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One of my husband’s favorite pastimes is wandering through bookstore stacks (or library stacks – he isn’t picky) and adding to the enormous running list of books he needs to read. Sometimes he buys a book right then and there; other times he waits a few days to order online. But he buys multiple books a month. (It’s one of the [many] reasons I love him.)

If I’m with him – and I will state right here for the record that while I LOVE to read and I ADORE buying new books, I HATE browsing through bookstores/libraries – he’ll inevitably hand me a book and direct me to read the back cover.

I don’t like reading the back cover. More often than not, the person who read the copy seems to not have read the book at all. (I just finished a book where the cover copy MISSPELLED the name of a character in the book.) (Deep breaths. We will all get through this.) But even if the person who wrote the cover copy DID read the book, even LOVED the book, well, it’s just too small a space to always convey a book’s awesomeness.

Of course, there is always the misleading cover copy, the kind that tricks you into believing a book will be crazy good… when it is NOT GOOD AT ALL. (Cough cough, Voluntary Madness, My Sister’s Keeper, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter cough.)

That was a long-winded way of telling you that I don’t put much stock in cover copy. If a book woos me with a beautiful title (which is how I judge a book, while my husband literally picks up books based on their covers), I will read a page or two. Sometimes I will flip to a random page and read a few paragraphs. If I’m not won over by these methods, I’m not buying.

Gah, that’s scary. As someone who would like to WRITE and PUBLISH a novel someday, it is pretty terrifying that a reader takes so little time to discard a book from her list of possibilities.

Anyway, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was one of the books my husband pulled off the shelf at some point last year. First point against it: It’s got one of those “The [Something] Wife” titles that are far too popular these days. Second point against it: The cover copy was kind of boring. Third point against it: The cover is a mainly black field, topped by the bottom half of a slinking tiger. As in, nothing to write home about.

I did the old flip-open-and-read-a-passage-at-random thing, but I handed it back to my husband. Not for me.

But after it started appearing on all sorts of “Best of 2011” lists… When it made the list of finalists for the National Book Award… And won the Orange Prize… My husband decided I should read it.

So he bought it for me for Christmas.

And I had to read it. For one thing, my dear beloved husband had purchased it for me as a gift. So I had to at least TRY it. For another, I’d managed to fly all the way to Florida for a WEEK without a SINGLE BOOK in my possession.

Internet.

This is the book I want to write.

There. Is that enough to make you buy it?

Because I can’t give it higher praise.

Now, I’m not saying it’s the best book I’ve read EVER. (In fact, I’d give the same high praise to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. And The History of Love. And The Time Traveler’s Wife. Everything Is Illuminated. Lolita. Song of Solomon. Love in the Time of Cholera.)

But it’s up there.

Mini-NO-SPOILER-plot summary:

This story is about Natalia, who is either a med student or a resident or a fairly-new physician, I didn’t pay attention to the details. She and a friend/fellow doctor are journeying across the border to inoculate some orphans who are living at a monastery.

The book is only slightly about that journey. It’s more about other types of journeying. Primarily the journeys that Natalia and her grandfather make in search of answers.

Natalia has a very close bond with her grandfather, and the book is, in part, about their relationship. Like any love, theirs is not a straight line. It has hooks and crags and peaks and valleys.

The book is also about love, in a global sense. Love between parent and child, grandfather and granddaughter. Love between spouses. Love from afar. Love of ritual. Love of countrymen. Love of humanity.

And, perhaps even more so, this book is about the opposite of love: pain.

The pain of love, unrequited and realized. The pain of disrespect. The pain of abuse. The pain of escape. The pain of life. The pain of fear. The pain of knowledge. The pain of uncertainty. The pain of an ending. The pain of war. The pain of peace. The pain of loss. The pain of discovery.

It’s also about mythology, and the role it plays in our lives and behavior and thought-processes. In fact, the bleak reality of the book – which takes place in an unnamed war-torn area of Eastern Europe – is off-set by legend and superstition, both of which are so important a part of the characters’ lives that they become real in their own way: A man becomes a bear. A tiger becomes a husband. Death becomes a human being.

But these wild, fantastical elements are not absurd in the way of much magical realism, nor do they seem out of place or artificial. They are woven so tightly into the fabric of the book’s world that they are almost indistinguishable from fact.

It’s about all of these things and about that single thing we all have in common: death.

So much in this world is horrible. There’s heartbreak and war and murder and indifference and illness and cruelty. And all the struggling just leads us closer to the day when Death will reach out his hand and guide us into his home.

But there’s beauty, too. In the most unexpected places: the brush of tiger fur against skin; a childhood book tucked inside your pocket; boot-legged music played on a car stereo.

And there’s love. Complicated, inexplicable, tangled-up love.

This is the story I want to write.

Should you read it? You know, I recognize that every person reading this post right now has her own idea of what The Perfect Book is. Maybe you won’t think this book is perfect. Maybe you won’t like it one bit. If you don’t, I promise I won’t love you any less.

But oh, Internet.

The prose is lovely, vivid. This is the kind of story told to children in hushed voices as they’re drifting off to sleep. The kind of tale that comes alive in the brain, as real as if you were watching it happen in person.

And it was satisfying in the way only a great book can be. For instance, the plot is twisty and full of mysteries. But there ARE answers. Some, at least. Or at least semi-answers that are complete enough that you can fill in the rest for yourself.

The themes are universal, which means – I think – you will relate to the main characters and their journeys. But even though this is a love story, a death story, a story of loss like so many, many stories are and have been and will be, it plays out in a truly fresh, interesting way.

Will this help persuade you? I got to the end and I wanted to start right over and read it through again. I read every word in the book, from the author bio to the reader questions to the (overall dull, although at times very interesting) conversation between Obreht and Jennifer Egan of Goon Squad fame. I recommended it to my book club – just so I could talk about it with someone, anyone! And I have been thinking about it non-stop since reading the first chapter on Christmas Day.

Now, the book isn’t perfect. I have unanswered questions. I see loose threads wafting in the breeze made by the cover falling shut. Perhaps Obreht intended them to float there, unfinished. Perhaps she couldn’t find a way to do so without tying too neat a bow on the whole thing. Perhaps she recognized that loose ends are part of life.  In any event, I wasn’t frustrated by the loose ends. I didn’t feel let down, the way I did after reading, say, Life of Pi. I felt glad to have read it. And certain that I would read it again.

