Thursday, June 28, 2012

Burning Through 13 Books

I have been burning through books lately.  

Since I'm not yet up to speed on GoodReads, I'll use this post to share 13 books I've read recently.

I just reached the end of this one earlier this evening so I'll kick things off here:

1. No Shelter (Holly Lin) by Robert Swartwood

Very solid thriller with a well developed female protagonist.  The pacing in Part II was too slow and I felt a bit impatient waiting for more to develop.  Fortunately the chapters are short and read quickly.  Once through her 'daily life' section, there was a bigger payoff.

Over all it was well written and definitely a page-turner.  If you like over-the-top, kick ass female characters, then Holly Lin is for you.
Good for a debut novel.  Recommended.

2. Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

I like Chuck, but this was like a bad porno script  and not in a funny, ironic way.  
Not recommended.

3. Sloppy Seconds: The Tucker Max Leftovers by Tucker Max

I'm almost embarrassed to admit to reading this, but it was free.  I saw it was from the I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell guy and thought I'd see what all the hoopla was a few years back since I never read that.  This one was mildly entertaining.  Somewhat humorous.  Certainly obnoxious and juvenile.  I think the "fratire" moniker for the genre is dead on.
Not recommended (unless you are a pubescent boy).

4. Kitchen Confidential:  Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

I like the guy's travel show.  He's full of snark and loves to drink.  Who knew he could write?  This is a great book and very interesting.  This is how to write memoir.
Highly Recommended.

5. The Abysmal Brute by Jack London

Inspiring story about boxing and corruption.

6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

It won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason.  It's short.  It's great.  Perfect before the trip to Cuba.
Highly Recommended.

7. Coding Isis by Davis Roys

Pretty good techno-thriller.  The story was pretty solid and fast paced, but there were some minor distractions.  Mainly the fact that all of the characters use British colloquialisms, especially since it's set in Washington D.C.  Otherwise, well-written.
Decent debut.  Recommended.

8. The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman

I loved this book.  It's a psychological thriller.  Patrick, the main character is easy to identify with and very likable  even though the story opens at his mother's funeral and he's basically spitting on her grave.  Hooked.  You've got to read more.

You get two parallel stories with Patrick investigating a toddler's murder and the back story of him being abused by his mother.  It's multi-layered and it works wonderfully.  Great twists and turns that are surprising in the best possible way.

This ranks as the best book I have read so far this year.
Highly, Highly Recommended!

9. Baby Shark by Robert Fate

Decent revenge thriller.  The premise is unique.  A strong female protagonist seeking revenge for the murder of her pool hustler father.  It's set in the 50s, although at times I was having to force myself to suspend disbelief.

Well-written, but only average over all.  Penn of Penn & Teller highly recommends the book, but I'm pretty sure it's mainly because he's friends with the author.
Recommended if you like this genre or strong female MCs.

10. Pandemic by Jesse F. Bone

This is actually a short story, but I like the premise so much I included it here – also I read it on my Kindle, so that counts as an eBook, right?

This SciFi story was written in the 60s so it was a little difficult to read the dated prose.  Also, not terrific writing, but again the premise was really cool.  Read it and see why.

11. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Stephen King doing young adult fantasy.  This was a reread and it reminded me why I liked this story so much.
Highly Recommended.

12. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I gave up halfway through.  I just couldn't do it.  I know it's supposed to be some sort of classic for fans of fantasy, but it's one of the few books I've given up on.
Don't Bother!

13. Touch by Elmore Leonard

If you're looking for the Elmore Leonard who writes gritty Crime Novels, then you're in the wrong place with this story.  I love those other novels, but Touch is by far my favorite Leonard novel so far.

This young stigmatic seems to perform miracles – or are those simply coincidences?  It doesn't matter.  Lots of people want to exploit him.  And it wouldn't be a Leonard novel without the wacky cast of characters including con men and outlandish priests.
Highly, Highly Recommended!

Any significant book you've read so far this year?

Thanks to Pcorreia on Flickr for the nice photograph!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

13 Single-Use Kitchen Gadgets

Protect Your Bananas Before It's Too Late!

13 Single-Use Kitchen Gadgets

  1. Banana Bunker
  2. Apple peeler
  3. Bread maker
  4. Cake stand
  5. Waffle maker
  6. Onion goggles
  7. French Fry slicer
  8. Lettuce knife - ordinary knifes cause browning
  9. Hamburger press
  10. Pasta dryer
  11. Orange peeler - I love this thing.
  12. Panini maker
  13. Bacon Wave (As Seen On TV)
And because I'm in a silly mood, here's a bonus item to help parents clean up in the kitchen (it's a baby mop):

Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget to share?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

I'm haunted by old habits.

It would be easier if I could start over with a clean slate.  But I'm tainted by the past.

Even if I find a better way to do something, I can't seem to break that old habit.

The Rubik's Cube
It's been a few years since I first learned a method to solve the Rubik's Cube.  I slogged away using one of the most inefficient, although straightforward methods for solving the cube.  But I've learned a great deal since then.

Like most things in life, it's not until after you've mastered the basics that you learn useful shortcuts.  But for me, I always gravitate back to the method I've been using since the beginning.  Although I have graduated to more advanced concepts that are clearly faster and more efficient, I inevitably revert to what I know.

My brain will pleads, "Just do, F, R, U', R', U', R, U, R', F'!"  But muscle memory kicks in, ignores that voice in my head, and my fingers just move according to the beginner's playbook.  It's something I cannot turn off.  It's something I'm too comfortable with.

When I'm in the zone, I just do what comes naturally, right or wrong.  It's a force of habit.

Writing Habits
The same goes for writing.

When I'm in the writing zone, it's really difficult to keep track of all of the tricks and techniques that make good writing great.  Or in my case, bad writing good.

