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English: Courtyard of the Museum of Louvre, an...

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So, I read this book, The Happiness Project, and I thought, ok maybe this is something I can adopt.  Maybe I can take on happiness.  Who couldn’t use more happiness in their life? I’m prone to bouts of moodiness and passive-aggressiveness; this something I need.  Soooo, I went to The Happiness Project’s website and I started my project.  Then came New Years and all of its resolutions and newness and it seemed like a good time to start.  So I made some goals for each month, picked a start date and here I am.

Where does Happiness start? Well for me, I thought I’d tackle energy/health; this served a few purposes.  First, seriously who could not benefit from more energy? If I am going to tackle a year of happiness, I need to have the energy to accomplish.  Since they’re correlated, more energy means more health.  Let’s also be real, I’m overweight and don’t feel good about myself so the idea of losing weight was also at the start of this topic.

My goals for January are to go vegetarian, visit the gym four times a week, drink only water, only snacking on weekends, and keeping the house clean.  We all know what happens to good intentions.  I woke up New Years Day, the first day of my big change, to being sick.  I continued laying in bed seriously sick until Saturday, when I developed a cold, which I’m still rocking.  So, some of my happiness ideas went out the window.  I couldn’t go to my car without wanting to vomit or actually doing so, this made the gym impossible and cleaning my house, though I’ve started to fix this in an attempt to sanitize my home to stave off sickness.  Due to frequent nauseousness, I  did break my water only fix for some ginger ale.

So, my first week did not go so great, but I did try to work on happiness even when sick. I tried to smile and laugh and make fun of being sick and think about how great it was I got to lay in bed and watch so much tv. This did not always work but I tried and sometimes it made feeling yucky ok.  I also realized something.  I’m currently unemployed and have been since August.  Whether it’s psychologically sound or not, I’m finally admitting that working is key to my happiness.  I am not good at staying home everyday; I thrive in an environment where I interact with people and contribute something to society and where I make money and I have financial security.  I need a job; it is essential to my happiness.  While contemplating this project I thought I would find a way to be happy without working, but I’m just accepting the fact that I do need one to be happy and that’s ok.  It just means I have to make finding a job even more important than it already is.  I’ll put even more of myself into finding a job that will be something I can cherish and contribute to.  So I need the energy from getting healthy to go find a job that will support me and more importantly allow me to to contribute to the world and feel intellectually stimulated.

So that’s week 1 of my happiness project.  Hopefully week 2 finds me healthier :-0

 

p.s.  The random picture of the louvre is an ode to things that make me happy.  I’ve never been but it’s a dream of mine to go and I do get a certain amount of happiness out of thinking about going one day and seeing with my own beautiful eyes.

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The Corrections

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I was unsure about how to start this particular blog and I waited two days to gather my thoughts.  The main problem was I thought I loved this book but I was super uncomfortable by the whole thing.  That’s when I realized that it must have been amazing if it left me unnerved and nothing was great or bad.  I’m talking about Franzen’s The Corrections.  I think this book is my generation’s The Grapes of Wrath.  It’s that genius.

I guess I should give a bit of a background.  The book deals with the members of the Lambert family and all the humor and tragedy they experience.  We get to look inside each of their heads and find out how this family truly (dis)functions and why none of them can honestly stand each other.  The patriarch, Alfred, in present time is suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia.  Before that started he was a man who could not acknowledge his sexual attraction to his wife and found it something that shouldn’t be discussed.  He loved his kids but could never find a way to show it.  He never really got too angry, never cheated, provided for his family, but never let his intelligent wife make any financial decisions.  He couldn’t stand corrections.  Now as dementia and Parkinson’s take over he still does not accept corrections and continues to drive his wife crazy.

His wife Enid is bitter from years of a loveless marriage.  She loved her husband and wanted him sexually but he rebuffed her emotions.  She devoted herself to her children but then comes the problem that when they are her life she begins to smother them.  She’s fickle in her affections and wants them to have lives she can brag about to her friends.  She has begun to hate her husband.  She resents being his caretaker and having no say in their marriage and believes if he just tried harder he could get over his depression and his illnesses.  Enid blames him for her not being able to have a more rich life.  I think she takes her anger out on an atmosphere she has control.