It’s a great book, Internet. Beautifully written, beautifully told.

Give it a try, won’t you?

**********

Anybody else read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Warning: May contain spoilers.

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You know when someone says brightly, a la Office Space, in the most annoyingly high-pitched version of cheer possible, “Looks like you have a case of the Mondays!” and your only response is an icy stare designed to induce a disfiguring series of frostbite blisters all across her stupid cheerful mouth?

Yes. That.

I am crabby for several reasons, Internet. Please proceed only if you want to:

a)      Work yourself into a froth on my behalf

b)      Enjoy a case of Other-Person’s-Grouchiness-Induced Poor Temper

c)       Commiserate

d)      Roll your eyes at my CLEARLY first world and therefore RIDICULOUS “problems.”

 

Firstly, I am on Day 1.5 of a stomach bug. And I’m grouchy because, well, obviously, it SUCKS but also because I’m not sure if it’s a bug sort of stomach bug or if I brought it on myself by eating raw cookie dough or sour cream that had been out of the fridge too long. (Perhaps I need to re-evaluate my eating habits.) I have been lying in bed all day – after NOT lying in bed until about three in the morning (you do not need more details than that) – but I have of course had my computer with me, and have been working because when you work from home there is no excuse NOT to work.  Ever. Especially when you have wireless. I mean, you can take your computer INTO THE BATHROOM if necessary. (Please lord do not make it necessary.)

 

Secondly, it is the third anniversary of my marriage, which should be a lovely happy occasion complete with flowers and wine, but, this year, is NOT. (See Item #1 for the reason behind the No Wine.) I cannot begrudge my husband the flowers, because – although he has sent me lovely reminiscent-of-my-wedding-bouquet flowers for the past two years – well, he is busy and he doesn’t think NEARLY as highly of fresh flowers as I do. And I am trying very hard not to pout and tear up at Lack of Flowers because that is stupid.

Plus, I keep feeling this (SILLY, I KNOW) fretfulness about how we are ONLY three years into this thing and yet we are ALREADY chucking the Anniversary Is Special hoopla? That makes me sad. Not that we really are Big Hoopla Type People, or anything. But we’ve had, you know, flowers and a night out in years past. Which was SOMETHING. Has The Magic died in our marriage Internet? Are we Failing At Anniversary Celebration?

We ARE going out to dinner tomorrow night, which, as it turns out stomach-bug-wise, is lucky. And it’s not as if we NORMALLY exchange gifts or anything, so there’s really nothing to be crabby/panicked about. And yet…

 

Thirdly, I have barely made a dent in my Christmas shopping (what in the universe am I going to get for my husband?) (We are destined to fail at Christmas, TOO, aren’t we?). Of course, I can only blame MYSELF for this. But it’s still making me crabby and mildly panicked.  I had planned to rush to the mall after work today. But now… I may SKIP THAT.

 

Fourthly, I am still dithering about Christmas cards. They are important to me, and yet EVERY YEAR I have a hard time justifying the cost to my husband. Plus, I feel enormous pressure to send out a photo card this year, since I did so LAST year and it seems like a step BACKWARDS to send a non-photo card. My mother informs me this is silly, as does MY BRAIN, and yet I still feel OBLIGATED somehow to send out a photo card. Do we actually HAVE a photo appropriate for a card? No, no we do not.

What I should really do is haul ass to Target and buy a bunch of cards and start filling them out, since we are nearing the point where I will be sending them out in February instead. But I keep DITHERING and my husband keeps saying things like, “I thought we were sending out photo cards?” and “Oh, it will be EASY to do a quick photo!” and “Why are we sending out holiday cards again?” whenever I bring up the non-photo-card option.

The WHOLE THING is making me crabby slash panicky.

 

Fifthly (Good Wife complaint), I am not sure whether Will Gardner is now going to be a Bad Guy. Nor am I sure whether Peter Florek is going to be a Bad Guy (Worse Guy?) going forward either. And I don’t want EITHER of them to be Bad Guys, so it’s stressing me out.

 

Sixthly, I just finished The Gift of Fear. It was a good read and had some good tips about preventing/anticipating violence. It also really helped me think through some of my anxieties. For instance, I learned that being on High Alert in a parking garage and suspecting Every Man in the Vicinity of imminent rape/kidnapping/murder may actually INHIBIT my brain’s natural ability to recognize actual danger.

However, SOME is the operative word (in that sentence a few lines back), seeing as I’ve been EXTRA anxious and jumpy in MY OWN HOUSE.  It makes lots of noises that I am STILL not used to. And for some reason, I am just SURE that something bad is going to happen – that someone’s watching me or hiding in the basement or lurking the garage or creeping through the back yard or WHATEVER. Needless to say, I am extremely uncomfortable when I’m here by myself. (Which is a LOT.)

(If I am being honest with myself, I think that this House Fear is rooted in some unbloggable issues I’m dealing with lately. And my brain can’t solve those issues, so it’s painting the rest of my life a nice rosy shade of Panic About Everything. AWESOME.)

Anyway, I spend a good part of my days feeling panicky… and then being crabby about my idiocy because THERE IS NOTHING TO PANIC ABOUT. (Unless, of course, some horrible creep HAS planted tiny video cameras in the air vents and is watching my every move, biding his time until he drops soundlessly from the crawl space in the attic into the guest room closet and disembowels me in my sleep.)

 

Seventhly, I STILL feel unsettled in the new house. We have two tables and only one set of chairs. And actually, we have two ADDITIONAL tables that have no purpose. And we have EIGHT DECK CHAIRS on our teeny deck and no table for THOSE. And there are still boxes of stuff to unpack and/or donate. And we have a total of TWO pictures on walls and we still have several rooms to paint and I haven’t gotten into a cleaning schedule and we STILL haven’t done ANYTHING to the lawn (Laura – I KNOW) and the beautiful couch in our living room is DOWN FILLED so I spend most of my time in that room feeling awful and allergy-ridden and there’s a TV in the basement but the speakers don’t work and the piano is beautiful but the keys stick and I am afraid to contact a tuner for fear it will cost ridiculous amounts of money and there’s a whole list of little non-urgent items leftover from our inspection that need to be taken care of and I have no idea how to keep stainless clean and there’s still the irritating matter of where to best store the recycling/trash containers for easy access without gross trash clutter and I have no idea how to find and engage a snow plower which – according to my husband – is a necessity and I keep hearing about how important it is to “know one’s neighbors” but I don’t know how to DO THAT and and and. CRABBY SLASH PANICKY.

