to be geared towards adults. It's a smart move- after all, Rowling's original fan base has grown up, and after several years of being spoiled by Harry, we're all still seeking novels and series that we will love as much and that will whet our taste for reading as thoroughly. But unfortunately, both for Rowling and for us, our expectations for her next opus will higher than Grawp's eye. Is there any way Rowling can match them?

My biggest question is whether Rowling will be able to change her style enough to make it into a true adult, not young adult, novel. In all seven Harry Potter books, even as the situations got darker and the plot twists more remarkable, she kept to fairly plain language. Her adjectives were straightforward: Cho Chang was "pretty." Hermione's hair was "bushy." Harry's capture of the snitch was "quick." These adjectives stuck to each character like Dobby to his socks, never varying throughout the series. This is an excellent device for a young adult novel, but adults have more sophisticated taste for description. I'm curious to see if Rowling can adapt to this new approach, especially after writing so many thousands of words in the young adult style.

Whether or not she succeeds, there is no doubt that this novel will sell out faster than you can say, "Chocolate frog cards." If you're curious about the content, keep your eye on Rowling's official website. She's notoriously secretive about all of her work, but you can bet that as soon as she has an announcement to make, it will be here.

JK Rowling Official Site

And as soon as it's released, you can bet I'll be saying, "Accio book!"

(I really had to restrain myself from interjecting more HP references into this post. You might say that I Imperious-ed myself into submission.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Game Change

A few weekends ago, I was in the middle of recovering from a bad virus. I'd been stuck at home, feeling miserable, for several days. I'd watched hours and hours of Gossip Girl on Netflix, and my brain was feeling sluggish and spongey. I couldn't take another minute in front of the idiot box. That was my frame of mind when I wandered over to my bookshelf and picked up a copy of this book, which my grandfather had given me a few weeks before:

As I started to read, I found my brain re-animating itself. I quickly became absorbed in the fascinating story of the 2008 presidential election. The book was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, two journalists who had worked closely with all the major candidates' camps and interviewed hundreds of people working on the inside. In short, they knew all the dirt there was to know about the Obama, Clinton, Edwards and McCain campaigns. 

What I loved most about this book was how easy a read it was. I'm interested in politics, but extensive reading on the subject generally depresses me. I'm not even sure I've ever read a full book on the subject before- biographies of political figures, yes, but the world of politics and campaigning, no. However, this book reads like a novel; the authors are simply telling stories. Stories such as:

1. Michelle Obama's extreme reluctance to have her husband enter the race
2. The difficult, often verbally abusive relationship that Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, maintained with the rest of her staff
3. The "silent support" given to Barack Obama early in the race for the Democratic nomination by many extremely powerful members of the party. They wanted Obama to win, but would not come out in public support of his nomination for fear of angering the Clintons, so they settled for giving Obama back-door advice and encouragement. 
4. How reluctant Clinton was to "get her hands dirty" by personally making phone calls to potential large-scale donors and endorsors; when weighed against Obama's ease on the phone with those same potential investors, it cost her millions of dollars in donations and some key endorsements
5. The struggles within the Clinton camp about whether to "play the race card" against Obama, and how to keep Bill Clinton from putting his foot in his mouth again, and again...
6. The unprecedented grassroots campaign run by the Obama camp, which collected millions of small-scale donations from online sources and allowed Obama to decline public campaign funds
7. The true character of Elizabeth Edwards, a completely opposite picture from the way she was painted in the press
8. John McCain's unwillingness to prepare for debates, figure out a clear message, or even go out and campaign in some places
9. The appalling lack of vetting before the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate, due to her selection only five days before the announcement. McCain had only met her once, and many people in the party and the campaign had never heard of her. 
10. How unglued Palin became when prepping for interviews and debates; the huge stacks of index cards she and her staffers made to help her study; the way she would sit on the floor and refuse to communicate when she was over-stressed
11. The impact of Tina Fey's Palin parody on Palin's image
12. How concerned Palin was about her popularity- not in the whole United States, just in Alaska
13. How the collapse of the economy favored Obama's resurgence, and how even President Bush was astonished at McCain's lack of thought and planning for the economic talks held during his "suspension of campaign" in October. McCain made a huge show of canceling his campaign appearances, most notably on the Letterman show, but made no contribution whatsoever to the meetings in Washington, letting Obama take center stage without a fight.
14. The occasional tension between Obama and his vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden
15. How Obama offered Hillary Clinton the secretary of state job without approval from his advisors, and how she firmly turned him down before caving into the pressure to accept

These are just a few of the sensational stories that the book includes, and they don't even brush the surface of the day-to-day facts about each campaign, which may be less salacious, but no less interesting. The book is organized into three parts. Part I is the race for the Democratic nomination between Obama, Clinton and marginally, Edwards; Part II is McCain's battle for the Republican nomination; and Part III is the story of the conventions to the presidential election and beyond. 

The 2008 election was riveting and exciting throughout, and I know I spent a lot more time watching the news and reading the political blogs that year. But this book showed me that I didn't know a tenth of what really went on behind the scenes. It's a fascinating story, and I encourage anyone who is remotely interested in politics- or even just human nature- to give it a read. 

Next Sunday, March 10th, a movie based on the book will be premiering at 9:00 on HBO. It has already stirred up a lot of controversy among the politicians and press portrayed!
Additional details can be found here:

As we continue the race for 2012, take this opportunity to see how we got here four years ago!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sowul, Renewing

I'm back!

I know it's been a very long time since my last post- about two months- so I feel I need to explain my absence. For that explanation, and in keeping with the theme of this blog, let me show you what I've been reading for the past two months.

Surprise! I am currently 15 weeks- a little over 3 months- pregnant. While this was a very happy miracle, I didn't have the easiest first trimester, due to continual "morning" sickness and some extra complications from a preexisting medical condition. I was also constantly getting sick from all the germs floating around school this time of year. So for the past few months, I haven't been able to do much more than go to work. If I wasn't working, I was either sleeping or lying on the couch, watching TV. Unfortunately, both reading and blogging seemed out of my reach at the time. I didn't feel I had the mental or creative energy. 

I did learn something important about myself- I'm never going to be the "tortured artist" type. My creativity level goes right down when I'm not feeling well physically or mentally! Apparently, my brand of writing needs a certain level of well-being to thrive.

I am happy to say that now that I'm in my second trimester, I feel much more healthy and energetic. I'm ready to resume some of my normal activities again, like exercising, cooking, and (of course) reading, writing and blogging. 

Though I haven't been posting, this blog has not been absent from my thoughts. I did manage to read a number of good books once my brain went numb from all the television, and I'm looking forward to posting about them. I'd also signed up in the fall for an online class, "How to Blog," which ran for the month of February, and while it was a little more basic than I'd hoped, I did glean some good tips. 

I'm gratified to see that in my absence, my audience has not completely disappeared. Many of my previous posts have gotten page views in the last two months. Thank you to those of you who've stuck around and continued to check the page. I'm very touched by your loyalty and promise to provide you with new material from now on. 

If you do know someone, personally or digitally, who used to read this blog but gave up on it during my absence, please pass this post along to let them know of my plans to return and renew. I have some great posts lined up for this week and would hate for anyone to miss them! 

To close, I just want to say thank you to my husband, who did a fantastic job of caring for me and picking up the slack while I was having a rough time. Much better times are ahead!

See you all tomorrow- It's so good to be back!