Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book club burnout: It's OK to ditch a dud

Whenever I cast about for ways to meet new people, I start eyeing local book groups. It’s theoretically a happy blend of reading (love it) and making new friends (hopefully).

It’s hard to find that magic combo book group where the time, place, and reading material perfectly align. So I settle for coming close – if the time and place work, I’ll sign on even if a few of the book choices don’t intrigue me, as long we’re swimming in the same general literary pool. After all, a benefit of book clubs is discovering some gem I never would’ve picked up if left to my own devices, so I’m willing to roll the dice a little.

Playing the odds, I decided to try two book groups after moving to a new city a few years ago, and wound up sticking with both for a long time. One meets at the library and is presided over by a librarian; it’s fairly focused and doesn’t stray too far from the topic at hand. The second is more relaxed – it meets at a cozy coffee shop, and the informal discussion meanders away from the book before long. I like both vibes, the one of seriously discussing the book, and the other of casually having coffee with the girls.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cool stuff to read and watch

Many lovely, good things await out there for the avid readers/watchers right now. Some notable choices I found worth my time and/or dollars (and maybe yours) include:

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow: The writer and director Judd Apatow lives, breathes and loves comedy. I didn't even know he used to do stand-up, but yup, he did. He also made a point of interviewing his comedy heroes, going back 30 years when he was still in high school. This book collects those interviews and adds some new ones (I'm only about 25% of the way through and loving it). And bonus, book proceeds go to 826LA, a charity to promote literacy and creativity for children. Sick in the Head is interesting, funny, and an education in comedy and performing. You'll find a few useful nuggets about life and work in general, too. You'll even get the fun fact that Garry Shandling was a writer for Sanford and Son (?!), though you'll never learn how many times he used the word "dummy" per script (as in Fred's abusively loving line to Lamont of "You big dummy!").

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

7 awesome audiobooks to rock your road trip

The heat is on, the days are long, and the season of road trips has begun. Long, hot, boring road trips. Oh, the monotony as those hours roll past like the asphalt under your wheels. An amusing or compelling audiobook with kick-ass narration will hit the spot like a frosty glass of Long Island Iced Tea. Audiobooks let you switch things up with listening to music to keep you alert as the hours drag on. Besides, you're probably already over that road-trip playlist you spent hours making.

My choices have grown-ups in mind, so if you need to entertain younglings on the journey, these are not the droids you seek. To get these titles, check your library's digital downloads through Overdrive or look into Audible (here are some tips for finding deals and free trials there). These should also be at iTunes if that's your go-to spot.

Crazy good audiobooks for traveling, in no particular order, include:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Audible freebies and tips to squeeze the most out of your membership

I never knew if I'd be all that interested in audiobooks, but when I heard about free trials, I decided to give it a go (free is free, after all). I not only learned that I loved audiobooks (most often humor or memoirs, as I usually prefer to read fiction so as not to literally lose the plot!), but that there are ways to make the most of a free trial or stretch out the bargains when offered a cut-rate monthly price plan.

I've been meaning to share what I've learned about how to squeeze the most bang for your buck out of an Audible membership for awhile, and I'm finally turning my list of tips into an actual post. A couple of membership deals currently available make this the perfect time to drop some knowledge on y'all.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Sunday night TV recap

Just some thoughts on Sunday night's shows (those that I've finished, I've still got a few to watch):

-I enjoy Silicon Valley, but that show stresses me out! Can anything ever work out for those crazy coders? They take one step forward and get smacked five steps back. It's just a show, but I still feel anxious for them. As an aside, I don't know why it took me so long to realize this, but Martin Starr, who played the geeky Bill Haverchuck on the tragically short-lived Freaks and Geeks, is Bertram Gilfoyle on Silicon Valley! (Wondering what all the F&G alums are up to? You ask and the Internet answers.)

-The Game of Thrones episode "The Dance of Dragons" seemed to fly like a dragon on wing, which is how I know I really enjoyed it (the shorter it feels, the more interesting it was). Despite the child murder and sex crimes that are a staple of the show's many horrors, its glories keep pulling me back in. When Daenerys climbed on her fire-breathing "child," I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Cut to credits. Blast! I also couldn't help thinking, what, um, about your friends that are still on the ground, surrounded by baddies? She's a bit self-centered; I suppose that's the royal bloodline and entitled ruler in her and whatnot.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Little House books: It's hard out there on the prairie

Note: For an updated take on the Little House books that includes talk of Prairie Fires (a Pulitzer-winning book that digs deep into the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder), see here.

I grew up cherishing the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child I didn’t just play house, I played Little House. I imagined living in a log cabin while pining for a piece of horehound candy and a tin mug to call my own. I craved a gingham dress even though I couldn’t pick a gingham anything out of a lineup.

The Ingalls family suffered adversity aplenty, from failed crops to dire illness, and endured many periods of barely eating enough to survive. The books resound with Laura’s wonder at the world and evocative descriptions of pioneer life to such an extent that it’s easy to overlook the underlying hardship. That’s the allure – the wide-eyed awe of the storyteller takes the sting out of the harsh bits (especially when you’re too young to fully understand).

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cool stuff to read and watch

What's taking my free time lately includes:

The Night of the Gun by David Carr. The full title to this memoir of drug abuse and redemption by the late New York Times journalist is The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. It's a fascinating tale of how close you can come to drowning your life and potential in drug abuse and still come back from the depths (with the aid of a little writing talent and a lot of friends willing to help you get back to good).

Grace and Frankie on Netflix. The title characters played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin steal the show, whether they're sharing a scene or not. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson are also great as the husbands who decide to leave their wives for each other, but the focus is on the ladies. The supporting cast includes four adult children (two from each set of couples), with the breakout character seeming to be June Diane Raphael, playing Fonda's daughter who runs her mother's company. I really enjoyed this show, and apparently so did Miley Cyrus (one positive tweet from her is credited with helping the show get picked up for another season).