Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year in Books

Every year on New Year's Eve, I post a list of the books I've read that calendar year, and every year, the list seems to get shorter and more pathetic. I used to read way more than this and I enjoy it so damn much; seeing my slide into illiteracy actually makes me a bit sad. I need to find a way to allot myself more time to read in 2009. So I'm going to post this list, thin as it is, to keep myself honest. Here are the books I read in 2008:

  • Windfalls [fiction] by Jean Hegland
  • Remains of the Day [fiction] by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The House on Mango Street [fiction] by Sandra Cisneros
  • Girls in Trouble [fiction] by Caroline Leavitt
  • Chrysalis, Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis [non-fiction] by Kim Todd
  • The Wonder Spot [fiction] by Melissa Bank
  • The Stand [fiction] by Stephen King
  • Lost Mountain [non-fiction] by Erik Reece -- See my review here, and find links to numerous other reviews over at The Blogging Bookworm.
  • Messenger [fiction] by Lois Lowry
  • In Defense of Food [non-fiction] by Michael Pollan -- I won this book from a giveaway over at Crunchy Chicken. Thanks again, Crunchy!
  • The Back Road to Crazy [essays] edited by Jennifer Bove
  • For Love [fiction] by Sue Miller
  • Bait and Switch : The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream [non-fiction] by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Road [fiction] by Cormac McCarthy
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames [essays] by David Sedaris
  • An American Childhood [memoir] by Annie Dillard
  • Coming Back to Me [fiction] by Caroline Leavitt
  • Silence of the Songbirds [non-fiction] by Bridget Stutchbury -- I read this book based on Hugh's excellent review over at Rock Paper Lizard.
  • The Midwife’s Apprentice [fiction] by Karen Cushman
I highly recommend Lost Mountain for anyone looking for a captivating non-fiction read; Remains of the Day was the fiction stand-out. What about you? What were your favorites reads of 2008?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

On Opting Out

Every year my company hosts a minimum of two or three separate Christmas parties. There is the formal affair, which is held a few weeks beforehand, at various fancy off-site establishments, with staff from both offices. It is the one time a year when everyone meets face to face, and after two years, there are still unfamiliar faces. Then on the last day before the holiday, each office has a Secret Santa potluck.

When the sign-up sheet was posted in the kitchen last year, I casually ignored it. I am generally opposed to Secret Santa type gift swaps on environmental grounds. In my experience, people are buying for recipients they don't know very well, with spending guidelines that pretty much guarantee that everyone just trades crap that no one wants. But my boss who organizes the party is really into the fun social aspect of it, and when she came around to my desk with sign-up sheet I succumbed to the pressure.

It turns out the culture of this particular gift exchange leans even more heavily towards useless garbage than most. The gifts are supposed to be stupid, or comical, or humiliating. [An example is a whole line of "Boss Lady" toiletries someone purchased for one of the partners last year, which was all packaged in pink, but had a manly scent. Racy calendars are also a recurring theme.]

Because it was "secret," I wasn't exposed as the guilty party, but the gift I purchased, a Rishi fair trade organic tea gift set with a ceramic diffuser, was roundly dismissed as being "too nice." It must have been a new person. Luckily there were several of us new people, including my recipient, who seemed quite pleased with her gift. She came and thanked me privately later -- she figured out it was me because there aren't many of us tea drinkers there, plus the aforementioned newbie failure to buy a gag gift. The funny thing is, she had drawn my name, and bought me organic lotion and lip gloss, another gift dismissed as unworthy by the old timers.

This year I decided to opt out.

With several successful performance reviews under my belt, I figured I should have enough personal capitol and recognizable value by now to escape the obligatory gift exchange. I still brought a dish to pass and attended the party, socializing and watching co-workers open their embarrassing gifts. It was much more enjoyable for me this year without the stress of the dreaded gift exchange. As the party was wrapping up, the partners passed out merit-based bonus checks, a welcome uncertainty in these times. [My company has not been immune to this economic downturn: our health care rates will skyrocket in January, and several co-workers have been laid off or had their hours dramatically cut back.]

