Bookworm: July 2018

I started gathering up my list of what I've read this month and did a bit of an incredulous double-take - how the heck did I possibly power through as much as I did this month? Then I realized it's been a super-stressful month which, for me, triggers acute insomnia, which in turn means I'm often up reading for an hour here or there over the course of a night when I get frustrated with my own inability to sleep like a normal human. So there you have it - a ridiculously robust July reading list! 

Also, I dog-sat Leia the first weekend of the month, and pretty much all I did was this, because Leia is my favorite dog in the world and I mostly want my entire life to be cuddling and playing with her (ideally while also reading a plethora of books).

Loved: 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond: Dave recommended this to me almost immediately after we moved in, and I picked it up recently in a darling local bookstore. Guys, I couldn't put it down. The author wrote an ethnography, essentially, on life below the poverty line in the rental market of Milwaukee, WI. The stories he illustrates are deftly told and left me simultaneously frustrated, saddened, and grateful for my own good fortune. I need to unpack this further in its own post - such a fantastically impactful read, proving (once again) that Dave has surprisingly excellent taste in literature. 

Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton: I half-heartedly read along with the Reese Witherspoon Book Club from time to time, largely because her books are generally popular (or become generally popular, once selected by her). This one sucked me in right away - set in Havana during the Cuban Revolution and in present day, it's a love story to both people and places, and highlights how once we love either, they never really leave us. 

Fake Plastic Love, Kimberley Tait: I liked this much more than I was expecting after a very lukewarm first chapter - two college friends take very divergent life paths, one into the world of banking and one into lifestyle blogging. As I straddle both worlds (sort of?), I laughed and grimaced in equal parts. The characters and settings are so idealized as to be nearly caricatures, but that just added to the excellent beach-read tone of the entire work (I read this in an afternoon in the pool). 

My Oxford Year, Julia Whalen: Kels recommended this to me and I'm so glad she did! Loosely based on the Ali McGraw classic "Love Story," Verdi's "La Traviata," and Alexandre Dumas's "La dame aux camélias," our protagonist, Ella, receives a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford for a year. She must balance love, her professional career, and her own best interests along the way among a series of dramatic (and unforeseen by me!) twists and turns. Super enjoyable and a very quick read. 

Enjoyed: 

When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger: The author also wrote "The Devil Wears Prada," and this is told in part from the perspective of Emily Charlton (portrayed by Emily Blunt in the movie) from that iconic chick-lit classic. It's escapist, frothy, fun, and everyone comes out happy in the end, which I think makes for a perfect July insomnia read, don't you?

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recomment, Katarina Bivald: A friend from college recommended this on one of my numerous "what are you reading?" posts on FB, and it was sweet and wholesome and lovely in every way. A young, socially awkward Swedish woman comes to rural Iowa to meet her elderly pen pal, only to find said pen pal has died. The ensuing events are the stuff of a Nora Ephron movie waiting to happen, I swear. Read this over tea when you're having a cranky day and it will make you smile! 

The Devlin Diary, Christi Phillips: The sequel to "The Rossetti Letter" (see "Re-reads" section, below!) finds our young researcher at Oxford solving mysteries with her hot professor, falling for another hot professor, said other hot professor ending up mysteriously dead, and all the while a parallel story about codebreaking and serial killers in Restoration England is raging like, every other chapter. Again, this is historical fiction with very little history and VERY much fiction, which is fun and escapist and enjoyable. Think "The Tudors," not the BBC! 

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, Helena Kelly: I loved this, as I've been going through a bit of a Jane Austen renaissance and I enjoy just about anything that explores her life and writing further. The book picks apart a different Austen novel every chapter and peels back the layers, revealing (hypothetical) critiques of everything from social class stratification, primogeniture, the clergy, the military, and censorship embedded in Austen's works. A fascinating, if not entirely convincing read!  

