Month: November 2014

Book Fridays- NaNoWriMo, TBR lists and ratings

It’s Friday and I will barely get this blog post up in time but I’m determined to write one. I am officially done with NaNoWriMo! I wrote a little over 52k words and now that I reached my goal I am taking a break from what I wrote for a little bit. I will return to it eventually and see if anything is salvageable. It wasn’t always easy to sit down to write. Time management is something I need to work on. On some days I managed to wake up early and snag some time to write while my son was still sleeping. During the day I tried to write when I could, or scribble some ideas in a notebook or even record a voice memo on my phone. That proved to be one the most useful tools during the month. When it came to actually writing some days I wrote over 5k words and other days the words would not come and I felt as though I was trying to squeeze the last drops of juice from a fruit. On those days I wanted to give up but I forced myself to sit down and write something. Every word adds up and a hundred words here and there contribute to the overall count.

This month I have not finished any books even though I did manage to read a little. I’ve been reading La Ciudad de las Bestias for a couple of months now. I started reading it out loud to my son but found that reading out loud for long periods strains my throat, I’m probably just a wimp. Then I read other things but this month I picked it back up and have been plodding through it. I am enjoying the story very much. I think I might have mentioned this before but I feel as though I read slower in Spanish than I do in English. I’m fluent in both languages but I haven’t read Spanish novels regularly since high school so I’m out of practice. I hope to finish the book by the first week of December. While I was writing and not reading I had some time to go over my to be read list on Goodreads. Before using Goodreads I had a list of books I wanted to read in a notebook, and on random post-its, and in a note on my phone. Basically, I was disorganized. With Goodreads I am able to keep a list of what I’ve read and want to read as well as notes of what I have read. I don’t love Goodreads but it’s the platform I’m using for the moment.

When I think about my TBR list I know that I can only hope to read half of what’s on it. I find myself wanting to read more books than I’m able. Every week I learn about new books through friends, booktube and other random sources. I feel like it gives me something to look forward to and so I don’t have a problem with a long TBR list. This brings me to the issue of managing our books. There is no right or wrong way to do that. Booktuber Danika Leigh Ellis made a great video about “working libraries” and how we think about our books. I highly recommend her channel for interesting book topics as well as book reviews. There’s also something about her voice that I find very soothing.

Another topic that Danika discussed that has prompted me to analyze my own thoughts on it is that of star ratings on Goodreads. I often find myself struggling with star ratings because I am never quite sure as to how I should evaluate a book I’ve read. Sometimes my ratings are purely emotional. If the story left me feeling shitty I want to give it a low rating. It’s not rational! Other times even though I was meh about a book I want to give it a four star rating because I thought it was a well written. Should I rate based on the technical (writing, grammar, spelling, etc) or should I rate it on my own personal criteria (how women and minorities are portrayed etc)? There really is no answer ratings are not really that useful if we don’t know an individual’s criteria. I used to rate books without reviewing them but I now find myself writing at least a couple of lines about how I felt about the book and hence why I rated it the way I did. Whenever I am reading up on a book I want to read I find myself not looking at the ratings but at reviews. I want to read people’s thoughts. Ratings, like reviews, are subjective but unless there’s a review to go with the rating are completely useless in my opinion.

These are my book (and non-book) related thoughts for the week. Until next time!

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Book Fridays- ¡Vamos a jugar!

¡Vamos a jugar! is a wonderful book featuring a collection of traditional games played by kids in Puerto Rico. It was written by Josefina Barcelo Jimenez and illustrated by Juan Alvarez O’Neill. I had never heard of this book until my mom sent it for Diego. It was a lovely surprise to see that this book exists. It helped jog my memory to all those games that I used to play as a child. Some of the games I had never heard of (or just don’t remember playing) but a lot of them were childhood staples.

The book is a collection of these games along with explanations as to how they are played. Each game has an illustration that goes with it. It’s a simple book but a great resource. I can see this being used by parents and teachers alike. Older children can read for themselves and then try out the games. A great activity that involves, reading, reading comprehension, following instructions and teamwork.

Playing games was such a big part of my own childhood. I played outside a lot. I wonder if Diego will have that experience. Part of me knows that things are different now and that he probably will not enjoy a lot of the activities I once took for granted. I hope that this book (and books like it) can change that. That it will serve as a reminder of the wonderful games we once played as children. Right now, Diego is too young for most of these games but I will treasure this book and pull it out often as he grows up.

The illustrations are one of my favorite aspects of the book mainly because they reflect the many different shades of Puerto Ricans! Often times media is whitewashed and so I was happy to see different skin tones and hair textures featured in these illustrations. I think that’s important.

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Book Fridays- On reading more diversely

A lot has already been said on the topic of reading more diversely but I wanted to add to the conversation by recording my own thoughts and feelings on it. Also, since I am taking part in NaNoWriMo I have not finished a book in time for this week’s post. We need diverse books is an ongoing campaign that you should totally google and read about. To me, reading more diversely entails many things. At its most basic it asks us as readers to think critically about what we are reading. A lot of what is considered classic literature was written by white men. Most of us read a lot of these books in high school and college. These books are from the point of view of these men so it stands to reason that it’s told from a privileged world view. While there is nothing inherently wrong with reading and enjoying these works I think it’s important that we allow other voices into the conversation. Also, it is important to highlight that the status quo is always perpetuated by the literature of the time.

