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Andrew Conte's Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Rebirth arrived in my house as part of a hockey-themed gift from [ profile] lakeeffectgirl. I read the first two chapters, and then it lingered by the couch waiting for me to get back to it. One afternoon, I decided I was going to read at least one more chapter. A couple of hours later, I'd finished the whole thing. (It helps that chapter three is about Sidney Crosby, and you know I'm fond of him.)

Parts of the book cover players - Sid, Geno, Marian Hossa - and Conte gives time to Ray Shero changing the culture of the team to one that does its best to provide comforts to both players and their families, but the central story is about how the Penguins got Consol Energy Center. The path to a new arena is mostly politics and financing, and yet Conte makes it absolutely riveting. I knew that the Penguins stayed in Pittsburgh and got a new arena, although I didn't know all the details, and I was still in suspense for the last couple of chapters wondering what would happen.

Of course, the questionable thing about my reading this book is that I was reading it the day before the last Pens-Flyers game and I was worried that I might be overcome with Pens feelings and unable to properly cheer for the Flyers. But then, at the very end of the book, the Flyers appeared. The book ends with the first game played at Consol, which was a game against the Flyers:

Moments later, Lemieux and Bettman walked across a red carpet toward center ice. Burkle was supposed to be with them, but his plane had been delayed. They dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between Crosby and Mike Richards, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, the first opponents to play in the arena.


As the game started, Crosby won the first faceoff, passing the puck to defenseman Brooks Orpik. Fans had little to cheer about after that, with the home team missing opportunities and the Flyers' Danny Briere scoring the Consol Energy Center's first goal at 2:51 in the second period. The Flyers went on to win 3 to 2.

On a not about the content note, I really like the physical aspects of the book. It has a dust jacket with pretty color photos, but the under the dust jacket is a book with the binding, paper, smell, and questionable book design of an academic work.

If you're interested in the Penguins, hockey history, Pennsylvania politics, or accounts of political deal making, I highly recommend the book.
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I've had The New Bottoming Book and The New Topping Book, both by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, on my to-read list for years, and sometime in the recent past, I bought both of them, and I finally got around to reading them.

I need to put a disclaimer on this review so you know where I'm coming from: I have an interest in kink - I read these partly out of personal interest and partly for writing research - but I'm not part of the kink community and I've never actually done anything kinky.

I read The New Bottoming Book first, and I sped through it. If you know anything about my interest in kink, that shouldn't be surprising. The New Topping Book took longer to read, and I found myself more and more annoyed with Easton and Hardy as the book went on. I'm not sure if that's because I was reading it with a more analytical eye or if that's because their biases really are more obvious in The New Topping Book than in The New Bottoming Book.

I think there's a lot of good information in both books, and there's a lot of opportunity for you to notice things you might like or dislike. (For example, they mention earplugs at one point, and I had a very visceral hell no reaction to that, which isn't something I ever would have thought of as a limit.) The books are complementary - each book covers different things, and each perspective would be useful to people whose interest lies with the other side of things - and I would suggest reading both if you're going to read one. The books are also very much from Easton and Hardy's perspective, and, despite their disclaimers that different people do kink differently, seem to be about their idea of what kink is. Some examples:

Complaints )

It's also worth noting that the books are several years old - The New Bottoming Book was published in 2001 and The New Topping Book in 2003 - and that means some of their information, particularly concerning the internet, is quite out of date just because the world has changed so much in the intervening years. I found myself laughing at their explanation of websites: "These sites resemble magazines in many ways; they may feature pictures, text, and sometimes even video and audio, and they allow you to move from one page to another as your interests dictate."

Like I said, there is good information in both these books, but I'm not sure I'm glad I read them. I've occasionally thought about seeking out the local kink community, but by the time I finished The New Topping Book, I thought that if Easton and Hardy really are representative of the kink community at large, then finding that community is the last thing I want to do.
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For the holidays last year, [ profile] siryn99 sent me a copy of Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue. It was an interesting sounding book, and the best thing about it was that it meant she'd been paying attention to my talking about wanting to read more lesbian fiction.

Donoghue's premise is that there is a long history of desire between women in literature. She divides the book into six parts, each focusing on a different kind of story:

Travesties: Cross-dressing (whether by a woman or a man) causes the "accident" of same-sex desire.

Inseparables: Two passionate friends defy the forces trying to part them.

Rivals: A man and a woman compete for a woman's heart.

Monsters: A wicked woman tries to seduce and destroy an innocent one.

Detection: The discovery of a crime turns out to be the discovery of same-sex desire.

