Saturday, September 20, 2014

Moving Fast is Easy. Standing Still is Hard.

There are feet down there somewhere.
Puffy ones.
So, we meet again.

You'll have to forgive me for not posting much in the past eight and a half months, because, to me, it feels like I found out I was pregnant literally yesterday. As in, I still wake up in the morning (and in the middle of night, to pee, ten times) and forget that I have a watermelon for a torso. Where did this come from??

It's gone by in a blur.

I have two weeks left until my due date, and this may be hard to believe, but there is enough other stuff going on that I've been too preoccupied to really stress about it very much.

At work, it's the end of the fiscal year. Which is the Super Bowl for people who work in government budget teams, only with more money at stake and more violent tackles. Last Friday I busted my hump to rescue about $7 million in tax payer dollars for important programs. (That sounds like a lot of money, but it's actually peanuts.) And there's still more work to be done.

Yesterday, Tim graduated from his training to become a consular officer. This week, he has to pass his Spanish test. After that, he's got a list of things to do, both baby-related and Mexico-related, that would give a normal person hives just looking at it.

Together, we've got the classes (birthing class, breastfeeding class, baby care class), and the preparation for Mexico (getting fancy passports and TSA numbers and scheduling our flights and the move), and making arrangements for our family to visit, etc., etc., etc.

With all of this stuff going on at once, there's no time to panic and freak out about any one thing. I have an odd, zen-like feeling of happiness, thanks in no small part to the following:

We got the nursery set up so Mugi could enjoy it.
1. Tim is going to be an incredible dad. 
Sometimes it blows my mind how supportive, patient, kind, and wonderful he's been this whole time. Not that I expected him to be awful or something, just that he has a superhuman ability to take care of me, for which he asks nothing in return, and which gives me faith that, no matter what, this baby will be fine.

2. Nothing is ever what you expect.  I knew this already, but it's been on my mind a lot. It's actually sort of nice to realize how silly it is to try to predict and control things. I had a hard time getting pregnant, and was worried that my body would totally betray me once I finally did. But (don't hate me) this has been the EASIEST pregnancy ever. Everything good and simple and healthy and straight down the middle. I wouldn't want to be pregnant forever or anything, but I have zero horror stories. Maybe it won't be like that two weeks from now. I can prepare myself, but can't control it and will only be thwarted if I try.

3. Nesting is awesome. I want to clean and organize everything. And even completing the smallest task (picking up the socks! cleaning the bathroom mirror! throwing away the expired yogurt!) gives me a completely pathological sense of accomplishment. This is all thanks to hormones and it's great. (Also, picking up socks - or anything else at ground level - is a real feat at this point.)

4. We have an amazing support net. Our friends, family, and coworkers are seriously incredible people. Again, I'm not worried about this baby at all. It hasn't even gotten here yet, and it's already so well loved and taken care of.

5. A pregnant belly is like cat crack. I'm not kidding.

(He's going to be a great influence on this baby.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Knocked Up.

I'm seventeen weeks pregnant and I realized I haven't said a word about it on here yet. 

For the first thirteen weeks, that was definitely intentional. First of all, it seemed too good to be true and I didn't want to jinx myself. Second, it was kind of nice to have a secret just between me and Tim. We wanted to wait to tell both because it's recommended and because we're selfish and realized it was the only time we'd get the baby all to ourselves.

You can chalk up my radio silence for the last four weeks to more straightforward causes: (1) It's gone by really fast and (2) pregnancy brain.

So here's a short list of observations about my particular pregnancy so far.

1. It is both exactly how I expected it to be and nothing like I expected.
In pretty much every book, movie, or TV show where someone finds out they're pregnant, they find out because they're throwing up (I'm looking at you, Leslie Knope). That is not at all what it was like for me. In fact, I didn't throw up one. single. time. (Sorry, sorry, I know. It's not fair.) Instead, I had lots of other weird symptoms that made it obvious I was definitely pregnant: like not being able to eat anything but pickles, macaroni and cheese, and baby corn; having to pee literally every 20 minutes (if you know me, you know that is NOT normal); getting a migraine every time it rains (literally, every time); and the smell of our (perfectly clean) kitchen making me want to hide under the bed. Basically, until I become pregnant, and become curious enough to google "early pregnancy symptoms," we had no idea what we were really in for.

