Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 book "awards"

I read a lot. At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to read a certain number of books. I settled on 35. I exceeded my goal.

Like I said, I read a lot.

Then I thought it would be fun to create little categories and "award" the books I read this year for being a certain kind of awesome or not-so-awesome. So here goes.

Books read: 51

Total number of pages read: 18,178

  • 5 stars: 12
  • 4 stars: 10
  • 3 stars: 22
  • 2 stars: 5
  • 1 star: 2
First reads: 37

Re-reads: 14

Longest book: Towers of Midnight (WoT #13), by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson. 864 pages.

Shortest book: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. 54 pages. Yes, this book really is that short.

Book that belongs on the pedastal of awesomesauce: The Giver, by Lois Lowry. This book left quite an impression on me when Mr. Applegate, my 5th grade teacher, read it to us. So much of an impression that it continues to leave the rest of the books I've read (minus a select few) behind in the dregs of its awesomesauce.

Book that belongs in my torture chamber: The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. I don't think I need to explain this one.

Best escape book: Thy Gold to Refine (W&G #4), by Gerald N. Lund. My love for reading stemmed from the ability to escape into other worlds, not for the lessons the books taught (that came later). This re-read of the Work and Glory series has made me realize that Elder Lund isn't a spectacular writer. However, it is so easy to get lost in this world where the Steeds are real people. I've always loved these characters, which is why this series is one I often turn to when I just want to escape from reality. That fact that I read this book when I particularly needed something to escape to is a big reason why this book wins the escape award.

Best nonfiction: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, by Gary Chapman. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, and this year I only had two options to choose from. People are always telling me that marriage is hard but they rarely say why. This book explains some of that mystery.

Yawn award: Crossroads of Twilight (WoT #10), by Robert Jordan. The 9th Wheel of Time book had the most epic ending ever and then Jordan killed the momentum by writing his most boring book of the series. He spends the first 500 pages telling us how every rock, stick, and item of clothing reacted to the event at the end of book 9. My brain was too desensitized to notice anything interesting after that. The next time I re-read this series, I'm skipping this book.

Chick award: Star of the Morning, by Lynn Kurland. This book is pegged as fantasy, but it's all about the romance. This is an extremely clean romance, which makes it a safe, enjoyable escape read.

Funniest book: Bored of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon. This book has more than its fair share of sexual and potty-mouth humor, but there are also plenty of bouts of real humor. Even though I felt like a vile betrayer reading something that mocks something as sacred as Lord of the Rings, I sniggered through most of the book. Simply reading the names was enough to give me some much-needed comic relief during my study breaks. Sorhead and ballhog were among my favorite names.

Saddest book: Messenger, by Lois Lowry. This book is sad, obviously, but I've read other sad books that don't affect me like this one does. I cried buckets of tears both times I read this book, though luckily I was alone when I read it this year.

Book I was most pleasantly surprised by: Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah. I checked this book out from the library, but ended up turning it in before I had a chance to read it. A few days later I saw this book again when I was buying a new journal at Barnes and Noble. So I bought it. Usually when I pick up a book I've never heard of before or have some vague interest in, it ends up being a "meh" read. That was not the case with this book. I loved it. It's beautiful, tragic, inspiring, and educational, all wrapped in one lovely package.

Book I was most disappointed in: The Three Musketeers, by Alexadre Dumas. The '90s version of this movie holds a special place in my heart, partly because of childhood memories and the Bryan Adams song at the end. I expected this book to be about lovable rogues who have great adventures, just like in the movie, but instead it was 600 pages of a violently hormonal d'Artagnan, lazy men who gamble and sleep with other men's wives, and slight after slight on the female race.

Book that fueled my hope for humanity: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Life can be good even if you're poor and your dad's a drunk. Like The Casual Vacancy, this book starkingly reflects real life--every messy bit of it--but unlike the Casual Vacancy, I closed the book filled with hope.

Book that would make a great movie: I debated between a Wheel of Time book and The Goose Girl, and eventually my girlie side won out and picked The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale. It's a great story that I think boys and girls, men and women, would enjoy. And I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the relationship between Ani and Geric on screen.