Out: A woman's life is changed by the realization that she loves her own sex.
Even though the book is arranged around themes and each theme encompasses literature from varying eras, the book also goes somewhat chronologically: "Travesties" starts with a story from Ovid (around 8 C.E.) and "Out" ends with Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet from 1998.

I read the whole book in three sittings, because it is completely engrossing. I've only read a couple of the pieces of literature Donoghue talks about, but she gives enough of a plot overview for each story that you can follow her history/argument even without the literary background. If you do want to read any of them, her selected bibliography includes lists of primary and secondary sources as well as a suggested further reading list: "I warmly recommend the following titles (given in the order of composition), because they are available and highly enjoyable."

Donoghue has enough examples over time that I definitely bought her argument for the long history of desire between women in literature. The part I'm a little iffy on is the way she treats endings. (I will freely admit that I have a bias here; story endings are very important to me.) Sure, there's a history, but in most cases, the women don't end up together at the end. For many of those stories, Donoghue's argument is that the return to the heterosexual norm doesn't logically fit with the rest of the story. For example, the convenient brother in female bridegroom stories (a woman dresses up as a man and another woman falls in love with her) doesn't quite make sense, because the woman fell in love with personality, not looks. That's an interesting argument, and points toward a long history of compulsory heterosexuality, but I thought it also glosses over the fact that there's a long history of thwarted desire between women in literature.

My mother wants to borrow the book next, but if anyone else wants to read it after her, let me know.
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A friend quoted Pema Chodron at me and said Chodron was one of her favorite writers on Buddhism. I'd never heard of her, which led to two things: my mother bought me a copy of the issue of Shambhala Sun with Chodron on the cover, and I checked out The Pema Chodron Collection from the library. The book is actually three of Chodron's books in one volume. I skimmed through bits of the first two and they didn't catch my interest, but the third, When Things Fall Apart, did. I did enjoy it, and I think reading some of it on Thanksgiving helped me enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I also kept thinking about something Gretchen Rubin often says: that she often learns more from one person's idiosyncratic story than from more general advice.
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When I returned Happier at Home to the library, I skimmed the shelf for its call number and picked up The Wishing Year: A House, A Man, My Soul - A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire by Noelle Oxenhandler. I love these kinds of one-year books, and the author bio on the back flap let me know she's a practicing Buddhist, which also appealed to me.

I sat down to read The Wishing Year and couldn't put it down. Oxenhandler starts with two wishes - for a house and for spiritual healing - and adds a third - a man - after a month. Oxenhandler talks throughout the book about her skepticism about wishing, both in that she doesn't know if it will work and in that she is a "wish snob" and has reservations about wishing for material things. Over the course of the year, she learns to wish more readily, which is one of the things that makes it so engrossing. I think the weakest of her wishes is for a man. I'd be interested in knowing if the relationship lasted; she spends a lot of time talking about ways in which he isn't such a great fit for her, particularly with his relationship to money.

If you like year-long memoirs or find wishing interesting, I highly recommend The Wishing Year.
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Those of you who've been around for a while know that I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog, and you may further know that I wasn't as excited about her first book on the subject, also titled The Happiness Project. She now has a second book on the topic, Happier at Home, which I was able to request from my local library much faster than I thought was going to be possible.

I liked Happier at Home much more than The Happiness Project. (Keep in mind that I read the first book two years ago, so it is possible this is a change in me more than a change in her.) I thought it was a more useful, concrete book. One of my problems with the first book was that I felt I didn't learn anything I didn't already know from the blog, where I didn't feel that way about this book. I've been reading her blog all the way through the time she implemented the happiness project for Happier at Home, and somehow that worked better for me with this book. I recognized things in the book that I'd read posts about on the blog, but instead of finding that repetitive, I got a thrill out of it, a little like I was an insider. I do still wonder how it would read to people who haven't read the blog - there were places where I could practically see the hyperlinks to previous posts that would explain her basic philosophy (and she did just post about her abstainers vs. moderators distinction in response to a lot of book tour questions about it), and there are patterns to how she talks about things that are familiar if you read the blog - but I think it would still be a useful book even if you aren't a regular reader.

As the title implies, the focus of the book is on being happier at home. As she usually does, Gretchen (side note: proper book review etiquette would involve using her last name, but I feel like I know her too well from her blog for that) breaks her project into several thematic areas that she then focuses on one at a time on a month by month basis. She then has four or five specific resolutions within each thematic area. I found the resolutions for this book much more concrete - and, in many cases, more widely applicable - than the ones in the previous book. I finished the first chapter on "Possessions" and put the book down to reorganize a nearly-unusable cabinet. I also finally threw away my broken umbrella (although I haven't yet replaced it).

