December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

My Best Books of 2014: A Threeve

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my Book of the Year selection. It was a strong, strong year, right up until the very end. I wasn’t able to finalize my selection until yesterday, when I finished Americanah. (Solid contender, but did not make the final cut. Though surprised by how much I liked it, I soon realized I’m that white person who wants to tell all her black friends how much she now understands their struggle. AS IF.)

Here, then, my top five books of 2014:

#5 - The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida (Non-Fiction)

That this memoir is written by a 13-year-old autistic boy is reason enough to check it out, whether or not you understand autism enough to realize how impossible the idea of an autism memoir seems. I’m no expert, but the autistic are generally trapped inside themselves, no? Higashida learned to use an alphabet grid to communicate his ideas, and the insights into how those with autism—and to a lesser degree, Asperger’s and other social anxiety disorders—function. Fascinating.

#4 - The Martian by Andy Weir (Fiction)

The film adaptation of this book, starring Matt Damon, is due out next year. Beat the zeitgeist rush by reading it now. The titular character is not, in fact, a Martian, but a stranded astronaut. Will he manage to survive using his own derring-do in the face of impossible odds? No spoilers here.

#3 - Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings (Non-Fiction)

Most of what your parents told you is pure crap. Don’t take this personally; their parents probably told them not to swim after eating or stare into the microwave, and that apple seeds were poisonous. But you know what? False, false, and FALSE. In this book, Ken Jennings (yes, THAT Ken Jennings) takes many of those parental edicts and either proves or debunks them. And guess what? Turns out that most of what we weren’t allowed to do would have been totally fine. If you have procreated, read this and then let your spawn  go crazy. If you haven’t procreated, read this and then go crazy to make up for all those years you missed. I think this is what the kids mean when they say “yolo,” correct?

#2 - Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (Non-Fiction)

I am just now joining the cult of the Bloggess, and I apologize for my tardiness. I can’t describe this book better than Amazon did: “When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.”

#1 - Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Fiction)

Set in 1970s Ohio. About a Chinese man, his American wife, and their three kids. Put into motion when the favorite child is found dead. Calling this a murder mystery, though, is like calling To Kill a Mockingbird a courtroom drama. It’s about family ties, the domino effect of small choices, racism, sibling rivalry, friendship, and more. Not since Gone Girl have I had such simultaneous, permeating feelings of dread and fascination while reading a book. Gripping. Not least because I saw in it many things still inherent in the Asian American experience today. The more things change, right?

December 18, 2014

December 18, 2014

Yankee Swap, Revisited

(For the original Yankee Swap from 2007, featuring firemen and personal lubricant in a situation far less-sexy than the one you're imagining, go here.)

Today is my office’s annual white elephant gift exchange. While you’re probably familiar with the concept, allow Michael Scott a brief moment to explain:

(“Christmas Party” is the first episode of The Office I ever saw, and also my favorite. Those two things may be related, since most people’s favorite episode seems to be “The Injury.” Which is not even my second-favorite episode; I prefer “Diversity Day.” But I digress.)

So whether you call it White Elephant, Yankee Swap, or something else entirely, you know about the picking of numbers, the unwrapping of gifts, the stealing of other people’s stuff, and the general malaise that accompanies 90% of the proceedings.

The other 10%, of course, is straight-up malice. The people who bring trash as their gift. The people who delight in stealing someone else’s gift because they don’t want that person to have it rather than because they themselves actually want it. You know what I’m talking about, and hopefully because you’ve SEEN it and not because you’ve DONE it.

I’m no fan of humanity, but even I try to get a decent gift for the office exchange. Something I wouldn’t mind taking home myself. This actually brings me to a sort of existential quandary: Is it bad karma to end up with your own gift?

I mean, I understand that it’s…shall we say…“questionable” to get yourself in a Secret Santa situation. Kevin’s delight aside:

But things are a bit more dicey when it comes to exchanges. For the most part, people get a selection of gifts. If they’ve passed over yours—and you think it’s a good gift—then I believe you can go for it with impunity. It’s like if you came to my home (unlikely) and I offered you a piece of cake (even more unlikely) and you didn’t want it. I would then happily eat it. In front of you. BECAUSE WHAT IMBECILE TURNS DOWN FREE CAKE?

Okay, bad example.

Anyway, at time of writing I have no idea what I’ll get. I try to go into these situations expecting the worst. The price of the gift that I purchased is simply the cost of social acceptance. Sunk cost.

May the odds be ever in our favor, gift exchangers.

December 16, 2014

December 16, 2014

We Googled It

My favorite of the many year-end lists, recaps, and reviews is the annual Google Zeitgeist video. It’s one of the few times a year that I marvel at humanity rather than wince at it. (Your mileage may vary.) In preparation for this year’s video, which came out yesterday, I re-watched 2010 through 2013. And while they’re all inspiring and mist-inducing, my favorite remains 2011:

Whether you believe we’re alone in the universe, put here by a higher power, and/or living lives of quiet desperation, the fact remains that we’re all in this together. For better or worse.

It’s difficult, though, to consider videos from prior years with no consideration for what came after. I really love the 2012 video, for example, but it features Oscar Pistorius pre-Punch and Shooty* show. It makes me wonder what from this year will suffer the same fate. “Remember 2014, before ebola mutated to turn half of humanity into zombies?”

But let’s focus on the positives. The things that unite us, which tend to be:

1. Sporting events
2. The weather
3. Accomplishments in space
4. Political revolution

So, note to alien species looking to conquer humanity: These—rather than butts, as you may have been led to believe—are the ways to endear yourself to us. Help make the 2015 video REALLY good.

* Couldn’t resist. I’ll gladly take the coal in my stocking for that one.

December 3, 2014

December 3, 2014

Recent Reads: A Threeve

Though I’m still in the process of choosing my books of the year, a few recent reads deserve brief mention here.

Sweetness #9: A Novel by Stephan Eirik Clark
Recommended by California author Eden Lepucki when she was on The Colbert Report to discuss the whole Amazon vs. Hatchette dealio. It’s Mad Men, but with artificial sweeteners instead of advertising. It’s also much longer-form than Mad Men (unless there’s one hell of a time jump coming up in the final episodes), going from the 1970s to the present day. While the theme is ostensibly the evils of eating artificial, I remain a convert to those blue and yellow packets. Your mileage may vary.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
Dentist goes crazy. Many Red Sox references.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty also wrote The Husband’s Secret, which I quite enjoyed despite a few confusing Aussie references. (Both author and setting are Australian.) In both that book and this one, Moriarty sets up a tangled web of school mums, husbands, townspeople, and kids, adds a complicating factor or two (an affair, a murder, etc.), and stirs. Quite enjoyable, even—or especially—when they’re having tea or calling cookies “biscuits.”

Wild: From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
I enjoyed this book so much it inspired me to research the Pacific Crest Trail and buy a small fanny pack. On the down side, I feel like Reese Witherspoon is a little too glam for Cheryl.

The Miniaturist: A Novel by Jessie Burton
Sugar, sodomy, and the Dutch.