Book that should not be made into a movie: Again, I debated between two books: The Giver and The Casual Vacancy. As much as I don't want to see The Casual Vacancy on screen, I think it's still more doable than The Giver. I don't know how filmmakers could do it justice, especially since Jonas lives in a world without basic things like color. Half the greatness of the book is the little discoveries throughout as you realize this world doesn't have things we all take for granted; we don't need a movie to spell all that out for us.

Book I wouldn't mind living in: The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. Watterson captures childhood perfectly through Cavlin and Hobbes. I would love to be one of Calvin's playmates and join him on one of his many adventures. That is, after I filched the Transfimogrifier (sp?) and turned myself into a boy. Otherwise Calvin would only throw snowballs at me, even if it was in the middle of July.

Most thought provoking: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Every night after I put my bedtime reading aside, I would lie in bed and think about the themes in this novel: redemption, hope, abuse, relationships. This book deals with a lot of difficult issues, but it sure gave me a lot to think about (and to be grateful for).

Most unique: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. Most of the books I read fall under the YA and fantasy categories, so I've been trying to expand my world view a bit. I never would have picked up Heart of Darkness just for fun, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Favorite character: Razo, from River Secrets by Shannon Hale (he also appears in the other Books of Bayern, but this book is about him). I love his easy-going nature. I love his obsession with food. I love his crazy hair. I love his ability to crack jokes in any situation. And I love that he loves his little sister, Rinn, so much. He may not be the best warrior, but he has unique skills that don't force him into the limelight all the time. This is the type of guy I could easily fall for.

Least favorite character: That would be Simon from The Casual Vacancy. He had to battle a lot of other venomous characters from The Casual Vacancy to get this award.

Character I could relate to most: Rinn from Forest Born by Shannon Hale. Rinn is basically me when I was a teenager, except I didn't have like 12 older siblings. There are so many things about her that I understood on a deeply emotional level.

Best crop of the year: You know a book is good if you'd recommend it to your friends without hesitation. Here's the most satisfying crop of books I came across this year (in no particular order).
  • The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
  • The Gathering Storm (WoT #12), by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
  • The Books of Bayern series, by Shannon Hale
  • Sons of Oak (Runelords #5), by David Farland
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  • Messenger, by Lois Lowry
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
  • Bored of the Rings, by Henry Beard
  • Christmas Jars, by Jason F. Wright
  • Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Complete list of books read during 2012 (to see my reviews, click here):
Cinder and Ella, by Melissa Lemon
Crossroads of Twilight (WoT #10), by Robert Jordan
Knife of Dreams (WoT #11), by Robert Jordan
The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
The Gathering Storm (WoT #12), by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
Towers of Midnight (WoT #13), by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
Star of the Morning, by Lynn Kurland
The Scent of Cherry Blossoms: A Romance from the Heart of Amish Country, by Cindy Woodsmall
Switched, by Amanda Hocking
Torn, by Amanda Hocking
The Mage's Daughter, by Lynn Kurland
Sons of Oak (Runelords #5), by David Farland
Princess of the Sword, by Lynn Kurland
Ascend, by Amanda Hocking
Worldbinder (Runelords #6), by David Farland
The Wyrmling Horde (Runelords #7), by David Farland
Defenders of the Covenant, by Angie Lofthouse
The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale
River Secrets, by Shannon Hale
Forest Born, by Shannon Hale
Alcatraz vs. the Scrivener's Bones (Alcatraz #2), by Brandon Sanderson
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, by Fred Kaplan
The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas
Of Grace and Chocolate, by Krista Lynne Jensen
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
Messenger, by Lois Lowry
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, by Gail Carson Levine
The Princess Test, by Gail Carson Levine
A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull
A Pillar of Light (W&G #1), by Gerald N. Lund
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Like a Fire Is Burning (W&G #2), by Gerald N. Lund
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
Truth Will Prevail (W&G #3), by Gerald N. Lund
Bored of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon
Thy Gold to Refine (W&G #4), by Gerald N. Lund
A Season of Joy (W&G #5), by Gerald N. Lund
Christmas Jars, by Jason F. Wright
Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce
Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah
Praise to the Man (W&G #6), by Gerald N. Lund
Stardust of Yesterday, by Lynn Kurland
Princess of the Silver Woods, by Jessica Day George
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My 2012 resolution: Be uncomfortable

In the past, my New Years Resolutions from year to year have been much the same: be nicer to my siblings, do my jobs without Mom telling me to, work out more, save money, get good grades. I usually came up with a list of 15–20 things I wanted to "improve" on that I smugly hung up somewhere in my bedroom or shyly hid in my journal.

