20 books and 20 lbs (week 26): Can I have progress, maybe?

After the complete exhaustion brought on by reading Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, getting through books 5 and 6 on my list was a complete breeze. In seemingly no time, I finished off both “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson (aka “The Bloggess”) and “Crash” by Lisa McMann.

Book #5: “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson

I’ll admit that I wasn’t a huge reader of Jenny’s blog, mostly because I don’t find myself having the time to keep up with all of the blogs that I’d like to read. So, there were some things about Jenny’s life, like Beyonce-the-metal-chicken, where I was just completely out of it and didn’t get the joke. And then I read her book. And not only did I get the joke: I couldn’t stop laughing.

Reading her autobiography, you get the sense of someone who has an incredibly eccentric sense of humor and universal appeal. I know this sounds like a complete contradiction in terms, but Lawson’s ability to make you get why the jokes are funny, to follow along (even when rolling your eyes, like her long “suffering” husband, Victor), to feel like you want to be as cool and quirky as she is. Of course, the complete irony is that Lawson is typically and rather famously paralyzed by attention in social circumstances; as much as she wants people to laugh with her, she’s thrown completely by being surrounded by so many people who worship every word that drips from her fingertips.

Lawson’s story begins with her youth in the uber-rural town of Wall, Texas, and it continues as she meets Victor and they settle into their version of married, suburban life. You see her struggle to find her voice, sometimes reveling in her quirkiness and other times being heavily concerned that others will shun her for it. Of course, these days she need have no fears: the ones who don’t get the jokes can pound sand as they get trampled by the hordes of her adoring fans. And based on how completely enjoyable her book was, and how much I really think I fell in love with her through reading it, you can count me in, too.

Book #6: “Crash” by Lisa McMann

Just a few months after this book was released, it happened to be offered up free at our movie theater the night my girlfriend up the street and I went for a “Moms Night Out”. Always open to trying a new book, especially one that’s free, I picked up a copy and headed for my seat. Thanks to Rushdie, it would be a few months before I’d pick this up. Once I picked it up, though, I tore through it at a remarkable pace – something like 20-30+ pages per night. It’s an incredibly fast read, and that was a really nice change of pace after the slog Rushdie had been.

“Crash” is the first of four books in the “Visions” quartet McMann plans to publish. It centers on a teenager named Jules who is plagued by continuing visions of a crash that will kill her onetime love, along with eight others. Jules questions her own sanity as she tries to unravel the mystery that’s racking her brain and taking over billboards, TV screens, and any other display within range of her eyeballs. At the same time, she struggles to understand her father’s mental illness – his hoarding, the crippling depression, and his frequent inability to deal with anyone else – all while Jules, her mother, and her siblings slave away keeping the family pizza shop afloat.

This is definitely a book squarely aimed at the Young Adult (YA) crowd, and I think this is a good example of how YA doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality in the telling of a story. McMann’s writing is definitely targeted to a less mature audience in terms of how Jules’ voice comes across to the reader, yet the book is still appealing to adults who are interested in mysteries, things outside the normal framework of reality, and psychology.

The only area where I thought the book went slightly off the deep end was at the ending of the book. Unfortunately, there’s no way to explain what I mean without giving it all away…so I’ll just say this: it’s not that she sped things up too much at the end, it’s that the ending seemed too much like what you’d hope for, which means that it’s less realistic. Or perhaps I’m just jaded? Perhaps I’ve been reading too much George R. R. Martin recently, but when things turn out how you wanted, I get suspicious.

I would recommend both books – both of them are refreshing reads, in their own way, and both have appeal well beyond a narrow band of readers.

Book #7 is Neil Gaiman’s latest: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. I can’t explain how excited I am to have gotten a signed copy. Sure, it seems like Gaiman’s been accommodating enough to sign any book of his that’s set in front of him (which may make him a bit of a rarity in the literary world), but I cherish paper books and the notion that I have a signed first edition of a book that’s surely going to top the bestseller lists just makes my heart swell up (in a good way). I’ll post a review of this book shortly.

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And apropos of nothing, at least related to books, I continue to work on my weight and hope to continue my progress before I punch the ticket on the end of the first half of the year. I probably shouldn’t get greedy – as of Sunday’s weigh-in, I’m down 9lbs from where I was at the start of the year! I don’t know that I’ll get to the halfway point by my final weigh-in of June, but I still consider 9lbs to be quite the victory.