There are three of her specific resolutions that I've been thinking about. The first is "give warm greetings and farewells." This is one of those resolutions that doesn't seem particularly applicable to me: I live alone, and I have people over about once every other month. However, we already have mandatory warm greetings at work: when someone comes into the main office area, everyone has to say hello to them before they can fully enter the room, and they have to go around and greet everyone individually (originally, the options were handshake, fist bump, or high five, but it's devolved to everyone just exchanging fist bumps). It really has made a difference in the attitude of our office, and it's exactly what Gretchen talks about: taking a moment out of whatever you're doing to greet someone. I've been trying to do the same thing when people leave for the day, although I have to admit I'm terrible about looking up from what I'm typing to say hello or goodbye.

The second resolution I've been thinking about is "make the positive argument." The idea behind it is what she calls "argumentative reasoning": "When a person takes a position, he or she looks for evidence to support it and then stops, satisfied." Gretchen specifically talks about this in the frame of her marriage: whenever she's upset and tempted to think something like, "Jamie isn't very thoughtful," she then thinks to herself, "Jamie is very thoughtful," and can come up with a lot of evidence to support that argument as well. "Make the positive argument" fits right in with a lot of similar advice about seeing the positive side of things, but it's one of those things that you hear over and over again, and then you're in the right place and it's said in just the right way that it sticks with you.

The third of her resolutions that I find interesting is "enter into the interests of others (within reason)." The basic idea is to take an interest in other people's interests by listening or asking questions: "entering into other people's interests is an important way to show respect and affection." I've been thinking about this in two ways. One is that I've been trying to be a better listener over the past few years, and paying attention to and asking questions about other people's interests (which is not something I'm good at, particularly the asking questions part) is one way to do that. The other is that one of my coworkers, who I don't know very well at all, brought in a craft project for us when it was her turn to lead our weekly teambuilding activity. One of the things I really liked about it as an activity was that she told us that the craft supplies she'd brought for us to use were just a small portion of the supplies she has, and that she has an entire room at home devoted to crafting. Crafting is very much not my kind of thing, but knowing that about her and seeing what kinds of things she brought in for us to use has made me feel much warmer toward her.

I would definitely recommend Happier at Home, and if you read it without having read the blog, I would especially love to know what you think about it. I liked it so much that I might actually buy myself a copy to have on hand for reference when it comes out in paperback.
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It took me six weeks and two vacations to read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. That has nothing to do with quality. Instead, it has only to do with the length of the book. It's 648 pages long, and even though the last hundred pages are endnotes, bibliography, and index, it still makes for a lot of dense reading.

Homans takes us from the beginnings of ballet in the seventeenth-century French court all the way through the death of Balanchine in the 1980s, with an epilogue on the state of ballet today. At every stage, she intertwines the history of ballet with the history of the places she takes us, which gives the reader a context for what happens in the ballet world. Although it's a relatively dense history, it's not a hard read. The style is not quite conversational, but it doesn't read like dry academic prose, either. It reads much like a lecture. There is an audiobook version; if audiobooks are your thing, I imagine this one would read well.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book, and don't have much to say about it, but it does have three flaws worth talking about. First, it doesn't have a ballet glossary. There aren't really that many ballet terms in the book, but there were a few I didn't know, and a glossary would have been helpful. Secondly, her grasp of sexual identity terms is pretty shaky. She refers to someone as "homosexual (at times bisexual)" and says that someone else "was homosexual (although he also loved women and married one)." Unless she was relying on people's self-identification (which, given the time periods, I somewhat doubt), both of those sound like bisexual people. Thirdly, the book falls apart a little bit toward the end. Homans was herself a dancer trained at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, and she doesn't quite have the distance to talk about the more modern choreographers she covers. She also makes a lot of assumptions about the reader's knowledge of more modern ballet - one section begins with, "Everyone knows Jerome Robbins," and I didn't - where the book would have been stronger if she'd continued on with the assumption that the reader didn't know anything about ballet's history. The epilogue is a particular disaster. Homans bemoans the state of ballet today and doesn't have much hope for the future. The problem with this is that I wasn't sure if I could trust her judgment or if it was just a case of "things were so much better in my day." It's almost too bad the book was written two years ago; I'd be interested to see what she thinks about how the recent uptick in ballet-related TV shows (I watched three this summer) might affect the future of ballet.
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A few months ago, I got an envelope that had been mailed book rate. I assumed, of course, that it was something from PaperBackSwap, but was cheerfully surprised when I opened it to find that instead [ profile] lakeeffectgirl had gifted me with a copy of The Kid: A Season with Sidney Crosby and the New NHL by Shawna Richer. (Note: this is the second edition with an epilogue covering Sid's second season in the NHL; the first edition title was The Rookie.)