Her oldest Gary has spent his life trying to create the one thing he lacked in his life, a great family life.  He married a woman he adored and was in love with and had three sons.  Gary was financially successful, something his mother found brag-worthy.  He wanted more than anything to NOT be his father; he wanted happiness.  Which is hard when you find yourself facing depression.  His wife hated his mother and all the criticizing Enid did.  Worse, his mother harped on having home in the Midwest for one last Christmas.  His wife wasn’t having it.  Gary, as a much older brother, wanted a close and doting relationship with his sister, who unfortunately had her own life and didn’t seem to want the same thing. He felt responsible for keeping the family together and it wasn’t working.

Then came Chip.  He started out as the family rebel and he too had serious daddy issues and spent his early defying his father in success.  He got a PhD and taught college.  He rarely spent time with his family.  His life was great until he had an affair with a student, she scorned him, he became obsessed and got kicked out of his great job in the humanities (rather than helping people).  He then took up another bad relationship, borrowed $20,000 from his little sister, and took a bad journalism job and worked on a pretentious movie script, and watched his life dwindle to nothing.  This is when he began disappointing his father through his failures.  He joined a Lithuanian business man/thug and worked on illegal operations in Lithuania before almost getting killed when riots occurred trying to overthrow the corruption.

Finally comes Denise, the baby of the family.  Seemingly the normal one.  She loves her dad and feels like her mother is the problem with her criticism of him.  I wonder if she feels that way because her mother criticizes her? She’s in her early thirties, divorced with no kids.  Denise is a talented chef but lacks talent in love.  She tended to date older men until her husband, whom she cheated on with a woman.  Then when a man recently coming into money hired her to run his restaurant fell in love with her she slept with both him and his wife until she got caught.   She feels contempt for both of her brothers, one for his failure to be a part of the family and the other for trying to control the family.

The result, you can see sympathize and blame each member.  They’re all wrong and right.  There is no right or wrong.  It’s complicated and the most realistic book I ever read.  I have never loved and hated characters so equally.  It’s interesting and domestic and perfect.

I have been spending quite a bit of time on trains lately commuting into NYC, so reading has come in quite handy to occupy my time.  I finally got around to reading an Updike piece, this time Terrorist.  He is one of those writers I had always meant to read but never got around to it.  Knowing my deep love and fascination of post 9/11 literature, I heard Terrorist would fit  nicely into that category.  So I downloaded the book a few months ago to my Nook and with hours in a train, I just went ahead and read it.

Terrorist was a quick read, I’ll give it that.  It was interesting.  The premise follows an 18-year old half Irish and half Egyptian American kid about to graduate from high school.  Despite being raised by his single Irish Catholic mother, he chooses to study Islam at 11 despite not remembering his father at all. An interesting choice.  It seems like Updike is attempting to look at the psychology of a home grown terrorist.  Except the fact he never properly explains how an 11-year-old choose Muslim and such an extreme form, jihad.  Meanwhile his Irish Catholic mom seems clueless and the only one who pays attention is the school’s aging guidance counselor, who is sleeping with Ahmad’s mom fyi, who doesn’t pay attention to the boy until 2 months before graduation and he is the one who stops this all?

Terrorist seems like a poor imitation of American Psycho, that just missed the good psychological analysis.  In addition to that, we get the bizarre pseudo-histories of the again guidance counselor and his lack of zeal towards life and his overweight wife.  What she has to do with the story eludes me but we get a good deal of her history for no apparent reason.  I’m just disappointed.  It feels like a lame half-hearted attempt at something that could have been amazing, like The Reluctant Fundamentalist but never gels and never makes sense.

The ending is predictable and no real explanation is ever offered  as to why it ends the way it does.  It’s frustrating because the potential is there and it just goes flat.

 

I need another great novel to knock my socks off!

You know, when I decided to read Karl Marlantes Matterhorn I confess to knowing nothing about the book.  I just received my beloved Kindle Fire and being an Amazon Prime member, I get a free book a month and I’m not one to turn my nose down on a free book.  The cover looked wicked familiar and I was sure it had been displayed in a place of glory in Barnes and Noble.  So, I downloaded it to my Kindle.

