Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bad Buzz and the Bestsellers They Create

Is this book better than sex?

I often wonder how bad books can generate so much buzz and positive reviews.  It almost seems as if the disenfranchised of the world got suckered into a lame read one time too many and created a conspiracy to crow about the merits of intellectual garbage while most of the truly great work of our time sleeps undisturbed as a means of passing on the whammy.  After a time, it becomes accepted that the more eyeball bleeding and brain hemorrhaging it induces, the more it must be proselytized as the next great thing.

This bad buzz can be found everywhere:  commercials, dust jackets overflowing with sparkling reviews from the otherwise admirable, bookstore displays, internet sights, pop culture references.  Anthony Bourdain did this, touting this cooking memoir as the greatest thing since sliced bread when it was actually a disjointed stinker, thus breaking my fan-girl heart as I recalled all of the fondness I had amassed for him watching him on television.  Worst of all, these books can be proscribed by friends and family, who have also heard about the book.  Maybe they’ve read it, maybe not.  Either way, they have good things to say.  During the few times I have elected not to control my penchant for negative gossip-mongering, I find myself chided for my unkindness.  If the friend in question has not read the book, she inevitably knows someone who has who really enjoyed it…even if that person would rather keep this information a secret. 

Such has been the case with Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.  I know of someone who bashes the series publicly, especially when it comes to her mother.  Her mother would not forbid her to read it, as these are grown women who do not even share the same roof.  Rather, she thinks her daughter to intelligent for the drivel.  The daughter, meanwhile, insists that the series is quite good and continues to work her way through it.  I have also heard of an upstanding elderly man who enjoys bodice-rippers as a means of making up for his lack of physical capability for such actions by settling for temporal seductions.  He was apparently somewhat ashamed to admit that he loved this title as well because he is afraid of what people may think of him.  My own husband has been reading the first book now and again.  This is the man I married for his massive brain and nerdy physique.  Perhaps a bit ridiculous is the fact that I was upset he would pay full price for his copy, as I was convinced he would hate it and that it must surely be beneath him on some rudimentary level.  He says the writing is not too disappointing, and he has even learned a few words from the small amount he has covered thus far.  I may eventually sneak a peek at his copy, but I doubt I will be converted.  In all actuality, I will probably never even look beyond the back cover because there are so many other books I can’t wait to devour.

I suppose bad is in the eye of the reviewer.  I cast my own stones and laurels regularly on the website, where I give my honest opinions without worry of how they may be perceived by others.  I may very well tell how a story has changed my life, but I do not promise it will change the lives of others, as that is a very risky guarantee.  If someone has something to say about my review, I welcome any academic-flavored discourse this may generate.  After submitting my review, I look at what others have said, hitting “like” on posts I agree with.  Perhaps I comment now and then about my own experience with a text that the review stirs up within me.  If the reviewer is worlds apart opinion-wise, I see what he or she has to say and move on.  Once I have read the text, it lives inside me, good or bad.  I only wish others were more forthcoming with the natures of their literary occupants.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author:  Richard Bach

Sad and hopeful at the same time, this is a bittersweet read. My teacher read this aloud to us in elementary school, and I've loved it ever since. Nice name for the seagull too.  This is a good book to read with your children to teach them about life, death, and the flight in between.

Overall Rating:  5 of 5 Stars

Monday, January 14, 2013

Movie Review: Big Miracle

           Today I watched Big Miracle with my six-year-old daughter.  Based on a true story, this movie deals with the plight of a family of whales who become trapped under the ice during their migration and documents the surprising efforts of caring people to free them.  I must say, this movie does live up to its name, which is saying a lot considering how much I rolled my eyes seeing the title and sugary feel-good ads that swamped TV during its original theater run.  Still, it deals with whales and stars the lovely and talented Drew Barrymore, and it was rated a tame PG, so I felt like it would be a good choice.

