Guardian Building lobby

2020 Q4 reading update.

More book reviews!

This batch included a mix of physical titles (bought some, and went to the library all of twice the last three months) and library e-books. With these, my final total for the year 2020 is 45. That's well above 2019's total of 27 and a reasonable expectation for how many I'll be able to complete in any year where I'm working full-time and mostly interested in non-fiction.

This got long, so all reviews are behind a cut.

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Capitalist Liz

A Friday Five for you Christmas people out there.

Although very premature, unless you're the Hallmark Store and/or Channel.

1. Have you started decorating for holidays yet or are you going to skip it this year?
Hah, I never start this early. December 1 is usually the sweet spot for me, and I am thinking of ordering a new tree because our old secondhand fiber optic one kicked the bucket during last year's holiday season, but I just stashed it in the back of the closet.

2. Will your gift buying be more local or online this year because of restrictions?
Pretty much 100% online, but the silver lining of 2020 is that so much stuff can be easily purchased online. I already have a fair number of gifts ID'd for people.

3. Will you be doing something ‘extra’ to try and give this year’s celebration a bit more sparkle?
Still early to figure that out for Christmas. We know for Thanksgiving that we're doing a deep fried chicken with the other usual sides, which will be a fun dinner.

4. No parties this year, but how are you reaching out to family and friends to wish them well?
Lots of texts and Facebook messages, nothing really special.

5. Do you believe in Krampus?
No, but I'll still gladly leave an aperitif out on Christmas Eve for him/me.

A research-heavy Friday Five.

Very relevant for my ample free time.

1) What is the oldest thing you own?

I inherited some dishes from my parents that are likely from the 1950s. Also used to have some Pfaltzgraff flatware that may have been older, but I sold it to Replacements, Ltd. right before I moved out of North Carolina.

2) What is the oldest home you've lived in?
I had to look up some property records in order to answer this, and it was fascinating! Thanks to the City of Ann Arbor's very good online property database, I confirmed that the house I lived in my second year of grad school is the winner, built in 1915. Very glad that it was renovated in general along the way, and specifically with a half-bath on the first floor. The house from my first year of grad school is a close second, built in 1920, and definitely not aging as well.

3) What is the oldest book you've read?
Maybe The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano? Nothing older is coming to mind at the moment.

4) What is the oldest electronic device that you still use?
I have replaced most of these in the last few years, so nothing all that old remains. If we're counting my car, it is 16!

5) What is the oldest work of art/architecture that you've seen?
Some parts of this pueblo near where I grew up are estimated to be more than 900 years old. We used to go there quite a bit when I was a kid, as well as to some other national parks around the Four Corners region with dwellings that are confirmed as 500+ years old.
Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb buh-bomb

If Robert Pattinson can be Batman ...

I can be a world-famous consultant.

Obviously I've been scarce around here again. The latter half of the work week became a mad sprint to get several projects completed, one of which I'll have done by the end of Monday and another (much larger) one by ... maybe Wednesday. I should probably have worked on the latter today, but I couldn't be arsed. It will be there on Monday. This hasn't been a typical summer for anyone, clearly, but it's been especially pronounced that the usual vacation lull of August didn't occur, and mostly everyone is instead getting mad overworked from home.

Lucky us, we also have five people, and relatively senior people at that, going to or already on parental leave in the second half of the year, out of 23. DC's adoption of a very good paid family leave policy in 2020 may have had a role to play in that, so it makes more sense to be a professional here having a kid now than it did in 2019. Hooray for fertility.
Gay black clouds

2020 Q2 reading update.

Heavy e-book edition.

Well, I can do the math. If I set my 2020 book goal at 75 titles and only completed 25 by mid-year, that might not work out. But there were a lot of great ones in here, as well as a couple that I truly didn't like but finished out of stubbornness. Read on for reviews.

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Titles YTD = 25
Most comfortable chair ever.

A cleaning-themed Friday Five.

