10 Literary Questions Tag

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I originally saw this post on Zeezee with Books, and since she’s so graciously tagged anyone interested in participating, I’ve decided to answer the ten questions as well. Without further ado, here we go!

1. What’s the most beautiful cover on your shelf?

I love so many of them, especially given that I picked up many of these books because I was first attracted to their cover. Right now the one that satisfies me most is Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen: the glow of the lanterns, the hint of darkness and mystery in the shadows and the stream. It helps that I really enjoyed the novel (I gave it five stars on Goodreads), though I generally like books by this author.

 

2. If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would it be?

Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I always admired her no-nonsense attitude and her writerly dedication, and I’ve long thought we’d be best friends if I met her in the real world. We have similar goals, and strikingly similar moral values, and I’d be interested to meet the character that Alcott most modeled on herself.

3. If you could interview an author, whom would you choose?

Tim O’Brien. I did interview him once, several years ago, for amNewYork newspaper, and one of the things he said has always stuck with me: Read like a writer. Find the passages and characters that move you, and then think about why. I wish I’d had smarter questions for him at the time, and I’d love the chance to ask them now.

4. Which book would you not read again?

More than I’d care to admit. One recent one I really couldn’t stand was The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. And in general I stay away from biographies (unless it’s about Hemingway, of course. In that case I’ve read at least three of them).

5. Can you name a confusing story?

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. I admire his writing and generally enjoy his books, but this one took a lot of effort to keep track of the story and figure out what was happening.

6. Your favorite fictional couple?

Definitely Crystal and the character of Death in Tanya Huff’s Wizard of the Grove series. It’s so unique but also feels so natural, and I’ve always loved the idea of Death as a character with human emotions. Plus, this is one of my favorite books, and since childhood I’ve probably read it at least five times.

7. Two favorite villains?

I love the Gavin/Dazen characters in Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series because you’re never sure which one’s the villain and which one’s the hero. Does that count as two? Because I can’t think of another right now.

8. A character you would kill or remove from a book entirely?

Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby because I’ve always wanted Daisy and Jay to end up together. But I realize that would pretty much make the whole story a moot point, and anyway, Daisy would probably still end up choosing some other rich bloke over Gatsby, so what’s the point really?

9. If you could live in a fictional world, where would you choose?

Krynn, the robust world in Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman’s Dragonlance series (but before the fifth age of mortals comes around). It’s the first fantasy universe I really immersed myself in, and I still like to go back there from time to time to say hello to old friends and learn from these two masters of the genre.

10. What are the biggest and smallest books on your shelf?

I’m sure I’m missing some, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee must be one of the smallest. And as for longest, it’s probably the Hungarian-English dictionary I lugged back from Budapest with me.

BONUS QUESTIONS
(I’ve added these myself, and hope those I’ve tagged will answer them as well)

*Which book could you read a hundred times and not get tired of?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I’m perpetually amazed at how well the whodunit is constructed.

*If you could only recommend one book from all your shelves to a friend, which would it be?

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Throughout the years (starting in high school, when I found a way to use it as an example in nearly every AP English Lit & Language essay I wrote), it’s meant so many different things to me, and I’d hope someone else could find meaning in it too.

Who do you tag?

Anyone is welcome to participate in the tag, but I especially tag A Bibliophile’s Obsession, The Tattooed Book Geek, Critquing Chemist, and my friend Bill at Harmony Books & Film.

 

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Running: A Love-Hate Relationship (But Mostly Love)

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Every weekend it seems like Todd and I either have a race or just go out for a run. I both love and hate that schedule: I like that it’s great for fitness, and great for getting extra calories to put toward food (though too often I put them toward snacks). I don’t like that it complicates plans and means getting out of the house super early after a long week at work. But we’re well on our way to completing the nine races (and one volunteer event) we need to guarantee our entry into the 2018 marathon, and that goal is worthwhile enough that I’m willing to deal with some inconvenience. (Even though I’m still kind of scared about running the 26.2 miles.) Plus, we try our best to keep our runs as varied as possible: morning runs, a few evening runs, short, long, speed, distance, indoor, outdoor. Overall, any run is better than no run, and our love of the sport means we’re willing to sacrifice things like time and toenails.

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On an early morning run in the neighborhood, noting all the unnecessary artificial lighting and wishing I could see some stars.

My favorite runs are long runs, especially if it’s a breezy Saturday morning and we can take our time looping through the Bronx. Maybe we’ll pass through the Botanical Gardens and snap some photos of flowers or Chihuly sculptures; maybe we’ll detour across town to Riverdale and then up to the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. The slower pace gives me time to think, to relax into my body and the rhythm of the run. Yet there’s something to be said for short runs, too. They’re faster and harder and after only two or three miles, you feel accomplished and exhausted in the best possible way. Case in point: earlier this month, Todd and I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in the city. To my surprise, I achieved my fastest mile (7 minutes, 14 seconds) and placed 1,339 out of 3,646 women. I felt like my lungs might burst but I also felt glad because I had pushed as hard as I could. And I was very proud of Todd, who ran the mile in 6:26! That’s a time I can only dream of.