Most of what people around me are reading, and most of the current bestsellers are pretty much written by the same group of people. When I started to pay attention to what is out there I discovered that there are so many wonderful writers of color, with backgrounds that are as diverse as they are interesting. Of course I already knew this, my AP English teacher compiled a fairly diverse reading list. Also, because I lived in Puerto Rico and took Spanish I was required to read novels and plays by Latin American authors.

Long before I took the time to examine my own reading habits I remember reading pretty much anything that interested me. I read voraciously. At school I was usually the student who had read the most books during the year. I was often up past my bedtime with a flashlight under the blankets. It’s not a meme, it’s my life. My mom was always bringing me books to read and I loved going to the local bookshop somewhere in Gaborone. I wish I remembered the name of the mall but what I do remember was a shop filled with books, with the delicious dusty, papery smell. Between the books and the stationary it’s hard to decide what I spent most time coveting but books usually won out.

I remember the first time I came across a character with a Hispanic name. I can’t remember the name of the book but it was set in Chicago and the characters were a group of teenagers who got into all sorts of trouble on the streets. I had been fascinated by this. This was allowed? Spanish words in an English text were allowed? Subsequently I have read about a lot of hispanic characters but that feeling of inclusion, of being represented was strong. It stayed with me. It made a difference.

A lot of my identity as a Puerto Rican has been shaped and formed through reading. Reading also made me aware of my privilege by giving me glimpses into the lives of those who are different from me. There is so much that we take for granted, opinions and beliefs that we simply assimilate and leave unchecked. I see this everyday. I see people express things that I know cannot possibly come from an informed place. Reading can bridge this gap but in order to do so we need to give a voice to underrepresented populations.

Reading diversely is important to me because libraries and book stores will stock books that we, the consumers, express an interest in. Because publishing houses and agents will give more advertising money and opportunity to new voices if we demand it. For some, libraries are their only access to books and reading, which means that reading diversely isn’t only about reading more books by women, and people of color but also about putting books into the hands of these underrepresented populations. When a child is able to read a book where they get to see a character who looks like them, who thinks like them, and experiences life like them a connection is made.How wonderful when an author is able to capture a thought or feeling you thought was unique to you? It makes us feel less alone.

When we talk about reading diversely we are challenging us and others to read outside of their comfort zone. I’m not just talking about genres (although I think it’s good to mix it up) I’m talking about going somewhere new for book recs or picking up a book you normally wouldn’t pick up. It’s a call to not just read what everybody else is reading. Haruki Murakami wrote, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

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Changes and making friends

This post will probably be all over the place but I wanted to sort out my thoughts and feelings by way of a blog post. I have a love/hate relationship with change. Big, sudden changes that I am not anticipating tends to rattle me in a negative way but I do enjoy change. I think that even small changes can have positive effects on us. Every now and then an article will pop up about the benefits of making big changes in your life. Moving to a new city or even country is touted as an important part of our journey of self-discovery. Many people feel this is so and use their own experiences as anecdotes of this. While I do agree that having lived in Botswana was a very positive, and privileged time in my life I don’t think that it’s for everybody. Obviously, at the time I was a child and did not have a say in the matter but regardless of how difficult the transition was for our family I cannot deny that the move afforded me many opportunities I probably would not have had otherwise. For one I became fluent in English. I also took five years of French. I also got to experience different cultures and had many friendships with kids from around the world. I learned all about the bush, went camping, had the pleasure of diarrhea while camping (while in the middle of a Kalahari thunderstorm) and got to visit beautiful places around Africa. Those experiences made me who I am today. Traveling opens our eyes and our minds. I firmly believe everybody should do more of it but I also realize that it’s easier said than done. For one thing traveling costs money and lack of money is prohibitive for many.

For me, change can be very exciting and even small changes can have big effects in our lives. I recently sold our guest bed and desk in order to turn Diego’s room into a toddler room. It has been very exciting to see the transformation and the fact that our living room no longer resembles a disaster zone is an added bonus. When there is clutter and mess around me I feel frazzled. Sometimes I can’t tell this is so until I tidy up and a sense of calm washes over me.

This month I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo (I have written 16,698 words so far!). This is also a change. I added something to my plate which will challenge me. It has challenged me to change my routine and it has also challenged my writing and my creative mind. I am not writing this novel because I have any hopes to ever publish it, nor do I fancy myself a great author but it’s something different and an exercise in starting something and finishing it. Meeting my daily writing goal fills me with an immense sense of accomplishment. In fact, this sense of productivity is what prompted me to finally convert Diego’s room. I am getting things done, why not do this, too?

Changes  can tie into each other. Changing around some furniture might make you see the space in a whole new way and that will prompt you into something else. My point is, that even small, seemingly unimportant changes can have a big impact in our lives.