 

Eighthly, I HATE THE NEW GMAIL. I am in gmail all day long and I need it to be easy and intuitive and not like I’m inside an IKEA project. It is DRIVING ME NUTS.

 

Ninthly, my in laws left a baby gift here for friends when they were here for Thanksgiving. And it is (STILL) just SITTING on my table as the baby gets older and less in NEED of the gift, but there have been so many Little Things that need to happen before I can deliver the gift: buying packaging for the gift (I sent my husband to Target to complete this errand. I managed to specify “large gift bag” because the gift will not fit in a small gift bag, but the bag is HUGE and also I forgot to specify that I needed tissue paper); calling the friends to set up a time to go over; HAVING a time to drop it off, a time that includes my husband – because I don’t want to go alone – and some buffer time during which we’ll be offered a drink; figuring out the friends’ address;  ETC. It is such a small, simple task. And yet the days pass, and it does not get done and the panic level is rising with every minute, as is the crabbiness at having to COMPLETE the task in the first place.

 

Tenthly, I have to return a shawl and necklace to the store. I took your advice, Internet, and wore an old dress to the holiday party last weekend. I simply bought a sparkly belt and a sparkly bracelet to go with it and I thought it looked just fine. But I ALSO bought a shawl and a necklace. A shawl and a necklace that I wasn’t crazy about, but I allowed the salesperson to talk me into them (“No way, there’s no such thing as too much sparkle!”) and so now they are in my possession, even though I didn’t even take them out of the shopping bag. But returning them is a HASSLE and there’s no time and whine whine whine.

 

Eleventhly, I really wish I had more to blog about than WHINING. I am annoying MYSELF. But I am grouchy and at least I’m posting something. (Perhaps you are wishing for a kind way to remind me that “silence is golden.”)

 

I am stopping there, Internet. YOU ARE WELCOME.

Please let me know your biggest complaint/panic today, because I need some PERSPECTIVE.  And also some good old fashioned tangential crabbiness.

In the meantime, I am feeling the stirrings of hunger. Since there is no soup or crackers to speak of in our house, I think I may go drown my sorrows in the Cookie Dough of Death.

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The last time I let you inside my apartment, you really seemed to like it.

And I’m nothing if not accommodating and/or conscious of your voyeuristic needs, Internet!

(Also, am stretched beyond my limits and have no time to write deep, insightful blog posts.)

So today I invite you to take a peek inside my bedroom.

Internet, allow me to introduce you to my bedside table. Otherwise known as a night stand.  Or Additional Book Shelving, clearly.

This is the view I have of my bedside table when I am sleeping. Or, you know, just lying there. Because if I WERE sleeping, I wouldn’t see anything except the inside of my own eyelids and possibly a shirtless Tim Riggins making me cheesecake. (Man, I WISH I dreamed about Tim Riggins. Or cheesecake.)

There’s my nice IKEA lamp on the left there… My Giant Stack O’Books… The little heart-shaped picture of me and my husband… The photo of my mom as a child… And the little Portuguese jewelry dish my husband brought me from, well, Portugal (what, did you expect me to say Thailand?). (Also, why does the word “Portuguese” have two Us in it?)

Of course, that’s only what you can see from THIS angle.

Here is the full frontal view.

Yes, I just typed “full frontal.”

My nightstand is cute, no? It was part of a matching set of bedroom furniture my husband and I bought when we first moved here for residency.

There’s a matching nightstand for my husband’s side of the bed. (His is topped by electronics – a Kindle, an iPod, an iPad, an alarm clock, and his phone – and a puzzle book, in case you were curious.) Also part of our bedroom ensemble is a tall, skinny “lingerie chest” in which I store t-shirts and folded sheets and other such non-lingerie items.  There’s a matching dresser and mirror, filled entirely with my clothing. (My husband has a separate dresser in the closet.) And there’s the piece de resistance: the beautiful sleigh bed.

All of the items are made of solid wood of some sort, which is one reason we loved them. None of the cheap out-it-together-yourself Target-brand particle-board stuff we’d been using for the past umpteen years.

I’ve heard on HGTV that you shouldn’t be too matchy-matchy in your furniture selection. But I am not savvy enough to pair non-matchy items and have them look like anything other than a poorly-planned yard sale. Plus, this set of bedroom furniture was RIDICULOUSLY cheap.

Anyway, now you can see just how cluttered well-organized my nightstand is.

Let’s take a closer look!

This is the right side of the nightstand.

You’ll notice that I have a glass of water sitting precariously close to the edge. But! It’s on a coaster!

There’s a pad of paper and a pen, for late night snippets of poetry that come to me in between dreams of Tim Riggins nightmares about work. Sometimes the late night snippets are good and useable. Other times, they are mysterious. Such as this scribble: “If ever my own grandmother.”

Um. What now? I admit I like the rhythm of the phrasing… but I have NO EARTHLY IDEA what it’s supposed to mean.

In the back row, there’s that photo of my husband and me. I blurred out our faces and we look even creepier than we normally do. (We’re REALLY creepy.)

In any case, I love that photo. We’re sitting on the couch in my dorm room back in college. We’re both wearing sweatshirts. My hair is pulled back. We’re comfortable and loungy. And we’re deliciously, deliriously happy. I hope we’re always always always like that.

The frame I’m not so crazy about. It’s a remnant from my college days and I frankly think it’s tacky. BUT the photo is cut into the shape of a heart to fit the frame, so I can’t very well re-frame it. Thus, it stays on my nightstand.

Next to that is the photo of my mother as a child. I’m not sure why I love it so much. But I do!

You’ll also see my Word-a-Day calendar.

For years, my husband and I would receive Something-a-Day calendars for Christmas gifts. Or we’d buy them for ourselves. He usually learns a language. This year, he does a daily Sudoku puzzle. I, on the other hand, prefer learning new words.