I feel like this would be an appropriate time to mention that I have seen and did not enjoy March of the Penguins, which many would probably categorize this film with.  I enjoy Morgan Freeman and respect his body of work, but that film was a bit too sad for me.  Seeing the little egg touch the ice and immediately freeze, killing the chick inside was quite traumatic for me for some reason.  Seeing their pain made me feel for the birds and to respect them more, but the movie was not what I would deem feel-good family fare.  I had watched it alone and afterwards decided against letting my girls watch it.  When my older daughter did watch it with my mother, she said she enjoyed it, which did not smooth my hackles over the issue that so many younger children watch it, perhaps without parental guidance or to take the time to discuss the bigger issues portrayed.  I hate to go off on a tangent, but I do feel that grouping these two movies together may not be the best, most informed idea.

Watching this movie with my daughter was fun, mostly because we had so much to discuss.  I feel like there would be even more to discuss if I could watch it with my older daughter sometime.  There seemed to be an understanding about the different factions working together for a common cause, like the Greenpeace people, oil magnates, reporters who may be out for nothing more than the next big story, native peoples, and even home audiences who only saw what was transmitted through their televisions and newspapers.  This is very useful for dealing with issues such as point of view or cultural ideas, especially since there was a conscious effort not be too preachy on any front.  Since the story is mainly set in Alaska, there are economic issues, such as how expensive it can be to live in Alaska, where so much must be imported.  The little aside about the availability of avocados for the Mexican restaurant Amigos was really neat and trumped the supply and demand examples set by the preciousness of new music, batteries, and even hotel rooms or, comically, cardboard for the reporters to stand on.  Like many people, I do not really know much about Alaska, although several of my classmates and old summer camp chums have made their homes there.  Since I have suffered from arthritis since high school and am cold-natured, this was probably the closest I would like to get to actually visiting.

I also enjoyed how the filmmakers made time to work in other mini-lessons, such as differences between these grey whales and the typical bowfins that would normally be found there and why those whales would probably not have had such an issue.  Biology and science can be tough to teach, although they are literally all around us.  I think there could be many things that could come from this, such as making a whale puppet together or even playing together in the tub or a pool (when it gets warmer, of course!).  My daughter found it most interesting that whales breathe air because they are mammals.  This was a bit surprising, since I thought she already knew, which made this movie even more valuable to me.  After a quick primer from me about aquatic mammals, she decided to name a couple more, which made me happy.  I’m thinking of peppering in more mini-lessons in our daily life to see what comes from it.

Perhaps the saddest part was watching the deterioration of the baby calf.  I expected my daughter to be sad, but she seemed to deal with it quite well, highlighting a difference between my daughters.  I felt a twinge of tears threatening to trickle, but I have seen my older daughter cry during movies over less.  This made me even happier when, at the end of the movie, she clapped along with the actors as the whales made their triumphant escape.  It was great that the end credits showcased original footage from the original event to see how the events actually played out and who these people really were. 

Perhaps the biggest payoff from watching this movie with my daughter was when she curled up on me and told me to warm her up because I was her mommy polar bear.  Soooo sweet!

Overall, this was a really good family movie.  The acting was solid, and the pace was appropriate.  I hope that it continues to be popular for years to come.

Overall Rating:  5 of 5 Stars

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

As another year draws to a close, the time has come for New Year’s resolutions.  Usually this process takes on some great sense of archaic tradition, the sense of being chained to my cosmic promises, weighing the guilt potential should I fail.  This generally causes the decision process to stretch days into the new year, which I am sure can be considered cheating.  Other years, I try to follow the supposed “rules” and think something up at midnight.  I watched my husband start compiling his list last night.  It would be really interesting to know which is the original procedure for making these promises to myself, but I suppose I will never know.

This year I had intended to lose fifteen pounds.  I thought it was a nice goal, and a bit more ambitious than if I had set out to lose ten pounds.  Things seemed to be on track.  I lost ten pounds, some in chunks during allergy season or over the summer when I felt like it was too warm to eat much.  I used the website to track calories by logging what I ate and how I exercised, watching the progress of my efforts pan out on a chart.  The problem was that I was unaware that the scale I was using was nine pounds lighter than it should have been.  After I confirmed this discrepancy, I was thrown off, to say the least.  I stopped looking at the site, disgusted by how inaccurate my little fish ticker was.  I purchased a digital scale at a church yard sale and confirmed that I had lost less than I thought, compounded by the disappointment that I had no way of knowing where I had even started.  I lost my focus and have probably gained some weight since then.

