Thursday, December 27, 2012

Books Read in 2012

It's that time of the year again. Time to post all the book I've read in the past year. Some were delightful surprises, others slow slogs. As always I've included some comments and recommendations. For the first time I've linked books to the appropriate review (I reviewed all the books from our book club this year on this blog).

My grand total of books read in 2012 was 106 and I brought the total number of books read from my 501 Must Read Books list to 112.

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt (a great modern western, reminded me of Cormac McCarthy with a bit of an existentialist twist)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (a long, unusual novel that I actually quite enjoyed; will have to look into some more Murakami in 2013)
  • Four Weird Tales by Algernon Blackwood 
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (not my cup of tea but not bad either)
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells (not his best work; check out The Time Machine instead)
  • Dewey by Vicki Myron (it's about the world's most famous library cat; I bawled my eyes out reading this one; a must for cat lovers)
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (another odd novel that I really enjoyed once I figured it out; takes some getting into so not for everyone but a worthwhile read nonetheless)
  • The New World by Patrick Ness (interesting Kobo short story freebie; prequel to a YA series that I've got to check out - must add to my 2013 must read list)
  • Journey to the Interior of the Earth by Jules Verne (so much geology but a great read)
  • Kidnapped by R. L Stevenson (February book club selection)
  • Varney the Vampire by Thomas Preskett Prest (it was on the 501 list; what a long slog; not recommended)
  • Japanese Fairy Tales by Tei Theodora Ozaki 
  • The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond (I like to sneak in some mainstream science reading too; fascinating premise and a great read)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (a good book but a little tough; I kept getting confused because all the characters have multiple names)
  • The Tattoo Chronicles by Kat Von D (guilty pleasure read! loved it!)
  • Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov (I love it when anthropology and science fiction collide! a great read)
  • Measuring Mother Earth by Heather Robertson (another nerd read about Tyrell; fascinating history)
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (a 501 read; compelling)
  • The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton (March book club selection; definitely recommended)
  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (wonderful prose about drinking wine with friends; so lovely)
  • The Jungle Book by Ruyard Kipling (forget what Disney and read this wonderful book instead)
  • The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by M. Joseph Bedler
  • The Abandoned by Amanda Stevens
  • Heroes, Zombies, and Sausages: Orbit Sampler (Jan-Mar 2011) (another Kobo freebie; some great previews for some books I'm still meaning to check out - will have to add to 2013 must read list)
  • Modelland by Tyra Banks (guilty pleasure reading #2; odd but couldn't put it down so I'd actually recommend it)
  • The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck (another forgettable vampire novel; shows that people have been trying to make the genre work for ages)
  • The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross (2012 was a great year for YA fiction; I would highly recommend this steampunk novel)
  • The Last Drop by L. Ron Hubbard 
  • Dead(ish) by Naomi Kramer (really bad free ebook)
  • The Cyber Chronicles Book 1 by TC Southwell (another really bad free ebook)
  • Zombie Nights by Tome Lichtenberg (and yet another really bad free ebook - lesson now learned)
  • Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (had trouble getting into this one)
  • The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson 
  • Adam's Tongue by Derek Bickerton (a great nerd read examining the origin of language in humans; great accessible read about language and communication in general)
  • The Ape and The Sushi Master by Frans de Waal (another great nerd read about primate behaviour)
  • Memoirs of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock! always a great read)
  • Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
  • IT by Stephen King (it had been too long since I'd visited with this old friend so bought an ebook version so I can take it with me)
  • The Return of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (more great Sherlock!)
  • Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson (this was a really great read; compelling and highly recommended)
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (kind of silly)
  • The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford 
  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherin Boo (I did not realize at first that this was non-fiction; a must read!)
  • The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou 
  • Vendetta by Michael Dibdin
  • Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth (loved this book! read it!)
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (a fascinating read merging the real events surrounding the Chicago's World Fair and the serial killer who was operating at the same time; highly recommended)
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth (the sequel to Divergent; read this one too! did I mention I waited in line for like 3 hours to meet the author; can't wait for the next book and the films to come out)
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling (a more difficult read than The Jungle Book; much time is spent walking around)
  • Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin 
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (I enjoyed this and would recommend it)
  • The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick (odd!)
  • Cosmopolis by Don Delillo (another odd read; curious to see the film adaptation)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (I did not enjoy this as much as Tom Sawyer)
  • The Universe by JP McEvoy (a nerd read; not recommended; really poorly written)