Georgiana Darcy's Diary, Anna Elliott: I love a good "Pride and Prejudice" spinoff, and this perfectly fit the bill for an e-reader book to pick up and put down on my phone while waiting in lines. Picking up after P&P and told through diary entries by Mr. Darcy's younger sister, it's sweet and Hallmark-trite but still warm and fuzzy. 

From Pemberley to Waterloo, Anna Elliott: See above - same premise, just further into the action. 

Kitty Bennet's Diary, Anna Elliott: See above again - this time reforming noted flibbertigibbet Kitty Bennet and pedant Mary Bennet. Big fan. 

Tolerated: 

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out, Sally Franson: EH. This was such a letdown because it was recommended publicly by a Minnesota writer I adore, and she recommended it largely because it was set in Minnesota - and yet there was absolutely zero Minnesota in it. I wanted a MN version of Curtis Sittenfeld's lovely "Eligible," specific and tangible and indelibly of a place, and this was not that novel. Also the plot was insipid, the heroine didn't inspire me, and I found the entire novel simultaneously predictable and irritatingly convoluted. 

Re-reads: 

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos: I've waxed rhapsodic about Marisa de los Santos so many times here, but as I'm sitting here the phrase "lighting truths like candles" popped into my head, and that's from this gorgeous story of screwed-up families, failed and budding relationships, and how we all somehow come together. The best read for anytime you need new faith in love, language, or life in general. 

The Rossetti Letter, Christi Phillips: A young researcher in Venice teams up with a sexy Oxford professor to solve a centuries-old mystery about the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618. There's also a parallel story set during the Spanish Conspiracy, and it's all deliciously frothy, Philippa Gregory-esque historical fiction - light on history, heavy on fiction, which is exactly as it should be for a good escapist read. 

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare: Such such such a good tragedy, one that I think often gets overshadowed by "Macbeth," "Hamlet," and "Othello." Even "King Lear," for that matter. It's DARK. Pick it up! Although I don't recommend it for the car dealer - it doesn't pair well with Muzak and sales pitches. 

 

Summer break and a Safeway story.

Hi crew!

It’s been a while and a half, hasn’t it? I decided I was going to take a summer break, primarily because I did the Classic Lizzie Thing in which I totally overload myself with two classes, thirteen discrete projects at work, a slew of visitors in town every weekend, and a social life that has been nothing if not overcommitted. Oh and also trying to go to the gym regularly and get a new car (my lease was up) and plan out the NEXT several months of my life. So some things had to give, and my blog was one of them. Alas! Alors! Anyway!

I’m hopping back in with a happy little moment from yesterday, involving me being a scatterbrain and the world being kinder to me than I deserve. I’ve been a bit homesick lately, after a rough month or two in general, and it was such a great reality check.

It started with a Sunday afternoon trip to my local Safeway, which is generally a mistake. I’m actually coming to think that going to my local Safeway, period, is generally a mistake (someday I’ll tell you all of my passionate love for Trader Joe’s, oh dear). Sunday afternoons at my local Safeway are overcrowded, understaffed, and always frenetic, and I am never at my best when faced with that combination of circumstances. I was also post-gym and pool on this particular Safeway trip, which meant salty hair, minimal makeup, and a “weekend T-shirt” (my designation) of the variety that really shouldn’t see the light of day. This particular “weekend T-shirt” was a just-because gift from my mother with the old Dayton’s department store logo on it. This is relevant, I promise!

After gathering all my ingredients for coconut curry chicken meatballs, Mexican corn, and a week’s worth of salad lunches, I popped the prettiest bunch of perfect white hydrangeas into my cart on a whim. The checkout lines, per usual, were minimum five people deep, so I settled in and whipped my phone out to read while I waited. The guy behind me had different ideas, and struck up a conversation:

“You’re not from Minnesota, by any chance, are you?” he said. I goggled at him, completely dumbfounded. I hadn’t said anything, so the accent hadn’t given me away. I wasn’t wearing any sports gear or anything. So I affirmed, cautiously, “I am – how on earth did you know?”