Most staff leave shortly after the party peters out, but I returned to my desk for another hour and a half of work, trying to wrap something up I am scheduled to work on next week. When I was leaving at 5:30 pm, the only other people left were partners. As I was putting on my coat and getting ready to leave, I went around to say goodbye and personally thank each partner.

I was in Party Organizer Boss's office when Boss Lady Recipient Partner came in with her coat to say goodbye, too. We all ended up walking out together. They started lamenting how there seemed to be less participation this year in both the Secret Santa and the potluck. Since they knew I didn't participate in the gift exchange, but the food all gets lost together on one big table, I was quick to point out in my defense that at least I brought a dish to pass. Redemption of sorts? That was my hope. Then Party Organizer Partner joked that perhaps they should tie Secret Santa participation to the bonuses.

While it was just a joke, the comment gave me pause. Obviously I know enough to keep my big mouth shut and not tell my bosses what I really think of these gift exchanges. But is that enough? Are there political consequences to opting out? What do you think? Do I have to suck it up and participate in future Secret Santas for reasons of professional development?

I hope everyone has a terrific holiday season, and if you are celebrating Christmas today, that it is very Merry indeed!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Since my last post, I've attended several NCAA basketball games, gone to the company Christmas party, and best of all, saw David Sedaris read at a local theater. I've already written about basketball (several times) and don't really want to get into too much detail about my job, but I haven't ever blogged about David Sedaris. The man is hysterical, and dreamy, too: I always swoon a little when I see him. He's like a rock star. So I thought I would compile a list inspired by Momma Val's Ticket Stubs post. So here they are, the various concerts and lectures I've attended:

Kurt Vonnegut
Margaret Atwood
Amy Tan
John Irving
Oliver Sacks
Michael Moore
David Sedaris

Timothy Leary
Oliver Stone
George Carlin

Rock Concerts
Tom Petty
Phish (also, Oysterhead and the Trey Anastasio Band)
The Grateful Dead (also, the Jerry Garcia Band and Rat Dog)
The Allman Brothers
The Rolling Stones

All these events were highly entertaining, and I enjoyed them enormously. However, I do have regrets about missing a few... There was that Pink Floyd concert back in '94 -- I waited in line first for a bracelet, then again to buy tickets, but ultimately took a job out of state and couldn't go. REM and Neil Young are two other bands I've always wanted to see, but never had the chance.

A few regrets with the authors, too, unfortunately. Stephen Jay Gould apparently gave a lecture in my town, but I didn't find out about it until several years after the fact, so obviously did not go (and of course now will never have the opportunity). I also inexcusably missed Jane Goodall when she was here, although the venue was a graduation speech, and not a straight-up lecture or reading that would have been more to my liking. Then there are the authors I would love to see, like Michael Pollan, who never seem to come to my area.

As odd as it may sound to those who don't love books, the author lectures are a rollicking good time, and they've all been local, as opposed to the concerts. I never exactly toured with any particular band, but the list of concerts above occurred in seven different states and provinces. What about you? Seen any great events? Who do you regret missing?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Stumbling Along

Sorry for my sporadic presence around bloggyland of late. November was really super busy for me. When it got about halfway through the month without me posting, I started thinking, maybe I should just take the whole month off. Sort of like the anti-NaBloPoMo. [Yeah, 'cause I'm a rebel like that.]

However, December has turned out to be just as busy around here, possibly even more so than November: all the same shit, plus the addition of the looming holiday hoopla. It's hard to get back into the swing of blogging, particularly when there is so much other stuff that needs doing. Not surprisingly, I am not feeling especially festive this year, and haven't even begun the inevitable holiday preparations.

I wanted to get a tree this weekend, because the lovely aroma of balsam always cheers me up, but that hasn't happened yet either. I did sleep late this morning, though, which I absolutely needed after a truly exhausting week. Then we went out for an inexpensive lunch at a local pizza shop that has been in business since the 1920s (SodaBoy discovered they have fantastic clam chowder), then home again for an afternoon of chores. Speaking of which, I should go check that laundry...

Maybe we'll get a tree tomorrow.