Except… I suck at Word-a-Day calendars.

As you can see, this is not only stuck on January 22

… It’s also stuck on January 22 of 2010. As in last year. As in, I didn’t even make it ONE MONTH before I had to wave the white flag of Something-a-Day surrender.

Every once in a while, I will rip off a page and learn a new word. I think I changed it to “revenant” about six weeks ago. No, wait, maybe that was in January of this year? I can’t remember. In any case, despite the fact that the word before “revenant” was on the calendar for MONTHS, I cannot remember what it was.

At this pace, I’ll be done with my Word-a-Day calendar by 2179. And I will know zero words.

My lack of Word-a-Day stick-to-it-iveness is depressing me. So let’s take a closer look at the little jewelry dish my husband gave me.

As you can see, it doesn’t really hold jewelry. This is because I now have a big beautiful Pottery Barn (I think) jewelry box with a hinged lid and drawers and little compartments for rings and such. It was a gift from my in-laws in 2009. And it holds all of my costume necklaces and bracelets. I keep my (very limited supply of) nicer jewelry elsewhere because I am paranoid.

So, instead of jewelry, the dish holds my bedside essentials.

Namely:

– A small bottle of OPI lotion for my dry hands. I got it for free as a Christmas gift from one of the girls in my book club. (I suppose if I say it was a gift, I don’t need to have the whole “for free” thing in there now do I.)

– A tube of Burt’s Bees chapstick – critical for my chapped lips.

– Two hair ties, because I usually have my hair up in a ponytail when I drop into bed. But I do not like sleeping with my hair up. So I put the hair ties in the dish for safekeeping. (They disappear easily.)

Now let’s take a look at the floor in front of my nightstand.

There’s the infamous Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Someday, when I’m more mature, I will read it again. Until then, it may sit on my floor.

Under it is some sort of trashy magazine. Glamour or Marie Claire, I’m not sure and I’m too lazy to go into the other room and look. Whenever I read those kinds of magazines (which is about twice a year), I fold down the pages of interesting tidbits I want to remember. And then I save the magazine, so I can go through it again and remember the tidbits. And then I get busy and eventually throw the magazine away, un-examined. It’s a flawed plan.

This little exploration of my nightstand is revealing more about my personal failings than I anticipated.

That white machine in the foreground is my noise machine.

My parents got it for me a couple of years ago and I LOVE it. It has multiple settings of soothing sounds.  The ocean. A distant thunderstorm. (Those are my favorites.) A babbling brook. A country evening.  And you can add or remove additional sounds – like a buoy clanging, a loon calling, a frog frog-sounding.

Without this bad boy, I would NEVER sleep.

Last, but certainly not least, is my Giant Stack O’Books.

Normally, they are stacked all willy-nilly on my nightstand. But I turned them all around just for you!

My husband and I are both book multitaskers. We normally read at least two books at a time.

Sometimes, my husband will get exasperated by my Giant Stack O’Books, and he’ll thin them out and put away the ones I’m not reading or am done reading or am simply “reading.”

I have read bits and pieces of the majority of the books: Lisa Scottoline’s Look Again; The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille; The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson; and My Life in and Scientific Advertising by Claude “The Great” Hopkins.  I’ve actually read that last one before, but it’s a book I keep beside my bed and pick up now and again for inspiration and writing reminders.

I want to finish Culture Code and Finkler, but I haven’t felt motivated to do so. Look Again and the only book in the stack I am not going to name… I am keeping on my nightstand because I HATE to leave a book unfinished. But… I have a short attention span my time is valuable, so I have a hard time forcing myself to read something I am not enjoying.

—SHORT TANGENT—

Last year was one of my worst years EVER for unfinished books. I swear, every other book I picked up was utter dreck. (I don’t think “dreck” is really a word, but I heard it on Top Model and liked it’s snappy onomatopoeia-ishness.) (I totally spelled onomatopoeia correctly the first time! No spellcheck needed!)

Among the books I picked up and promptly put down last year? The Anthologist, which I had super high hopes for. The Last Song, which I was biased against from the beginning, but forced to try because it was a book club pick. And Beat the Reaper which received enthusiastic reviews from my husband, but didn’t quite capture my attention.

This year, I’ve had better luck. But not stellar.

—END TANGENT—

The book I’m currently reading – Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses – is on top. Under that is the book I just finished – Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses (which I LOVED. Best book I’ve read this year.). Why haven’t I put Horses away? Oh, I suppose it’s because my husband normally does the book re-shelving. He enjoys it so, and I would never want to strip him of his book re-shelving happiness.

I haven’t read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces yet. Nor have I started The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. But I’m looking forward to both. Hopefully they won’t wind up in the “meh” column.

Well Internet, there you have it. A very up-close-and-personal look at one of the most private areas of my home. I hope you enjoyed it!

What do you have on your nightstand?

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Internet, I spent Friday night being awakened every two hours by The Worst Headache Ever. Which meant that I got very little sleep (plus, had to deal with a severe skull shattering headache) and then had to work for 13.5 hours.

So all I can muster this morning are a few sad bullets. I’m sorry. You deserve more!

And yet…

Here we go:

— My husband takes a sandwich for lunch almost every day. But he has some sort of mental block against making his sandwich pretty much every night. Which means that he forgets – almost every night – until about three minutes before bed. At which point he inevitably groans, “Oh no! I have to make my sandwich!”

While I have no problem reminding him to make his sandwich, I have my own mental block against making it for him. Am terrible wife.

— My book club met last week. We were supposed to read The Other Boleyn Girl. I went so far as to make a specific trip to my local Borders to buy the book… but then I pulled it off the shelf, saw that it was nearly 700 pages, and read the first sentence (which did not inspire me)… and put it back and drove home. I have heard lovely things about this book, Internet. But I just could not do it. It was too long and too historical-y and too English and just… NO. I could not do it. It is the second time I have wilfully skipped a book for book club. (The last was The Last Song by Nick Sparks.) And this time I did not even bother Wikipediaing it to try to fake my way through the discussion.

And you know what? I did not feel bad. And no one shamed me.  (Not that I EXPECTED shaming.) In fact, two of the other girls hadn’t read it either. And really, we only discuss the books for about 10 minutes anyway so it’s not like I had to keep nodding along with a conversation I didn’t understand the whole night.

