Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Here Is New York

January 3, 2010

I finally read E.B. White’s famous essay on New York over my Christmas break.  It did not have any groundbreaking ideas or realizations, but it was beautiful and poignant, and the perfect reading material to accompany me as a travelled around New York on the subway visiting friends and family.  Such a bittersweet vacation this was.  I don’t have any year end posts or retrospective entries about the passing decade.  I don’t have any Christmas posts or pictures.  I didn’t make any New Years resolutions.  The time I’ve spent here (2 weeks exactly)  had a heaviness to it that I can’t quite explain.  It was an emotional time, more emotional than I anticipated.  I sometimes feel guilty for leaving everything and going alway to school, so I try to downplay the difficult stuff and make it seem like it is not a big deal.  But after awhile I am forced to see the entire truth: yes, it is a big deal and it is difficult.  I cannot expect everything and everyone to be exactly the same as when I left.

Regardless, here is New York.  Here is home.

A Walk In the Woods

June 18, 2009

woods

Author Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail with his ridiculously out of shape buddy, Stephen Katz.  In between the story of their hike are interesting facts about the trail and its people.  A hysterical read, Bryson actually made me laugh at 7:30 in the morning, and that is quite a feat.  

One of the most interesting parts of the story was when Bryson traveled through the uninhabited mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.  In 1962, a dump fire spread underground and ignited the vast network of coal mines underneath the town.  The thing about mine fires is that they cannot be extinguished, they just have to burn out.  Many people didn’t realize there was fire burning underneath their feet until the 1970’s.  As the fire spread through the underground mines, the ground on the surface started caving in.  Smoke poured through people’s basements, through cracks on the sidewalks and highways.  Soon the town became unlivable – the fire caused carbon monoxide poising, decreased oxygen levels in the air, created sink holes that swallowed homes and stores, and destroying the interstate and roads.  

In 1984, Congress offered financial incentives for residents to move out of Centralia and into neighboring towns.  In 1992, the state of Pennsylvania declared eminent domain over Centralia and condemned every building in the town.  In 2002, the Postal Service revoked its zip code.  As of 2007, the town had a population of 9.  The fire is still burning and no knows when it will stop.

How crazy is that?  A ghost town in Pennsylvania?  A fire that has been burning for over 40 years?  I kind of want to drive out there and check it out for myself.  Actually, when I drive out to Michigan, I will have to drive through the entire state of Pennsylvania, perhaps I could take a detour. . .

Into the Beautiful North

June 7, 2009

north

This first week of summer school was really tough.  I am in class 8am to 5:10pm every day, expect Fridays.  Monday and Wednesday I only have a one hour break during the day.  Plus there’s my online calculus class to deal with when I get home.  At the end of day I trudge the 4 long avenue blocks from school towards my subway station, carrying my textbooks, computer, notebooks, and lab books; feeling tired, hungry, lonely, and worn out.  I finally get to the subway and have to juggle said textbooks and computer without dropping everything to get into my wallet for my MetroCard, then there’s always at least at 10 minute wait for the R train, even during rush hours.  Then, finally!  The train comes, and I get to sit down and read.  I was so happy to have this book to read.  A book is a friend after a long day. 

Funny how in my last entry I was worried I would not have time to read during my commute because of school, and then I finished Into the Beautiful North in 4 days.  Because really, reading about physics, chemistry or calculus at 7am while I’m in the train the morning?  Turns out that is impossible.  And reading about physics, chemistry or calculus on the train ride back home after I’ve spend 8 hours studying physics, chemistry and calculus?  Also impossible.  

Luis Alberto Urrea is one of my favorite authors.  I read his blog on a regular basis and I have the link in my side bar so all you 3 people who read this blog can also read his.  I was really looking forward to this book after reading and loving The Devil’s Highway and The Hummingbird’s Daughter, and I was not disappointed.  Into the Beautiful North is about a group of friends from a rural southern Mexican village who realize that there are no more men left in their town.  They travel to the United States to recruit a group of men and bring them back to their village. It sounds like a far-fetched idea for a book, but it works.  Urrea writes about sad and difficult situations with love, humor and optimism.  His characters are feisty, funny and likable.  This was a quick, satisfying read.  I was sad to see it end.  Here’s a YouTube clip of Urrea discussing the inspiration for this novel:

The Animal Dialogues

June 2, 2009

animal

Craig Childs seems to be some kind of crazy mountain man who goes hiking alone through deserts and mountains for no apparent reason, lives in a tepee in Colorado, and writes essays about the animals he encounters.  It makes for a really interesting read if you’re into that sort of thing.  If you’re not, it will get boring real fast.  I really loved this book, I was able to loose myself in Child’s writing.  He really makes you feel like you’re traveling alongside him through his hikes.  While walking through the lower Rocky Mountains, Childs gets stalked by a mountain lion.  The lion has him cornered against a lake and Childs is trying to play mind games with the big cat to keep it from attacking him.  I’m reading this on subway, and all of a suddenly the train stops short with a loud screech that scared me so badly I nearly fell out of my seat.    