The bright spot in this story is that 2012 is at its close.  I want a do-over for my goal.  This year I want to look at my scale more often, rethink behaviors that I know are destructive, and take more of an interest in my health, both mental and physical.  I would like to lose fifteen pounds this year, but I would love to be better.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gratitudes Journal

As I was flipping through the November 2012 issue of better Homes and Gardens, I came across a really sweet Thanksgiving gift idea:  gratitude journals.  The idea is to give each guest a blank journal with the word “Gratitudes” written on an illustrated card and affixed to the cover using photo corners.  There is even a template for the cards, which can be downloaded at and printed off, although you could easily create your own.  The gift can be dressed up or down by your choice of journals, which can be high-end, Dollar Tree finds, or even something you create yourself if you are truly ambitious.  If I were to give these as gifts, I would possibly stamp some of the pages or include some scrapbooking goodies.  I found the following link provides a lovely, ambitious idea of how far you can run with one of these journals:

            This is more than some hokey little party favor.  Thankfulness is an idea that should stretch beyond the holiday season.  Also, just taking the time to record little things that we are grateful for can be a therapeutic exercise.  Personally speaking, I suffer from bipolar disorder.  Sometimes it can be difficult to see the silver lining and recall things to be happy about.  I think that by creating and filling in something like this gratitude journal, I would have something to look back on during a rough patch.  Keeping the journal can also be a nice family activity.  A little time can be set aside each evening in which everyone can sit together or off on their own and record what they are grateful for, making sure to date each entry.  As time goes by, it would be nice to see what they have written, thus turning a simply blank book into a keepsake.
            I challenge you to think today about what makes you happy.  What makes life worthwhile?  What makes you fortunate?  Record it—or not—and try to make someone else feel these things in some small way.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs

Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs

Author: Michael P. Spradlin
Illustrator: Jeff Weigel

This book was an astonishing quick read, although I suppose one could get extra enjoyment out of the slim volume by pulling up karaoke versions of each song on YouTube to see how the altered versions would sound. The words could have been better, less repetitive, or further from the original at times, but it was still a fun read. I liked the illustrations quite a bit, especially since the likenesses were clever and spot-on. This is a nice book to use to get yourself ready for Halloween or a Zombie Walk. It would be a nice conversation piece or gift for the zombie/horror fan with a protruding funny bone.

Overall Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Friday, January 13, 2012

Making Furnace Filters Last Longer

Furnace filters clean the air but need replaced so soon!

Fridays at work are opportunities for improvement.  When we don’t have meetings and trainings to become better educators, we clean and plan in the classroom.  Today was definitely a day to work on the classroom.  I sanitized all of the toys, passed out old art projects, painted the walls where they were nicked, and did a dozen other things.  I somehow finished my to-do list and was looking for a task that would keep me busy, so I decided to dust the heating and air system intake.  When I finished dusting, I opened the panel to find the filter was completely filthy and splattered with dust bunnies.  When I reported this to my boss, she told me she would tell the landlord so he can replace it.  In the meantime, she gave me a neat trick that can help furnace filters last longer and stay cleaner, which is both economical and better for the lungs.

To clean the filter, I removed it and plugged in the vacuum cleaner.  This seems like an unlikely combination, and I was skeptical if it would work or if I would just end up destroying the filter.  I plugged up the vacuum cleaner and used the crevice tool to vacuum the filter.  Immediately dust and clumps of fuzz were sucked away, leaving a dramatically cleaner filter.  This is not a permanent fix to the problem of dirty filters, as it did not make the filter pristine, but I was able to remove approximately two cups of filth from the filter, a feat that was both remarkable and disgusting.  Even my boss was surprised to see the sheer volume of debris.  This was an unexpected but genius hint.  I’ll have to mine my boss’s mind for more little tricks, which shouldn’t be too hard—she has tons!