Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Before + After

This is what I looked like this morning...

Ew.  I don't think that I realized what I looked like.
This is why I need a real mirror.

...and this is what I look like now!

I'm bald!

And this is me when I'm being creeping out people who are perfectly okay with hair that is the attached to the head but promptly freak out when they find a hair on any non-scalp surface:

(Note to readers: I'm donating the hair, I'm not just some weirdo with a trunk full of all the hair that's even been cut from my head.  No really, I'm not.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My New Literary Obsession

Upon finishing The Hunger Games a few weeks ago, I was in need of a new audiobook, so I made my way over to the library with nothing in particular in mind (a method of selection which has not proven effective in the past).  Browsing my library's rather meager collection, one title caught my eye: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.  It's one of those titles that I've only heard of because it's constantly on a face-out or display at the bookstore so I can't help but have seen it a thousand times.  Historical romance isn't my normal fare, but nothing else was appealing so I read the back of it and some of her other titles and discovered that though Gregory wrote The Other Boleyn Girl first, chronologically another novel of hers, The Constant Princess, comes before.  On a whim, I decided to take it out and give it a shot.

For those who don't know, The Constant Princess is about Catalina, youngest daughter of Queen Elizabeth and King Ferdinand of Spain, AKA Queen Katherine, wife to Henry VIII of England.  I, for one, knew nothing about her other than that Henry left the Catholic Church to get out of his marriage to her, so I had no basis for expectations going in.  And it took me a while to get into it.  I even turned it off a few times but suddenly something clicked.  Not the writing or the narration - those are underwhelming - but the story of Catalina, who both has a heavy sense of entitlement and is heavily injured in many ways.  A fascination began.

Shortly after I began, the husband and I finally began watching The Tudors, which I added to out Netflix queue months ago (the first season and more covers Henry extrication from Katherine).  It has a very different taste and approach from Gregory's novel, but is equally addictive, and the husband and I have been gobbling it up ever since.  Oh, and talk about entitlement:

I have more plans for my new obsession too.  Sister Queens by Julia Fox is a biography of Catalina and her sister, Juana, the "mad" queen regnant of what would become Spain.  It's apparently very good (according to reviews on Goodreads) and should more factually explore the life and truths of Catalina.  I also want to read Shakespeare's Henry VIII, which apparently does a great job of capturing Katherine's supplication to her husband in a courtroom, followed by her early and dramatic departure.

It's not often that I have an obsession like this, and it's kind of fun to be exploring this woman's life in all these different media.  Does anybody have anything to add to my reading/viewing lists??

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meatless Monday ~ Root Vegetable Deluxe!

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.  I would also love to host guest posters on the topic, so if you're interested in being featured, send me an e-mail at jlmarck at gmail dot com.

I seem to constantly find myself commenting on the sparsity of my Meatless Monday posts, and this Monday is no exception.  Alas, yet again I had nothing prepared but aha!  I found myself preparing a show-off worthy vegan meal and decided to share.  As we all know, I've never been able to make that jump into full-on veganism but one of my great pleasures is a delicious and healthy vegan meal, so I thought I'd show you that meat-free doesn't have to mean yum-free.  I present to you my Meatless Monday dinner:

What you see above is an all-beet burger by Isa at Post Punk Kitchen, topped with garlic Vegenaise, with a side salad of baby romaine and poppyseed dressing, and a tall glass of sweet carrot and apple juice. Can you say yum?  I sure can.

The burger has a base of shredded beats, lentils and brown rice, and is moist and browns up nicely.  I'm sure it would be delicious on it's own, but it's even better with garlicky mayo (what isn't?!).  You can click the link above for the recipe.  The salad's pretty self-explanatory (though the dressing is stellar), but let's take a minute to talk about juice.  People in the know say that juice is best when fresh.  Not just taste-wise - that's obvious - but in terms of nutrients as well.  Most of the vitamins and whatnot are lost in the pasteurizing and bottling of store-bought juice, but are retained if you press the juice yourself.  Fresh juice is pretty much the purest form of vitamins, without the impact of fiber on your digestive system.  Don't get me wrong - fiber is great - but with a beet/rice/lentil burger, trust me, I'm getting enough.  Normally I drink fresh juice first thing in the morning, because the nutrients give a great boost and ease the digestive system into action for the day, but carrot juice just seemed to compliment the beet burger so well.  I won't lie - it takes a lot of produce to make a glass of juice (two pounds of carrots and one large apple made about twenty ounces) but the benefits make it worth it, at least a couple of times a week.

