Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2013

In 2013 I read 30 books, beating my goal of 25. I'm pretty impressed with myself because the first couple months of the year were almost completely absorbed by moving across the country and settling into a new job.

One major difference from past years is that at Thanksgiving I decided to make the leap and buy a Kindle, which I said I'd never do. I was one of those insufferable people who said things like "I love the feel of turning pages of an actual book." One of my favorite things to do is to wander around one of the few bookstores that still exist and discover new books I've never heard of. I can still do that, and then download the Kindle version later. It's also just so convenient - no more last second book buying decisions at the airport when I'm about to board a long flight with nothing to read. And I can actually read new releases instead of waiting for the paperback to come out. I always carry a book in my purse and an 800 page hardback doesn't exactly travel well.

This year I read some new (to me) authors. Gillian Flynn was by far my favorite - I knocked out all three of hers early on in the year, and I'd like her to hurry up and publish a new one soon. All three of her books made my top 10 list.

I've also read some stuff by authors I'm already quite familiar with. Bill Bryson is the snarkiest asshole you'd ever hope to meet, which means we have a lot in common.

There were some disappointments. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (one of the only stand-up comedians I can tolerate and not only because his last name is almost the same as mine) is basically a boring treaty on why having tons of children is awesome and totally NOT contributing to overpopulation. I also read some trash that I knew was trash going in. The Sweet Life, which catches us up on the lives of twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley University fame, was just a flaming bag of shit. This is an example of a time when the anonymity of an e-reader would have been nice.

So here's my list of the 10 best books I read this year, in no particular order:

1. Gone Girl
2. Sharp Objects
3. Dark Places - All by Gillian Flynn, and all starring messed up but strong female lead characters. The plots are creepy at best and downright gruesome at worst. I loved just about everything, even though the end of Gone Girl was kind of a head-scratcher.

4. The Paris Wife - A story about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife. Don't read this if you're bothered by fictional accounts of real people.

5. Live From New York - This is the oral history of Saturday Night Live, as told by Lorne Michaels, network executives, cast members and writers. Some things are glossed over a bit in my opinion, but when you've got nearly 40 years to cover, that's bound to happen. I preferred last year's book by these two authors about ESPN, These Guys Have All the Fun.

6. A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson writes about his hike along (almost) the entire Appalachian trail. Having grown up very close to the part of the trail that runs through Southcentral Pennsylvania, I felt close to this story. My favorite Bryson book, in case you're wondering, is The Lost Continent - Travels in Small-Town America.

7. The Financial Lives of Poets - This is the book that Jonathan Tropper should have written this year, not One Last Thing Before I Go, which goes on my list of 2013 disappointments. I put Financial Lives on my list but not Beautiful Ruins, also by Jess Walter, but I enjoyed that one as well.

8. The Marriage Plot - This one got some bad reviews from friends whose opinions I trust, but I'm glad I read it anyway. Some call this book pretentious, but I thought it was a well-written coming-of-age story about three college students in the 80's.

9. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - A book I spontaneously picked up at Target one day after hearing lots of good buzz. It's a fast, fun, quirky story told in a unique format of emails, government documents and letters, which some readers may find distracting, but I liked.

10. The Husband's Secret - The pink flowers on the cover say "chick lit" but the book is well-written and smart. So what if females are the main characters? It's a book even a man can love. It takes place in Australia which is a nice change up from all of the New York and London settings in similar books.

What did you read this year? I'd love to hear about what you liked and what you hated. Let's face it, scathing reviews are more fun to read than good ones.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections and Realizations Upon the Eve of My 30th Birthday

...Conveniently numbered at 30.

1. I never made it onto any "30 Under 30" lists. It's ok - maybe I can con someone into including me on a "40 Under 40" list sometime before 2022.

2. 81% of women have been married by age 30 (and 16% of them have also been divorced). I'm in no hurry, though I definitely want to get married eventually, when the time is right. (Hear that, Mom? I promise you'll get to see a wedding!)

3. Fact: kids are not part of my plan and never have been. I promised my parents grandcats, and I've followed through on that.

4. The Baltimore Ravens are the closest thing I have to religion. M&T Bank Stadium is my place of worship. Ray Lewis is my pastor. The Ravens Fight Songs (both of them) are my scripture.

5. Birthday cake? Wow, thanks! I prefer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, just in case you were wondering.

6. If there's any reference to being "old" or "over the hill" on the cake, I will never speak to you again.

7. As I hit 30, I finally feel as though I've uncovered my true self - or at least finally allowed that person to make all the decisions. In past years I allowed myself to be stepped on, hurt, ignored, or made to feel guilty. No more. Here I am, and if you don't like me, let me show you to the door.