2. Pregnancy. Dreams.
I've always had pretty vivid dreams, but now my dreams are next-level, hardcore, turned up to 11. They're sagas with plots and reoccurring characters and epic battles. Last night I dreamed that my grandparent's ranch was Kings' Landing, but that instead of Lannisters, it was overrun by a family of evil corporate scientists doing sleep experiments on people, with Paris Hilton playing the role of evil-corporate-scientist King Joffrey. I had to defeat her by stealing her Cadillac, driving into Crawford, and getting a haircut (which is super-stressful because uh, I don't drive and also, the only hair stylist in Crawford was out to lunch). Shit like this goes on in my head all night, every night.

3. Everyone's a Doctor/Expert.
I was explicitly warned about this (thanks, Amber!) and knew it was coming, but it's still hard to deal with gracefully. I'm already the kind of person who likes to puzzle things out for myself and does not take advice easily. (In case you wondered, Tim is the same. Worse than me, actually.)  Something about being pregnant, though... man. It brings out the "resident expert" voice in people. Not just other moms, but people who have never been pregnant and sometimes who don't have children at all. Advice about everything from what to eat and drink (or not), how to sit, where to go (sorry if you don't like that I'm moving to Juarez, but your criticism isn't helping), etc. etc. I don't at all mind people's questions because people LOVE a pregnant person and can't resist asking about it. But when questions tip over into advice/medical speculation/thou shalts, I have a hard time containing my hormonal outbursts. Here's why:

4. Many people (books, apps, websites, doctors, etc.) treat pregnant women like they're idiots.
Just because I put the milk in cupboard and hid my keys from myself in a drawer in the bathroom doesn't mean I'm not still moderately intelligent. The first thing I noticed about sources like What to Expect When You're Expecting, speaking to my doctors, and advice given by other people is that it's girded by the basic principle that pregnant women are not very smart and need to be talked down to. I'm painfully aware that this is my first rodeo, and that there are a LOT of things I don't know about pregnancy, but I'm also an adult. Even the dumbest, most inexperienced woman out there deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. The problem with a lot of the advice I've been given is not the advice itself; it's the tone that implies first that all women and their pregnancies are the same (they're not), and second that I'm not smart enough to do research, ask questions, or know what's right for me.

5. Ok, some advice really is priceless.
Despite all that ranting, some people are great at giving helpful advice and reassurance. Amber's most helpful piece of advice? Watch out for your toothbrush. These five little words definitely helped in my successful quest to NOT throw up. Jessica's advice? Her cloth diapering manifesto, which I obviously haven't been able to put to use yet, but which actually made me EXCITED about diapers (and which may well prove to be the salvation of our cross country road trip). When I was busy not throwing up, I had a few weeks where I worried (to the point of insanity) that this was a bad sign, and that it meant that something was really wrong. My mother and grandmother stepped in to reassure me that it's a genetic blessing, and that neither of them ever got particularly sick.

6. Pregnancy is awesome (so far).
Ok, I know there are lots of people who don't feel this way at all for various, completely legit reasons, so take this with a grain of salt. However, my experience has been that I love getting all round and squishy (also, new clothes!). I love all the daydreaming and speculation about what this baby will be like (perfect, obviously). I love arguing with Tim about names and talking about the different things we're both excited about sharing (books, baseball). I love that we both agree that we want to dress this baby up in fuzzy animal costumes as long as it doesn't know any better. I love looking at diapers and sheets and "jammies with Yodas and shit all over them," and picking out cribs and car seats (even though it's also super stressful) and how freaking cute everything is. When I went to the OB this week for my regular weigh-in/check up he ended the exam by saying "good job," like I'd just kicked a field goal and he would have patted me on the butt if that was appropriate. And I realized, even though I was pretty bad at getting pregnant, I'm good at being pregnant (so far).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Go to the Movies Already!