The book does precisely what it says: it covers Sid's first year in the NHL. It's somewhat useful as biography, but more useful, at least to the extremely new to hockey fangirl I was when I read it, as insight into how the NHL works. (It also led me to go read Wikipedia articles about both the rules of hockey and the labor dispute that led to the 2004-2005 lockout.)

The problems with it as a biography are twofold. First of all, Richer's original purpose in following Crosby around for a year was to write a series of articles for the Globe and Mail. I expect Richer cobbled together bits of that series into the book instead of starting over and writing the book from scratch. She has a tendency to repeat herself, and while the book as a whole is unfortunately underedited, there are a few patches that stand out as better writing, which I would guess are bits that were edited twice: once for the paper and once for the book. The second edition's epilogue only throws this into starker relief; it holds together as a coherent narrative, presumably because she wrote it all at once. The second problem with it as a biography is that by the second half of the book, Richer is trying really hard to make Sid interesting, which doesn't work for three reasons: Richer's writing isn't strong enough, Sid is too well trained in speaking to the media to let her get much more than his interview soundbites, and very few people, even if they are sports stars, are that interesting at age eighteen.

The shaky narrative structure and Richer's visible effort aren't the only problems with the book as a piece of writing. There's a lot of objectification that I found uncomfortable (one of the cringe-worthy lowlights is that she refers to Sid's "bee-stung lips" more than once). There is also Richer's tone, which is a specific sort of middle-aged heterosexual woman tone that had me drawing back from the book.

All of that makes it sound like I hated the book, which I didn't! As I said, it's a good look at how the NHL works, and there are some gems in it. I've been quoting the best bits on Tumblr (they lean heavily towards the end of the book, both because I didn't think to keep careful track of quotable things until I was halfway through and because the epilogue is the best writing in the book), and some of them are fascinating insights into Sid. If you're writing fic about him, this is probably a useful resource. If you're looking for excellent sports writing, you may want to try somewhere else.
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Anthony Lane is the reason I started reading The New Yorker. My parents subscribe, and I used to flip through to read the cartoons. But then there was the day when I was lying on the living room floor paging through an issue when I ran into a truly arresting black and white photo of a pair of women. I have a very vivid memory of this photo on the page and the magazine on the dark brown carpet of my parents' living room. The article with the photo was Anthony Lane's review of The Dreamlife of Angels. I had no interest in seeing the movie, but I loved the review, and I started reading The New Yorker primarily for Anthony Lane's movie reviews.

Several years later, he published Nobody's Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker, and I'd been interested in reading it ever since. This year, I got it from PaperBackSwap and dived in on one of my trips that required air travel. I kept reading on my other air travel trips I took, and finished it in a final push yesterday. All in all, it took me eight months to read this book.

The first half of the book is entirely movie reviews. This is the part of the book I highly recommend reading, although not all in one sitting. Lane's writing is fantastic, but it can be a lot to take if you read very much of it at once. In the Introduction, he says that "the primary task of the critic, (and nobody has surpassed the late Ms. Kael in this regard), is the recreation of texture - not telling moviegoers what they should see, which is entirely their prerogative, but filing a sensory report on the kind of experience into which they will be wading, or plunging, should they decide to risk a ticket." I have not read any of Pauline Kael's movie reviews, but having read over three hundred pages of Lane's, I can say that he very much succeeds in this task.

The other aspect of the movie section that's highly entertaining is that I have seen many of the movies he reviewed. Lane started at The New Yorker in 1993, and the mid-nineties are the years when my mother and I went to nearly every movie playing at the local art house theater. Lane also covers many of the big name movies of the years, and that's half the fun of the reviews read at a distance. He praises the dance scene from Pulp Fiction as his favorite in the movie and calls Speed "the movie of the year." The delight of seeing what he thought of movies that I either remember or consider lots of fun even decades on (he hated Con Air, but people of my generation love it - or I do, anyway) fits in with one of his other pronouncements about movie reviewing: "Whenever possible, pass sentence on a movie the day after it comes out. Otherwise, wait fifty years."