Never fear - I don't have a "perfect" diet.  Right now, I'm watching Gilmore Girls and avoiding preparing for tomorrow's classes, but I have every intention of enjoying one of these babies later:

I've never had them before but they were calling to me at grocery store and I couldn't resist.  Coconut milk ice cream is amazingly delicious (the texture!) and who doesn't like an ice cream sandwich?

My point is, it's all about balance.  Though yummy, my dinner is also very healthy, and sometimes it's nice to indulge.  Except for the lack of dairy fat, my ice cream sandwich's main redeeming quality is it's yumminess.  That's how I strive to eat - by striking a balance between the healthy and the indulgent.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Well of Lost Plots ~ Jasper Fforde

Due to the mixed responses I got to this post, I've decided to test out my idea for a while before committing.  Therefore, I've added a Mister Linky to this post and am going to see if anything happens (I'll probably due it for the next few reviews, because who knows what the rest of you have read - but we'll find out!).  You are invited to link to your review of The Well of Lost Plots at this end of this post, no matter when you wrote it.  There is no need to link back, but if the link doesn't go to a post that's actually about the book, be warned: I will delete it.  Link on!

Okay, I'll come write out and say it - I didn't like The Well of Lost Plots as much as The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book.

To catch you up: Thursday Next, pregnant and pursued by Goliath, the ChronoGuard, and SpecOps, has decided to take a vacation in the pages of Caversham Heights.  Never heard of it?  That's because it's a work-in-progress, located at the bottom of the Well of Lost Plots, where all fiction is created.  Considering that she now is fictional, you think she'd be safe among Miss Havisham and the Bellman from Sense and Sensibility, but no - she has a mindworm trying to make her lose all her memories of the father of her child (who was eradicated at age two), somebody is killing off Jufisfiction Operatives, and the novel she resides in is threatened with being broken down into text.  Life in her alternate reality is never simple for Thursday Next.

It's a clever plot, with a lot going on without being too much to handle.  It's kind of nice to see that Thursday is human and therefore breakable (not because she is a woman but because when you're pregnant, you should probably get out of the line of fire).  It's rife with all sorts of fun characters and silly subplots, like nursery characters going on strike, "generics" (genderless, personality-less, featureless future characters) being trained up into character types, and escaped minotaurs.  There's always something going on.

The main problem I find with The Well of Lost Plots is how few laugh-out-loud moments it has.  After the two preceding novels, I expected to be laughing hysterically every other paragraph, but instead it was only every other chapter.  What is that about?  I know I sound silly, but I'm serious - this book made me serious.  The clever play on literary references and re-imaginings of reality's social problems are really what made the series for me up until now and without that, the writing loses a lot.  Of course, that's not to say that it doesn't have it's moments.  I'd give you an example, but I think it would need to much backstory to be entertaining, plus it's far too long.  Suffice it to say, that it includes the adult hero of adventure stories for boys and his wife, who happens to be a gorilla in a pinafore.

Which brings me to my next point.  Fforde just spends too much of this novel world-building.  Though we spent some of Lost in a Good Book in the Great Library, Fforde really gives it life in this installment. The problem is, he does so at the cost of plot, silliness, and logic.  I spent so much time trying to figure out the logistics of it (the characters read each other? or something?) that I had little time to just enjoy the novel.  Maybe the whole novel was full of literary witticisms that the last two books could only dream of and I missed them because I was so busy trying to figure out why only sometimes can characters read each other's thoughts.  Fforde spent so much time figuring out the book world that the vast majority of the book's action took place in that last quarter of the novel, which threw off the balance and had me wondering if anything more exciting than an escaped minotaur would ever happen.