After a couple of long months of nothing in the theaters but the shittiest imaginable movies, in that yearly no-man's land between Oscar season and Summer blockbuster season, there are finally, finally movies worth seeing again. (Seriously Hollywood, get it together.)  And instead of saving them up and making them last, we went and saw all of them at once this weekend. You should see them too, and here's why:

Muppets Most Wanted
Dir. James Bobin (107 mins.)

I feel the exact opposite way about muppet movies that I do about Charlie Brown/Peanuts movies. That is, I wish they had stopped making Peanuts movies/TV specials 30 years go (sorry, not sorry). Do we really need anything more than A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? NO. We do not. Those two are great, and they're plenty enough. Everyone can live without the other stupid specials where the voices are all wrong and every character but Snoopy seems to be suffering from sever depression.

The Muppets, on the other hand, are. always. perfect. There is nothing not to like about the Muppets. The songs are yes. The celebrity cameos are yes. The jokes are yes. They're silly enough for kids and sarcastic enough for adults. And most sane humans have not one, but at least two or three favorite muppet characters. My favorites are Fozzy Bear, Rolf, the Swedish Chef's chicken back up dancers, and Pepe the shrimp.

The newest Muppet movie is better than the last one, which was good but not muppety enough. It spent a lot of time on Walter and on Jason Segel (though the Jim Parsons cameo was pretty much amazing). This new movie is extremely muppety and, on top of it, has Tina Fey in it and makes fun of Europeans a lot. What's not to love? Bonus: I sort of wish Ty Burrell and Sam the Eagle would have their own "True Detective" style HBO series. I would watch the hell out of that.

Dir. Neil Burger (139 mins.)

The past few years have been amazing for people who love YA fiction and also movies. Apparently there are a lot of us, because the genre of "movies based on YA novels" gets bigger and bigger every year.  And, if you can believe it, not all of those movies have been about dystopias or vampires. (But this one is though. Dystopias. Not vampires.)

Cheater review: If you liked the book, you will almost certainly like the movie. Some things are changed (of course) but it's pretty faithful and fun to watch translated from page to screen.

Real review: Some of the dialogue is cheeeeeeesy and some of the "meaningful pauses" are overdone, but given the genre, that's not really a surprise.  Anyway, you can ignore that because the action is fast paced, the actors are good looking, and there's nothing in the movie that will make you groan in pain (I'm looking at you, Twilight and Beautiful Creatures). Also, the most unexpectedly awesome person in the movie? Ashley Judd. Hands down. Also, Miles Teller, who has sort of a crap part in this movie, but whom I sincerely hope becomes hugely famous soon.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dir. Wes Anderson (100 mins.)

I highly recommend listening to this interview from NPR before going to see this movie.  I also recommend seeing this movie in the theater rather than waiting for it to hit Netflix. I feel like this is true of most Wes Anderson movies: they're still good on TV, but they lose a lot of their ambiance and charm.  They deserve to be big. This movie in particular has a handful of scenes that should absolutely been seen on the big screen.

This is, actually, my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums (in case you're keeping track, I hated The Darjeeling Limited so much I never finished watching it).  It's funny from beginning to end, but also very touching. Every single person in the movie seems like they were absolutely made for the part they play (including some of the cameo spots) and, as is standard for a Wes Anderson movie, the sets, costumes, colors, music, and lighting create a totally unusual and fantastical world. This movies reminds me of one of those books you read that you can't really explain to anyone: you love all of the characters and everything is so fantastically weird that it just fits.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Bathtub Books

I've been way too busy taking naps and playing Candy Crush on every mobile device I own to update my blog. I just realized Tim's flag day ceremony was over three weeks ago. So, in case you missed the news, Surprise! We're going to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico!