What I received was a serious novel about Vietnam, which made me squee in delight. Who doesn’t love a good war novel? I have a particular fondness for Vietnam and Post-911 novels and Matterhorn fit the first topic perfectly.  I am not sure exactly why the two became my personal pet book projects.  I think that they’re both so American and topics that represent a uniquely American genre of fiction.  The Vietnam genre in particular portrays the perplexities and complexities of being American.  A war that the people at home are protesting vehemently and yet you still have to go and protect your company whether you personally agree or not.  Vietnam War was violent and intense and cost too many lives on both sides for no legitimate reason.

I digress. I should be talking about why Matterhorn rocks and kicks ass as a novel.  The story sort of follows a new lieutenant, Mellas.  I say sort of because we do get glimpses into some of the other soldiers and get their thoughts and reasoning but we always return to Mellas, partly because he is one of their leaders.  I enjoy getting everyone’s thoughts while still having a main focus.  It creates a chaos that mirrors the insane and intense war scenario they are in.  At the same time having Mellas as the focus allows the novel a center of balance and this former SNCC member and progressive Princeton graduate (he got there on grades and money from the Marines, not from family money) as Mellas seems to be the morality of the novel.  At the very least he’s pretty damn honest about his motivations and his downfalls.

The novel starts and immediately hell starts for the Marine’s 224 Bravo platoon. The go on the marine dubbed, Trail of Tears Op, where their commanders are more concerned with getting them to make scheduled checkpoints then anything else.  This comes after they’ve been days (5 or 6) without food humping and walking in extreme weather through mountains, rivers, and waterfalls.  The higher ups think they forgot food (no one resupplied them) and are being lazy so refuse to medevac their injured.  They have to lie to get their injured taken away on a helicopter who brings batteries but not food as the colonel thinks they are being “pussies” and are exaggerating.  They use quite a few marines.  The book is a series of calls made from a Colonel Simpson, also an alcoholic, and his major who has never been in battle and doesn’t take the deaths personally who are making calls that affect Bravo Team (212 men).  It’s disturbing.  Because these Marines in the field have no chance.  Most of them are still teenagers and being forced to follow the decisions of an alcoholic? It’s not fair.  It makes me angry but I think that anger is a good feeling in a novel.

The novel’s other success is that intertwined into the war is a racial fight mimicking the racial tensions back home.  Many of the Black marines are upset they’ve been drafted into a war headed by White people with a White person’s agenda.  In the thick of the fighting racial tensions get erased and you protect your brother Marine whether he is Black or White. Once the fighting stops and they have some downtown, that’s where the problems go come.  Some of the Marines, like Mellas, recognize the tensions and do everything in their power to diffuse anger whether it means secretly transferring someone or changing situations, for most of the novel things are tense but don’t end badly. One member of the Black Panthers, China, participates in stealing and hiding guns and gun parts to send to the movement back in the USA.   Then he finds out that the leader of the Black Marine clique is nothing more than a fraud.  He doesn’t care about guns, he cares about selling drugs to Black man to get himself a profit.  Then he has to reevaluate his thoughts and when he finds out that one of the Black Marines is going to kill a racist White officer, he tells Mellas.  To bad he’s just a bit late and an innocent man (not the racist) dies.

The reason I explain the story of the racial tensions presented throughout the book is to show how richly complex it is.  It’s not just Marines fighting, it’s real people with real problems and prejudices being put in extreme situations and they’re dying for their country.  They’re not all wonderful people but they still are shedding their blood based on someone’s decisions and calls they have no control of.  It’s intense.  Even their language represents their intensity. Everything has an acronym or nickname or something.  One of the other lieutenants, Goodwin, calls everyone’s name Jack because he can’t remember anyone’s name.  In reality, I get the choice is more about not having to remember the names of the dead in his head. They call the Canadian who joined up with the American marines Vancouver. No one uses first names, maybe because it makes things easier when they die, and they almost always die.  The use of nicknames, calling the dead Cords on the radio and such seems partly about creating a sense of community. They have their own names as a way of solidifying their unique bond, but I think it also help that if they leave and make it out alive, then they can try and leaves that language and the accompanying memories behind.