8. I should quit lying to myself and cancel my gym membership already.

9. Someday I'll own a cool car that doesn't drive like a go-kart. That day is not today.

10. Air travel is not glamorous, and I'd like to know who keeps perpetuating that myth. Xanax makes it merely tolerable.

11. Things I concede I'm too old for:
  •    The camouflage mini skirt I finally gave to Goodwill 
  •    Nasty alcoholic concoctions that you buy as a joke (Cement Mixer, 7 Seas, Brain Hemorrhage, etc.) 
  •    Roommates 

12. Things I will never be too old for:
  •    Singing along to NSync songs in the car 
  •    Flintstones Vitamins 
  •    Settling disputes with Rock Paper Scissors 

13. It's easy to let friendships suffer while using Facebook, email and text messaging as a crutch. I want to make a real effort to connect with friends, like, in person.

14. New Year's resolutions are a bad idea since they're rarely accomplished.

15. My body is starting to give up on me. Time to schedule that double hip replacement!

16. The most impressive piece of artwork I will ever own is likely a framed print of "A Friend In Need," more commonly known as "Dogs Playing Poker." I love it and will not apologize for its tackiness.

17. Life is too short to buy cheap toilet paper. Spend a few extra dollars for the good stuff.

18. Ignorance is not bliss (though it seems to be working for Rick Santorum). I strive to be well-read, well-traveled, culturally aware and informed about politics.

19. I should never wear red. It's a hideous color on me.

20. One person can affect positive social change. Even if it's small, it's significant.

21. How did I ever live without an iPhone? It seems absolutely barbaric in hindsight.

22. I'd like to avoid the cliche "the big three-oh" in reference to my own birthday and all my friends who are also hitting the milestone in the near future. Also? I'm not calling it the "first anniversary of my 29th birthday."

23. There's no shame in making mistakes. Shitty jobs, dumb ex-boyfriends, that time I thought it would be cool to join an adult basketball now occurs to me these weren't the best decisions at the time, but like any scientific experiment, it's difficult to determine a winning formula without recording a few losers first.

24. Many of my core personal philosophies are taken from Calvin & Hobbes, a comic strip that ended nearly 20 years ago. 

25. I've never been on a cruise. Who wants to go on a cruise with me?

26. Who do I need to impress with my reading selections? No one, that's who. I read only what interests me, and sometimes that includes some real fluffy junk. If I hate a book, it's ok to toss it aside because I'm not getting graded on reading assignments anymore.

27. Cocoa Pebbles > Cocoa Krispies

28. The phrase "that's what I'm talking about!" needs to be struck from everyone's vocabulary.

29. The secret to surviving cold winters? Fleece-lined tights.

30. I don't have a 30 year, 15 year, or 5 year plan. I don't even know what my life will be like when I turn 31. This isn't instability, it's unpredictability - and it's exciting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In Which I Draw a Shaky Comparison Between Apartment Hunting and Dating

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I’m moving. For the people who know me, this is nothing new (and no, I won’t ask you to help me move this time). In this most recent process I noticed something…apartment hunting is a lot like dating.

I spent hours trolling Craigslist and Padmapper for the perfect place that had all the things on my checklist, much like I used to hit up or OK Cupid looking for a guy who fit all the characteristics which I believed to be “my type.” Some of those ads are misleading at best and downright lying in the worst case. (In real estate speak, “charming” means “tiny,” just like a guy who claims to be six feet tall is actually barely 5’10” while wearing hiking boots.)

In the past month I’ve responded to nearly 40 ads for apartments. There were so many I had to create an Excel spreadsheet to keep them straight. Some never wrote back, for whatever reason, and you try not to take it personally. Some gave a curt “it’s already been rented” response (a.k.a. I already have a girlfriend) or said something to the tune of “absolutely no pets allowed (you crazy cat lady).” One even stood me up for our scheduled appointment, and then ignored all calls.

And then there were those that I went on the first date with. I lost count, but I think there were approximately 10 in the span of 3 weeks. The expectations were high for each, but I rejected most immediately for reasons both superficial and substantial – too small, unsafe neighborhood, a washer and dryer in the creepy basement where I’m pretty sure Saw was filmed, drop ceilings with fluorescent lighting panels, all-around ugly with no redeeming qualities.

Pictures don’t always tell the whole story either. It’s cause for suspicion when there are four pictures of the kitchen but none of the bedroom. Turns out it’s because the carpet is stained and there’s not a single closet in there. Why is that guy wearing sunglasses and a hat in every picture? That’s to hide the early signs of male pattern baldness and his beady rat eyes.

A couple places I liked and wanted to further the relationship with, but I was the one who got rejected. In one case, someone else swooped in and put in a rental application while I patiently waited for the second visit that the landlord promised. Then there was the house where the landlord decided to let her son live there instead of renting it out…ok, on second thought, that particular case is nothing like any dating scenario I’ve experienced, and I hope no one ever does.

My boyfriend, who will be living with me, has been a big help through this excruciating process. He’s been the one to ask a lot of the tough questions of the landlords. Like, “can you install a deadbolt on the front door,” “it looks like there’s some water damage here - what are you going to do about that?” and “is the rental price negotiable?” Much like a best friend will interrogate and ruthlessly judge your prospective significant other upon their first meeting.