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After the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile

This Sunday we’ll race the out-and-back course of the Bronx 10-Mile. Though I’m not looking forward to dealing with the subways (always a mess on the weekends and sometimes not running at all), I am excited to explore a new part of our hometown—and then hopefully eat a good breakfast. (After all, what’s a love of running without a love of food?) In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: What are your favorite kinds of runs?  Your tips will hopefully inspire me to try a new workout or introduce a fresh element to my training, especially as we start preparing for next year’s marathon.

Book Review: THE END OF NIGHT

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download.jpegI saw The End of Night for the first time on our recent family trip. We had just hiked the Hermit’s Rest Trail on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, then took a shuttle bus back to the parking area to get out of the rain. In the gift shop, I noticed the book’s cover—all indigo sky and swirled starlight—and wished we’d planned for another night at the canyon so we could experience its darkness; instead, a four-hour drive to Boulder City loomed ahead. Next to the book were signs about light pollution, a term I’d heard of but didn’t really know anything about. I took a picture of the book so I’d remember to buy it eventually, once I finished the (literally) hundreds of other books on my to-read list.

But this book niggled at me. Walking home from the train station, I’d look up at the sky and think, I see a star! Then realize it was just a plane. There’s surely light pollution here, I thought, along with all the regular pollution in New York City. I found myself researching the logistics of a 2018 trip to Sark, an island off the coast of Normandy that I knew had been designated the world’s first dark sky island (no cars, no trucks, lighting designed to minimize light pollution, which is technically defined as excessive artificial light that taints the darkness of the sky, trespasses where it doesn’t belong or isn’t needed, or causes glare and visual discomfort). Within two weeks of our return home, I ordered The End of Night.

In my opinion, the book successfully achieves the goal of nonfiction: with every chapter, I learned something new, and the author relays his information in a way that feels like a story, with a cast of characters (experts, scientists, the author as narrator) I cared to hear from and a setting that ranged from Las Vegas to the desert to, yes, even Sark. In each place, author Paul Bogard searches for a truly dark sky, or talks to someone who can shed light (ha, ha) on some big related questions: How much artificial light (think security lights, gas station lights, street lights) do we need? Is there really a correlation between light and safety? How are night-shift workers affected by artificial light? How does darkness protect species, the planet? And, maybe most important, how can we ever know darkness if we don’t experience it?

Bogard, an associate professor of English and a dark sky enthusiast, tackles these issues and more in his well-researched book. It often reads like poetry rather than nonfiction; even the fact-heavy portions kept me engaged and interested. Bogard’s writing moved me, both in its skillful wielding of language and the weightiness of its content. Plus, I also really enjoyed the book’s cleverness: I only realized partway through that the chapters are numbered backward from 9 to 1 to correspond with the Bartle scale of darkness (9 = brightest sky, like that over Vegas or NYC; 1 = darkest sky, which can be found in the U.S. in only two remaining locations).

The more of this book that I read, the more I wanted to read, and the more I wanted to know how I could help protect the night sky—an important endeavor that not enough people are aware of. I’d really encourage you to check out this book if you’re looking for a good, meaningful read; I promise it will change the way you look at the world around you.

I’ll leave you with one of the many passages I starred while reading The End of Night:

“In the mythology of countless cultures, the hero is called one a journey that must include an experience of a dark time or dark place. For the Greek hero Perseus that meant venturing to kill the Gorgon, Medusa, but many different stories have the same message about the value of experience darkness. Are we to imagine that these heroes—heroes we were to model ourselves after—felt no fear? I bet Perseus was scared, and that the same was true of other real heroes in other cultures. Because if he wasn’t, why would I believe his story? Why would I follow his lead? What would I learn about real life, my life, this life now—a lift that has plenty of fear? With all our lights we push away our fear, and by pushing away our fear, we are a little less alive.”

Vacation Memories

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As recently as last month, my parents hadn’t been on a vacation since their honeymoon. They’re two of the hardest working people I know, and I thought they deserved some time away, so I convinced them that we should take a family trip to see the West Coast—from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon to the Hoover Dam to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. I’ll eventually share details about each part of our trip (including the best deep-dish pizza I’ve ever eaten and our kayak surprise), but for now I just wanted to share a picture from each leg of our trip and say hello to everyone I’ve been missing these past two weeks:

Grand Canyon

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Todd and I at the Grand Canyon, one of the most stunning vistas I’ve ever seen.

Las Vegas

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Disneyland

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With Nick Wild from Zootopia at Disneyland. I loved taking family photos with characters!

Los Angeles

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On the Santa Monica pier, my favorite spot in LA.