— At the beginning of the book club, I was standing at one end of our hostess’s living room with a few girls. And a blond girl who looked familiar walked in the door. As I said – literally just then – she looked familiar… but I couldn’t place her. And I was quite certain I had no idea what her name was. So I quietly asked one of the other girls – A –  if the blond girl was a new member.

And A responded, “Oh no, that’s R. She’s not new, she just doesn’t come very often.” And I looked, and sure enough R – whom I KNOW, as she has attended several book clubs, and who is also blonde – had come in behind the familiarish girl. So I said to A, “Oh! I know R! I was talking about the other girl!”

And then – even though the blonde girl (it turned out) WAS new and had only attended one meeting, which I had been unable to make – MY face turned bright red.

And it wasn’t even EMBARRASSING. I mean, it was a simple misunderstanding between me and A; neither R nor the new girl had heard the conversation; no harm no foul. And yet I got ridiculously, lobsterly embarrassed. Which, of course, made it much worse. Because everyone was all, “What is your deal?” and staring and asking why I was blushing. So I was not only embarrassed about the non-embarrassing situation, I was also embarrassed because I was embarrassed.

And continued blushing for about a skillion years. Because there is nothing like blushing to make you blush MORE. Arg.

— In other embarrassing news (we might as well lay it all out on the table), my husband and I made a quick run to the grocery store last night to pick up a rotisserie chicken ( and a frozen pizza. Which I cut into THIRDS and promptly froze two of the pieces) for a quick dinner since we were both too busy to bother with cooking a full meal. So I – who had been working on the computer all day – just threw on Uggs and a jacket over my workout clothes and threw my hair into a ponytail.

Of course, we ran into one of my husband’s attendings in the stupid self checkout. And because my husband is super nice and physically unable to say a quick goodbye, he got embroiled in a conversation with the attending. I did not want to meet ANYONE in my condition (haven’t I learned ANYTHING from Stacey and Clinton?), so I managed to slowly and carefully double-bag our five groceries (we also bought a package of mushrooms, some frozen vegetables, and one of those $1.25 mini-containers of Haagen Dazs mango sorbet) for about 15 minutes, trying to look very busy and engrossed in the bagging process, whilst very carefully avoiding eye contact with my husband and his attending lest that lead to an introduction.

Finally, my poor husband found a way to say goodbye politely (he LIKES his attending! And did not want to offend!) and we escaped.

We were both a little flustered, since it was a Wholly Awkward Situation. And neither of us really knew what the other should have done. So once in the car, he asked for a General Ruling on how he should act should we ever find ourselves in that situation again.

Because obviously I am not really UP for meeting Important People whilst wearing Nike exercise pants, Uggs, and zero makeup. And yet, I am also not UP for Lurking Creepily and Unfriendly-ly as my husband talks with said Important People.

So we decided that it’s better to introduce me, no matter what I look like. As I pointed out, even if I look like something the cat dragged in, I am still his wife.

— So, as I mentioned, I had The Worst Headache Ever on Friday night. And it started with a Weird Eye Thing – one that I’d experienced once before. But let me back up a little. In the past couple of months, I have also had two other Weird Experiences. So, in true hypochondriac fashion, I immediately connected all these weirdnesses together and got all hyperventilatory over Potential Horrifying Issues.

Which is all to say that I want to record these Weird Things here a) just in case and b) to prove to skeptical doctors that I am not just making it up if I ever have to tell them about the Weird Things.

So, the first Weird Thing happened maybe two months ago. I woke up and went to work. Since I work alone from home, sometimes I am the only person I’m around all day. So I will occasionally say things out loud – read something I’ve written, express my irritation with someone who emailed me, etc. And on this particular day, I tried to read something and couldn’t read it out loud. I could process the words mentally, but I couldn’t get them to come out of my mouth. It wasn’t a physical issue – I could make sounds, just not the sounds I wanted to. Of course, it subsided after a while and I told my husband about it and he didn’t seem particularly worried. Then I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago. The day when we didn’t ski, and my husband was away on an interview, I was indulging in some blog reading. And one of the blogs I read mentioned that Katy Perry song, “California Girls.” It’s a song I like, and I knew the words – the ones about “will melt your popsicle” – and it got lodged in my head. So when I went upstairs to my room I started to sing that particular lyric. And I couldn’t sing it. Not that I couldn’t hit the notes; I mean, I’m sure I couldn’t but that’s not the point. I KNEW the right words, but I couldn’t force my mouth to say them correctly. Like instead of “west coast girls” all I could say was “well so curl” or something. So I got a little panicky and said the words over and over, very slowly, until I could say them again and again without issue. And it took a LONG time. Like, 15 tries. (I still remember this because it was so stupid. Repeating THOSE lyrics over and over in a frantic manner? Ridiculous.)  But once again, the Weirdness subsided and all was fine and I forgot about it until this weekend.

I feel really stupid for writing this all out. Let me remind you, I am a HUGE hypochondriac who has watched far too many episodes of House.

Then there was the Weird Eye Thing. It happened for the first time maybe last week? I don’t recall what I was doing, I think I’d just woken up? but all of a sudden I had all these little sparklies in front of my eyes. Have you ever rubbed the heels of your hands hard against your eyes, and when you remove your hands,  the darkness ebbs slowly away and leaves little holes of light in your visual field? Well, that’s what it was like. Oh yes, I HAD just woken up. And I was trying to get to work but the sparklies were obscuring the computer screen and making it difficult to read.  Like the other Weirdness, this went away after a while.

But then it happened again on Friday night, right before bed. Only this time it was like a specific horizontal zig-zag in the top left corner of my visual field. It did not go away when I blinked, and it seemed to be in both eyes. It lasted for probably 15 minutes, and was so annoying that I couldn’t read my book – it was too much effort to focus away from the zigzaggy sparkles.

Anyway, then I went to sleep and woke up every two hours with this horrible, splitting headache that hurt everywhere but was worst in the right side of my head, somewhat behind my right eye.

My husband speculates that maybe it was a migraine, except that I’ve never had a migraine and it’s very unusual for someone of my advanced age (har har) (but seriously) to just begin getting migraines out of the blue.

