20 books and 20 lbs (week 30): It would be nice just to be whelmed

I’ve had this conversation with family before, including dh: how come you can be overwhelmed or underwhelmed, but never just “whelmed”? Right about now, I could use just being whelmed. It would be such a nice change of pace.

Since we got back from vacation, things have been quite busy at work – to the point where one of my major sources of work-related stress is just getting there and getting out on time. I’m very much looking forward to the point a little more than a year from now, when we’ll get back to ONE set of drop-offs and ONE set of pick-ups for the kids; having two separate drop-offs and pick-ups makes morning and evening logistics hard and adds stress. Will I get to work on time or show up late? Will I get the kids before {the place I’m getting them from} closes and I get into trouble?

I also – rather randomly – got sick late last week, probably food poisoning of some kind, so my eating was pretty curtailed. On the plus side, that meant I lost some of the weight I’d gained in DC. That’s definitely NOT how I like to lose weight, so I’ll hope that I can find a way to lose the remaining 10lbs without that extra oomph. Of course, being that this week had extra stress at work and with my family, my eating habits were off a bit. I wasn’t shoveling all the food into my body at a breakneck pace, but neither was I existing off lettuce and raw carrots. Neither is sustainable, anyway, so I’ll just take what I’ve got when I weigh in tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I can report that I’m currently down almost 10lbs from my starting point…but I’m losing daylight on the year and need to find a ~sustainable~ way of losing the remaining 10. I also managed to finish off another two books, so at least I think I’m on track there. I hope.

Book #9: “Gun Machine” by Warren Ellis

This is my second read by Ellis this year, and between that and “FreakAngels”, I’m starting to get the sense that he’s one moody, dark genius. I consider this an incredibly good thing. The story opens with Detective John Tallow losing his partner to a gun-wielding psychotic. The building where the shooting takes place gets cordoned off as a crime scene, and when Tallow discovers an apartment that’s literally covered in guns, he unwittingly uncovers a conspiracy, ages-old murders, and a plan by one of the most dangerous men in history. Ellis deftly mixes the geography and history of New York City with more information about how to kill a person than most sane folks should ever know. The story builds slowly and carefully until it all starts to come together…by which time the characters, the story, and you are running through it all so fast that it climaxes in a blur. Ellis’ second novel is an incredibly engaging read – not for the faint of heart – and it shows that just as he’s got the ability to craft rich, well-drawn stories in graphic novels (where “well-drawn” refers both to the artwork AND the story), he’s mastered the art of the graphic (un-graphic) novel, as well.

Book #10: “Gossip Girl” by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Figuring that I’d need a “light, come-down” reading after another Warren Ellis book, I’d saved this library sale pick for the #10 spot. It definitely didn’t disappoint for the category of “light read”, although I can’t say that I was entirely enamored of it. Perhaps it’s because I read it immediately following a book that had my neurons firing constantly, or perhaps it’s because I never saw the show “Gossip Girl” but had the images in my head of the various actors who played the key roles as I read every page of this book. In any event, I found “Gossip Girl” to be fairly meh, as books go.

I’ve read enough young adult (YA) lit to know how things typically go, and I’m just as interested as the next person in reading about the troubled life of the brahmin; however, I found the writing to be scattered enough that character development was too limited for my taste. Only two characters really got fleshed out to any extent, and even then it was hard to find anyone particularly sympathetic enough that you’d want to continue reading on. This works fine for TV, when the purpose is to give short, easily consumed bites on a weekly basis…but when it’s a book, it’s not always as attractive. Let’s just say that I’m not inspired to read the rest of the series. For those interested in a far better YA read with a girly bend to it, I’d recommend skipping “Gossip Girl” and getting “Spoiled” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (aka “The Fuggirls”). It’s a far more amusing and engaging read, as is its followup, “Messy”.

20 books and 20 lbs (week 6): nearly 2 of each down!

…Well, nearly so. In the past two weeks since my last update, I’ve managed to finish off two books and drop another 1-1/2 lbs! I’m about to start my third book, and I’m down 4-1/2 lbs since the start of this challenge. NOT BAD. Of course, it’s not like the weight is flying off my body – but that’s on me (quite literally) for not having gotten into a full-on exercise regimen yet. This weight loss thus far is all about tweaking my diet. I’m not even making major changes.