It's not all bad.  My favorite bit was about UltraWord, a new platform for reading novels that the Book World is anticipating.  Though shiny and fancy, in truth UltraWord has a dark side and is a wonderful riff on the advent of ebooks, in all of their evil wrong-doing.  Cantaloupes will never smell the same to me again...

So yeah, I'll probably read First Among Sequels, the fourth installment in the series, but with lowered expectations.  I liked The Well of Lost Plots well enough, don't get me wrong.  It was still a nice break from more serious endeavors (how hoity-toity does that sound?) and gave me a few good chuckles, it just didn't live up to the first two books.  I still recommend the series to everybody who likes to be silly and pat themselves on the back for understanding literary references.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I'm spending the day curled up on the couch with the last three Harry Potter movies, a sinus headache, and a fever, so I thought it was as good a time as any to answer the survey Alley from What Red Read tagged me in last week.  I'm also supposed to tag 11 more people, but I think I'm just going to leave it at that and invite anybody who wants to to answer the questions on their own blog.  Kay?  Kay.

11 "Fun" Facts About Me
1. I used to spend my summers rock climbing, rappelling, and spelunking at the summer camp that I attended/worked at for seven years.
2.  I categorize and alphabetize all of my books, but hated working at a bookstore where I had to do just that.
3.  One of my life goals is to visit India.
4.  I'm a bit of a Starbucks fiend and use all of my credit card rewards on gift cards.
5.  I've been a vegetarian for 4.5 years and don't regret a day of it.  Being vegetarian makes me happy.
6.  I flirt with veganism but never quite manage to make the commitment.
7.  I LOVE BOARD GAMES.  Seriously.  If you will play board games with me, I will be your new BFF.
8.  As a kid, if we were going on a road trip, my parents would always provide me with a large supply of books to keep me quiet and happy.  I remember once reading seven books in one day on such an occasion.
9.  I learned all the growing-up puberty stuff from Judy Blume.
10.  Even though I don't have any kids, I already have mental plans for the books I will provide for them and sometimes have to restrain myself from buying the ones I don't already have.
11.  I once sold Harrison Ford a multipot.

Questions from Alley
1. What's your favorite bookish movie? (Movie based on a book, movie with literary tendencies, whatever)
The Hours!  I think the movie adaptation is really wonderful, which is great since I loved the book too.
2. How often do you re-read books?
Not very.  As a kid, I reread books all the time and my mom thought I was crazy.  Now, I always mean to reread books but never seem to get around to it while there are still so many other books to read.  I do plan on rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude this summer though.
3. What's your favorite reading spot?
Couch, papasan chair, bed.  I'm flexible.  Wherever I am, ideally I have a cup of tea.
4. Which season is your favorite?
I love cool weather and spring is pretty brief in NJ, so I guess autumn.  The leaves are pretty too.
5. What's your profile picture?
I seem to remember posting a picture of me reading in my papasan chair but I can't find it on my blog so I don't know.
6. What's your ideal meal?
Indian food!  Curry and korma and samosas and mango chutney and naan and paneer and a mango lassi.  And, ideally, a dining companion who's willing to order vegetarian so that we can share.  Yum!
7. What's your guilty pleasure TV show, movie, book?
The Princess Diaries movies.  I know.  Come to think of it, those would be perfect sick day movies...
8. How do you like to spend a rainy day?
Reading!  And curled up on the couch watching TV with the hubby!  And drinking tea!  And not going outside!
9. Do you have any good Tumblrs to recommend?
I don't follow any Tumblrs.  And I don't really understand them, so if somebody could explain, that would be awesome.
10. If you like to cook (or bake), what's your favorite thing to make?
Cupcakes!  Yummers!
11. Do you have a big TBR list? Or do you wait until you're done with your current book to buy (or borrow from the library) your next reads?
Big enough, but not terrible.  I have about three not too long shelves of TBR books and a short list I keep up for whenever I decide to go crazy on AbeBooks.  Me ending books and me buying books have little to do with one another.

What about you?!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My new idea needs your input!