Anyway, once again, I feel utterly stupid for telling you this. But really, it’s just in case. (By the way, I am purposely NOT googling “aphasia” and “vision sparklies” [technical term] and “worst headache ever” because I do not need Dr. Google to tell me about the tiny alien that’s hatching inside my brain stem. No siree.)

— Moving on, one of the gals I work with just introduced me to Rebecca Black last week. (Not to her, the person; to her, the concept. Or something.) So obviously I had to listen to her breakout song “Friday” and watch the accompanying music video.

If you haven’t heard/seen it? Just imagine a stylistic amalgam of Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, and Miley Cyrus with lyrics written by Elmo.

— Speaking of Justin Bieber: Whenever I hear “Friday” (three times so far – PLENTY), I somehow get “Baby (Baby, Baby, Oh)” stuck in my head.

Leave it to the Biebster to morph someone else’s song into his music without ever touching it.

— By the way, if you haven’t seen the Jimmy Fallon/Stephen Colbert version of “Friday,” you must watch it immediately.

— My husband and I finally watched Black Swan this weekend. It was both not as good as AND better than what I anticipated. What I most liked – besides the music – was how it made me think about the experience of producing art – that to produce your best work, you need to get in touch with a part of yourself you may not know or like or want to reveal. And letting that part of you out is frightening, exhausting, even destructive.

It left me wondering something I’ve questioned before: If you can only create by unleashing devastation and ruin… Is it worth it? Is it okay to produce something lesser if, at the end, you come out of it intact? Or, it is okay to come out of your art intact if you wind up producing something sub par? Or is it an all or nothing sort of thing – as though you aren’t being true to the art unless you go balls to the wall? You’d think the answer would be simple. But I don’t think it is. Not for artists, and not for consumers of art.

— My husband has only about four fellowship interviews left! It’s very exciting slash scary, to be so close to the end. I’ll be glad to have him all to myself again. And by “have him all to myself” I mean “share him with the hospital and his patients.”

— Have you ever witnessed some sort of Process and realized that there is a better way to do it? Let me give you an example, because that was the vaguest question ever asked: We went to Chipotle the other day and there was a long line. No problem; we are not averse to waiting. And Chipotle was – on the surface – equipped for the influx of customers. They had six people behind the counter on burrito/etc. duty and one person at the cashier. (Not to mention a few people in the back, cooking chicken and onions and peppers and such.)

BUT they were going about it all wrong. There were three dudes whose job it was to either steam the burrito wrapper (my husband informs me I mean “tortilla”), add hot veggies (beans or onions-and-peppers), or add meat. I shall call them the Hot Dudes. And there were two dudes and a girl whose job it was to top the burritos (or tacos or salads or what have you) with lettuce and sour cream and such. I shall call them the Topping Team. It was also the Topping Team’s job to fold and wrap the burritos.

But the Hot Dudes were much too efficient. They had five people’s burritos/etc done and on the assembly line before the Topping Team could top, fold, and wrap even one burrito/etc.

Listen, no matter what, we were all going to have to wait for the same amount of time. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather that I wait while my food is still sitting in its little chafing dishes, rather than growing cold on the counter as the Topping Team struggles to keep up.

(I don’t think it helped matters that two of the Topping Team members seemed brand new. And one of them had to dump the entire contents of a burrito into another wrapper/tortilla because she had so badly botched the folding process.)

Also, the cashier seemed to do double duty as bus boy. So she was NEVER AT THE CASHIER. And so there was a big pile up at the cashier as people tapped their feet and their rapidly-cooling burritos/etc grew ever cooler.

I got very overworked by the whole ordeal, Internet. But my burrito – while not as hot as I’d like it – was delicious. I swear they put crack in those things.

Anyway, my point is, I have a MUCH better system.  Only have one Hot Dude. Have three members of the Topping Team, all who have specific toppings designated to them. And make sure the freaking cashier is there AT ALL TIMES. Then put the remaining two Hot Dudes on bus boy duty. And allow people to stand in line a little longer, so that there are only three people being served at all times: One being asked what kind of burrito/etc s/he wants; one being asked which toppings s/he wants; and one being rung up at the cash register. The rest of the people can wait in line and no one’s food will get cold. MUCH better system, no?

But alas.  It’s not like I can simply suggest this to someone at my local Chipotle. I think that is a shortcut to a burrito full of rocks.

— By the way, one member of the Topping Team was very overzealous with the toppings. She asked my husband if he wanted sour cream and as he was saying “No thank you!” she was dolloping a giant dollop of sour cream onto his burrito. She asked, with a poor approximation of deep chagrin, whether he’d like her to make him a NEW burrito. But we’d already been waiting for 15 minutes or so, and I was already getting frantic over my rapidly-cooling burrito, AND my husband happens to love sour cream, he had just opted out of it for health reasons, so he took one for the team.

— I have the bad habit of never spending my book store gift cards. It drives my husband CRAZY, because he loves almost nothing more than buying books. But I go on a buying binge – usually on a day when I have forgotten my gift cards – and then I’m good for months and months.

Anyway, I have a nice stack of books beside my bed these days… But I’ve had a run of books that have left me feeling pretty “meh,” which is making me doubt my book-choosing ability, and making me feel apprehensive about the quality of the books I currently possess. Plus, our book for next month’s book club is The Art of Racing in the Rain which I have heard is good and yet I STILL feel very “meh” about. PLUS plus, it just so happens that I have all these gift cards lying around. (“All these gift cards” means two gift cards for $10 and $20 respectively, plus one old gift card with about $6.80 on it.) So what I’m asking is, do you have any books that I MUST read? Really good ones that don’t involve vampires or zombies please.

— Last week, my husband and I went to the grocery store (yes, this is our idea of a hot date) (seriously… now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t remember going anywhere with him BESIDES the grocery store in over a week) (and the place we went before THAT was Cheesecake Factory, so that doesn’t really count) and one of the items on our grocery list was mushrooms. He grabbed a package of pre-WASHED, pre-sliced mushrooms. I even asked him, there in the produce section, if they were pre-WASHED. Because if I’m going to wash my own mushrooms, I’d rather cut them myself. (Am Very Particular about food.)

He said yes, pre-WASHED and showed me the label where it said, clear as day, pre-washed. Then we bought them, put them in the fridge, and forgot about them.