Childs has a lot of respect and reverence for wild places and wildlife.  He seems to detest cities.  My only criticism if this book, the one thing that bugged me, is that he never writes about the wildlife in cities.  He writes essays about coyotes, mice, raccoons, peregrine falcons and hawks, all which live and thrive in cities around the country.  Just because cities are not wild places doesn’t mean they can’t support forms of wildlife.  I would love if Childs came to New York to write about our wildlife.  Our rats, roaches, mice, red tailed hawks, owls, chipmunks, peregrine falcons, horseshoe crabs, raccoons, pigeons, snakes, and the hundreds of bird species that use our parks as their migratory pit stops.  New York is a really wild place, in terms of both wildlife and people. 

I got a bookstore gift card for my birthday last week and treated myself to a hardcover copy of Urrea’s new novel, Into the Beautiful North.  Buying hardcovers is such a splurge, it feels so luxurious to carry one around instead of a library book or paperback.  The sad news is I started my summer school classes yesterday and for the next 5 weeks I won’t be able to do much of anything besides eat, sleep (if I’m lucky) and homework.  I might have to give up my subway reading time for physics or chemistry reading instead, which makes me really sad.  We’ll see how it goes.

Another Roadside Attraction

May 15, 2009

robbins

I needed a distraction and that’s what the book was for me.  It took me almost an entire month to read this book, way too long for me.  It was my first book by Tom Robbins and it probably won’t be my last.  If you’ve never read any Tom Robbins, start with this one, it is his first novel and you won’t be disappointed.  It is beautiful and insightful, hilarious and creative.  In short, it’s about two hippies who open up a roadside zoo and hot dog stand during the 1960’s.  Also featured are a disillusioned scientist from Johns Hopkins, a pet baboon, and a former college football star who accidentally becomes a bad ass ninja monk.

I am still coming to terms with my decision to leave New York and go to Michigan for school.  It feels so reckless, leaving a well paying job, a rent controlled apartment, and all of my family.  The hardest part, obviously, is leaving Manny behind.  That is going to suck, big time.  I am afraid he feels like I’m abandoning him, that I’m choosing my career over him, that my education is more important that our relationship.  But actually he has been not like that at all, he’s been totally supportive and encouraging and understanding.  He wants the best for me.  But we are really sad and I start tearing up every time I think about it.   I am afraid of being in a new place without him.  Stuff is just so much easier to deal with when he’s around.  It’s going to be really hard.   I keep thinking, what if I get swine flu while I’m in Michigan, who will take care of me?   All I know is I’m definitely getting the flu vaccine next year.

Every decision that I make, I make it with him in mind.  I hope that going away to a more prestigious school will increase my chances of getting an awesome job that I love here in the city.   I would be happy with my career, which would make me a more pleasant person to be around than I am now.  I would make more money, which will help us get a nice place together.  But I just want to do this first, I want to take this chance and go to school,  for myself and for us.

It was my 25th birthday yesterday, on the 14th.  Last week I found my old diary that I kept from around 5th through 9th grades.  What a strange period of my life that was.   I realized I wasn’t a kid anymore and I was just beginning to know myself as an independent person, as an adult.  And it was painfully obvious that I did not fit in, not at school and not at home.  I wanted acceptance from my peers so badly but I also did want to hide or change or who I was.  When I graduated from high school I went away to this crazy cool hippie college in western Massachusetts.  My family teased me endlessly.  They said I was going to major in ultimate frisbee and live in clothing optional dorms.  They said I would never find a real job and that when I graduated I would end up working in a Starbucks.  How wrong they were and I love that they are all eating their words now.  But the best part of going to that crazy hippie college was not the satisfaction of proving everyone wrong.  The best part of going to that college was finding Manny, who was just as much of a misfit as I was.  And in him I found the acceptance I was looking for, but also learned to love and accept myself; with all my flaws, weirdness, and dorky-ness included.  Happy 25th Birthday to me!

Overwhelmed

April 29, 2009

I mentioned I had carpenter ants in my bathroom in a previous post.  Well, as the weeks passed I saw fewer and fewer of them.  Then on Sunday, the temperature went up to 90 degrees.  That morning, my parents came over to help me put up my Ikea blinds that I had bought 5 months ago.  Then I went to brunch with some friends from Hampshire, then I wandered through Prospect Park with Manny and our friend Sam for the rest of the day enjoying the weather.  A red tailed hawk flew right over our heads and we saw a black and white warbler.  Then I got home that evening, I opened my bathroom door and saw dead ants everywhere. On the floor, tub, floating in the toilet, in the sink, windowsill.  They were everywhere.  And they all had wings, which I thought was weird.  So I consulted Google, which told me that many people confuse winged carpenter ants with winged termites.  Google told me that winged termites swarm during the first warm days of spring.  Google told me that if I had winged termites in my house, then I have a problem.  