We move from movies to books, and then to profiles. This is where I really had trouble continuing on with the book. Anthony Lane in small doses is fantastic. Anthony Lane on movies is always delightful to read. Anthony Lane on books and profiles, particularly more than three hundred pages of them, brings home how uninterestingly privileged he is. The books and profiles sections are primarily about white men, many of whom are dead, a fair number of whom are British, and none of whom I have any interest in knowing more about. Because I read The New Yorker selectively - I only read parts that seem interesting - I don't often notice the extent of its privilege, even though I know it's there. Lane's book really brought home the level to which it's there. Additionally, I found much of the books and profiles sections boring. I'm never going to read Thomas Pynchon, so I'm not sure why I would find a six-page profile of him interesting. What made this bearable was that even in the midst of these are Lane's delightful turns of phrase that make me laugh.
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I'm relatively sure I heard good things about Patti Smith's Just Kids from various sources, although the only one I remember is [ profile] siryn99, so when I saw it in my mom's stack of books, I asked to borrow it. It floated around with me on a vacation and in my living room for quite a while before I finally sat down and started reading it.

The book begins with a foreword where Smith talks about learning of Robert Mapplethorpe's death. Starting with his death lends the whole book a sense of melancholy. Even as Smith tells us about meeting Mapplethorpe and lays out the foundations of their relationship, we know how it's going to end.

I didn't know anything about either Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe when I started reading the book, so everything about their story was new to me. Smith drops a lot of names to establish the setting, and I didn't know who most of them were either. None of that detracts from the book. Even if I didn't know who they were specifically, I got the sense of who they were from Smith's placement of them in the story, and I got the sense of who Smith and Mapplethorpe were from her stories about them.

I know that it's the kind of memoir where Smith picked and chose the elements of the story she wanted to share, but what I really liked about the story she tells is how they push each other into what they end up doing: Smith keeps telling Mapplethorpe he should try photography and Mapplethorpe keeps telling Smith she should sing.

The pacing of the story is also interesting. Smith begins with a dreamy, emotional recounting of her growing up, which is intercut with a distant, factual account of Mapplethorpe's growing up. Since she's the author, we necessarily get more of Smith's story than Mapplethorpe's, even as time goes on. When they separate for short or long periods - there's a break of what seems to be something like a decade near the end of the book - the focus is still on Smith. As unbalanced as that might seem, it makes for a very focused emotional story.

The book ends as it began: with Mapplethorpe's death. I had to put the book down and cry my eyes out when I finished it. By that time, I'd gotten to know him, but more importantly, I'd gotten to know how Smith felt about him, and that feeling, that closeness and mutual artistic support, is what really makes the book.
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I like to browse the shelving area at the library to see what other people have been reading. I was doing just that one day when I picked up Alexandra Robbins' Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. I stood there reading for long enough that I figured I should just check it out.

Robbins went undercover for a school year following around four girls in historically white sororities: Vicki, Sabrina, Caitlin, and Amy. Robbins doesn't disclose her role in it all, but does say she can (or could at the time - this was in the 2002-2003 academic year) pass for nineteen. Vicki is one sorority (Beta Pi) while the other three are in another (Alpha Rho). Sabrina is Black; the other girls are white. Amy and Caitlin were both raped by fraternity brothers before Robbins started following them around.

Over the course of the book, and the year, the girls learn to navigate living in the sorority house. Robbins alternates between telling their stories and sections of more general information about sororities. It's an incredibly compelling story. I stayed up late several nights in a row because I couldn't put it down. It doesn't paint a particularly flattering picture of the sorority system in general or these two sororities in particular. The sorority life revolves around partying - which means binge drinking and impressing the fraternity boys. Robbins seems to come away from it with some respect for institution; her final section is a bevvy of suggestions for what universities, sororities, and parents can do to make them better.

The biggest flaw in the book is that she only follows sorority girls. At the end of the book, Robbins delves into the changes the girls have experienced over the year. She attributes most of their changes and experiences to the sorority experience, but I think some of it has to do with their age, not their involvement in the sorority. To really suss that out, she would have needed to follow other girls, either not in a sorority or in some other kind of organization.
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When I was traveling in April, I read The Ethical Slut: A Pracitcal Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, second edition, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. The book is organized into four sections: "Welcome," "The Practice of Sluthood," "Navigating Challenges," and "Sluts in Love." The "Welcome" section is set up to introduce you to the very concept of polyamory, which made me laugh. I'm a fangirl; you don't need to convince me that polyamory is a possible way to live one's life. The other sections are more practical, full of advice and suggestions on how to live a polyamorous life.