In the meantime, I've read about 4000 books. Or three. Whatever.  Anyway, for about two years (coincidentally, about as long as I've been out of grad school), my attention span has been wrecked. I haven't been able to sit through any book more than 350 pages long unless the main character is a teenage girl living in some sort of dystopian future. But I did it, y'all! I actually read The Goldfinch from beginning to end without putting it down to read a shorter book in the middle! That's 771 pages of straight up literary fiction.

Anyway, without further ado:

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe

The fact that this is one of those books you see at every used bookstore (my copy was $2 in a library sale) anywhere you go speaks for itself. It's hugely and enduringly popular.  It's one of those short, easy reads like Of Mice and Men or The Lord of the Flies, that just begs to be put on a syllabus because it has an easy lesson in it while being a little punchy and more than a little ironic. I get the impression that a lot of people where probably forced to read this book in class and ended up really enjoying it despite themselves.

The story is about a very gruff and manly man who lives in a village in Nigeria at the end of the 19th century, for whom, as you might have guessed from the title, things are falling apart.  The chapters are sometimes more like snapshots than a narrative stream and it works to give you an idea of life for the main characters and the culture they live in. Achebe's style of writing is easy without being simple and moving without being heavy handed. This is the perfect book to read if you want to feel like you're reading something really smart and literary without having to commit to something really intense like Sophie's Choice or Les Miserables.

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt

I have a lot of friends who rated this book very highly, and Tartt's The Secret History is one of my all-time favorites. If that were not the case, I would not have picked up this monster book, which took me nearly a month to finish.

Tartt enjoys writing about artistic people who are somehow both deeply entrenched in high society, and totally alienated from it, as though it's a party they've walked into on accident, just before the doors were sealed shut, trapping them inside. Her characters are often lonely and out of their depth, usually because they have one type of smarts but not the other. They're book smart but not street savvy, or they know everything about being alone and nothing about how to deal with other people. They like poetry and art and music and know things like who Aeschylus is and what a sheridan chair looks like. They're charming and infuriating at the same time.

There were many points in this book where I wanted to shake and/or slap the main character, who can be almost insufferably mopey and overly philosophical for many dozens of pages at a time. I think the best description of the book that I can give is this: I felt that is was about 200 pages too long, but I still couldn't put it down. Even when I wanted to give up, I couldn't. It was good, and if it was just a little bit tighter and cleaner, it would have been great.

By Marissa Meyer

Yup, this is one of those teenage-girl-in-a-dystopia books. I will admit that I absolutely and 100% only bought this book because of the cover. It's a re-telling of Cinderella in the future, in China ("New Beijing"), and the main character is a cyborg. Done. Sold. Sign me up.

I folded over the corner of the page where I figured out how the book was going to end. It was page 41. STILL, this is a decent milkshake book. The premise is pretty original even if the plot isn't, but you know that going in BECAUSE LOOK AT THE COVER. (There are no zombies or vampires in the entire book! What?)  You know that since it's a fairy tale there's going to be a prince and an evil step mother; and since it's teen fantasy, there's going to be a battle to save the world that hinges entirely on the success of one quirky teenage girl who doesn't know she's attractive (even though she obviously is). Basically, if your expectations are reasonably tempered, you won't be disappointed. Read it in the bathtub or on an airplane.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Duckfucious Say

People keep asking me when we find out where we're going on our first tour, which is always followed by a speculation that I must be anxious and/or freaking out about it. I've caught myself saying things like, "Yeah, it's driving me nuts!" and "I'm so ready to find out!" But that's actually not the truth. I keep saying it because it seems, conversationally, like the right thing to say.

In reality, I feel very serene and calm about the whole situation and would go so far as to say I don't really think about it all until someone else brings it up. We can't do anything to change or influence where we're going, now or after the decision is made. Right now, since we don't know where we're going, there's nothing we can really do to prepare. What kind of clothes will we need? What kind of car? How will we transport the cat? Will the new country have peanut butter, or no peanut butter?

There are just too many variables to even consider, which makes stressing (or really even thinking too hard) about it totally pointless. It's fun to daydream, of course (the Caribbean!), but it's not worth the energy to speculate and stress out.

