Book Club

I've never belonged to a book club, but I strongly suspect I'd really love it if I had the time to join one. Alas, I equally suspect that most book clubs would not love me, so I suppose its just as well that I spend my time otherwise occupied by my upgrade paper, work and Netflix.

You see, I have a peculiar taste in literature, and not one you'd expect for someone with advanced degrees in the subject.

Since my literary tastes skew a little more toward Klosterman than Cavafy, I thought I'd share my current favorites here to get people riled up about what I'm missing out on, why I should only start reading things published before 1900 (hey, at least I love Pride and Prejudice!) and why it is a good thing I cancelled my Netflix subscription so I can expand my literary palate.

Cassandra at the Wedding, Dorothy Baker: I read this book in one sitting, it was so good. It deconstructs the idea of soul mates, family ties and personal connections to people, places and things. I also really wanted to drive through the mountains of California after reading it. Thanks to the WH Smith dude who recommended it!

Disgrace, JM Coetzee: South African novelists are my fav, although I guess Coetzee has immigrated to Aus now. Anyway, this is, IMO, his best book, which navigates family life, race relations, the justice system and aging in post-Apartheid era South Africa. It gets realllllllly heavy, but that just makes the ending that much more cathartic.

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood: one of my all-time favorite authors steps outside of the genres she does best to take on the world of science fiction/dystopian future- and nails it. This is part mystery, part horror mixed with just enough humor and romance to keep it out of the depressing Daybreak-like dystopian tropes.

My Education, Susan Choi: I'm not really a fan of "coming of age" stories (Holden Caulfield, you've ruined it for me), but for some reason this book really resonated with me. Its all about first love, finding yourself and the typically atypical American graduate school experience, but there was something so sad and unfinished about it that it still pops into my head at random times and makes me think- the sign of a very good book.

Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts: I highly recommend this book for restless souls afflicted with wanderlust like myself. In the book I felt like I was the felon traipsing illicitly around the Indian subcontinent. The first time I read this book I blew through its 800+ pages in just a few days, so don't pick it up if you have an extremely busy week ahead.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway: probably my favorite book of all time, this is EH at his alcohol-infused best. Its a novel about everything disguised as a novel about nothing (and there's bullfighting). The last line of the book always gets me, and is the quote I'll consider tattooing on my body if I get up the courage to go for a third tattoo- so now you'll have to read it to see what it'll be, won't you!

No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy: if you liked the movie, you HAVE to read the book, it's 100 times better. While the movie probably moves faster and leaves out some of the scathing social commentary, the prose is just fantastic. I wish I could write like McCarthy!

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck: probably my second favorite book of all time. It's a super quick read, and very easy to dismiss since  its required reading in like 5th grade. But don't discount how much it can be unpacked and analyzed. If you're an overthinker, this here book is brainfood for you!

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides: told from the perspective of teenage boys in a Boston suburb watching their five beautiful neighbors kill themselves one by one, this is another rare coming of age story I find not merely palatable but actually cathartic. It reminded me of all the people I've been really intrigued by in my lifetime, and what I'd do if they did something truly inexplicable.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan: this is a non-fiction work by a woman who experienced a rare and potentially fatal disease, and her experiences, memories (or lack thereof) and the challenges of recovery. I used to want to be an epidemiologist, so reading about rare diseases always fascinates me, but even if you've a weak constitution, its an interesting piece of investigative writing and a very enthralling read.

The Awakening, Kate Chopin: don't read this if you need a pick me up, as it has a bit of downer ending. I know I'm world renown for spilling the beans about endings, so I'll jut leave it at that. I will say, though, that this is a great read if you're feeling a quarter life crisis coming on and need a little perspective. Also, all my blooming feministas should give this a read to see how far we've come in the last 100 years.

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea: I've always been of the opinion that Chelsea Handler is rude, lewd and otherwise unacceptable. However, she is absolutely off her rocker and her sense of humor is literally nonsensical, which I obviously dig as a soul sister of all things insane. Also, she has an entire chapter about a visit to London in her early 30s that basically echoes my daily experience on this island. Good to know I'm not alone.