Thanks to the bat-related shenanigans, exercising lately has been nearly impossible; it’s been hard enough just sitting in meetings at work without being sent to the hospital with a suspected case of tuberculosis. Between that and other stuff going on, there just hasn’t been the time. Or the motivation. Or the energy. So, I have to work on all that too – the weight won’t come off on its own and I fully get that. Back to the drawing board again, I suppose…

20 books and 20 lbs (week 23): Salman-ella

Well, I can finally say I finished book #4: “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie. And holy cow, was that a slog. I haven’t had this much trouble reading a book since I started {unnamed Harry Potter knockoff that I got for free at a movie theater and put down as fast as I picked it up}.

So, here’s the deal with “Midnight’s Children”: simultaneous with the birth of India as an independent nation, hundreds of children are born whose destiny are tied to their homeland in a unique and magical way. One of these children, born almost exactly at the stroke of midnight, is Saleem Sanai – a character who is equal parts what he can do on his own and what can be done to him by others. He seems to be a fairly irredeemable person, in a book filled (primarily) with similarly irredeemable people. Innocents are trampled into the dust in one way or another in Saleem’s rambling, long-winded, and often overbaked descriptions of…just about everything. When I complained to DH about how difficult it was to get through this book, he explained that Rushdie is a writer who writes as though he likes the sound of his own (written) voice. I can definitely vouch for that. The book has some flashes of amazing imagery, barely peppering an otherwise completely overwritten tome. Tipping the scales at more than 500 pages (for the paperback version I read), “Midnight’s Children” spends a long time going seemingly nowhere, and then it concludes unsatisfactorily within the span of about 15 pages.

If you’re a fan of Rushdie’s, then more power to you. The only other book of his that I’ve made it through successfully was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”, and that was A LOT shorter. Plus, I was reading for a book club..so the time pressure to finish it was way higher.

Of course, I’m also a bit behind. We’re nearly halfway through the year, and I’m only starting book #5. That’s a bit troubling. For those following along at home, my new read is “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson (aka “The Bloggess”). I’m not quite 100 pages in, and already I’m in love with her in a massive way. She’s funny, self-deprecating, and completely off-the-wall…but her writing (even when it rambles) makes FUN of the fact that it’s rambling and riffs off it like it’s just another joke. In other words, it’s completely self-aware writing, in a way that poor Rushdie just can’t possibly match. Yes, I said that Jenny Lawson is a better writer than Salman Rushdie. As someone who a few months ago raved about how awesome Dickens was, let’s just assume I’m not talking completely out of turn, eh?

I have a whole stack of other books to get to, with an all-star lineup including (more!) Warren Ellis and (new!) Neil Gaiman, so I’m very excited to continue my book challenge post-Rushdie. Man, it’s like I have PTSD from reading that book.

On to better times, eh? Let’s talk about weight loss…or not.

So, I haven’t been losing a ton of weight, but I haven’t been gaining, either, so that’s a good thing. I’m about 8lbs down from where I was at the start of the year, and I’ve been the same weight for the last three weigh-ins. Partially spurred by summer (yeay!!!) and partially by a desire to try something new, I’m drinking iced tea at dinner every night. It’s a tall glass (probably about 10-12 oz) of unsweetened decaffeinated iced tea. Frankly, this weekend was too nice NOT to bust out the pretty glass pitcher and make some sun tea, and I figured that if I drink more at dinner, perhaps I’ll eat less. So far, it’s working. I find that the combination of the tea and the food is keeping me to a single plate with no seconds on anything – and still feeling full without feeling overfull.

Of course, I don’t think this is a fad diet (I’m not planning on switching to some diet where all I do is drink tea), and I’m perfectly content to drink my iced tea unsweetened (that’s how I prefer it, actually), so it’s not like I’m adding calories. If anything, all I’m doing is adding extra water. I doubt I’ll keep this going indefinitely; more likely, I’ll switch back to water only at dinner but work hard to get through an entire glass at each meal instead of nursing it over the course of the entire evening.

I’ve kept up with the plankaday almost every single day (only two skips – once due to illness and once due to exhaustion unrelated to illness), reaching 2:00 for six straight weeks of planks. It’s pretty crazy to think where I started and where I’ve gone. I still have a belly, but I blame that on my love of ice cream o’clock…and I’m just not ready to let go of some things yet.

But, halfway through the year and I’m nearly halfway to my weight loss goal, but only about a quarter of the way in my reading goal. Time to get a move on, on all fronts, I’d say.