Watch My Garden Grow

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I can’t believe it’s already the end of July. The summer is passing in front of my eyes and I’m not even sure where the days are going; I’ve been juggling additional fact-checking work at the magazine I copy edit for with trying to be outdoors as much as possible, squeezing in time for family (my grandparents just visited from Florida) and friends (we had a board game day, a restaurant-week dinner, Todd’s coworkers’ wedding, and a trip to Mystic, CT). And of course, I’ve also been gardening.

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Garden haul, early July 2017

This year we wanted to focus more on veggies, less on herbs, and so far we’ve been pretty successful (though our lettuce hasn’t been as abundant as in past years, possible because we started them from seed rather than buying the already semi-grown plants sold in Home Depot like we normally do. My dad rigged up a growth lamp in the garage, and it was a lot of fun to watch them sprout up a little more each week; unfortunately, that process also left them a little weak and they’ve been struggling to produce.

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Lettuce (far left), with various herbs, peppers, and beans in the beds, and cucumbers and squash climbing along the top.

I also think we may have gone a little overboard on squash. We love to roast and grill the butternut squash our garden produces every year, and this year we tried some other varieties as well, like yellow summer squash and orange-y crook-neck squash. In fact, I just picked a crook-neck this morning and am planning to make crisps out of it—that’s my healthier alternative to snack on potato chips!

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A still-growing butternut squash

We also have cucumber, which I’ll use a bit later today in a tomato-watermelon gazpacho, eggplant (though they haven’t fully matured yet), peppers (accidentally bought hot banana peppers instead of mild—eek!), tomatoes (the yellow cherry tomatoes are coming along best; our bigger plants seem to be yellowing for some reason), snap peas and green beans, and some kind of fuzzy bean that must have been mislabeled when I bought the plants. I could have sworn that sprout was a Japanese eggplant when I planted it! And don’t forget our fruits: strawberries, blueberries (though they refuse to ripen; I have to research why), and blackberries (we didn’t get as many this year as in past years).

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Garden bounty, picked this morning!

I also have a pumpkin plant, which is really stretching its roots along the backyard fence. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a little pumpkin in the fall.

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My pumpkin patch

 

My Running Journey

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In 2012, my 5″1′ frame clocked in at about 130 pounds, and my doctor told me I needed to lose at least 10 of them. Before that, I hadn’t really thought much about my weight or about the foods (read: Taco Bell) I put into my body. I didn’t care about organic or sustainable or exercise. But I had noticed that it was harder to play ddr (that’s Dance Dance Revolution, for anyone who didn’t spend high school in arcades dancing in sync with colorful arrows scrolling on the TV screen), and I figured that my doctor might be on to something. So, challenge accepted.

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At right, in 2010, about a year and a half before my doctor suggested I lose weight. At left, me now: not my lightest weight, but at my healthiest.

I started with food: I downloaded the MyFitnessPal calorie-counting app and painstakingly plugged in my meals. It got easier over time and pretty much became a habit; I still do it, mostly to check myself when I want to eat too many chocolate-covered mangoes or coffee-nut M&Ms. Bit by bit, I gave things up: soda, fast food, mindless snacking. I still eat burgers and ice cream and candy, only I do so now in moderation instead of all the time. That philosophy became, and still is, my mantra: Everything is fine, in moderation.

Then I added in some exercise. At first I only did the warm-up to Shuan T’s Insanity workout videos, because I couldn’t complete any more than that. By 2014, I felt ready to attempt my first race, mostly because you could score a cuddly stuffed elephant if you raised a certain amount of money. Todd and I finished in 34 minutes. Afterward I wrote: “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘runner’ by any stretch of the word. I don’t pace faster than eleven and a half minutes per mile. I don’t jog more than file miles per week, most weeks.” So I started doing practice jogs; I added weight training to my routine. I struggled my way to push ups and chin ups (well, I’m still working on that; I can only do one) and burpees.

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A family photo at the hotel gym the night before the third annual Chocolate 5k Race in April.

Now I can do speed runs and intervals and long runs and half marathons. Sometimes I run alone, or with Todd, and sometimes we do races as a family. I weigh 110 pounds, give or take a few depending on the day, and I can see muscles (baby ones) in places I didn’t have any before. My best 5k pace is now about 26 minutes, and Todd’s is even faster. We’ve come a long way.

But I still want to keep improving. This past weekend, Todd and I ran a 10k in Queens, our first in Flushing-Meadows Park. It was drizzly, and the course was muddy, but we completed the 6.2 miles in 58 and a half minutes. We crossed the finish line holding hands. For me it was a win, even though I placed 1,878 out of 5,101 women and 5,963 out of 10,884 total racers, even though the fastest female finished the course in 34 minutes, a full 24 minutes ahead of me. I can’t even wrap my mind around that kind of strength and speed, but I’m going to keep reaching for it.

And I won’t stop trying to reach new milestones—like next year, when Todd and I attempt the NYC Marathon. I’m scared, but determined. After all, I am a runner.