What books am I missing? Please let me know in the comments section below!


Asteroids, Intruders and CO2 Poisoning

I must precede any explanation of Monday's events with the fact that my greatest fear has always been an intruder taking me out of my bed in the middle of the night. Well, that and being witness to a life-destroying asteroid hitting the earth. As a child I couldn't go outside at night, and when my father, never one to placate, would force me outside at the ungodly hour of 7pm for a family barbecue or whatever, I would wear an eye mask until I realized I couldn't see incoming intruders with it on. It was quite the conundrum. I even worked out a way to hide myself from intruders and shield myself from the glare of incoming space jettison simultaneously: since then I always push my bed in whatever room I occupy to the wall and nestle into the space between the wall and the bed, covering myself completely with blankets.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I’d mostly gotten over my asteroid fear out of necessity, as nothing good ever seems to happen until after dark, and I’d tried very hard to get my fear of intruders under control after several run-ins with the Prince William County police (I developed a penchant for calling them almost every windy evening between the ages of 11 and 18, so they will probably never take a call from someone named Khaleelah seriously again. Sorry.). Unfortunately, several years ago, HBL did something to irreversibly set off my fear of intruders again, and, combined with Monday's event, it will now probably never go away.

He’d gone out for a gentleman's night downtown and, unaccustomed to sleeping without someone to act as a buffer between myself and potential womannappers, I decided the best option would be to bring some mace to bed with me in case someone managed his/her way into our apartment building and selected to enter our apartment from the 60+ other options. At some ridiculous hour in the morning, my Southerner, perhaps not seeing that I was in the bed since I was in my little crevice, tried to climb in and sleep off his buzz. Unaware of who was clawing at the covers and pulling at the sheets, I arose from the crack between the bed and the wall screaming, fumbling for the mace, while he promptly fell off the bed, covering his face from my flailing hands. While I tried to uncap the mace unsuccessfully, he recovered himself and swiped it out of my hand.

“Khaleelah,” he slurred in his adorable Southern accent, “of all the things in this apartment an intruder would take, I doubt it would be a 200 pound woman. You’d be difficult to get out of here screaming like that, even if you were smaller.”

Needless to say, this event did not go a long way in curing my fear of intruders, nor in warming me to Southern accents.

In my current house, the only place to put the bed against the wall is right under the skylight. Every night for the past year I’ve cracked the skylight open, as I also have a fear of suffocation in small spaces by CO2 poisoning, and slept the uneasy sleep of someone who cannot have mace, guns, machetes or similar under her pillow because they’re apparently considered "dangerous weapons" in this country.

Monday night, I had just drifted off to sleep when there was a huge CRASH on my bed. In my sleepy stupor, I just knew an asteroid had fallen through my skylight…except that it started to approach my face, very, very quickly. Screaming my head off, I grabbed for my mobile, but my mind would only think “911! 911!” as my fingers were basically programmed to dial these three numbers at night for 7 long years. So, I punched the approaching spector with my phone. There was then a hideous hissing and a bloodcurdling mewl louder than my screams.

It was a freaking cat.

Still screaming my head off, I picked up the wailing cat and tried to throw it out the window, forgetting it was a half-open skylight. The cat bounced off the glass and back on the bed, but with the alacrity of a half-asleep woman attacked by harmless beings twice in the span of five years, I picked it up again, shoving it out of the crack in the skylight like you might stick mail through a slot. At this point, my neighbors downstairs started banging on my front door, asking if I was okay. When I finally composed myself enough to go answer the door and explain what happened, their looks of concern quickly melted away to mirth, which I still do not understand. After getting rid of my neighbors, who now think I am insane, I called HBL (even though he is 3000 miles and about 60 timezones away) and made him watch me sleep via FaceTime for six hours. I heard him laughing for about three of these.

I cannot wait until I move. I sure hope there are screens, shutters and curtains on the windows in my room.

Disclaimer: in the next few months I'll be publishing "personal essays" such as this one about past experiences here on the blog as an excuse to give me something to write about. Obviously names and certain details may have been changed for your reading pleasure/individuals' personal safety. Keep checking back, you never know, the next one may just involve you!