“It’s your shirt,” he continued, “it’s the Dayton’s logo. I haven’t seen that forever.” And I laughed, and we started the most pleasant conversation about where we were from, how much we missed Minnesota, et cetera. He had just been home at a family cabin on the Whitefish Chain, and he hailed from a suburb right by mine. I was having so much fun chatting with him, in fact, that as I unloaded my cart I completely neglected to grab my hydrangeas out of the child seat basket.

So I got all rung out and the cashier had already started scanning my new friend’s items, and all of a sudden as I was wheeling my cart out of the lane I spotted my flowers. In typical Lizzie form, I spazzed, offered to go to the back of the line, offered to go put them back, and all the while the cashier and bag boy are looking at me like, “what the eff, lady,” which just made me more self-conscious and embarrassed.

My Edina guy, cool as a cucumber, swooped my flowers out of my cart and said, “Don’t worry about it, let me buy your flowers.” Guys, I could feel myself turning beet-red with mortification as I dug through my purse looking for cash to offer him and came up empty-handed. And again, he goes, “It’s no big deal, it’s just a nice thing to do – let me buy a fellow Minnesotan a bouquet, seriously.” And I’m simultaneously utterly charmed and incoherent, so there was much stumbling over words and profuse thanking and bumbling around like a dork.

I’m not sure why this was such a monumental big deal to me. Maybe it’s that I’ve been a little cynical lately about humankind in general and Californians to be specific. This is not the sort of thing that happens here, and I realized that I took all of that very much for granted at home – the door-holding, the bag-carrying, the general demeanor of pleasantness and assiduity. It felt, for just a minute, like I was home and surrounded by people who cared, just a little bit, about making other people’s lives easier and happier and brighter. And that, in that moment, was not only nice, but kind of essential. So we said our goodbyes, and I headed to my car, smelling my hydrangeas all the way and feeling just a little more faith in the goodness of humanity.

Bookworm: June 2018

“The eagerness of a listener quickens the tongue of a narrator.” 
―Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

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Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes: The latest installment of the Wade and Lizzie Transcontinental Book Club - I had somehow never had to read this in school and I'm not sure why, because I'm pretty sure it's required just about everywhere. The story of a mentally handicapped man who is rendered superintelligent through surgery, with vast personal and scientific implications/complications. Pounded through it in about 3 hours - it's the kind of novel that's hard to put down, once started. 

A Life in Men, Gina Frangello: This was a lengthy, riveting novel - two stories intertwined as one, every other chapter. The "odd" chapters chronicle the story of two eighteen-year olds on an ill-fated trip to Greece; the even, the story of one of their lives with cystic fibrosis. Every so often Ms. Frangello would allude to a future event that the reader has no previous knowledge of, and every time she buried the lede like that it sucked me in a little harder. I hesitate to call this a beach read, but it was fantastic while at the same time an easy, interesting, accessible pick. 

Enjoyed: 

By the Book, Julia Sonneborn: This modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion was charming, fluffy and light - set at a California college, Anne is an English teacher whose college sweetheart becomes the president of her university. I liked it, but it didn't steal my heart like Austen's original did...of course. 

The Light We Lost, Jill Santopolo: So here's my beef with this - I loved aspects of it, notably some of the turns of phrase and the writing style, but I felt like the plot was a bit thin. I'm having a sort of hard time with the whole glamorization of soulmates being an excuse for infidelity lately; I've seen it quite a bit in several of the books I've chosen and I'm just not down with it. All said and done, a good summer read but one I'm not dying to revisit. 

The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell: I got weirdly into this toward the end - the premise, that a descendant of the Brontë family is seeking her long-lost and possibly fictional inheritance, was quirky and just off-kilter enough to keep things moving. The writing got a bit repetitive at times for me, though it did spur a dive back into the Brontës' writing! 

