Friday, April 23, 2010

A Tough Read

I love reading. I am fairly certain I have made that quite clear within the life of this blog. I enjoy reading difficult, flowery, and timeless books. Then again, I also love Twilight, Harry Potter, and various contemporary, mindless, and/or enjoyable reads.

Occasionally I will pick up a book that for one reason or another, challenges me. Sometimes the book is too smart for me, sometimes the plot is so irritating I have to keep putting it down, and sometimes a book makes me feel a certain way that makes it difficult to finish.

Disclaimer: Some of the books on this list I loved and some I hated. I apologize if I offend anyone in any way. I feel it necessary to state that this is my blog containing my opinions.

These are the most difficult books I’ve read so far: (in no particular order)

1. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand): This book made me want to throw heavy objects at the wall and extreme conservatives. I read this book because SO many people have told me how life changing it was. I read and read and waited for these horrible characters to find redemption. They never did. I found it beautifully written, incredibly self-righteous, and overall frustrating. I felt that every character in the book should have died. Because I wanted them to. All of them. I firmly believe that the little utopia they made should go up in flames. I found that this book wasn’t life changing for me…it was a waste of two months. The Fountainhead is so much better, in my humble opinion. At least she uses subtlety in that book. Again, I’m really glad if you loved Atlas Shrugged. I still rank it as one of my least favorite books.
2. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): This book is slow and dry and wonderful. I’m so glad I was able to stick with it; the fact that I have read the book has come in extremely handy from time to time. The characters were complex and it has beautiful metaphors. However, there are many pages of description that you must plough through (pardon the pun—if you’ve read the book) to get to the story. I find that this is the reason people don’t care for classic literature, which I totally understand. It’s not always easy, which is why Anna Karenina has made it onto this list.
3. Native Son (Richard Wright): Native Son made me feel like a really bad person. I was constantly jumping to stereotypes and getting very angry with the characters. I kept reminding myself of when the book was written. I researched the time period, the geographical setting within the time period, and then read African American history of that time period in that geographical setting. I worked so hard to understand this book and try to imagine the impact it had on society pre-civil rights but I had nothing to relate to. This book may very well be the most difficult book I’ve read so far. I certainly tried the hardest with Native Son. To this day, I have no clue if I actually liked the book. In the end, I believe that the protagonist should have SOME redeeming quality and I get really frustrated when I don’t care whether the protagonist lives or dies. Even Ignatius O’Reilly had some redeeming qualities.
4. Sophie’s World (Jostein Gaarder): I don’t know about you, but I didn’t necessarily excel in philosophy in college. For those of you who are on the same page, I highly recommend this book with one caution: it is a difficult read. Sophie’s World is philosophy 101 on crack. It challenges the reader to learn about a different philosopher with every other chapter, be able to keep them and their theories straight, and understand the theories in a practical sense within the story. I found myself constantly flipping back in the book to remind myself of which philosopher was who. Very difficult, very fantastic. Sophie’s World is probably in my top 10 favorites.
5. Stone Fox (John Reynolds Gardiner): Stone Fox, for me, is lumped into a large category which I like to refer to as ‘Horrible Children’s novels’. Sharing the category is Island of the Blue Dolphins, Old Yeller, and (who can forget) Where the Red Fern Grows. I HATE all books like this. However, some good came of it. I now know to NEVER read books or watch movies where an animal is one of the main characters. It will inevitably leave me curled up on the floor, blubbering like a two year old. The reason this book made the list is because I read it for a Children’s lit class and ended up sobbing in the middle of class one day. Terrible. Just terrible.
6. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner): This book is ridiculous. First of all, there is no way anyone who is reading this book outside of an educational setting will derive any sort of plot. The book is rather short but unbearably incomprehensible. I got halfway through the second (out for 4) part and told Andy, “I am not smart enough to read this book.” I was even reading analyses of the book while I was reading it. Even then, I had no clue how the authors of the analyses were able to arrive at any conclusion. I neither liked nor disliked this book because I could never decipher a plot. I know that stream of consciousness writing is difficult to read and comprehend but this is not my first rodeo. So, kudos to those who are feeling really proud of yourself because you not only read The Sound and the Fury but were able to understand parts of it. You are much smarter than I. I gave up and have no intention of picking it up again.
7. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb): I don’t even know what to say about this one. It was recommended to me and I just couldn’t get into it. I read 908 pages out of the 912 page book and put it down. There is no way the book could improve enough in the last four pages. I put it down four years ago and never found out the ending…which doesn’t bother me at all. The book isn’t poorly written, I just didn’t enjoy it. I struggled through it hoping that it would have some twist to make it more interesting, but it never did. As a result, I have never felt compelled to pick up any of his other novels. My sister has graciously loaned me She’s Come Undone which I hear is a good book, but I haven’t found the motivation to start it.
8. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emmuska Orczy): I’m not gonna lie. Sparknotes told me all I needed to know about this book. I read the first few chapters in high school, got bored, and relied solely on for the rest of the quizzes. Granted, I was 15 and the book was mandatory. I think I should give it another try at some point. It might be a great book…I have no idea.  So perhaps this book shouldn’t be on this list since I really didn’t give it much of a chance. Does laziness count as making a book ‘difficult’? Here is my defense for including this book on this list: in that same class I was able to finish Les Miserables without HALF of the heartache I had with the “Scar Pimp”.
9. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens): Slow and dull. Much like the Scarlet Pimpernel, I tried to read this book when I was probably too young and should therefore give it another go. However, this was the first classic that I tried to tackle and, though I was able to finish it, I was bored out of my mind and probably missed half of it. Charles Dickens is one author in particular that I have never felt the need to read. I believe Great Expectations had a lot to do with it.
10. Ulysses (James Joyce): This is an anticipated #10 because I am only 250 pages into it. Much like Sound and the Fury I am utilizing and other analyses to assist me in understanding this stream of consciousness. Also, many of the analyses for this book offer how Ulysses parallels the Odyssey. Sadly, I’ve not read the Odyssey (which will go on my list of things to read in the near future) so the analysis is helping immensely in that area. The difference between Ulysses and Sound and the Fury is that Ulysses has a discernable plot. That makes all the difference in the world and will allow me to actually get through the book. 