There are three things I do want to talk more in depth about concerning the book as a book. Cut for length and a quote about sex. )

I'm not sure I would really recommend the book. It has a conversational tone that started to irritate me after a few chapters. I suppose the concepts in it are fairly radical if you're not used to reading a fair amount of threesome fan fic, and it probably is useful if you're actually in a poly relationship of some sort, but I think it just wasn't what I wanted from a book about polyamory. I may have to look through the books in their resources section, because I think more than a how-to, what I would find interesting is more of a look at people's different poly configurations.
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Last month I read Robert Sutton's The No Asshole Rule, which is about assholes in the workplace. Sutton has a specific two-part test for "spotting whether a person is acting like an asshole:

  • Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the 'target' feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself.

  • Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful."
He also differentiates between the "temporary asshole" who acts like this sometimes and the "certified asshole" who does this over and over again.

I really liked the first half of the book where he details the damage assholes do to companies, how to keep them out, and how not to be one. I was not as excited about the part where he suggests strategies for surviving a workplace with assholes. Some of his strategies are mean and not at all strength-based, which is not my preference.

The writing is good, though, and I like Sutton's overall attitude. I would definitely recommend this if you are a manager or if you work with assholes, and I would consider reading more by Sutton.
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I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog for over two years, and I've been wanting to read the book.

It took me a while to get into the book - I wasn't excited about the first two chapters (and actually kind of annoyed with her chapter about her marriage) - but I did end up liking it. I'm not sure how it is if you haven't read the blog. Because I read her blog, I'm used to her style and the connections she makes, but I'm not sure they hold up quite as strongly if you don't already know all of her lists.

Structurally, if I'd been her editor, I would have made her split chapter 6 (June) into two separate chapters: one about June and one for the second half of the chapter where she does a six-month check-in.

If you read her blog, you know that she advertises that "I'm much more forthcoming in my book than I am on my blog. I call my family members by their true names. I talk about juicy episodes that I've never mentioned here. I reveal a very major fact about my life that I've never discussed on my blog." For those of you who, like me, find that mildly irritating, here are some spoilers. )

Overall, I liked the book, but I don't know that I learned anything - other than details of Gretchen's life - that I hadn't learned from the blog. (Where I have, indeed, learned a lot.)
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Because I'm writing a story that takes place partly in an underground gambling establishment, I decided I should do some research. I googled for underground poker books, and came up with Poker Nation: A High-Stakes, Low-Life Adventure into the Heart of a Gambling Country by Andy Bellin.

The book is depressing. Bellin is himself a semi-pro poker player, and he takes us into the world of poker in a way that he seems to think is just the way it is, but is actually extremely unhealthy. There were some bits of the book I liked, but I have forgotten them because his chapter about women, in which he condones and minimizes the impact of sexual harassment while dismissing women's work and presenting an uncritical view of femininity, is at the end of the book, and that's now all I can remember about it:
But tending to cardplayers at a club is not a tough job at all for the women who do it. In fact, as long as you don't mind an old man's hand on your ass every once in a whole, it's got to be one of the easiest gigs in the world. There are only about four things on the menu, there are no complicated drink orders to remember, you just have to smile, giggle, and wink every once in a while.
I won't be reading anything else Bellin has written, and I'm extremely glad I interlibrary loaned the book instead of purchasing it.
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I said I was going to let this project go for now, but I did promptly check out nonfiction from the library. This book is from a hundreds category I've already read in this year, so it gets classified as a bonus book.

This week I read Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling. The premise of the book is that you can tell a lot about a person by their space. He specifically looks at what are known as "the Big Five:" "the most extensively examined - and firmly established - system for grouping personality traits." The five are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which he says you can remember by the acronym OCEAN. He has a very short version of a test to measure it in the book, and he refers to an online version you can take. (I did both versions. I'm high on conscientiousness, average on agreeableness, and low on neuroticism, openness, and extraversion.)

As usual, what I didn't like about the book was that it wasn't what I expected. I expected it to be a more concrete field guide to examining other people's spaces. At the end of the book, he does specifically tell us what he learned about two people's offices. But most of the book is focused more on personality research. You can tell he's an academic writer; while there are bits that are more casual and entertaining, there's a lot of "so and so at X university did research and found out this thing."