It’s complicated and beautiful and I think everyone should give it a shot.  Expect for some emotional devastation.

I sadly could not come up with any pun play on the title.  This makes me a bit sad because even if I’m the only one who appreciates my pun, I still find it funny.  Then I thought about it for a moment and my sadness lifted.   Why? Because the book bored me a bit.

What book do I speak of you ask (or I ask talking to myself)? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  I again read this for my book club.  It was almost exciting (almost) to take on one of the authors that every bibliophile or wannabe should read.  Then I got into the book.  I am not even sure I have much to say about it!!!  It was just… boring?  The book is littered with latin throughout the book and not knowing any latin I scratched my head and wondering how much I was missing because I do not understand.

On top of that, Eco is Italian and this was merely a translation of the original.  Translations are important but, they make me sad.  Knowing a bit of Spanish, I read some poems in Spanish in high school and then read the translations.  They were close but not the same.  Something does get “lost in translation.”  That aside the book does have some positives and neutrals.

The story follows a monk from the 1300’s investigating a murder in the abbey that turns into a series of murders. It was a modern day Sherlock Holmes story or something that Agatha Christie could have written.  The monk is clever and witty and uses his language to fool and elude and force confessions.  The use of language is prevalent throughout.  The source of the murders traces back to a book written in four languages.  The narrator, writing seventy years later as the detective/monk’s apprentice, discusses how some languages are vulgar (common).  People who read a certain language are the ones who die.  Language and playing with language, creating puns and erotic references with words represents an important part of the novel.  To some extent it makes me think that our protagonist monk, and the author, just like to show off a bit how much more clever they are than the average reader.

Also in the book is some serious historical issues that go above and beyond my head and scant knowledge of Italian and Catholic history.  The historical background of the book occurs at this particular abbey where two legations are about to meet.  One from the Pope located in Avignon, France and the emperor.  The two are fighting over who has control.  In the  midst we get bizarre histories of alleged heretics and various sects of monks, a whole slew in fact, who are also charged with being heretics, including the Franciscans.  It goes on to explain or try to explain the differences of each of the sects and how some are heretics and some aren’t but the line is always fine and a story of whether or not monks practicing politics also muddies the water.  Again, it’s interesting, but confusing to the point of the story.  At the end of the novel accusations of sorcery and witchcraft occur.  A man is tortured during an impromptu inquisition.

It’s hard to follow and hard to believe that it all occurred over a mere work.  I won’t ruin it because it is hard to understand all ready.  But basically, there are secrets in the library that no one is allowed in.  At the end the library burns down.  The end.

the Wicked Witch of the WestGregory Maguire. Out of Oz.  Part of the Wicked Series.  Why the dramatic beginning? Not sure.  Hopefully this blog will let me work it out, but I felt this book deserved some understated drama.

So my latest read.  It’s been awhile. I had been reading Umberto Eco for my book club and he takes patience and intelligence and thus more of my time and energy.  But I got distracted while walking through Barnes and Noble and on the new book stand, partially hidden, was Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire.  The author of Wicked and who really started this genre of rewriting the classics.  He’s the Chris Nolan of books.  Who doesn’t love a good reboot if done well.  The Wicked Series redid The Wizard of Oz in a novel and intense way.  We all know the original book and of course the movie.  But Wicked looked at Oz from the prospective of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I won’t go into the details of the previous books, Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men, all of which look that the classic Wizard of Oz story through a specific character’s life.  Out of Oz begins with Elphaba’s (Elphie), also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, granddaughter’s life.  Yup, the greenie meanie, was actually a revolutionary.  While not the most loving person she had a son, though she rarely acknowledged it.  Her granddaughter Rain is born in the midst of a Civil War in Oz.  She doesn’t know her parents as she was left at Glinda’s house, though they left her to keep her safe.  The Wicked Witch stills causes the government a severe case of angina, so catching the hopefully magical grand-offspring of that famous creature is important.  It doesn’t hurt that Rain has a blood right to both factions of the War, though she isn’t aware of any of this from the outset.  Instead she’s a little girl abandoned during a war.