Tolerated: 

Nothing this month - so nice! 

Re-reads: 

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë: I've always loved poor Jane, and dove back in after a: finishing "The Madwoman Upstairs" and b: getting obsessed with "Jane Eyre: The Musical" thanks to Francesca. This read-through really kicked me in the teeth - lots of feels for Jane and how disenfranchised she is by virtue of her station/appearance/status, lots of empathy for why she fell for Mr. Rochester and just in general a lot of smacking myself over the head with "DUH" moments. 

miscellany

Cleaned out my phone photos during a 2am bout with insomnia last night and found a handful of little bits and pieces that don't really fit anywhere else...

- the prettiest brunch at Angelica's with Bita, Andrea and of course my favorite dog Leia

- Dave and I hosted our friends David and Meaghan for a cookout a few weeks ago, and Meaghan brought the most adorable cake - bonus? It was Funfetti. 

- Anything funny/British royal family related tends to get screenshot these days. 

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- Spotted downtown en route to 21st Amendment. I'm a nerd, I laughed out loud. 

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- The random Monday when Alpha Acid had the brewer's dogs in-house and I was in heaven. 

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- I have too many products. Correction: *had. Massive bathroom cleanout was a good move, as was the post-cleanout bubble bath. 

- Once upon a time Drew ordered "the largest pizza" at our local pizza dive. It's two feet across, it's called the King Kong, and didn't fit through my car door. 

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- On a higher-brow food note: I find myself at Terrain Café every other week or so now, mostly for the passionfruit Italian soda and the kale Caesar but also because their patio is so lovely. 

- a new vintage Kate Spade shot for my work computer's desktop background - seems appropriate for a lot of reasons. 

- My mom and I found Toppling Goliath at a random little restaurant in Sebastopol on our Sonoma trip last weekend, and I was utterly delighted...even moreso when the bartender, who also runs their beer program, sold me a spare bottle to bring home to my IPA-loving roommate. 

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- Laughed my ass off, campers. 

- Seemed appropriate to dine on Rosé Street - well-placed street sign humor will always make me giggle. 

- After dropping my mom off at the airport on Monday, I took 280 to work and noted the "WOZ" vanity plate. Sped up accordingly and almost died when I spotted Steve Wozniak in the passenger seat. What a weird, weird place this is, campers. 

- Tuesday marked my one-year anniversary at Stanford, and I celebrated by working very very late and being very very busy. Things are absolutely insane here right now, and I mostly love it and am still so grateful for and excited about the chance to be here, learning and challenging myself every day.

- Things I studied in school that I have not used as an adult include but are not limited to the ability to map iambic pentameter, calculus, topography, any kind of dissection, and Platonic philosophy. Thing I did in school and used just last week: that effing fifth-grade science fair board. 

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- California is so freaking weird. These are random goats "mowing" a hillside in a suburb. What the actual eff? 

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- I have been VERY homesick this week, and a big part of it is missing my bff. Since we couldn't have beers in person together, I sent a Greetabl her way to be with her in spirit at least. Can't wait to see her hopefully soon! 

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- And finally - we've been marathoning "Queer Eye" all week and I am beyond obsessed. Besotted. Enchanted. Addicted. I don't even know, it just makes me ridiculously happy and that's a wonderful thing. Also this is my new quote any time I get down on myself. Expect to hear it repeated ad infinitum, campers. 

 

HAPPY FRIDAY! 

A year in California.

Exactly a year ago today my mom and I drove the last seven hours of our epic cross-country road trip - from the Stockmen's Casino in Elko NV, where you cash your chips at the same counter where you check in, to San Francisco.