So, I freaked out.  The next day I called my building management company, declared that I had swarming termites in my bathroom and demanded they send over an exterminator.  And the lady on the phone was all like, yeah ok you really don’t have termites and you need to calm down.  But she obliged and called the exterminator.  So the exterminator came, took one look at a dead insect on my bathroom floor and informed me they were just carpenter ants.  He squirted some peanut butter smelling ant bait in little cracks and crevices and behind my shower head, declared the situation under control, and left.  Three days of stress and fear of swarming insects resolved in less that 15 minutes.  

Why can’t all the issues in my life be resolved so quickly and easily? 

I was accepted into both U of Michigan and Hunter College here in the city.  Michigan has offered me almost a full scholarship.  But just this week they told me I have to take 4 prerequisite classes in order to go there – chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and calculus.  It is even possible to take all these classes in one summer?  Plus, most of deadlines for summer semester at the community colleges in the city have passed.  Plus, some of these prerequisites courses also have prerequisites – for example in order to take calculus I need one year of college math.  In order to waiver this college math requirement, I have to take a test, which I will surely fail because I’m a terrible test taker and particularly suck at math.  So… what do I do? 

I don’t need any prerequisite classes for Hunter, as far as I know.  Going to Hunter is clearly the easiest choice.  I get to stay in the city and not go through the stress and heartache of up-rooting my entire life and being separated from my significant other for months at a time.  While Hunter may not be as prestigious as Michigan, it is still a well respected institution.  And I do really want to go there.  Hunter has been my first choice of school, that is until I was accepted into Michigan.  Is a masters degree worth all of this?  Isn’t what I do with my degree more important than where I get my degree?  But,  I should not just settle on a school just because its the safe and easy choice.  I should go the school of dreams, right?  Up until 2 weeks ago I thought that was Hunter.  Now I’m not so sure.  I want someone to just tell me what to do and how to do it.  

By the way, everything has to be decided by May 5th.  In case you didn’t realize, that’s in 6 days. 

I started reading The Great Bridge last week, a book about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was not entertaining enough to distract me from my school dilemma. So I quit reading it.  I’m sure its a good story and one that I would like to hear, just maybe I’d rather watch a History Channel documentary about it instead of a read a 600 page book about it.  So I started reading Another Roadside Attraction which has been sufficiently entertaining and distracting so far.  I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about Tom Robbins but never read anything of his, so I wanted to fix that.

The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle

April 19, 2009

edgar

My mom recommended this book to me so I picked it up from the library not knowing much about it, but apparently it caused quite a stir among Oprah’s book club fans when it was chosen.  There are 1,167 opinions of this book on Amazon, but here’s mine: I loved it.  It is a modern retelling of Hamlet but with dogs.  A very engrossing story.  I started reading this book on the train going to Queens to visit a friend one Sunday, and its like, a two hour subway ride each way, and I read half of this book in that one day.  This book made the 4 hour subway ride, I daresay, almost tolerable.  I lost many hours of sleep reading this book late into the night.  But it has one of those controversial endings, one that you will either love and it will make the story – or that you will hate and it will ruin the story.  Despite the ending, to me this was worth the read.  One of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.  

I found out on Friday that I was accepted into the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health graduate program.  Its kind of a big deal because its one of the top 5 schools for public health in the country.  I applied to the school almost on a whim.  Kind of like “what the hell I probably won’t get in anyway” type of thing.  But then I got in and now I sort of want to go but don’t know if I want to go at the same time.  I’m still waiting to hear back from one more grad school in the city.  Then I’ll have to make the lovely decision between leaving my boyfriend, friends, family, job, apartment, neighborhood, everything in my life to go away to school or not.   But right now I’m just going to finish off the rest of my Easter candy and watch the Golden Girls.

To See Every Bird On Earth

April 7, 2009

 

bird

While looking up information on the Banana book, I discovered that the author Dan Koeppel also wrote a book about his dad, a hardcore “Big Lister” birder who wanted  to see every bird on earth.  At the time this book was published, Richard Koeppel has seen 7,000 birds.  Dan Koeppel wrote this book to try and find out why his dad was so obsessed with birds.  There isn’t really answer, he just was.  Richard Koeppel gave up his dreams of becoming an ornithologist and became a physician to please his parents.  He got married, had kids, bought a house and tried to live a ‘normal’ life, but he could never stopped birding.  Birding came before his wife, his children, his career, and his health.  This book was an interesting look into the more serious side of bird watching.  I did not know there were such specific birding rules that one must follow.  I didn’t even know there were such hardcore birders out there.