On Friday, I pulled out the mushrooms to make as a side. And upon opening them, discovered that they were speckled with that dark black loamy soil particular to mushrooms. A couple of the slices were COATED in dirt.

And I just don’t even know what to DO in that situation. Obviously, I washed them all carefully and we ended up eating them. (Spitefully.) But I was irritated. Not irritated enough to drive all the way back to the grocery store. But definitely irritated enough to whine about it to you. (You: Super.)

Well, Internet. That’s all I’ve got.

I hope, despite this sad sack of randomness, that you have an excellent day.

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Mine was a grey, snowy weekend filled with football and work. And BenGay.

Here, have some bullets:

* My butter dish has disappeared. It’s glass. It normally sits on top of the toaster oven (not an ideal spot for BUTTER to live, but such is life in a postage-stamp sized kitchen). But one day I noticed it wasn’t on the toaster oven… And assumed it was in the dishwasher… And then when I unloaded the dishwasher, it wasn’t there. My husband has no idea where it is. I have no idea where it is. Neither of us has any recollection of it breaking. And we can’t find it anywhere.

Consequently, I am now having paranoid thoughts of our maintenance people breaking into our home in the middle of the night and stealing small and fairly unnoticeable items just to screw with us.

* I got a very nice showing of Holiday Card Love this year At least 30 cards from friends and loved ones! That is a record! I received most of them AFTER Christmas, since my husband and I were out of town for Actual Christmas. But it was so fun to open up our mailbox and find this huge bunch of cards.

Here. Look at some of them:

My apologies for the pathetic and boring backdrop. They really look quite festive in person. (Also, WHAT is that white dot in the foreground? If I had better photoshop skillz I would totally erase that, as it is Driving Me Nutso.)

I especially loved the cards that had pictures of cute babies. We got seven of those. I have come to the conclusion that our friends make reeeeeaaaalllllllly cute babies.

* What is one supposed to do with holiday cards after the holidays? It seems a little silly to save them, especially the ones that are just plain holiday cards with a signature. But the ones with the babies on them… Well, I have a harder time getting rid of those.

Did I mention how CUTE the babies on them are? You can’t really tell from this photo, but they are CUTE.


All seven of those babies were just born in 2010, so this was the first time they’d made an appearance on a holiday card. That seems momentous, somehow. Okay, more momentous for their actual parents… But I still don’t want to throw them away.

* The Great 2011 Dishwasher Experiment is going great! So far, it’s been a rousing success. I just toss the dishes in the dishwasher – fretfully, of course, because it is ME we’re talking about – and run the dishwasher and voila! All the dishes are clean!

It’s kind of amazing. Both that the dishwasher can do this, and that I have been doing it WRONG for so many years.

* I finally jumped on the Hunger Games bandwagon and read the first in the series. It took me a few hours one night. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean, it’s not fine literature or anything, but it was solidly written and the plot was strong and the main character was complex enough (read: annoying) to seem pretty real. I am definitely going to finish the series.

* Speaking of series, it seems that most of the books I read this year were part of a series. I read a couple of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books… I read a TON of Sophie Hannah books, which are a series about two detectives named Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer… I read Stieg Larssen’s Millenium trilogy with much vigor… I read all three of Tana French’s books, which aren’t a series per se, but which each introduce the protagonist of the next book (well, I HOPE that’s what the last one did, but there’s no book to follow it quite yet). That’s a lot of series. But I LOVE them. It’s to the point where I will read ANY books if they belong to those series. They are all SO GOOD.

Let this be noted by any would-be authors out there. If you can write a series that your readers enjoy, your marketing is practically done FOR YOU.

* Since I am already on the subject of books, this is a good time to note that my next book club meeting is coming up in a couple weeks. It is notable because I’m hosting this month’s session. This means that a) I have to clean my apartment, including taking down the Christmas decorations (Yes, they are still up. WHAT?) and b) I need to figure out what to make for dinner.

I think I’m going to cook coq au vin because a) no one else has served it at a previous book club and b) because I’ve made it before and know that it’s doable and good and c) because it’s something I can mainly cook before people arrive, leaving me free to simply stir and drink wine when the book clubbers get here. Also, it sounds fancy and tastes delicious and requires two entire bottles of zinfandel.

Yummmmmmmmm…

Yes, that’s what I’m going to cook. Unless I’m struck by any other super wonderful revelations in the meantime. I will also serve a salad, because I can prepare that ahead of time.

* I feel like I’m very boring lately, blog wise. It’s because the biggest thing going on in our lives is fellowship applications. And while that offers lots of blog fodder – The expense! The stress! The endless waiting! The travel! – I am feeling too superstitious to talk about it a lot. My husband has several interviews so far, and I hope he gets more, but you never know… And since this is a match process (like residency) but with each program having far fewer openings (think two or three rather than 100), it’s very scary to even imagine what my husband’s chances are, let alone spell it all out on my blog.

We’ll see if I can find a way to write about it that doesn’t terrify me and is more than a small bullet point in a longer blog entry.

* This weekend, my husband and I enjoyed some Simultaneous Back Pain. We even bought some BenGay the other day. BenGay. NOTE: We are neither athletes nor 85.

I am HOPING that this isn’t our 30s (well, my impending 30s) jumping up and saying, “Hello there! You are old now! Have some back pain so that you can’t help but think of your highly advanced age at all times!”

If I were to blame something other than our fourth decade, it would be our bed. I don’t know why, I suppose I just need something I can blame that I can presumably DO SOMETHING about. We did try flipping it over, which we do too infrequently, in hopes that we had just worn a pocket into the mattress over time that was affecting our sleeping positions. But that hasn’t seemed to make any difference.

This is not a new mattress; I bought it waaaaaaaay back in 2003 when I started grad school. Maybe the mattress is just old? I guess I thought that mattresses lasted 10 or 15 years or even longer. But maybe I am wrong. And/or maybe I was so pleased by my incredible deal on brand-new queen mattress that I am reluctant to find out what a mattress costs when you don’t buy it from a girl you used to cheer against in high school.