While a lot of the books I read are inspired by reviews by my fellow bloggers (see my last post), many of them arise by other means.  I see them in the store, a friend suggests them, or while linking through Wikipedia I find something interesting.  Whatever the reason I read a book, I often want to read a lot of reviews of them after I've finished.  Maybe you do too.  Or maybe you like to read a bunch of reviews before you commit to a book.  The problem is, people have a tendency not to post reviews at the exact moment that we want to read them, which is really quite inconsiderate. :]

Aha, the solution!  It occurred to me the other day that I could put one of those Linkys widgets that people use for features and readalongs and whatnot at the end of every single one of my book reviews.  That way, people could link up to their reviews of the same book, no matter when they were written, and easily see what others besides me had to say.  Maybe you read the book years ago and want to revisit it.  Maybe you're considering reading the book and want a wider range of opinions.  Maybe you just want to discover new bloggers with similar literary interests.  It all goes.

I won't require links back because it's about the book, not about me.  I would, of course, require that the links actually be about the book and delete any links that are not.  So here's what I'm asking you:

1) Would this be a worthwhile expenditure of my effort?

2) If I started doing this, would you actually be willing to dig out your old reviews to link up?

3) If your answer was yes, should I go back and add a linky to each of my old reviews as well, or would that just be too much work for everybody involved?

I can't wait for your opinions!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Literary Blog Hop: On Criticism

It's been a while since I've done one of these but as a book blogger, this month's Literary Blog Hop question was particularly compelling.  It's inspired from a quote by Chuck Klosterman in the epilogue for Fargo Rock City:
"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
The folks over at The Blue Bookcase ask, "Do you agree?"

Literary Blog Hop

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  I think that true objectivity is impossible.  Sure, sometimes you can objectively identify poor writing, like repeated misspellings and dangling participles, but does that really speak to the quality of the work?  Particularly if one considers the context - maybe it's narrated by an uneducated child in an inner-city.  Wouldn't that make poor spelling and grammar acceptable and even more believable?  I am the first to admit that it's distracting and it may limit my ability to engage, but that's my problem and oh wait I'm getting autobiographical.

Yes, a reviewer could get all in-depth and talk about the use (or misuse) or various literary techniques, any innovation, the complexity of the characterization, but could she divorce that from how she feels about it?  And would it be interesting if she did?  I think that the Harry Potter series is highly flawed but that doesn't make me love it any less.  The ending may be unrealistic and the justification behind Death Eaters ever using anything other than the Unforgivable Curses is nonexistent, but I still love the story because it's compelling and emotional and because I grew up with Harry and oh wait I'm getting autobiographical.

There's a reason that I don't bother searching out book reviews in magazines and newspapers anymore - I want the reviews I read to be autobiographical.  I want to know who's telling me what to read and build a relationship with the reviewer, because how else can I trust her?  I would never have read the entertaining The Eyre Affair if I hadn't read a dozen other reviews by Alley at What Red Read that helped me understand what she liked and what she was like to know that I could trust her.  Likewise,  The Balkan Trilogy (which I have yet to read) would not be on my shelf if I didn't know that Ellen at Fat Books and Thin Women was so similar to me both in literary and life choices.  The list goes on.  I think we're all more likely to trust recommendations, literary or otherwise, that come from somebody we know and respect.

As a reviewer, I like to inject some personality into my reviews not only for this reason, but because I think it gives them more personality and readability.  Sure, I could go on and on about the style of discourse and technical "good" qualities, but without a little bit of me in there, would you still be reading?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Haunted by Books

Do you ever find that books haunt you?  Books that you've never heard of before but aren't new releases, and all of a sudden they keep popping up everywhere until you feel compelled to read them just so that they will leave you alone?  It happened to me with Rebecca - until a year or so ago, I'd never heard of it, and then suddenly it was coming at me from every direction.  Fortunately, one of those directions was a library book sale, so I was able to get it and read it and put it to rest.  Oh, and I also really liked it.

It's happening to me again.  This time, the ghostie is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  Two weeks ago, I'd never heard of it and suddenly it's everywhere - on blogs, on lists, on lists on blogs.  It's kind of making me crazy.  I know nothing about it but I desperately want to read it (which is why advertising works so well, though I'm usually not such a sucker).

Does this ever happen to you or am I just paranoid that classics from the first half of the 20th century are following me around?