Koh Pha Ngan

We stayed in Koh Pha Ngan the longest of all the places we were in Thailand, mostly because we were quite far from Haad Riin (where the Full Moon Party takes place) and had this view from our little cabana:

...and breakfasts that consisted of this every morning...
Ironically, though, I relaxed a little bit and wasn't so snap happy, so there are the fewest pictures of this part of our excursion. So I'll focus on the big things we did there: Bottle Beach and a few parties.

First, the more constructive activity: a beautiful (and pretty darn difficult) hike through the jungle to Bottle Beach. The trail is scattered with bottles that you follow right down to a really gorgeous beach.

Unfortunately, I wasn't warned about just how difficult this little trek was. We were dropped off at a random beach and had to scramble up coral-encrusted rocks to find the trail head. 
Yes, I scrambled that. Pretty proud if I do say so myself, although V did not escape unscathed.
Battle scars from our scramble.

And so started our hike...

I will say, it was quite the exercise and there were some extremely amazing views, so it is worth it if you ever go. Just make sure to bring lots of water and a good attitude!
Bottle Beach

We made some new friends prior to the hike, and dragged them along with us. I think afterward they were wondering why they had agreed to come along, we were all so stupendously exhausted we basically collapsed back on to our water taxi!

Luckily, the views on the way back woke us up a little, because we had a big party to get to!
I'm not the world's biggest party animal, but I do like to have a few drinks and set loose on the dance floor. The Jungle Party, the night before the Full Moon, was a way to get in the right attitude, which wasn't too difficult after such a hard trek through the jungle earlier in the day. 

We grabbed a taxi with other people from our beach and headed to the party. Only a few pictures survived the night, but it should give you some idea of the fun had by all!

The next night was Full Moon. Jungle Party was good for getting a few drinks, dancing and watching people do a few tricks with fire. Full Moon was much more intense. Haad Riin was packed with people doing fire limbo-ing, going down water slides, dancing to tons of different types of music, riding mechanical bulls...you name it, someone was doing it. I loved the energy! Unlike a night out anywhere else I've been, I felt like I was just joining thousands of other people from all over the world who had just one goal: to have a great time!

Because the details of the night are a little blurry, I'll let the pictures do the story telling for me!

Just one more place to take you vicariously and then my Thailand trip really is done...I'm getting sad just thinking about it! 


Koh Tao

Now that I've gotten that pent up political rant out of my system, back to Thailand! Reliving it by posting on the blog is almost as fun as the trip itself!

Although I got the fewest pictures, Koh Tao was probably my favorite place in Thailand. (Wait, didn't I say that about Chiang Mai? Gah! I can't make up my mind!)

V and I on our way from Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Tao is a small, relatively unblemished island, just north of Koh Phag Nan. If you like diving or snorkeling, this island is worth a visit. It has the clearest water and most interesting sea life I've ever seen, not to mention the most beautiful beaches in. the. world. (That I've been to, at least.)
Koh Nang Yuan
 We arrived in Koh Tao planning to stay for three full days and two nights. We had loads of plans: exploring a nearby island, Koh Nang Yuan, taking a Thai cooking course, renting mopeds...our plans were endless!

Our first full day we woke up early to go to Koh Nang Yuan. We heard that there was an overlook on the highest part of this island (which is actually three islands connected by sandbars) that had amazing views. Plus, we could snorkel and sunbathe to our hearts content.

We left Koh Tao in one of the the little water taxis and tooks loads of pictures of the receding island on the journey out.

Look at how clear the water is off of the island!
We arrived on Koh Nang Yuan ready to get our hike on. Unfortunately, we were prepared for exactly how steep and how untamed the trail was. We ended up scrambling up rocks and watching several people slip and fall, which didn't exactly inspire confidence in our hiking abilities. Nonetheless, we got some pretty good pictures that show you just how much the sweaty climb was worth it.
V at the trailhead

After scrambling down the rocks, we laid out on the beach for a few hours. I jumped in the water a few times for some snorkeling and saw all sorts of things, including TONS of sea slugs (ew!), but mostly appreciated the views of the island.