But this year I decided to approach the New Years Resolution thing a little bit differently. As much as I love crossing things off my to-do list, I thought it would be more effective to focus on being rather than doing. If you don't know the difference, read this conference talk. It rocks.

I couldn't resist making a few list-like resolutions, but I made one resolution that became my theme for the year: be uncomfortable.

My bishop is always encouraging us to put ourselves into situations where we will be uncomfortable. Go out on missionary visits. Say hi to a long-haired hooligan. Bear your testimony to your co-workers. He's told me a couple of times that there's nothing he loves more than being uncomfortable, as long as it doesn't kill him.

I don't share Bishop Ayre's enthusiasm about discomfort. I've done a pretty good job avoiding it up till now. So I took upon myself a real New Years challenge this year; one that would require real change, not one that I would probably do even if I didn't consciously decide to do it.

While I didn't seize as many opportunities as I could have to be uncomfortable (even Bishop Ayre agrees that there's a limit to the amount of discomfort you can handle), I launched myself into the realm of discomfort many a time. In summary:

  • I went to several FHEs.
  • I participated in my ward's co-ed softball team.
  • I spoke in sacrament meeting.
  • I asked my home teachers to give me a blessing.
  • I made the best of my smoker's apartment.
  • I moved out of my smoker's apartment.
  • I worked out where people could see me.
  • I decided to go to grad school.
  • I survived my first semester of grad school.
  • I voiced my opinions at work.
  • I voiced my opinions at school.
  • I asked more questions at work (and not just through email—I approached people for help more times than I care to remember).
  • I shared a little bit more of myself on my blog.
  • I talked to people at work a little more (though I still blush whenever anyone so much as looks at me).
  • I performed a couple times with my mom and sisters.
Most of the time, being so uncomfortable made me all the more aware of my weaknesses. I spent a ridiculous amount of time dwelling on how much I hate going to social functions by myself and how much I dread casually swinging by someone's office to remind them to get their newsletter articles to me. Many of the hopes I harbored were dashed when my brief, adrenaline-filled bouts of discomfort failed to produce any short-term blessings.

But overall, being uncomfortable allowed me to confront my weaknesses and show them that they aren't the boss of me. Asking questions isn't so hard anymore. When people ask for my opinion on something, I can answer them without saying "I don't know about that—ask so-and-so." Others claim to have been blessed by my moments of discomfort, like my home teachers who came over to my apartment at 10:00 p.m. to give me a healing blessing, and the people who listened to me sing with my mom and sisters.

I didn't make this resolution because I wanted to check it off the list and be done with it. I made it because I hope being uncomfortable will become a bigger part of who I am. And I'm not done focusing on this theme—not by a long shot.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One smile

I stopped by Smith's today on my way home from work. As usual, I was frazzled from a long day of work: nine hours of reading off a computer screen, fighting with html code, editing other people's writing and trying not to get too worked up over questions that end in periods, and wondering how the heck this not having a real boss thing could ever work. I wanted to get the errand done as fast as humanly possible so I could begin my de-stressing exercise at home.

I've become a bit of a champion quick grocery shopper. On days like today when I only have to stock up on the essentials, it almost takes more time to walk from my car to the store's entrance than it does to grab the items I need and whip them through the fast lane. Within minutes of entering the store, I exited it with my two bags of groceries and my gallon of milk.

The only thing separating me from my car was the old man monitoring the basket of coins and dollar bills that hurried shoppers left for charity on their way out. Usually I avoid these stations, but that's really hard to do during this time of year when volunteers are stationed at every entrance of every store. So I settled for my next-most effective avoidance maneuver: I tried not to look the man in the eye and quickened my pace a little.

