books and reviews

This post marks the beginning of a new format for the books which I choose to read and the format which my reviews will take.

Books: the “Big Read”

Here’s the deal – you know that list of books the BBC posts every year, where only a small percentage of people have read more than six books on the list? Well, I always do well enough on that list, but I also feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of classic books that many other people seem to highly recommend.

So, on top of reading pop fiction that I love so dearly, I will also be tackling that list (dun, dun, dun). Of course, I don’t want to limit myself to that list (because really – I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish Crime and Punishment if I don’t have a little more light-hearted reading on the side), but I do really want to focus my efforts on educating myself in the literary world.

So. I have created: THE LIST. Meaning, a list of books which have caught my interest. The books will all fall into one of four (clearly marked) categories: the BBC books I have read; the BBC books I have read and will re-read; the BBC books I have not read; and the “other” books I have chosen to read for various personal reasons (recommended by friends, written by an author I love, the book jacket was pretty – jk, I swear). And hey! The formation of this list was a challenge, so that’s two birds with one stone!

If you are interested in seeing the list, visit this googledoc. Hopefully to also be including in a simpler format in a page on this blog.

Granted, I understand that I might not ever get around to reading all of these books – in fact, the chances are incredibly slim, because the last category in that list, at the very least, will always be growing. I’m okay with that, honestly. I just want to have a reference point to look at when I get done with a book and go, “what next?”

PS – my future landlord has another great challenge: read all the Pulitzer-prize-winning books since you were born!

Reviews: a New Format

So, I’ve always known I tend to be wordy, waxing on and on about little minute details about which I have really strong opinions, yet about which most others wouldn’t give a flying f***. As such, I am imposing a limit: my review for each book I read, from here on out, no more than 200 words (ouch).

Here’s the thought process: if you’re an avid reader, you probably already have an idea of what you want to read and what you don’t want to read. The most you’ll look for is a “fantastic” or “avoid at all costs,” and you can get that by skimming the first and last twenty words of each review. The middle is superfluous bullshit where I try (and often fail) to sound intelligent.

On the other hand, if you are not an avid reader, I probably won’t change that with my review. In fact, if my review’s too long, there’s no chance in hell you’re going to spend the time reading it, and even less of a chance that you’re going to read the book. As such, the best shot I have to change your mind is to present a succinct and pointed review clearly indicating “fantastic” or “avoid at all costs.”

The end result is the same. I’ll leave the waxing on and on to critical essays written in high school and pretentious books written by English professors.

PPS — yes, if you look at the google doc, I have a lot of reviews to upload. Blame it on the lack of internet!

life updates

1. I still hate not having internet access.

2. I signed my lease on an apartment! I will be living in Decatur (again! yay!) and I move in at the beginning of July. I will be living in a pseudo-apartment in the basement of a woman’s townhouse. It has its own private entrance and bathroom, an all-inclusive rent, and (gasp!) internet! This apartment could only be more perfect if 1) I could have pets, and 2) I had my own stove (instead, I am allowed to use the landlord’s, who lives upstairs).

3. I’ve been solo-dancing! Or, at least, working on it. Twice last night at Hot Jam — which means two times more than ever before!

4. I’m working on learning the Gangbusters routine with Rachel. Probably got about 1/4 of it down.

5. I sold more than $8000 in a single day at BR on Memorial Day, despite ringing on the cash register for two hours, which works out to more than $1300 an hour. That’s over $3000 more than I have ever sold in a day before! (If you’ve never worked retail before, you should know that $8000 in a day is a lot.)

6. I’m working on making a plan for the next few (many) books I read. Look forward to more on that soon!

review: grave secret

Grave Secret

Book Jacket Summary:

Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as family. But as they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface. Family secrets ensnare them both, as Tolliver learns his father is out of jail and Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister Cameron so many years before. And what she finds will change her world forever.

My feelings about the fourth and final installment of the Harper Connelly series are easily summed up in a single word: disappointing.

While I appreciate that this novel weaves two mysterious deaths into a complex narrative which reveals more of Harper and Tolliver’s background, while pushing them emotionally to their limits as they struggle with family matters…I just don’t believe the book was very well executed.

Individually, the two mysteries are well-thought out and potentially engaging, especially as they both relate to Harper and her family. However, when intertwined at the end, the ending seems entirely rushed and forced. As if Harris just wanted to be done with the series, so she wrapped up at least two books worth of plotlines in one. I can easily see how her plans might have changed, leading her to finish the series off…but I left the series with a bad taste in my mouth.

