Category Archives: Reading

How Words With Friends Stole Christmas

I have read so many posts these last few days about favorite books of 2011. Every time, it reminds me of two things: 1) I clearly follow bloggers aligned with my interests if they all love to read as much as I do, and 2) I kind of forgot to read this year.

When I left for our trip to Ohio to spend Christmas with JB’s family last week, I was so excited for the new books I had downloaded onto my Kindle. I even promised a review of them when we returned in my last post.

Well, we’re back. And unless you want to hear about the first third of The Art of Fielding, I got nothing for you.

There are many parties to blame for this, none of which are me, of course. First, there is Martha Stewart. The winter edition of her Weddings magazine had hit the stands and it basically jumped out of the airport bookstore into my bag. So most of the flight to Cleveland was spent reading about crafty wedding DIY projects that I will never DIY.

The next excuse is fuel for the fire of the e-Reader vs. traditional book debate. Halfway through our trip, I knocked my Kindle off the couch (consuming a mixture of wine, chocolate, nuts and cookies between meals will make you kind of clumsy). It fell onto carpet, but for whatever reason, it damaged the screen. I tried to read on the Kindle app on my iPhone, but it’s not very practical for long-term use.

So I was left with no option. After a couple  of days of watching JB and other family members of his stare down at their phones instead of each other as they searched for two-letter words that no one has ever heard of but somehow add up to 54 points, I wanted in on the Words with Friends action.Scrabble Points Throw Pillow

I had defiantly denied requests to join this mobile game. My main reason being that I didn’t want my friends to see what a limited vocabulary I possessed. Many people assume because I like to read and write or because I have a journalism degree, that I must have a generous grasp of the English language.

But I don’t. I’m frequently using a thesarus to sound smarter. And it actually wasn’t in my journalism studies when I noticed this, but rather in graduate school for my counseling degree. You do a lot of reflecting of emotions in counseling sessions, saying back to the client what they were emoting, but using a different word for that emotion (so it’s not parroting) and ideally, a word with deeper meaning that maybe the client was having a hard time expressing or realizing on his/her own. And while I role-played with classmates, I always struggled to find another word for “happy” or “sad” or “surprised” or “disappointed.” Or the word I often defaulted to — “frustrated.”

All this to say that since then, I have been very cognizant of my not-so-way with words. And I didn’t want to play with Words with Friends and expose myself to the three friends who had asked me whole world.

But as it turns out, Words with Friends has NOTHING to do with vocabulary! Or being smart. Or knowing what words are at all. It is all about trying every combination you can with the letters you have to find a word that includes a triple letter or double word tile. I probably recognize only 60 percent of the words I play, but man it feels good when the “sending move” screen comes on and you know your word has been accepted. Fifty points for “Xi” — awesome! Just don’t ask me to use it in a sentence.

JB’s father kept saying we all looked like 19-year-olds with our heads buried in our phones playing the game against each other. I think he was being generous by giving us 19 instead of 12, but it did take over the week. I’m still cutting my teeth on the game so I’m only playing JB (and another player whose screen name is one-off from JB and I accidentally started a game with him). JB had to go back to work today and his moves became very infrequent. It was so annoying.

Yep, I’m hooked.

Are there any mobile games that you are addicted to? Anything “take over” your holidays? Did you know “neif” was a word? (For the record, WordPress did not).

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Vacation Book Review

I want to write about my latest vacation to St. Croix because it was wonderful, but who wants to see other people’s beach pictures? Hey, guess what I was doing while you were at work? Oh what’s that, you’re laid off due to a bad economy and have no paid vacation days? Aww, I’m sorry……. but look, the water is so clear you can see my feet!

No, no, I didn’t want to do that (this time). So instead, I will recount my vacation through the literature I read while away. Having time to devote myself fully to a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures (for me) and is surely a way I restore balance.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

I actually read this leading up to my vacation,  and it’s a good thing, because even though it is a quick read, it is not exactly what I would consider beach reading.

I’m usually hesitant to read or watch Holocaust-related books and movies, especially when it focuses on the youngest victims. True to form, I had a troubled sleep every night while reading this book. Sarah’s Key is fiction, but centers on the real event of the massive round-up of French Jews in Paris, largely women and children, in  July 1942. Most involved in the arrest were ultimately sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.

I had resisted reading it despite recommendations, but I was lent a copy and with that guilty accountability you feel when you borrow a book and you know the next time you see that person they will ask you if you have read it, I decided to give it a try.  I didn’t put it down for three days.

Sarah’s Key follows the story of a little girl and her family involved in the round-up, juxtaposed with a current-day story about a journalist in Paris investigating that horrific event. To remind you that this is fiction, there are conventional plot twists and some all-too-convenient coincidences linking the two stories, but nevertheless, I found it to be engaging, emotional and educational (I was previously not familiar with the Vel’ d’ Hiv’ round-up).

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

At just 166 pages, I started and finished this book on the flights to St. Croix. McEwan is the author to one of my favorite books, Atonement. (Yes, the Keira Knightley movie, but the book is much better, as per usual.) Atonement had a tentative start, but it’s build-up, twists and ultimate pay-offs have made it a book I like to go back and read the last few pages of every so often.