I’d love to know which books you find challenging…

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shh. Be vewy, vewy qwiet. I’m hunting fow waskawy houses…

The home hunt has begun. Andy and I got serious about saving a down payment and buying a house. Part of this decision was my radical love for animals and the fact that Mort needs a buddy; part of the decision was the fact that we (more or less) hate our tiny apartment; part of the decision was the multiple house guests we get and the extreme awkwardness that occurs for our guests walking through the bedroom to get to our bathroom; part of the decision was realizing that ‘it’s just time.’

Long story longer, we got serious with our savings account and are now looking at homes.

That's really all I have to say on the issue. We have a great realtor and we are viewing houses tomorrow. Some are awesome, some are not, but I will keep you posted on the outcome!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celiac Sprue: Friend or Foe?

I chalk my latest and greatest disease up as a friend. So far, the pros far outweigh the cons. I praise the Lord that I am not craving gluten filled products (except for chicken nuggets, yum) as much as I had anticipated. The diet thus far has been incredibly manageable and simple (as long as we aren’t going to restaurants…that can get tricky unless it’s Mazaa or Noodles and co.). I have found new inspiration to cook and am having a great time trying to hone in on my non-existent inner chef skills.

OK. Here are the cons:

• Obviously, saying good-bye to most fried foods, all fast food, soy sauce (the GF version just isn’t the same), ravioli, flour tortillas, (soft, warm) cookies, ready-made pie crusts, monkey bread, Hawaiian sweet rolls, cookie dough, Chinese noodles, PB&Js, Zatarain’s, Crown burger, flat bread, naan, barley, so on and so forth.