Unfortunately, this beautiful day was interrupted by the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever had, brought on by a delicious coconut shake...

Not only did it cut short our trip to Koh Tao, which we spent in bed, we weren't well again until getting back to England. That doesn't mean we didn't play through the pain for the Full Moon Party, though, which I'm reliving next...so stay tuned.


Coming Out of Retirement

I try not to get too political anymore. There’s no better way to spike my blood pressure than a spirited political debate, and I’m getting too old and cynical to think my opinions matter much, especially in the extremely polarized American political landscape. However, yesterday the Supreme Court decided it was perfectly legal for corporations to invoke their* religious rights to deny women birth control, regardless of why it might be needed, as part of health insurance benefits packages. Therefore, it seems apropos to come out of retirement and risk an apoplectic episode.

Unfortunately, I cannot share my opinion on this matter without it immediately being pointed out that I do not live in the United States. It seems that as a non-resident, some feel I have no right to discuss current and pressing events about my country of birth since I choose to live elsewhere than a place that I should ostensibly be fiercely “proud” to be from and want to live in. It is regrettable that as an expat my comments are often misconstrued as a simultaneous indictment against the United States and preference for my country of residence. This isn’t a contest, but it does strike me that it explains an awful lot about our approach to national pride if we can be as proud of achieved accomplishments as things in which we play no part, such as being born and raised. Why should I take pride in something in which I had no control? If praise is due for that whole born and raised bit, I’m going to be proud of my mother (whose civil rights were diminished as of yesterday, along with every other woman in the country).

Don’t get me wrong. America is home to a lot of awesomeness: highways, cities, thoughts, people, sights and works of art (Of Mice and Men is one of my favorites, Michael Gove). I’m not saying I don’t get a pang of homesickness when I see the US team sing the national anthem before their World Cup games, or get excited when I hear an American accent in a crowded room abroad. I love the States. It is so diverse, both ethnically and topographically, and the mannerisms of Americans are always going to be easier for me to intuitively understand than those of anyone else in the world. We’re a welcoming, open, persevering bunch who have inhabited desert, swamp, mountain and plain, and I love it! But I’m not “proud” of any of these qualities or accomplishments- I had no part or say in them. I do, however, have a say in where we’re going.

I posted an ever-so-slightly inflammatory Jezebel article on my Facebook profile last night about SCOTUS, and it elicited responses that I should thank god as a woman that I’m not from Somalia or somewhere similar. This is probably the most fundamental problem contributing to decisions like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It is so inappropriate, yet so American, to hide behind ostensibly highly developed, democratically condoned rights and point to those without them to justify bad policy and miserable politics. It’s plain wrong and offensive to conflate women’s rights across the world.  To compare them or insinuate that because you’re from one place rather than another you’re intrinsically better off is an insult to the trials and tribulations women around the world must endure due to different and incomparable cultural, political and economic norms.

The issue, as it applies to women working in the United States and relying on employer-provided health care, is that health insurance benefits are compensation for work done. An employer has no right to stipulate how employees use their compensation. Period. (No pun intended.) Therefore, it seems more than strange that an employer can stipulate whether a woman elects to use birth control as part of her compensation package, especially when as many as 90% of womenreport needing birth control for medical reasons rather than, as Republican Senator Mike Lee yesterday called it, “recreational behavior.” The more Conservatives cry for the government to stay out of our hearth and home, the further they shove in god- and they’re doing a good job, considering he’s reached the womb.

I do know that, upon my return to the United States, I will be asking potential employers up front whether they offer birth control coverage as part of their employee compensation package, regardless of whether I plan on using it or not. If they don’t, I won’t continue the interview process. I guess, besides this little diatribe, that’s about all I can do in the face of the very loud, very backward and very out of touch religious lobby. You very well may say it’s my right to cut off my nose to spite my face and turn down jobs on principle, regardless of your opinion about this matter. You probably even think, hey, that’s her decision and luckily it’s a free country. But it certainly is starting to feel a little constrained to me, my wallet and my womb. But what do I know? I’m just a woman.

*this isn’t incorrect grammar. Corporations are people, too! Women, though? Meh.