I did start thinking about what my spaces say about me. Take my desk at work, for example. I have three decorative personal items (I also have two things of lotion, but let's focus on the more interesting things): a small picture frame with my happiness commandments is right up against one of my monitors, my Serenity promo postcard is to the right of them a bit, and my Princess Protection Program calendar is on the wall to the right of that. One of the things he talks about in the book is looking to see how personal people's decorations are to see how much separation they have between their work selves and their home selves. If you didn't know about fandom, you'd think the promo card and the calendar are very impersonal, but if you do know, then you realize they're actually signs of integrating my selves into my spaces.

He does touch on the ways your expertise can affect your interpretation: "When I look through a woman's apartment and see a tube of lipstick, I see a tube of lipstick. Many women looking at the same evidence would see a tube of MAC lipstick, or Covergirl lipstick, or . . . well, as a reflection of my low level of cosmetic expertise, I have already run dry on lipstick brands."

It was an interesting book, and I'm definitely going to start paying more attention to people's spaces - although it seems like being able to carry the book around as a reference (there are a lot of charts and tables and such) would make snooping easier.
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I was thinking about making a report on my goals after the first quarter of this year, but the only one of my yearly goals I want to talk about is the one about reading more. I've decided that it's more important to get back into the habit of reading than to read anything specific, so the Dewey Decimal Project and one PoC author per month project are on indefinite hiatus, although I still want to come back to them. (Of course, just as soon as I decided this, I went to the library and checked out two nonfiction books.)

Weekly Goals
As of two weeks ago, I now have weekly goals, which I've been sharing via email with a group of amazing women who are all working toward living healthier lives. Mine are, I can tell, going to be boringly the same every week. So for additional public commitment, here are my weekly goals (my week is running Sunday-Saturday):
  • Turn my computer off at 9 and go to bed at 9:30 every night except Thursday. (On Thursdays I have dance 7:30-9, so I turn my computer off earlier and go to bed after my shower after class.)

  • Lift weights Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, and do crunches the other days.

  • Write my 400+ words every day. (Note: This may change a bit when I finish the first draft of my big bang.)

  • Do my writing group homework ahead of time. We meet every other week, so in practice, this means: on weeks we don't meet, create the handout/writing exercise and read manuscripts on Saturday and then do the critique on Sunday. My life is a lot less stressful when I don't put this off until the morning of the meeting.

  • Read a book.
Doing yoga every day and walking every morning are not on the list because they've become regular habits.

The list is, of course, subject to change based on life circumstances. For example, my mom and I are going to a concert in Sacramento on Friday night, so I'm not going to lift weights or go to bed at 9:30 on Friday. I probably won't go to bed at 9:30 on Wednesday either this week since I'm going to watch frriends play hockey at 8:30.
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This month's nonfiction book was Style Statement: Live By Your Own Design by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte. I'd heard of it before from Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog, and then I was reading Unclutterer a couple of weeks ago and it showed up there too, so I requested it from the library.

The style statement concept is a two-word statement that "defines your authentic self." The first word is your 80% foundation word - "the core of who you are, your essential self" - while the second is your 20% creative edge - "how you express and distinguish your being." I like some of these kinds of inner self inquiry things and hate others, so I wasn't sure how I would like Style Statement. I was in the right frame of mind for it yesterday, and I ended up really liking it. I think you're probably supposed to work through the inquiry exercises over time and very thoughtfully; I did them in a few hours and didn't let myself think about it too hard. (More on my experience in the next entry; this one is just about the book itself.)

There were some things that bothered me about the book, namely that it's very, very privileged. Carrie says, "Because I believe so strongly in equality, interior design made me uncomfortable at times," but then they offer this advice later in the book: "As for getting expert support, don't let limitations such as time or money stand in your way. Getting help frees up time." That's great advice if you have the money to spend in the first place. The people they chose to profile are all equally privileged, and I had the thought that like Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? the profiles say more about who the author knows than any universal truths about the subject. The people they profiled are nearly all white, and there is some really problematic use of terms like "primitive" and "tribal" as well as some cultural appropriation issues with some of the Look & Feel descriptions of the foundation words. It's very, very gendered. I did love that one of the two couples profiled is a gay couple, and I loved that they said more and more loving things about each other in their profile questions than the straight couple. There is one woman who I think might be a lesbian, but that might just be because she was the one I was most attracted to.

I also have a book design quibble: the print in much of the book is in a fairly light brownish-gray. More contrast would make it easier to read.

Having said those things, if either self-inquiry or fashion is your thing, you'll probably like this book.
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This month I read Mary Roach's Bonk. You may remember that I read Spook last year and said I would read something else by her.