McEwan showcases the same refined writing style in On Chesil Beach, along with the “what could have been” agony that characterizes Atonement. I picture the author writing this book in one sitting on a rainy afternoon. As he hits “send” to his editor and shuts down the computer, I hear him saying to himself, “Well that was easy.” That’s kind of how I felt reading it too. I was never very attached to the two characters in this book, Edward and Florence, or their predicament — consummating their marriage on their wedding night.

Most of the book takes place on this night in their hotel room. In the end, it’s much more about communication, confronting fears, and sharing them with those you love than any physical act. And I found these emotionally damaged partners and their loosening grips on their relationship very interesting. I just needed a little more. As my flight touched down in St. Croix and I closed the book, Edward and Florence were already far behind me.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn

At least the last book had the word “beach” in the title. I can’t find any reason why this book should be read on vacation, but it was actually the one I read anytime I was out by the pool or relaxing on our patio (I’m not really into sand or sea life so I keep my distance from the actual beach).

I’m not a Bonnie and Clyde aficionado or anything, but it was a selection of my (now former) employer’s staff book club and I thought it would be an interesting read. I was right. The author delved into the life of robberies, fast getaways and family dedication of these young criminals with rich details and, from what I can tell from reading the sources, a whole lot of fact-checking.

Besides his driving ability, Clyde was a pretty mediocre thief. They rarely had glamorous bank robberies or a posh life on the road as presented in the Warren Beatty movie. They were just poor West Dallas kids who every now and then had money to buy some nice clothes. I’m not sympathizing with them by any means; they had a death count, mainly of law enforcement, to be sure. But it’s amazing how we romanticized these and other legendary outlaws.

I’m not sure I would be as interested in this book if I wasn’t from Dallas, but reading about familiar locations added a certain feeling of insider knowledge. If you’re local and/or a history buff, you might enjoy this work.

In reviewing this blog, it’s clear I read a lot of depressing sh*t. If you were looking for suggestions about how to begin and end your upcoming vacation with books about death, I hope you found this post helpful.

If you want some actual “beach read” recommendations, check here and here. And if you have your own suggestions, please share in the comments!

Why I’m Addicted To My Computer

For someone who doesn’t cook, I read several food blogs. Sometimes I file them away in my “recipe” folder in case I feel the urge to create. I have yet to look in that folder.

But anyway, food bloggers often share what is inside their refrigerator or what products they buy. If I show you the inside of my fridge, you might think I’m a 25-year-old bachelor, so I’m not going to do that. But when a friend and adoring fan recently asked me if I would write about what was in my Google Reader, I considered this my “inside the refrigerator” moment. I actually think you can learn a lot about a person based on what they choose to read. And it’s a great way to identify the areas that energize you.

(A little background: If you are not familiar with Google Reader, it is a feed for following blogs. Instead of them being emailed to you, they just show up in your reader for viewing at your leisure. It is a great tool if you follow gobs — that is actually the synonym I chose when I looked up “many” — of blogs like I do.)

My Reader is divided into categories, so for those who dare to peak, let me break it down for you:

Category 1: Of course, my friends’ blogs. A wonderful way to stay caught up, coo at baby pictures, and be reminded that I have really smart, funny, and quirky friends who do smart, funny and quirky things.

Category 2: Blogs about blogging. It’s so meta. As a new blogger (or even if I ever become a seasoned one), reading the tips, advice and encouragement from these blogs have helped me develop as a writer. While sometimes they are more geared toward those monetizing their blogs, many of the posts are applicable to a blogger or writer at any level. My favorites are copyblogger, Daily Blog Tips, ProBlogger and Daily Writing Tips.  Since I use WordPress as my blogging platform, I also follow its blog to stay updated on new themes, server issues, etc.

Category 3: Career and Gen Y blogs. I have to throw in some professional-related blogs so I can justify being on my Google Reader during work hours! But seriously, reading blogs about your industry is a great way to stay up-to-date on trends, research and the big players in your field. Commenting on those blogs is a good start for becoming one of those big players and building your network. I follow way too many to list here, but some big ones that I enjoy are: Dan Pink, Corn on the Job, The Work Buzz, Keppie Careers, and Gen Pink.

Category 4: Lifestyle and entertainment blogs. My favorites are the local ones, like D Magazine‘s arts blog and food blog. I stay current on the latest arts events and restaurant openings in the city even if I rarely actually attend them. But following these blogs gets me *this much* closer to being hip!

Some blogs are just fun because they are personal and written well. I guess they are the type of blog I aspire mine to be. Dooce has probably cornered this market. I found out about I Hate Green Beans because of the blogger’s Bachelor recaps, but beyond that, it’s an amusing mix of personal stories and pop culture. Similarly, The Healthy Everythingtarian combines the journal style of blogging with food recipes and tips.

Another one of my favorites in this category is What Makes Them Click. From the blog, it is about learning how to “apply psychology to understand how people think, work, and relate.” It draws on research, but is presented in a non-researchy way. Which is good for people like me who words like “non-researchy.”

Category 5: Balance blogs. You have to read about what you write about, people! I love reading stories of other people looking for balance. As you may have read, doing this lead to my opportunity to guest post with Balance in Me, so if you blog, I definitely recommend reading and commenting on blogs like yours. The blogosphere is all about community after all!

If you are still reading this, then I have to imagine you are a prime candidate for a robust Google Reader. To find blogs about topics of your fancy, Alltop is a great place to start. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favorite blogs in the comments so I can spend even more time in front of my computer!