I'm not sure where this zen-like feeling of detachment and acceptance has come from, but I'm very glad to feel this way. There's something liberating about knowing that, in a very real and not at all figurative way, our fate is totally out of our hands. Is this what religious people feel like? Or what religious people try to feel like?

I also remember feeling this way about going to college. I like to tell that old chestnut of a story about how I applied to college by taking a quiz on the internet. I took a quiz. It gave me two suggestions, one in Washington and one in Louisiana. I applied to both. I got into both. I went to the one where they seemed to want me the most (and they were like, "hey, money! For you!"). And I don't remember ever thinking, "oh god! What if I made the wrong choice?" I kind of just felt like everywhere you go there are people and trees and cars and problems and ice cream and who cares? I got lucky with Centenary, but even if I had hated it (impossible), it still would not have been worth agonizing over beforehand.

Based on my conversations with everyone in the world, I'm gathering that my lack of anxiety on this front is unusual. Probably so. It's probably a lot more normal to stress out in a situation like this, where seemingly everything is about to change and there's so much uncertainty (thanks again, Centenary, for the heads up on that one!). It sounds really stupid on paper, but when I was planning the wedding and having a bit of a freakout, one of my best friends told me that she relies on the mantra "I am a duck. This is water rolling off my back." It's not a very exotic mantra, and when, in stressful situations, I have said out loud, "I am a duck" (deep breath), people have looked at me like a might be a little bit drunk and possibly my insanity is going to make things worse. However, for me, it's extremely effective. Sometimes I'm naturally a duck. Sometimes not so much. Either way the truth is, that we'll go wherever we go. Some things about it will suck. Some will be awesome. We have no control over it. And for now that's fine.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

What's did is did.

Remember that part in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil and let's him drive a truck? Of course you do.

This is an apt metaphor for our lives right now.

In two weeks, there will be a big ceremony called "Flag Day" where we find out where we're going to live for the next two year and also how long we'll be in DC before we go.

At the beginning of this process we were given the "bid list" and the opportunity to talk directly with the Career Development Officer who will have a big role in deciding where to put us.

Our first task was to think about our priorities for where we'd like to go. We told the CDO that, because we're local hires, our main priority for our first tour is timing. (In other words, because we already live and work DC, we're still paying rent here--which the other new Foreign Service officers who've come in from elsewhere are not.) Our lease goes until July--so that's what we're aiming for. Our other concerns were that 1.) we preferred to be in the Western Hemisphere and 2.) we preferred an English, Spanish, or Portuguese-speaking post.  That should, in theory, be easy for us to get, since fully 50% of the available posts meet all those criteria.

Our second task was to methodically research every post available to us on the Bid List and rank each of them "High", "Medium", or "Low" in preference. And we had the option of providing a short comment on some (but not all) of the posts, if we had something to say about it. For instance, we remarked that, because we have family in the area, Tijuana, Mexico might be a good fit for us, but because we're trying to start a family the "Adults Only" unaccompanied posts were not.

Out of all the posts, we were only allowed to rank 25% of them "low", which I was very concerned about before I actually saw the list. It was a HUGE relief, after ten years of knowing this was what I signed up for if I stayed with Tim, to get the list and be reminded that I am genuinely interested in living in (or at least visiting) most places in the world. I'm human, of course, and I have preferences, but there was nowhere on the bid list that I thought, "if he gets sent there, I'm OUT." Especially since our first tour will only be two years.

So after a lot of hemming and hawing, we sorted out our posts and I'm pleased to report that we ranked a really sizable number of posts as "High" and that we would honestly love to end up in any one those places.

Throughout this whole exercise, however, we have been constantly reminded that Tim signed an agreement making him "WORLDWIDE AVAILABLE". Which means that while they will make every effort to consider our desires. They will ultimately place us wherever (and whenever) we are needed most. That could mean Panama again, with perfect timing, or it could mean Dahran, or Shenyang, or Accra, or Ottowa. (Hint: it will NOT be Ottowa.) As they told us to, we are "hoping for 'High', expecting 'Medium', and prepared for 'Low'".