Bonk is hilarious. I laughed so hard I cried. Unlike Spook, some of the best parts of the book are where she talks about her own experiences:
I sent Dr. Deng an email asking permission to come to London to observe the first scan. He wrote back immediately.
Dear Ms. Roach, Many thanks for your interest in our research. You are welcome to interview me in London. . . . However, to arrange a new in-action would be very difficult, mainly due to the difficulty in recruiting volunteers. If you organization is able to recruit brave couple(s) for an intimate (but non-invasive) study, I would be happy to arrange and perform one.
My organization gave some thought to this. What couple would do this? More direly, who wanted to pay the three or four thousand dollars it would cost to fly them both to London and put them up in a nice hotel? My organization balked. It called its husband.

"You know how you were saying you haven't been to Europe in twenty-five years?"

Ed was wary. It was not all that long ago that his agreeable nature, combined with a touching and foolhardy inclination to help his wife with her reporting, landed him in a Mars and Venus relationship seminar that involved talking to strangers about his "love needs."

I pushed onward. "What if I offered you an all-expense-paid trip to London?"

Ed sensibly replied that he would want to know what the catch was.
The part of the book that made me laugh until I cried also involved Ed, in this case mishearing the instructions on a video Mary was watching for research and coming to investigate. And this is after her prologue where she says, "My solution was to apply the stepdaughter test. I imagined Lily and Phoebe reading these passages, and I tried to write in a way that wouldn't mortify them."

If you're thinking of reading the book, I do have two caveats. First, it's not particularly sciency. It's much more about people doing science than it is is about the science itself (although there's a fair amount of that in there too).

Secondly, most of the book is very heternormative, which, to be fair, is probably true about most sex research throughout the ages. It's pretty vanilla heterosexuality too; she talks, at one point, about inventions designed to prevent erections (from a time when even wet dreams were seen as a negative thing) and doesn't quite get to the point where such things are now used in orgasm denial play. Her last chapter does look at the conclusions of Masters and Johnson's Homosexuality in Perspective: "The best sex going on in Masters and Johnson's lab was the sex being had by the committed gay and lesbian couples. Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they 'took their time.' . . . The other hugely important difference Masters and Johnson found between the heterosexual and homosexual couples was that the gay couples talked far more easily, often, and openly about what they did and didn't enjoy." It's interesting data, but the chapter feels a little tacked on, and she goes right back to the realm of heteronormativity: "It seems to me that heterosexuals have come a long way since 1979."

Still, the book is entertaining, and I would, all in all, recommend it.
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I want to get back in the habit of reading books. As I mentioned in my 2009 wrap-up post, I pretty much stopped reading books in October. I have a job now, so I'm much less anxious about how I use my time. I started reading a lot at my old job because I would take a book with me and read at lunch. Now I come home for lunch, so I end up reading my email and LJ instead. I think I'll have to take to reading on weekends and some evenings again. As part of this, I'm going to continue to read at least one nonfiction book and one book by a PoC author every month. I don't even have to rely solely on the library for my book needs: not only do I still have money left on the Barnes & Noble gift card I got when I left my old job, but my parents also gave me a B&N gift card as part of my Hanukkah present.

I really want to dance more often. I love it when I do it. It's just doing it every day that seems to be a problem for me. I'm having trouble identifying the problem here, so I need to either put some more thought into it or just do it more often. I'm also planning to go back to ballet in February, depending on my budget.

My specific writing goals for 2010:
  • Finish and sell the novel. If I really keep to my goal of 200 words per day on weekdays and 1000 on the weekends, I should be able to finish it in about four and a half months.

  • Start/write the next novel. (I'm already setting it up in the first one.)

  • If I finish both of those, then start the five-novel series I already have notes and some character names for. (This is really a "when," not an "if;" the "if" portion is only about the time period.)

  • Finish the Mike/Kevin story. I have no idea where it's going, which is making this harder.

  • Finish the Chris/Steve space AU. I do know what happens next, and I don't think there's much left of the story.

  • Finish or give up on the Fuck City boywives AU. I got stuck because I didn't know enough about Ryan, Kyle, and Stu, but if they're really going to keep up with the podcast and get publicity for Burning Empires, then they might solve that problem for me.

  • As I mentioned in my December wrap-up post, I started an actor!Gabe/director!Victoria AU. I like the idea of actually writing the rest of it. The other large fan fiction project I keep thinking about tackling is the Leighton/Vicky-T Good Girls Go Bad AU, which I'm also entertaining the idea of writing as an original story. Given how my planned writing works out, I will probably end up writing some other kind of epic fan fic instead.


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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