My goal is not see to every bird on earth.  But in the past few weeks during my walks around the Shore Road promenade I’ve seen:

Yesterday I was walking down Fort Hamilton Parkway.  Right at the intersection of Fort Hamilton, 7th Ave and 78th Street I heard really loud unfamiliar squawking/chattering noise.  I looked up and saw a pair of monk parakeets sitting on some wires on the top of a telephone poll.  In that in the late 1960’s, a bunch of monk parakeets where shipped to New York from Argentina and escaped from their crates at JFK Airport.  The parakeets quickly adapted to city life.  There are now established colonies of monk parakeets at Brooklyn College in Flatbush, in Green-Wood Cemetery, and in parts of Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Coney Island, and now apparently in Bay Ridge.

Somehow, magically, I have not been sick all winter.  But today I succumbed to a lousy cold/sore throat/body achy bug.  It is finally my turn to use my sick days.  This morning while browsing my blogs I found a recipe on the Smitten Kitchen for 44-clove garlic soup. What better time to eat something with 44 cloves of garlic in it then when you’re home sick alone on a cold rainy day?  So I trudged through the driving rain to the grocery store for lots of garlic and some cream.  Let me tell you, it was worth it.  This soup is out of this world.  Hopefully all that garlic is driving out my cold.  I probably should take another sick day tomorrow just to make sure.

Darwinvaganza!

March 25, 2009

In celebration of Darwin’s birthday, which was in February, Radiolab posted an interesting podcast featuring one of my favorite authors, David Quammen.

Listen to the podcast here.

The Wishbones

March 23, 2009

wishbones

I went in the library last week looking for something that was like chick lit but with substance.  I don’t want to waste my time reading a brainless book about a girl who’s only goal in life is to get married.  But I want to read something that is entertaining, something that doesn’t require too much brain power, but at the same time doesn’t feel like I’m killing off my brain cells by reading it.  If anyone has suggestions for chick lit with substance, please let me know.

Anyway, I came out of the library with Tom Perrotta’s first novel, The Wishbones. I love Tom Perrotta.  Although I think he missed the mark with The Abstinence Teacher, his earlier novels Joe College, Election and Little Children are among my favorite books.  The Wishbones is about Dave, your average 30-something guy from suburban New Jersey.  Even though he would love to be the next Bruce Springsteen, Dave plays guitar in a wedding band and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.  His life seems very safe.  But then he meets a new and exciting girl from the city – a poet from Brooklyn.  Does he play it safe and stay in Jersey or risk loosing the life he has now for a chance to live the life of his dreams? 

The Wishbones is like High Fidelity meets The Wedding Singer.  It’s hysterical and touching and manages to be authentic and original even though its your typical coming of age / becoming an adult story.  It was good to read since I’m sort of going through a “now I’m adult what should I do with my life” phase. 

Last week I got rejected from Columbia for grad school.  It’s not a big deal, their program was not one of my top choices and I think they’re just an over-priced brand name school anyway, but it was the first grad school I’ve heard back from.  And the rejection comes at time when I’m really, really starting to strongly dislike my job.  Last week I found out a number of my co workers are quitting and I got this panicky feeling like I’m on a sinking ship and I need to get out.  Grad school was my out.  There is only one other school I applied for in NYC.  If I don’t get in there what will I do?  Last week when I got my rejection letter I just felt like quitting my job, recession and finances be damned, and doing volunteer work cleaning up nature trails through the Meadowlands.  But realistically?  I’d never do that.  But I would love to.  Sometimes I don’t even know if I want to study public health in grad school anymore.  But maybe this is just the burn out I feel from my current job.  Who knows.

Yesterday I went to Manny’s house because his nieces wanted me to teach them how to bake cookies.  All four nieces were measuring ingredients at the same time, so needless to say our measurements were not the most exact or precise or accurate.  We might have confused the baking soda with baking powder.  But something went wrong because our cookies came out completely flat, like crackers (but still tasty!).  The girls told me that in Mexico they call this el ojo (the eye).  It happens because we were thinking too much about the cookies, which caused them to deflate.  The oldest niece told me this happens to her when she bakes cakes.  She tries too hard and thinks too much about it, and the middle of cake deflates and sinks.  We put the next tray of cookies in the oven and we made the decision not to think about cookies.  We talked about our favorite movies.  The cookies came out better (still flat but less deflated).

Whatever happens with my job, grad school, my career, and the direction of my life, I hope I have the courage to: 1.) not be afraid to do what I want to and 2.) not to settle and 3.) not become a victim of el ojo by over-analyzing everything in my life like I always do.