In other words, while it make look like we are in the driver's seat, ultimately we have gleefully and maybe a little recklessly handed our fate to a large metaphorical rodent name Foreign Service Phil, who is going to take us wherever he damn well pleases. One bit of comfort however, is that I am mostly, if not totally confident, that we will end up better than Bill and Phil, which you may recall, went something like this:

On the bright side though, Bill woke up the next morning to another Groundhog Day, and if our first tour is not great, we will eventually be put somewhere else, and somewhere else again after that. Right now we just have to make it through two more weeks of not knowing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Very Long Weekend

It has been strange weekend. We had such great plans for Saturday and Sunday... we were going to take a road trip and spend the weekend snow tubing and hanging out at an indoor water park. What actually happened is that, at approximately 7:18 p.m. Friday night, Tim got hit with some sort of terrible 48-hour flu. So we cancelled those plans and stayed indoors FOREVER. Yesterday got sick and had to miss our MLK plans. 

Now today we're having a "DC Snowday" which is when everything is cancelled and shut down not because it's actually snowing, but because they're pretty sure it might snow, possibly, sometime soon (it's 11:30 here and the snow just started). One way or another, Tim and I got the day off and I'm making Pasta e Fagioli (i.e., pasta fazool), so, Thanks DC, for your wonderful overreaction to all things weather-related.

As promised, here are my top ten favorite books from last year, in no particular order.

Nova by Samuel R. Delany
I love science fiction, but with a strong qualifier: I love science fiction movies and television, but have never been a huge Science Fiction reader.  Science Fiction novels just aren't as enthralling to me as seeing it on the screen. (Terrible, right?) Nova, however, is one of the more brilliant books I've read in the past few years, in any genre. I'm not sure why it's not more famous (it was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1969, at least). The plot is standard fare: the captain of a star ship puts together a ragtag crew of misfits to embark on a seemingly hopeless quest across the universe that is both personal and political.  The writing, however, is intensely beautiful and the imagery is bold.  The story resonates with mythology: something I'm a huge sucker for.  Given that Samuel Delaney was born in Harlem about 20 years after the Harlem Renaissance, this should all be no big surprise. Basically, I turned the last page and felt like I'd just eaten a rich and satisfying piece of cake, which is exactly how the best books should make you feel.

True Grit by Charles Portis
Just listen to the first paragraph of the book:

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange them, although I will say it did not happen every day.  I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. 
Here is what happened.

TELL ME that that doesn't make you want to read the rest of the book. You can't. This wonderful little book is told from the POV of Mattie, who has bigger cojones than any character in any Western I've ever read. She is fearless and driven and completely no-nonsense and I'm totally in love with her. The writing is tight and strong and fast-paced and when you reach the end, you feel inclined to flip back to the first page and read it all over again. This book is a pleasure if for no other reason than the amazing way that Mattie verbally eviscerates the drunken, stupid, slovenly men she's forced to rely on for help. Just amazing.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This book was on all the best seller lists last year for a very good reason: it's both funny and touching, without being cheesy. This is a novel about a family, a mother, a father, and their daughter. When the mother, Bernadette, disappears, 15-year-old Bee begins putting together the pieces of the puzzle. The whole book is great, but some of the individual scenes alone are enough to make it a worth-while read, including one particularly satisfying scene taking place at a PTO-like event organized by Bernadette's arch nemesis. This is what happens with beautiful, creative people with genius IQs are left to their own devices and it's fantastic.

The Dangerous Animals Club by Stephen Tobolowsky
If you don't know Stephen Tobolowsky's name, I'm 100% certain that you would recognize his face. He has 226 acting credits on IMDB. Though I know and love him most as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day. This was a surprising memoir for me; it was more literary than your typical "celebrity" memoir and more well-rounded. It made me nostalgic for things I didn't even know existed. It reminded me of something Stephen King might write, if he had been an actor instead of a writer, maybe because King and Tobolowsky are only a few years apart in age? Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories from Tobolowsky's life, even if the two of us seem to have very little in common.