We celebrated our Bay Area arrival with cocktails at the Palo Alto Anthropologie (of course), I ruined a wall in my bathroom trying to hang a towel hook, and cried my eyes out with excitement and relief and apprehension about what was coming next. Part of it was shell shock, I think - driving 33 hours in two and a half days would do a number on anyone. Part of it was the sense of being truly unmoored, the finality of arriving at a destination that, for months, had felt like a hazy, surreal leap of faith. And part of it was a delirious sense of awakening, of starting to open this gift I hadn't even known I needed to give myself. 

Hackneyed clichés aside, that arrival in California 365 days ago started a period of my life that has marked a true sea change in me. I spent two weeks settling in before I started work - the first chasing around wine country and the city and the peninsula with my mom, stifling a bit of panic every time I got behind the wheel of my car, making more trips to Target than any self-respecting person has a right to make. Watching the Tonys in our hotel room over Sprinkles cupcakes with face masks on. Eating Stacks for breakfast twice. Losing our minds over Chandon's American Summer display of Em's designs. Laughing and freaking out, sometimes at the same time, and relying so much on her to keep me steady.

That week ended, of course, with me sobbing silently and uncontrollably as I drove her to SFO to say goodbye. I spent that next week waiting - waiting for my movers to show up, waiting in lines at the DMV, waiting for blistering migraines to abate as I adjusted to lower elevation and air that felt different than home. Waiting for my job at Stanford to start, waiting for Dave to arrive, waiting to make friends, waiting for this new place I lived to feel like home. 

A year later, it does, and for that I am constantly grateful. California has held so many surprises for me, and has changed me so much in ways I really needed to change. Stanford has forced me out of the complacent professional comfort zone where I had lingered for so long, challenging me most days with its sheer scope and breadth and complexity. Dave has become one of my best friends, and has opened up his world of friends to me with a generosity and complete lack of selfishness I've rarely seen in others (a generosity I don't thank him for often enough). Together with Drew and Laura, our madcap little apartment has been home to laughter and tears, parties and puking, messes and houseguests and hangovers and heartache; these experiences have made it a home for me in ways that pictures on the walls and monogrammed towels never could. 

I have found favorite restaurants, and wineries, and coffee places. I have learned to just never go to the Redwood City Safeway between the hours of 4:30 and 7, and have figured out that the 101 is faster to go to work in the mornings but to always take 280 home. I can drive to Napa without needing Google Maps (this says quite a bit about my priorities, given I still need it to get around campus from time to time). I have taken classes in opera, museums, Shakespeare, wine, and jazz, fallen for the San Francisco Ballet, experienced a deep-house club, and cultivated a burgeoning obsession with IPAs. 

I still get shivers every time I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (although, secretly, the Bay Bridge is my favorite), but I've discovered that I actually think a lot of San Francisco is really gross. I struggle with the disparity between privilege and need here, which is so much wider and far more dramatically apparent than in Minnesota. I have gone out with a tech bro, a sommelier, and a guy who works for a venture capital firm, among others - and all three have absolutely lived up to the assumptions and stereotypes the Bay perpetuates about their respective breeds. My circle of friends ranges widely - doctors and data scientists, consultants and professors, architects and wine marketers and innovation strategists - and the conversations I find myself having are similarly diverse and challenging and eye-opening. 

I am asked, perhaps not quite as constantly as in my first few months, but still regularly - "Why did you move here? How long do you see yourself staying here?" For the first time in my existence, I am operating without a long-term plan, and I am comfortable with that. Rather than benchmarking myself against my peers in the Twin Cities - job, promotion, serious relationship, engagement, dog/house, wedding, baby - I find myself focused on a new project at work, weekend day trips, a bucket list that grows by two line every time I check off one. I know that this place will not be my home forever, but that's about all I know for sure. Whether I'm here for another three years, five, ten - I'm okay with being unsure about that. As for why I moved here, though, I think the experiences and people and adventures of the last year speak for themselves, and I hope that the next year only brings more of the same. 

...that said, I'm really glad I never have to go back to the Stockmen's Casino and Lodge. Leaving that in the last year is completely fine by me.