The good news about making tweaks is that I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything. So what if I don’t have flavored coffee in the morning? The farther away I get from having it, the more I can taste the HFCS in the flavor and simply DON’T WANT IT. It’s not that I don’t want a bagel twist or a donut because it’s the faster way out of my local Dunkins; it’s that I know that the donuts aren’t getting me where I want to go and I can have a multigrain bagel and feel fuller anyway.

The downside to tweaks is that you don’t see big results. I’m not really seeing this as a bad thing, though, since I look at this as a long-term life change I’m trying to make, not a “biggest loser” competition or something, where the goal is to lose as much as possible as fast as possible. If I’m going to lose weight and get healthier, it’s not going to happen with crash dieting.

As it is, I have a new product to test out that I’m excited to talk about in a few weeks, once I’ve had a chance to let it kick my ass about a bit. Here’s something else – and a reason why I want to hug hug HUG Elizabeth Comeau at the Boston Globe. My sweet friend, @BeWellBoston, introduced me to #plankaday and though I’m not at a six-pack, I see that even from having done this EVERY DAY since the start of the year, my belly IS getting flatter. No, really. It’s kinda crazy and kinda awesome and I can’t wait to see the result when I get another month and a half in.

In other words, progress is being made towards the 20 lbs and I couldn’t be happier about it.

So, then we get to the books side of things.

Book #1: “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

For those who haven’t read Dickens, he’s not exactly the one to keep you rolling in the aisles. And perhaps putting in all those hours reading Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle” tenderized me to that particular time period, but I was really drawn into the book. Sure, it took about 150 pages before I really started to get a sense of where he was going (the book being just under 400 pages, in the paperback version I read), but once he gets there, it’s just a riveting read.

For the majority of the book, “A Tale of Two Cities” careens back and forth between London and Paris around the time of the French Revolution that sent so many of the aristocracy to oblivion, courtesy of Madame La Guillotine. The London part of the story follows a former prisoner of the Bastille and his sweet daughter, who falls for yet another French émigré living in England. The story in Paris is one of greater intrigue, centered on a wine shop run by a couple who not only brew but pour out the boiling oil of proletarian dissent across all of France.

The relations between all the various parties get incredibly complex and the threads eventually converge in Paris, where fear, domination, lies and love create an atmosphere as charged as that of a thunderstorm. It’s not a fast read until you get to maybe the last 100 pages, and it can be difficult to keep some of the male characters straight early on, but the reward is definitely there. It’s a fascinating, frightening, and ultimately tragic read that I’d highly recommend.

Book 2: “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis

I was introduced to Warren Ellis by my sister and BIL, who told me of this mad hatter writer who was a prolific and perverse tweeter. I started to follow him during the last World Cup and I can’t say I was ever disappointed. Ellis is the mastermind behind many graphic novels, including “RED” (which inspired the movie of the same name), and “Crooked Little Vein” was his first (non-graphic) novel. Well, I say that and yet “graphic” is an easy way to describe it. Ellis draws his characters and scenes with such intensity and depth of description that you can’t help but have perfect images in your head…some of which you wish you had brain bleach to dissolve.

The story follows a hapless private detective who is a magnet for just about every awful thing you can’t dare to imagine. Much of it scatalogical or sexual (or both), these horrors just seem to make him even more resolute that whatever higher powers exist must hate his guts. When presented with a high-paying job to retrieve a mythical lost alternate Constitution, he takes off on a cross-country chase with a smarmy sidekick who quickly turns into more. As they race across the country in search of the lost tome, they encounter even more vileness, danger, and complete losses of humanity. And while this all could be terribly discouraging, there’s something still rather comforting in knowing that Ellis is drawing these people as the caricatures – the people on the outskirts of normal reality, rather than the examples of the Everyman.

Having only previously read Ellis’ stunning web-based graphic novel, “FreakAngels”, I already had a sense that he’s a twisted, mad bastard of a writer who enjoys taking no prisoners and pushing the boundaries of what polite society can’t fathom tolerating. There’s no benefit to only ever reading that which stays within your comfort zone, lest you never learn to expand that bad boy. “Crooked Little Vein” is a fast, engaging read that will challenge you NOT to run for the hills…and if you stay for the whole show, you’ll be glad you did.

Book #3: “Sunken Treasure” by Wil Wheaton

I’m starting this one tonight and if it’s anything like the other stuff of Wheaton’s that I’ve read, I’m going to devour this book in very short order. Note that you can’t buy this (easily) on Amazon in print form, but it IS readily available via the publisher (lulu.com), if you want to play along at home. E-book versions are also available, if that’s how you roll.