Those of you from the South will, I think, find this one particularly resonant. Also those of you who got degrees in literature from a Liberal Arts school with a strong gender studies leaning. These stories are magical and lovely and sad and mystifying all at once. 'Nuff said.

Joyland by Stephen King
I just can't help it. I just love Stephen King (when he's on his A-game) with every fiber of the marrow in my bones down to the very bottom of my soul.  This book isn't particularly deep or unusual, but it's just satisfying and wonderful and I read the entire thing in one sitting. Joyland is a pulp-fiction murder mystery set in an old amusement park and peopled with your typical amusement-park type characters and it has everything you might want and expect from that sort of book, in addition to having a very satisfying coming-of-age story that makes you feel the way the movie Stand by Me makes you feel. Loved every page of it. (I liked this one better than Dr. Sleep, in case you wondered.)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
After reading Gone Girl, I picked up Gillian Flynn's other two books with a swiftness and found that both of them were also page-turners. While I (and everyone else, apparently) enjoyed Gone Girl (and that twist!) I think this is actually my favorite of the three books. I think what I enjoyed about it is that while there are lots of books in the world about relationships between men and women, there are not as many about relationships between mothers and daughters, or even just women and girls' relationships to one another--and especially not many so gritty and disturbing. My relationship with my mother is NOTHING like the pair in this book and so it was like watching an epic train wreck and not being able to look away.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
I might go so far as to say this was my favorite book of 2013. I am totally fascinated by/terrified of North Korea and I think that this is the first piece of fiction I've ever read about it. This book is masterfully written (it won the Pulitzer), gripping, imaginative, haunting... etc. etc.etc. on and on ad infinitum. I have no way of knowing if the North Korea described in this book is accurate or not, but it doesn't matter. The places and people and culture described in this novel are moving and disturbing all the same.

Another memoir, this time by the Bloggess herself. I'm fairly certain almost everyone I know has already read this, so I'm not going to go on about it too much.   Jenny Lawson writes about her absurd life with a delicious awareness of said absurdity and of her own (sometimes amusing, sometimes debilitating) fatal flaws, and everyone in the world is the better for it. Period.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
One of the rare instances when the book and the film stand on (almost) equal footing. I would not go so far as to say this book is excellent, but it is surprisingly good.  One of the reasons it stood out for me was that, despite being written and published in the 80's, its point of view is ahead of its time.  I like to read the older novels that famous movies are based on, sometimes to my own detriment. This year I attempted to read The Exorcist and was so disgusted by its cheesy, sexist, overly hysterical vapidness that I put it down 30 pages in. Written when it was, it would have been easy for The Silence of the Lambs to be just as sexist and narrow-minded, but I can't stress enough how happy I was to find that wasn't the case.  The main character of the book is a female FBI agent who has to deal with sexism and stupidity all around her, and who does it fiercely. Her best friend is another female FBI agent, who is African American. The victim is the daughter of a powerful female senator. The villain is a man who wants to be a woman, but this is very important: the book goes out of its way to emphasize that that is not what makes him a deviant. He's "deviant" because he kills people, not because he's transgendered. He's an anomaly. I could go on and on about this forever. I wish I'd read this in college because I would have written an INSANE paper about it.

Honorable Mention:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: a modern fairy tale.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach: a hilarious book about the human digestive tract.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: a refreshing teen romance.

Habibi by Craig Thompson: a stunning graphic novel about the depths of love.

Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer--America's Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule: a classic in the True Crime genre, only to be read if you don't mind worrying that everyone around you is a serial killer for three months afterward.

Dishonorable mention: AKA, I read them so you don't have to:

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates: Obviously, I like disturbing books, but I got absolutely NO enjoyment out of reading this awful book.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg: A depressing book about obesity with zero reward or redemption.

Him Her Him Again the End of Him by Patricia Marx: so promising, to little payoff.