• Needing Andy to baby-sit my foolish cooking ways. I am learning and trying really hard, but I still do stupid things like chop up the stalk of fennel instead of the root (whoops) or purchase the 16 oz can of diced tomatoes instead of the 28 oz can. I am thankful to have Andy here to fix my mistakes, but it’s so frustrating!! Also, I am a terror when it comes to other people offering guidance. I get stubborn and oppositional defiant…imagine a 25 year old child grabbing the knife and shouting, “NO!! I CAN DO IT!!” Disgustingly enough, that is me, the cook, in a nutshell.

• Reading labels. I am not good at this yet so I try to steer clear of mixes and spice packs. I mean, I know when a product says ‘wheat’ ‘barley’ or ‘rye’ it is usually out but it’s trickier than that. Thankfully, I have a friend who has offered me a crash course on label reading. What average person really knows what Triticum monoccum, L-cysteine, and rennet are? I hope to in the near future.

In-betweens (neither pro nor con…just me thinking on paper):

• Many GF substitutions are friggin’ nasty. I would rather stick with foods that are naturally devoid of gluten than start eating millet bread. Also, I tried my hand with some brown rice rotini…never again. I hear that rice tortillas are pretty good, but I am content with corn. I don’t see the necessity for substitutions. I can’t have bread anymore…ok. That doesn’t mean I need fake bread! I know, I just haven’t developed a taste for it, but still-- that fake pasta was super gross.

• Andy is a super good sport. He is the ultimate guinea pig and trusts me to not poison him inadvertently. He eats all of my concoctions (even if they suck) and tells me how good it is and how well I did. He has been a fantastic cheerleader. Also, when we eat at home, he’s gone mostly GF with me. We keep a loaf of bread in the fridge, but we’ve been on the same loaf for 4 weeks now. He was good enough to finish off my wheat thins for me (so I wouldn’t be tempted) and sticks to his gross triscuits (by which I am NOT tempted).


• Three weeks in and 8 lbs down. Completely unexpected and not too shabby! It’s amazing what happens when you become really picky about what you eat. I have been devouring fruit and almonds like they are going out of style. Since I’m down 8, I’m going to go ahead and hope for 15 more. :)

• I feel better! I guess this probably should have gone at the top of my list but frankly, I am more excited about losing weight. :) Who wouldn’t be? It will take a little longer for my intestine to heal but so far, so good!

• New recipes!!! I am compiling my own book of recipes that I know I can cook. If a recipe doesn’t work, I throw it away (or in one case, Andy makes it work). I have absolutely fallen in love with cooking lentils and quinoa. I have entered the wild world of cumin, coriander, and fresh garlic! I now use strange vegetables called bell peppers! I have never gone through so many onions in my life! So far, I have successfully made (among many other things) a Thai soup, Risotto, Mazaa’s spinach and lentil soup (not their recipe but it tastes exactly the same!), a zesty Mexican chicken and rice dish, and I anticipate my first roast this weekend. For now, I have no desire to bake. I don’t like baking; I have never liked baking. I always preferred to buy the pre-made dough and eat it raw. Mmm. This disease will make a cook out of me yet.

• Cheaper food bill per month. Andy and I were notorious for saying things like ‘we really need to stop eating out so much,’ stick with that cute idea for a week or so, and then continue our 4 or 5 meals out per week. This lovely little disease has made eating out somewhat difficult. I would rather cook and have to deal with waiters…isn’t that sick? Also, because I am cooking more, there are more leftovers to take for work lunches. Brilliant!

That’s my list so far. Celiac disease isn’t easy, but it’s WAY better than what I was anticipating. I appreciate all of the advice and suggestions given to me by my family and friends. I am doing great and learning a ton! Thanks for your support!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mr. Bubbles and other stories...

I went to the Michael Buble concert last Friday. April and I were graciously invited to attend this fantastic concert by Meg (whose blog you might want to read as well) and Lolly. These are two fabulous ladies and we had a great time.