To address the Harper / Tolliver romance: I understand why it creeps out many readers, though logically I believe there is no need to be disgusted with their romance as they are not genetically related; furthermore, they became a family late in life, so it’s not as if they grew up from birth as brother and sister. Rather, the aspect of the relationship which annoys me is the disgustingly overt romance that they express. Considering Harper and Tolliver’s original characterization, I never became fully engaged in their relationship – and considering how much I enjoy chick flicks and how easily my disbelief is suspended when it comes to romance, that’s saying a lot.

Well, the first three books were a worthwhile read, and the last is worthwhile if only to wrap up all loose ends so you don’t go crazy wondering what ever happened to Harper’s sister. But honestly? I’m glad I didn’t buy the books, but rather borrowed them from the library.

If you love Charlaine Harris, go for it. If you’ve never read her before? Well, I’d look at some of her better series first (Sookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard…you pick).

how michael gamble changed my life

And now, a few more words on this private with Michael Gamble, who I might worship from this day out.

Michael arranged his class into several short (six minute) private lessons, and his approach was as follows: dance about thirty seconds with the follow, and then provide a little over five minutes of feedback. But for me, it went like this: Michael started dancing with me, and after about thirty seconds, he gave a small tidbit of advice on my connection during variations. But then, instead of stopping to work on technique, he just kept saying “do more variations” over and over again. As we kept dancing and dancing, I started wondering if something was wrong, or if he would ever give me something to work on. And then he STOPS, arms akimbo, and admonishes: “Why don’t you dance like this all the time?”

Essentially, I am always paying such close attention to my lead that my own voice in dancing sometimes gets hidden. I think, also, it accounts for a few times where I actually miss the lead – because I’m so ready to do something that I anticipate or arrive too early (“Ready for anything = Ready for nothing,” according to Peter and Naomi).

After making sure the shock of the comment didn’t hurt my self-esteem too badly, Michael then relegated me to my corner after only two and a half minutes of our six minute mini-private: “Go, sit down. You’re done.”

This moment was a huge compliment…terrifyingly intimidating. I expected to walk away with some advice on my swing out or my turns or my triple steps. Instead, I walked away with advice about my dancing overall – specifically my personality – which is simultaneously frightening, enlightening, overwhelming, and exciting. It has already revolutionized my dancing, and I’m really working hard to be more “selfish” and always show my personality when I dance. This is especially challenging when dancing with familiar people. But despite the difficulties, I can’t even explain how fantastic my dances have been since.

Even though the lesson was shocking… it was also strangely liberating. I just have to let myself show through more. I know this is the next “level” in my dancing, and it’s really exciting to have a purpose and a goal and to know it’s achievable.

***

That’s it for now. A wave of book reviews are next. Kudos to you if you read even 50% of all the stuff I just posted.

hop shop: class notes

A few sentences on the most powerful concepts from each class.

Jaya Dorf.

Follows – instead of sinking back into the movement of a linear swing out on 3&4, bring your left foot around on the & to continue the circular momentum (most follows trail their left foot behind, almost rock stepping or paddle-stepping around, which maintains a good connection but requires the momentum to be restarted each time half-way through a swing out).

Leads – good exercise to expand repertoire: take a basic six-count move (try a side pass). Add on two beats to make it an eight count move, and then two more to make it a ten count move, and so on. Always start the same way (as if going into a basic side pass), and always end with a triple step. For this exercise to work, you have to AVOID the second triple step, which signifies the END of a move (and the rock step is thed beginning)

Andy Reid.

Using your entire body to dance – especially the middle of your body! Exercise: try doing the Shim Sham with and without your feet while always keeping the upper body fully engaged. Try the half break – it’s hard!

Be sensitive to your partner’s upper body, too – simple moves in closed position can be great fun, fantastically varied, and incredibly musical if you simply pay attention to little upper and lower body changes. Adds miles to your repertoire while keeping follows fully engaged.

Michael Gamble.

(Organized as multiple mini private lessons, so a slightly different format – this is direct and personal feedback from him, so does not necessarily apply to everyone.) You are a great technical follow; you pay attention to a lead and contribute to the dance. However, you get caught up in following the lead exactly. Be more selfish in your dancing.

More thoughts on how this class changed my life in another post!

Laura Glaess

“BE A GORILLA, CLIMB THE TOWER, SNATCH THE GIRL!” Translation: dance with your whole body.