One of my habits is writing scores of description and exposition with no real purpose in the scene.  Being enamored with the genius of your own prose is such a novice thing to do, but I can't help it.  Even if I know I should be thinking about things like conflict or establishing character, that beautiful prose wins out.

Perhaps you have a habit of using the same words over and over again.  Perhaps I'm guilty of it right now.  The truth is, it doesn't really matter while you're in the zone, as long as you apply all of the tips and tricks and lessons afterward, when you edit.

Your turn.  When you're in the writing zone, what bad habits are you haunted by? 

Thank you to Sudipto Sarkar on Flickr for the image!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

13 Foods I Can Live Without

How can you know pleasure if you've never experienced pain?

How can you know love if you've never experienced hate?

And how can you know what foods you'll never eat again if you've never delved into the bowels of American cuisine? (Yes, pun intended.)

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a list of foods I hate.  

I've eaten everything on this list.  I've enjoyed at least half of everything here at some point.

But those data points have been recorded.  I can move on with my life.  And if I never have to revisit any of these foods  or food-like substances  again, I will still lead a fulfilling life.

13 Foods I Can Live Without

1. Velveeta "Cheese" - Seriously, what's the molecular makeup of this stuff?  I'm pretty sure it's not organic.  Until some grad-student researcher concludes that it's a legitimate food item, I've had enough.  But...if Kraft decides to go with the 1960s style packaging seen above, I just might get back on the wagon.  Delicious!

2. Spam - Yes, I know this meat-like product is very popular in Hawaii.  But have you ever pan fried this stuff?  Your kitchen fills up with that blue burnout smoke of a drag race.  Forget about your arteries, what about your lungs?

3. Ground Bologna  - Is this really any better than Spam?  Or right, it's spreadable.

4. Powdered Milk - Trust me, this is not good on any cereal.

5. Hamburger Helper - Hey, I was a broke college student - and yes, this was way before Pink Slime was even a glimmer in the eye of the public consciousness.

6. Anything with Cream Cheese - Yes, this includes cheese cake.

7. Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets - Okay, think deli-meat and nacho cheese calzone, but made with puff pastry, not pizza dough.  And now Hot Pockets are made with 'real cheese whatever that means!

8. Grape-Nuts - An alleged 'health food' cereal.  It's really like pouring milk over a bowl of gravel  not very healthy for my teeth.

9. Foie Gras - This is a fattened duck liver and it's very popular in France.  I have eaten it in France.  It's supposed to be a delicacy.  PETA, you'll be happy to know I do not like it.

10. Those glistening mashed potatoes at the Lone Star Steakhouse in Jackson, Michigan - When you've managed to transform ordinary produce into something born out of a high school science fair, you've gone too far with the heavy cream and butter.

11. Cream of Mushroom Soup-based dishes - Really?  Do I even need to elaborate?

12. Lou Malnati's Pizza - This Chicago-style pizza is famous for having a layer of thick sausage spread across its entire diameter.  Yes, it's blasphemy for somebody writing from Chicago, but I can still do without it.

13. Chicken in a Biskit - Full disclosure:  These are actually delicious.  I loved these crackers throughout my college years.  But now I've got things like blood pressure and cholesterol to consider.  Imagine taking a buttery Ritz Cracker and dousing it with the seasoning packet from Chicken Ramen Noodles.  Delicious.  But also Heartburn City.  (By the way, I still do eat Ramen Noodles.)

What foods would you be happy to do without?

Thank you to Paul Malon on Flickr for reminding us how awesome the 60s were!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo.

Super Square-1
I admit it.  I gave up.

Now, defeat is not really my thing, but sometimes it's just better to tuck your tail between your legs and move on.

To be specific, I gave up on a puzzle.  Yeah, that's the one.

It's not that there was anything wrong with this particular puzzle.  In fact, based on my love for twisty puzzles, like the Rubik's Cube, there's every reason why I should have stuck with it.

But I couldn't.  This one simply wasn't right for me.

Perhaps it was because I could not adapt and apply the same techniques I was already familiar with.  I don't know, but it felt completely foreign to me.  So with scores of other puzzles under my belt, this one stands alone.  Unsolved.  Abandoned.

But why should I dwell on it?  Does it really diminish the value of the other cubes I have solved? Does it really diminish how I perceive myself as The Puzzling Mind?

Who cares?

Our society puts too much emphasis on 'winning' anyway.  Right, Charlie Sheen?

Sometimes 'winning' is just realizing when you've reached your limit.  Or realizing when you are not progressing any further.

Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do.  The smart thing to do.

Take this story I have been working on for six months.  It's been written, edited, and rewritten countless times.  I turn it over in my head and struggle with why it's not working.  I cannot seem to get it right.  I can't get this particular story  done.

Nothing feels right.

The voice doesn't sound like me.  The characters feel uneasy.  The story resolves itself, but not profoundly.  In short, it's a mess.  But something has me clinging to this failure.

Why can't I let it go?  Is it really so wrong to shelf a story?

Well, I'm going to do something taboo!  

I quit.

There, I said it.  I quit.  I'm going to quit this story.

And look, I'm still here!

Society may scorn me, but I don't need its approval, or its permission.  I quit, because if I stay hung up on this futile story, I will never move on to others.  I'm going to accept defeat with this piece and simply move on.  I'm going to learn from this.  This particular story isn't right for me.  And I'm not going to dwell on it.

This feels great!  What a relief!  Life is too short to worry about what people may think.  Get over it!  If you're a writer, write.  If you're a puzzler, solve puzzles.  Not everything is going to work.  Not everything is going to feel quite right.  That's part of the process.

I give you permission.  If it doesn't feel right, give up.  Quit.

Are you hung up on something for the wrong reasons?  Please share your experience in the comments.