To highlight that I had been doing so well at housework for the first four quarantine weeks!

1. What's the most cluttered spot in your home?
The low bedroom shelves where we have CDs, DVDs, some books, and other random stuff. It always ends up as a default place for things that have no other home.

2. What's your method for decluttering?
One item at a time and don't get distracted, basically.

3. What are your favorite cleaning products?

4. What helps get you motivated to clean up?
Often it is just procrastinating/avoiding something else, but I don't argue with results. More recently, I have been taking on one infrequent cleaning chore every Sunday, like dusting the blinds or scrubbing the kitchen cabinet doors/shelves. That routine is going reasonably well, and I think this week will be putting the giant thick duvet through the washing machine before it gets put away for summer.

5. What's the most organized spot in your home?
The kitchen. We don't have a lot of space, especially counter space, so it's much harder to use if it's not tidy.
Gay cocktail

Documenting our spring quarantine menu.

Because what else do I have to do after work but shop for food, eat food, and Instagram food?

Recent and upcoming meals at our house:
  • Saturday: Char siu and steamed dumplings
  • Tonight: Sauteed shrimp and vegetables in cream sauce over pasta
  • Tomorrow: Beef tacos and tostadas with margaritas*
  • Wednesday or whenever we run out of leftovers: Chili mac

Finally, there are always new tricks available to even (very) old dogs. With LJ offering the option, I am testing out the Show Related Posts feature for the first time with this entry. I'm mildly curious as to which of my many, many entries with the chosen tag the algorithm will display, so this is mostly an experiment for myself.

*As two bona fide Latinos we reserve the right to celebrate ridiculous holidays like Cinco de Mayo in basic ways.
Rainbow nature

2020 Q1 reading update

Pre-library closure edition!

Long before the coronavirus forced me to work from home, I had the ambition to significantly up my book reading. Here are the books I completed between January 1 and March 31, in chronological order by when I finished. And while this doesn't quite have me on track to make my 75 titles goal for the year, I still feel good about my pace.

Ratings are also what I included in my LibraryThing account, but I haven't yet figured out how to crosspost reviews and other content from there to here, so you get to see them in this narrative format.

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Titles YTD = 11
October 2010

In which I assess my level of adulting.

A very practical Friday Five.

1. Can you do simple sewing repairs, such as replacing a button or rejoining a straight seam?
I can. Although I'd taken a long vacation from reattaching buttons, a couple of months ago I resumed by doing two: one on my usual winter coat, and one on my favorite patterned button down. I'm chuffed that I was not only able to do it but find a comparable button for the latter in the house.

2. Can you change a flat tire?
Yes. But if I get a flat on a super busy highway, I'd be inclined to call AAA for help just for my safety.

3. Can you plan and cook a simple meal?
I can. Mexican stuff is my go-to, but I also do a decent roast chicken + mashed potatoes + chili-tossed vegetables.

4. Can you rewire a lamp?
Nope, and I've never tried. This is one of those scenarios where I'll just say screw it and go to Ikea.

5. Are you a spender or a saver? Are you able to switch from one to the other on occasion?
Oh, very much a spender. I do have my retirement plan contribution set to increase by 1% a year, and I will be socking away much of my tax refunds in savings. Plus I drive a 14-year old car. But other than that, I have bounced to the complete opposite approach from a childhood where we were really watching every dollar and buying lots of stuff from yard sales, etc. It had its virtues, but I think it gave me a little extreme mindset in early adulthood where I would almost always walk out of stores, malls, etc. emptyhanded even when I really needed clothes and furniture and such! Now I have a pretty hefty closet and I actually enjoy letting myself buy nice things without needing to justify it.

My parents have sort of evolved on this front too and subscribe to the you-can't-take-it-with-you philosophy so we are all spending more freely than we used to. It probably helps that they now have Social Security and a pretty generous pension in addition to Dad's continued work wages.
Art museum

Q4 reading update

Keep putting these things on dead trees, publishers! There's still one user out here.