One of the biggest changes of the past two years was having my son. The impact of my pregnancy was huge. I stopped working and became a stay at home person. I look at motherhood as an addition to a house. It’s still the same house but with something extra. This ties into another thing I’ve been thinking about and that is friendships  between child-free women and moms. I was perhaps a bit naive to think that having a child should not make me an undesirable friend but it turns out that for some people it does. The complaint is that parents do nothing but talk about kid things with other parents. I have many friends who don’t have children and I don’t feel like our friendship has suffered but maybe I am wrong. Do they perhaps see me differently? I don’t feel like my identity is wrapped up in the fact that I am a wife and mother. I’m still me. I still have other interests besides my son. I love him dearly but I don’t need to monopolize conversations with tales about him. That’s just not who I am.

For me, being a mom felt lonely in the beginning. I hadn’t realized how most of my socialization came with working. That’s where I met my friends. We had lunch together daily and even hung out on weekends. Now some of those friends have moved to other states and others I simply lost contact with. I remember trying to engage with a few but I quickly learned that out of sight out of mind was true. We didn’t see each other everyday and maybe they assumed since I had a baby I had ceased to exist. Most of my friends are now living inside my phone. In my messaging apps and contact list. I don’t get to see them in person often. I haven’t joined a mommy and me group (I fear I won’t fit in since I’m not an overachieving mommy) and Diego is not yet in preschool. I also dislike the idea that all women with children should be lumped together. I don’t need playdates for myself.

I have made a lot of friends online, which I never thought was possible. These aren’t just people I occasionally shoot the breeze with, these are wonderful women who share their lives with me. We exchange packages and even meet each other in person. Some of them have kids and some don’t. It’s not something that ever makes the slightest bit of difference to me.

People change all the time. It’s part of life. Some of these changes cause us to drift apart but that’s not necessarily the case. I remember when my friends started to have babies and I recall feeling very much left behind. Even though at the time I was not sure that I wanted to have a child the fact that my peers had taken the plunge made me scrutinize my own choices.  I quickly learned that there was nothing wrong with my life. I was traveling my own journey. Being genuinely happy for our friends is wonderful. Leaving doubt, and self-judgment behind is liberating.

To me, change and friendships have an obvious connection which is why I decided to write about it. Changes in my life have brought new, amazing people into my life. I did lose some along the way but the people that truly matter to me have all stuck around. I still keep in touch with a few high school friends. Perhaps not as often as we’d like but we reach out to each other from time to time and it always feels like it always did. Those friendships are special to me.

Back on the topic of inciting change in our lives, travel and a move are obvious big ticket items but how about reading? Reading allows us to travel for free. Most libraries have e-books now which means you don’t even have to leave your house in order to borrow a book. My goal this year has been to read more diversely. I had been reading a lot of fanfiction and a lot of romance and I was itching for something more. I will pretty much read anything but I had fallen in a rut reading the same stories written by the same people. By becoming more aware of what I was reading I have been able to discover new voices and perspectives.

I have also tried out a lot of new foods this year. New recipes that have expanded my skills in the kitchen and challenged my abilities. These changes did not take me far from home but they took me far in other ways.

My take aways from this venting session: it’s difficult to make friends as adults. I believe that having or not having children shouldn’t affect a friendship, unless it does… Change is necessary, big and small changes matter.

How about you? How do you feel about change?

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Book Fridays- Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami has been an author I’ve wanted to read for a while. I have a couple of his books on my TBR list. When a friend of mine told me she was reading Norwegian Wood I decided to read it with her. I had not heard of this book before but I was excited to finally experience some Murikami. I borrowed the e-book from my library and got started right away. But not before skimming over some reviews over on Goodreads. A lot of readers seem to dislike this book, which if I am correct is the book that actually launched his career. Quite a few reviewers were of the opinion that this was his weakest work.

What I found was that I absolutely loved this book. The characters were very compelling though at times unlikeable. The story is a Bildungsroman through and through. The story follows Toru Watanabe as he figures out his various relationships with men and women. On the romantic side we have Naoko who Toru has known since high school. They share a common tragedy and this both brings them together and tears them apart. Then we have Midori, a spunky girl who is on the opposite side of the spectrum as Naoko. Toru’s relationship with these two women is muddled.

Then we have Toru’s roommate, Storm Trooper. This character disappears fairly early on but he does have a lasting impact on Toru. His only friend is a law student that’s two years older than him. They bond over liking the same book. Nagasawa is a character that reflects everything that Toru is not. His morality is at times sickening and one cannot but feel sorry for the many women he beds not least his girlfriend Hatsumi.

Not having read any other works by Murakami it is impossible for me to compare how this measures up to his other works but I am definitely going to read more by this author.

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Halloween!

Two houses and five pieces of candy is all it took to make Diego a very happy child. Once he had this mountain of loot he ran home to admire it in peace, haha. It was funny to see him so excited about so little but that’s the great thing about being innocent. I’m sure next year he won’t be as easily impressed. After our quick trick or treating excursion we spent the evening giving out candy. After Diego was in bed I waited until midnight to start my NaNoWriMo efforts. I wrote a little over 1,600 words. I will probably write some more tonight and that will put me ahead of schedule.

Here are a few pictures of our Halloween 🙂

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