As I passed him, the man said, "Merry Christmas." I risked a glance back, and saw that he was smiling a genuine smile, his eyes sparkling a bit under his bushy, gray eyebrows. If I still believed in Santa Claus, I would have been convinced that this man was Santa in disguise. He looked as if he wanted nothing more than to ring the cheap bell outside in the cold as people rushed passed him avoiding his gaze. His smile was the most real thing I've seen all week. It washed away my stress and fatigue quicker than an episode of Boy Meets World could.

I drove home thinking about all the smiles I had received that week—the ones that were only there out of politeness or because someone wanted something. I thought about all the smiles I hadn't received, like when I went to my ward Christmas party on Monday.

But the only thing that really mattered was that old man. He didn't smile because he was about to ask me a favor, nor did he keep his smile to himself because he sensed that I wasn't friendly. He just smiled.  I doubt he knows what a gift that smile was to me, but it'll be at the top of my list of "gratefuls" when I go to sleep tonight.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Revisiting that wonderful feeling

I can think of few feelings that are as wonderful as the one you get when a semester officially comes to an end. I think I've been a little bit in denial the past 11 weeks when I told others (and myself) that school wasn't a huge burden because I had the free time to dedicate to it. I figured that since I finished studying by 9:00 p.m. every day, I wasn't making as big of a sacrifice as most people thought I was. The past month has taught me otherwise, as I struggled more than I ever have to find the motivation to finish that final sprint.

It's been over two years since I've experienced this, but once again I find myself enveloped in that comforting "whoosh" feeling. All you current and former students know what I mean—you feel warm from the inside out as if you've just drunk a mug of delicious hot cocoa, and if it weren't for gravity, you would float away because that iron bar that's been crushing your shoulder blades for weeks has suddenly disappeared.

It's such a good feeling. It almost makes all the suffering worth it.

The feeling gets even better when you realize that there are four complete weeks standing between you and the next semester. By then, I'm sure I'll be ready to jump back into the fire. 

But until then, I'm going to relax, have fun, and enjoy the Christmas spirit. Hard work (after 5:00 p.m., that is) will commence in 2013.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"I have all these thoughts, and I HAVE to say them!"

My boss at BYU had this grandson who wouldn't talk. When he was about five, his parents took him to "therapy," where they literally fed the kid candy whenever he said anything. That did the trick. From that point on, he wouldn't stop talking. One night, this kid and his brother were staying at Mel's house for the night, and after enduring nonstop talking for about 15 minutes, the older brother said, "Russel--I'm trying to sleep. Please stop talking!" To which Russel responded: "I have all these thoughts, and I have to say them!"

I sympathize with that kid. I know what it feels like to have your head stuffed so full of thoughts you feel like you'll explode if you don't let some of them out. Hmmmm. I just had a possibly brilliant idea. I could rename this blog "Dumbledore's Pensieve." Too much?
  • I've uncovered another truth about adulthood. When I was a kid, I thought one of the great things about being an adult was that you didn't have to do anything anyone told you to do. I already learned that adults still have to do what they're told, but now I realize how much of a luxury it is to have someone to tell you what to do.
  • And another realization: getting a promotion isn't all about the glory. It means you're about to be a lot more uncomfortable, all the time. At least, that's the case if you're like me and you're very unambitious when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder.
  • I now understand how it's possible to get overwhelmed by emails. I check my inboxes constantly and I like them to be clean. Seeing that I have 12 unread emails makes my blood pressure rise a little. Now, all of the sudden, I am getting 100+ emails a day and it's impossible to keep up with them all. I guess I'm going to have to de-OCD my email habits.
  • The parallels between my life now and my life eight years ago is just freaky.  
  • Last night I learned that I do not have the correct genes required to load new staples in a staple gun.
  • This morning I had an unusually mundane dream. I dreamed about getting ready for work, making breakfast, and talking to people at work about normal work things. Boring.
  • I am so happy it's Friday I could . . . take a nap.