On the other hand, he also tried to convince me to consider places outside of my rigid geographic boundaries. What about Federal Hill? Well, that place looks nice and has everything on my checklist except for the fact that it’s in FEDERAL HILL and I hate everything about that popped collar douchebag infested neighborhood. That would be like a friend setting me up on a blind date with a guy who is tall, has all his hair, and doesn’t smoke, but upon inspection of his iPod I discover he has purchased the entire Nickelback discography.

It only gets harder as you get older. In my early 20’s, I didn’t have a lot of requirements when it came to apartments or boyfriends. Is there a refrigerator? Is there a place to plug in my hair straightener? Can I have a cat? Check, check and check. Where do I sign? Hey, this guy has a pulse and most of his teeth! Let's get married!

As I stare down the creaky old age of 30, the conditions have to be just right, which means the process takes a lot longer than it used to. Last week I set an appointment at a house on a quiet street in the right neighborhood mere minutes after the ad went up on Craigslist. I liked what I saw and immediately put in an application, as the policy was first come, first served. That application was approved and I’m going to be moving to my fifth new place in seven years at the end of October. Here’s hoping for a long and happy relationship!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy "Don't Be Such a Loser" Week

If you're taking this week off work, you will likely spend a decent amount of time watching TV. Christmas commercials have been phased out, and now advertisers have lined up commercials created to prey on your deepest insecurities as the New Year approaches. In the days leading up to January 1, most people spend time wallowing in self-loathing as they think about the ways in which they fail as humans and dream up unrealistic New Year's Resolutions that will be abandoned within 3 weeks.

This week is what I like to call advertising's "Don't Be Such a Loser" Week. Instead of fast-forwarding through commercials on your DVR, pay attention to the subliminal messages you're being delivered:

Resolution: Lose Weight
What you need to buy to succeed: Weight loss systems like Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem, gym memberships, at-home exercise programs like Zumba and Hip Hop Abs
Confidence-crushing message: Hey fattie, maybe you should have thought twice before stuffing all those Christmas cookies down your gullet!

Resolution: Get a Better Job
What you need to buy to succeed: a certificate from a trade school, paid "premium" memberships to online job search boards like Monster and CareerBuilder
Confidence-crushing message: You're wasting your potential by staying in your soul-sucking current job that doesn't pay you nearly enough money!

Resolution: Get Organized
What you need to buy to succeed: one of everything at the Container Store
Confidence-crushing message: OMG your whole life is a complete mess.

Resolution: Fall in Love
What you need to buy to succeed: paid memberships to online dating sites like eHarmony and
Confidence-crushing message: Your mother is so disappointed in you because you're still not married and producing grandchildren for her. And isn't it lonely to have no one but your cat to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve? You may as well pack it up and join a nunnery.

Resolution: Get Out of Debt
What you need to buy to succeed: Credit consolidation services, "free" credit score reporting websites that aren't actually free,
Confidence-crushing message: Isn't it a terrible burden to carry so much debt? Instead of paying off the money you owe the honorable way, learn some shady methods to do it...even though those "easy" methods will likely do more damage than good.

Resolutions may actually work for those people who choose one or two goals and create realistic plans that consist of not just quick fix money wasters, but complete lifestyle changes. But I'm an eternal cynic and see that companies are simply trying to fool people into throwing money at their problems. Fight the urge! If you still feel strongly about making a change in your life, then don't wait til January 1 to do it just because society tells you to.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Ugly Shoes

So there's an apartment on the first floor of my building that always has shoes sitting outside the door. I guess whoever lives there has some kind of phobia about bringing germs in on their shoes. Usually it's a pair of men's black shoes, or maybe some flip flops, but today I saw a pair of big red Crocs fit for a clown.

It crossed my mind for a split second that I should take the shoes and leave a note that says "You'll thank me for this" and then dump the shoes in a garbage can on the way out...but that would be really mean. Even though I would love nothing more than to sweep the country of its ugly tourist shoe habit.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Death by a Delightfully Fresh Scent

While moving some things around in my apartment yesterday, I found a tiny, tiny baby mouse. He looked at me. I looked at him. We had a stare-down that lasted about 5 minutes because neither of us knew what to do. So I stomped my foot at him, hoping he'd run back wherever he came from. Then I tried nudging him with a dining room chair. He refused to move, and I sure wasn't going to try to trap him or do anything that necessitated me touching him.

So then I tried to find a water bottle to squirt him with to get him moving. I don't have a water bottle, so I grabbed a bottle of Febreeze instead. I squirted him a couple times, and he didn't move. I squirted again, and he stood still. At this point, I was going to be late for a baby shower so I put down the Febreeze and left.

When I got home 6 hours later, I found the dead baby mouse in the middle of my living room. I feel kinda bad for poisoning a baby mouse with odor neutralizer, but at the same time I don't want mice anywhere near me. At least he died with a pleasant smell.