We had a great dinner, lots of Buble music, and the concert was great; however, this is not the focus of this post. I would like to talk about the people who surrounded us. With no offense to Mr. Buble or Naturally 7, the most memorable moments of my evening belong to various nincompoops.

Nincompoop #1: The waiter at the restaurant. I know that I am still really new to this celiac thing, but I found this dude to be incredibly unobservant. After a long discussion about what on the menu was gluten free and me explaining to him that I couldn't have gluten, the waiter brought me a salad covered in croutons. Brilliant. April told me that he probably didn't think about it. Fair enough. I pushed the plate aside and waited for my delicious curry (I would have sent it back, but he had a tendency to avoid our table like the plague). Finally, our dinner arrived. He handed me my curry over rice and quickly left. I looked down and noticed that my gluten-free dinner had four large pieces of flat bread nestled in it. Again, I pushed it aside and waited for him to come back. April was good enough to catch his attention and remind him of my situation and explained to him that the plate needed to be remade...not just pick off the bread. The waiter apologized and returned five minutes later with what I suspect was the same plate with the bread picked off. Whatever. I ate my meal (which really was delicious) and figured this will be the story of the rest of my life with restaurants.

Nincompoop #2: In Megan's Blog you will read about the 'Douche Family". When we found our seats (10th row!!!), we quickly grabbed our cameras and began taking pictures of our proximity to the stage. Megan turned around and asked an awkward pubescent boy to take our picture. He was obviously not educated in the ways of social etiquette (which, judging by the matriarch is not that big of a surprise), awkwardly took the camera with a 'what am I supposed to do with this?' look on his face. He managed to find the big button that takes the picture and also succeeded in handing the camera back without too much difficulty. Success for the pubescent boy; good job dude. We began the concert thinking that they would be ok. They seemed like hip enough people. This was disproven as soon and Michael Buble began his concert. As Megan and April are HUGE fans of Michael Buble (I mean, serious, teenage, screaming, grabbing, etc. fans of him), it was only natural for them to jump to their feet and began screaming for his attention. Without our knowledge, the entire audience had sat down after the initial opening. The matriarch began shouting and Megan and April, "EXCUSE ME!!! EXCUSE ME!!!" during the opening song. Megan and April had just noticed they were the only ones standing (and were beginning to sit) as the matriarch continued to shout at them 'EXCUSE ME!!! EXCUSE ME!!!". She caught Megan's attention and yelled that she and April needed to sit down because her awkward, pubescent offspring couldn't see Michael Buble. Douche family. Even if April and Megan decided to stand, what was it to her? You are at a CONCERT, madame. When one is at a concert it is normal to experience any of the following: screaming, standing, dancing, singing, stripping, throwing articles of clothing, etc. It is NOT normal to remind people of rules that apply at a ballet or's also not normal to sit tight lipped with your arms crossed through a concert you paid a lot of money to see. Also, if your awkward teen can't see, perhaps he should stand as well. Douche bag matriarch, take your valium.

Nincompoops #3 and 4: Harry and Alice. Harry and Alice were obese and sat right next to me. When I say right next to me, I really mean halfway on my seat. I am no dainty flower myself, but I am able to sit in a folding chair comfortably. Poor Lolly had me in her lap for the majority of the evening. Anyway, Alice pulled out her husband's nifty iphone do-hickey to take a picture of Michael Buble. She tried and tried to work the phone and finally resorted to screaming questions over the music we were all enjoying. The conversation went like this:
Harry: WHAT?
Harry takes the phone, pushes a few buttons and is able to get the camera function to appear.
The conversation went on in a similar manner for the next 20 minutes. They screamed about the damn camera solidly through five songs. I wasn't sure if I should tell them to shut their yaps or continue listening for blogging purposes. I obviously chose the latter.

So there are the nincompoops of the evening.

The concert was fantastic, I am in love with the bass singer from naturally seven, and I am so grateful to Megan, Lolly, and April for allowing me to participate! Thanks, ladies!!