Your frame is perfect – don’t adjust it for the lead when he does a move, but keep it exact. Think on your rock step – if your arm adjusts even a micrometer, you’ve reduced the connection / tension that you were building for the next move and made it that much harder. Instead, keep your arm exactly where it is in relation to your body.

Mike Faltesek

Rhythm, scatting, being selfish. Being able to say the rhythms your feet are doing (connect mind and body).

ALL of 7812 to really hang out and do whatever.

Good in a way I didn’t realize I needed, and almost dismissed at the beginning of the class (“I’m not a musician, I can be a good dancer in other ways, so I’ll take all this with a grain of salt and leave it for others who are more interested in this way of dancing.” So not true. More on that in another blog post?).

***

That’s the gist of every class. While each class can be narrowed into a couple sentences, I really feel like every class was a wealth of information. It was honestly an incredible and inspiring workshop to attend.

hop shop: the next level in your dancing

The thing about my dancing I have struggled with most lately is an inability to push to the next “level” of dancing, where I am not only technically on the ball, but every dance is fantastic. And while I don’t think I’m there (yet), I have caught a glimpse of what I can achieve: where I rock out every swing out, every song, and every triple step. In other words, where I become unstoppable.

 The Format: the attendees are arranged into “pods,” a small group of people (no more than eight) with whom they take every class; groups are so small that individual feedback is easy. Pods vary in skill level, with at least one advanced and one beginner lead and follow in each group. Pods rotate between teachers in a single room, and each teacher gives a lesson or a mini-group private (teacher’s discretion). When not in a teacher’s class, pods are given time and space to practice class content.

Thoughts: I have to say that this is the most unique workshop setup I’ve ever participated in. And while I think it has its pros and its cons, I truly believe that the organization of classes in the Hop Shop has the ability to push each and every dancer.

One of the biggest bonuses of the Hop Shop is that it manages to work around the general complaint of leveled workshops, where less advanced dancers tend to seep into more advanced classes, thus challenging the pace and content of the class.

First, there are no levels at the Hop Shop, so no one is hurt or offended or righteously indignant when placed in a group (which I believe is the main cause of intermediate dancers fighting their way into advanced classes). Second, the classes are so small that leveling almost doesn’t matter in the first place: the instructors are able to give individual feedback (which is nearly impossible in a class over twenty people) so that you can always really understand the concept you’re working on, even if your partner does not.

I really only have two complaints about the Hop Shop: first, that it did not have breaks in-between individual classes, so I had no opportunity to scribble notes for five minutes, which is all I really needed. Some classes it was easy to take notes in-between nuggets of wisdom, but others not so much. Second, that the dance ended so early on Sunday night, ‘cause I was so energized from the weekend that I wanted to hang out and chill out before going home.

Honest-to-goodness, I have never been so excited and confident about my dancing. The difference between my dancing Friday and Saturday nights is astounding.

In a few words: Inspirational. Exciting. And Fucking Awesome.

***

Side note: I won’t lie, I was pretty proud of my wardrobe this weekend, too! I pulled out all my new knowledge about dressing myself from the BR, and I dressed to impress the entire weekend. Got a few comments on that too, which made me simultaneously blush and pump my fist in the air…

life updates

It has been so long since I’ve been able to post — and not for lack of wanting to! More for lack of time…and a distinct lack of internet, which will continue for another two months (approximately). Gah.

Some basic updates:

  • I now live “OTP,” or “Outside the Perimeter.” Also known as “Really Far Away.” The other day, I arrived seventeen minutes late for work. The next day, I left twenty minutes earlier, and arrived one minute later. That’s how far away I live.
  • On the other hand, I live with my sister, which is pretty cool. Finally getting to bond…when we’re both in the apartment, haha.
  • I got my hair cut, and I’ve been keeping up with my nails, and I’m learning more about fashion every single day. It’s been fun. :)
  • I have a lot of blog updates for you. A lot. Because while I am without internet, I am not without my computer.

And to organize my brain, a list of things I know I need to take care of and post about:

  • Review the Hop Shop! Preview: IT WAS AMAZING.
  • Book Reviews! And maybe a new format for choosing books and posting reviews!!
  • Work on my brother’s birthday present – his birthday’s coming up, after all!
  • Finish my mom’s present, which should have been done months ago.
  • Post about the present I made for my dad, which was super awesome and super fun.
  • Warrior Dash!!