And here we are! I am somewhat embarrassed to say I don't remember what my book goal was for 2019 but 27 is pretty decent, although slightly down from 32 in 2018. I was admittedly insanely busy for much of the year, and most of my travel (e.g. driving to Wisconsin, too-short flights) wasn't amenable to knocking out a large amount of reading. I still achieved a lot, getting through long-wanted titles and keeping a steady if slow pace.

Ratings are also what I included in my LibraryThing account, but I haven't yet figured out how to crosspost reviews and other content from there to here, so you get to see them in this narrative format.

All Over Creation: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
I finally ended my fiction drought of 2019 with this title! The main character grew up in Idaho with a potato farmer father and Japanese expat mother with an intense green thumb before GTFO at a young age. The aging of said parents requires her to return for the first time in 20 years with the children she now has, and everyone is suitably uncomfortable with the arrangement. It was a rich narrative with strong development of a lot of characters, even though we likely could have done without some of them. 4*

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Perhaps I'm already doing what the author proposes by stubbornly reading all these books in actual print. It is nice to slowly and aimlessly enjoy something even if it offers no remuneration or credentialing, and that's her point. It won't surprise you to hear Odell is an artist first, and this bit of unconventional writing reminds you of that. 3.5*

Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 by Robert Fogelson
The author claimed in the foreword of this title that someone had to take on the project of chronicling how large urban downtowns came to be, but I'm not sure I agree. He also began with the personal history of visiting his father's midtown Manhattan office and wanting to explore the topic further from there. Admirable in theory, but it became something of a bore to get through the long justifications of why a central business district is not a downtown is not a financial district, and so on. 2.5*

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam
Probably the last of the older titles that has been on my reading list too long. Though it is dated in some ways, I was glad to finally get through this one and understand why so many planners have cited this. Putnam did have an ambitious undertaking here, and went through a serious amount of quantitative data to support his claims. A useful follow-up would be a new edition that takes into account where the trends in meeting people and forming clubs and associations have evolved now that the internet is as ubiquitous as it has become twenty years later. He did touch on the nascent changes that this was bringing at the time of publication, which was prescient. 3.5*

What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
In a succinct narrative, the pediatrician that understood what had suddenly gone wrong with her many patients and worked against the State of Michigan to expose it. Despite having to cover technical aspects of water treatment, lead exposure in children, and a large state bureaucracy, this stayed suspenseful and original throughout. Part of what helps humanize it is the author linking her family's origins in Iraq and their emigration to the US to the main topic. And one great asset that Flint does have is Hurley Medical Center, which is rightly getting positive attention not just for their role here but in other endeavors. 4.5*

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
... and sometimes I do read the hot new non-fiction as soon as my library gets it. This was a sobering look at how the default human is male in most of what we still do today, and how that is literally deadly for women, including in pharmaceutical doses, military and police uniforms, car crashes, and more. Even the cover supports the claim in a very creative visual. It would, though, have been nice to get a little more about what solutions to public infrastructure this awareness could lead us to, as she did in other areas. 4*

God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican by Gerald Posner
An exhausting but probably important look inside this insanely secretive organization. Financial histories can be tricky to write, and realistically there is no way the Catholic Church is going to allow enough of their records to become public for a comprehensive look at this topic. Still an admirable effort, but the hundreds of men and positions within the Vatican quickly started to blend together. 2.5*

Downtown Owl: A Novel by Chuck Klosterman
Rather than getting straight to the hot new releases of every author, lately my tendency has been to start with their debut novels. This one was a little rough; although I liked the character development and the bleak setting (Klosterman grew up in a tiny isolated village like the titular location and it shows), the plot really didn't go much of anywhere until the final two chapters. Possibly a good read for a long flight, but I kept putting it down and struggled to get through it in multiple sittings. 3*

Titles YTD = 27