* This weekend, my husband and I had dinner with two friends and their small baby. (Really small – he’s only seven weeks old!) The whole hanging-out-with-babies thing is very new for us. These are our first friends in close proximity to have a kid. So it was kind of a New Experience type of night. It’s not like the baby DID anything of real note; he looked around and smiled a lot at the beginning, but by the time we got to the restaurant, he was asleep in his car seat and stayed asleep all through dinner.

He was lying there, so sweet and doll-faced, fast asleep, and I felt a little bit like maybe this is something my husband and I could do. But then after dinner, once we’d parted ways, I got all panicky thinking about us having a baby, like it was some crazy wild idea. I mean, it’s hard enough to think of our FRIENDS as parents… It’s practically impossible to imagine myself and my husband with a tiny baby of our own.

I’ve been feeling this way for the past year or so – one second, totally charmed by the vision of us with a little one of our own… the next, completely freaked out at the thought and fully relieved that we don’t have one.

I’m assuming that SOMEDAY I will stick with one emotion or the other, yes? I’m sick of these wildly-swinging, violently-opposing feelings.

But that baby sure was cute.

* * *

Well, Internet, that’s what’s on my mind this cold Monday morning. What’s going through your brain of late?

Also, where in the wide world has my butter dish disappeared to? For Pete’s sake. It didn’t just grow legs and walk away!

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Time to Kill

Night float is boring, y’all.

I am stuck here at home without my husband to distract me. I mean, heaven forbid I should try to distract myself. And doing 200 stomach crunches does not take that long. (I kid you not – I have been doing some hard core weight type exercises. HARD. CORE.) (Well, as hard core as you can get with two eight-pound weights.)

When I’m working, it’s fine. Plenty to keep me busy. But the weekends, when my husband is home, sleeping, I can’t even watch TV. This is what happens when you have a small apartment. With large, open, inexplicable  ventilation grates between the bedrooms and the living room. Not that I’m missing much. I mean, TV sucks during the summer. Sure, I’ve been watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey. But – while they are quite weird – I don’t like them as much as the New York housewives. I’ve been dabbling in some other shows – Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D ListBethenny Getting MarriedLast Comic Standing… Reruns of The Good Wife on demand… Some other stuff.

And I’ve been reading a decent amount. I just began Tana French’s In the Woods, which I always mistakenly call Into the Woods because of the play (“Into the woods then out of the woods! And home before dark.”) although they have absolutely nothing in common. Well. So far. I am only on page sevenish.

But besides TV and books and writing, I need some distractions.

What do you read online when you have some time to kill?

In return for your suggestions, I will leave you with my favorite Internet diversions. (Besides YOUR blog, which I will read if you tell me about it! And comment on, if I have something worthwhile to say! Or possibly not worthwhile!)

Hyperbole and a Half – Every post makes me laugh. Every. Post.

Catalog Living – I don’t think I ever realized how hilarious a Pottery Barn catalog could be.

Maru – I love this cat.

Friends of Irony – Deliciously head-slap-worthy.

The “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks – Grammar nerd heaven.

Go Fug Yourself – Fashion faux pas of the highest order.

MamaPop – Gossip, TV recaps, and lots of snark.

Don’t Even Reply – Hilarious, but mean spirited. (My husband doesn’t understand why I find this one so funny.)

Failbook – More hilarity from the Cheezburger empire

Regretsy – What is WRONG with people?

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My husband borrowed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson as a book on tape from our local library. The first time we listened to it, I fell asleep in the middle of the prologue. Being the sweetheart that he is, my husband turned off the CD so we could try again at a later date.

Second try: I fell asleep in the middle of the prologue.

Third try: Just kidding. there was no third try. My husband returned it to the library.

Then my book club chose it as our April read. So I went to Costco and bought the paperback.

For the first two weeks, I couldn’t get past the first 20 pages. Even though I skipped the stupid prologue I’d heard twice.

“This is an international bestseller, nay, a phenomenal international SENSATION,” I chided myself. “Why don’t you like it?”

I consoled myself with the fact that I did not like The Da Vinci Code either. Nor have I ever cracked a book by Danielle Steel or The Dude Whose Sappy Best-Sellers Become Blockbuster Movies That Make Chicks Cry.

Then I talked to my friend and co-book club member who said she hated it for 100 pages. And then she couldn’t put it down.

So I kept at it.

For 62 pages, I could only go for one to two pages until I fell asleep from sheer boredom.

But once I hit that sixty-third page, it became one of those books that I read until three o’clock in the morning every night.

Mini-plot summary: One of the great things about this book is that the plot is deliciously complex. You’ve got a financial conspiracy. A bizarre genius with a convoluted past. A disgraced reporter with revenge on his mind. An unsolved disappearance. A crazy, effed-up family – whose members largely live on a single island outside Stockholm. A sadistic lawyer. An Australian sheep farm. Blond wigs. Money laundering. Computer hacking. Animal cruelty. Murder. Rape. Incest. Open-faced sandwiches.

All wrapped up in one shiny, blood-chilling, heart-racing, amazing story.

I am a sucker for great character development. The two main characters? I grew to care about them, root for them to succeed, fear for their safety. Especially the odd, brilliant, fiercely-independent Lisbeth Salander. She’s like a socially-stunted Jason Bourne, and I love her.

Now that I have a little distance from the book, I realize it wasn’t perfect. There were a couple instances of foreshadowing that seemed needless and even forced… like the author thought that point needed something foreboding to set the mood, but maybe was running late for a hot date and asked his little brother to “just put something in.” Then there were a few loose ends that were tied up just a little too neatly. One big aspect of the plot was kind of glossed over. And a couple of characters seemed like they weren’t addressed as fully as they needed to be. (I’m hoping the sequels delve deeper into what happens with them.)

And yet? I don’t care.

That’s how much I loved Salander.

I mourn the loss of Steig Larsson, because I can’t imagine that three books will be enough Lisbeth Salander for me.

Should you read it? I say, give it a go! And if you hate the first 100 pages? Just keep reading. It WILL get better. And better and better and better. (That’s right – this book is 600ish pages.)

I bought the sequel (The Girl Who Played with Fire) before I’d gotten halfway through this book. I started it the second I ended Dragon Tattoo (at 1:17 a.m. on Sunday night). And I’ll be sure to report back.

**********

Anybody else read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Warning: May contain spoilers.

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