What happens next is rich and complex.  It involves a Cowardly Lion, Glinda, the son of a Witch, talking Goose and Birds, flying monkeys, Dorothy’s return to Oz and her almost execution, and a boy turned female ruler (it was an enchantment even he/she did not know had been placed on him/her.

This sounds complicated, right? It is.  This is not a book to start with.  You have to read the series as the counties, and towns, and histories are confusing even reading from the beginning. That’s probably where the book fails.  It’s complex and you need a good deal of foreknowledge about Oz and its inhabitants to appreciate the book.  But I do have that background and could enjoy it.

I was telling a friend how I was reading this and she made a comment about she thought I was a serious reader.  This obviously offended me but also got me thinking.  I think I love Wicked Series because it took a story that seems black and white, Glinda versus Elphie, but life is never black and white.  We all have complicated backstories and motivations for why we take certain actions.  Instead of just evil, maybe Elphaba was just misunderstood and the government painted her as a crazy witch rather than a revolutionary looking to gain rights for the Animals (speaking animals are designated with a capital letter).  Sound familiar? Her green skin did nothing to help her.  Judging people by the color of their skin, I’m feeling a metaphor to current times somewhere in there.   If the civil war seems muddled and confusing I like to think it’s allegorical of war.  When does war makes sense? Both sides go to war thinking they’re correct, both sides kill innocent individuals.  It doesn’t make sense and I think if the book seems convoluted that’s because war is convoluted and it’s not easy being green.

I think everyone should give this story a chance, well the series, don’t just go jumping in!  Even if it is a childhood story, so what?  Fairy tales are known for teaching children lessons on morality.  Are kids the only ones who needs lessons or reminders in morality? We all need reminders now and then.  And, so it’s fantastical and has a bit of whimsy where animals talk, magic is real, and brooms can take to the sky.  Think about how many adult fans the Harry Potter Series has, how many millions! Adults need an escape into Neverland too.  More than children, we need something to crack open our curiosity and imagination!  We would all be better partners, parents, children, and employees if we had better access to our imagination ad were able to break into that and come up with something creativity.  Reading this book made me smile and I find something nostalgic and awesome about that.  Reading should make you happy and this book did.

So, if you are looking for a rebooted story, start with Wicked and work your way up.  It’s worth it!

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

This one has been ongoing and I finally finished.  Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  Super Awesomeness.  Inspirational.  Probably gimicky but how could you give a shit? I didn’t.  Let’s take a step back and explain the premise and then I can explain why this book is more than stunt genre but just interesting.

So, Gretchen Rubin, former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (an interesting fact I want to share), decided she needed a career change and went from law to writing historical biographies. Bizarre, but then she realizes she needs more happiness in her life and decides to spend the next year working on her happiness and writing about it.  So starts the aptly titled The Happiness Project.  Quite different from the Eat, Pray, Love type of happiness, Rubin thinks that as a wife and mother of two happiness needs to be simple and not involve practicing yoga in India for four months or eating your way around Italy for another four.  That would work for Elizabeth Gilbert’s lifestyle not Gretchen.

So Rubin sits and thinks and ponders what she needs to make her happiness. She comes up with some commandments, like, Be Gretchen, meaning don’t try to be someone you aren’t and a whole slew of  aphorisms.  Then she picks 12 meta topics that will be the topic for each month during the Year of Happiness, energy, being a good wife, being a good mother, career, pondering spirituality, books, etc.  Then each month has specific mini goals.

So, she sets out on her quest for more happiness and she achieves it.  I hope I didn’t ruin this for you.

 

So, this probably sounds lame, but think about it.  I think there are some miserable human beings out there.  In fact, I’m related to a few of them.  Just thinking about some of the miserable people in the world and in my life, they’re bummers.  I start to wonder, what if other people think about me and think of misery? That’d be lame.  I could definitely use a happiness boost, and if Rubin is right, by being happy, we give other people around us a good boost. I would rather be a pillar of goodness than a gossipy bitch as hard as that will be.

With that  in mind I even decided that 2012 will be my year for happiness.  I’m going to blog about it.  Make charts (I looooove charts) and find a way to combat that crappy people in my life. I think it is going to be way hard but I’m going to fight through it and try to have a happy ending.