  • The Wind Though the Keyhole by Stephen King (part of the Dark Tower series; highly recommended even as a stand alone story)
  • Utopia by Thomas More (bland)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (wonderful! highly recommended! can't wait to read it to Itty some day)
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (a slog to get through; Dante was easier!)
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (guilty pleasure read; far better than the movie!)
  • Erewhon by Samuel Butler (interesting little read off of the 501 list)
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (I enjoyed this one and would recommend it)
  • King Solomon's Mines by Henry Rider Haggard (a great little adventure novel; one of our 2013 book club selections so look for a review in February)
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer (I've read a lot of his stuff and decided to read this one after seeing the film adaptation "Riverworld"; the book is vastly better but a tough read; really neat concept involving a form of reincarnations as it were)
  • The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip Jose Farmer (the continuation of To Your Scattered Bodies Go)
  • The Josephine B Trilogy (The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B; Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe; The Last Great Dance on Earth)  by Sandra Gulland (highly recommended)
  • Brain Wave by Poul Anderson (worth reading if you are into science fiction)
  • Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler (how did I not read this as a child; highly recommended)
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (a scifi classic and a must read!)
  • The Colour of Magic by Terry Prattchet (an absolute mess; avoid)
  • A Canticle by Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
  • The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga (a must read for fans of the graphic novels and tv show)
  • Feed by Mira Grant (really great Zombie novel! highly recommended)
  • Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome Jerome
  • Deadline by Mira Grant (book 2 in series; not as good as first but still worth reading)
  • Blackout by Mira Grant (book 3 in series; also not as good as first; a fairly unsatisfying resolution)
  • The Weirdstone of Brisngamon by Alan Garner (501 selection from a kids series; I'll be checking out other books from this series in 2013)
  • At the Back of the Northwind by George MacDonald (super long poetry sections but a great, melancholic little read)
  • Falling Backwards by Jann Arden
  • My Left Foot by Christy Brown
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (great little short story with a classic gothic horror feel)
  • The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (a 501 read; hard to get into but a very interesting story)
  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (it is always interesting to read a book when you know the movie so well; the book is fantastic in so many ways and goes much beyond what the movie actually covers; highly recommended)
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (a wonderful introduction to Philosophy; highly recommended)
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (the film is only one of the short stories contained in this book; highly recommended)
  • Necroscope by Brian Lumley (really neat read; modern spy meets fantasty/vampire novel; definitely recommended)
  • Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee (sad but wonderful short stories; highly recommended)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton (didn't really do it for me)
  • Khai of Khem by Brain Lumley (bizarre interpretation of ancient Egypt; I usually love me some pseudoscience/pseudoarchaeology but this one just didn't do it for me)
  • Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writings of Hunter S. Thompson (I love HST, and really enjoyed this retrospective of most of the pieces he wrote for Rolling Stone; highly recommended)
  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe (I really struggled with this one; not my cup of tea)
  • The Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo (I enjoyed this one; recommended)
  • Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer (I've never seen the film and really enjoyed this book)
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (highly recommended; a fantastic read)
  • My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Neel (another fascinating book about travel in Tibet; a great read)
  • A Nation Worth Ranting About by Rick Mercer (I love the Rick Mercer Report and love his rants; this is a must read for any Canadian)
  • Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly (I wish I had read this when all my friends were having their first child as it is a must read for any woman expecting her first child; it is just so lovely; highly recommended)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (really spoke to me and my generation; a must read; highly recommended - and another film I'll have to check out)
  • Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Man Booker Prize selection; not your typical life in Bombay novel; serious readers only)
  • 1982 by Jian Ghomeshi (I became a fan of "Q" when living in Vernon so decided to check out this novel; a not bad debut novel; a little repetitive so wouldn't recommend reading it all in one sitting as I did)
  • The Voluntourist by Ken Budd (highly recommended; a great motivational read to end one year and begin the next)

I got a whole stack of books for Christmas, and a really promising list for our book club so it looks like 2013 will be another great year of reading. I've already started our January book club pick - Victor Hugo's Les Miserables - and have a Lovecraft compendium going on my Kobo. As always I'm always looking for recommendations so let me know what your best reads of 2012 are by commenting.

Biittner's Book Reviews: The Voluntourist by Ken Budd

I read this book at the recommendation of some dear friends of mine (we have an informal book club of sorts on facebook), and I am so glad that this book found its way into my bedside book pile. Simply, I loved it. The Voluntourist by Ken Budd follows the author's volunteer work, undertaken as a way to deal with some major life events (turning 40, the unexpected loss of his father, realizing he would not be a father himself). I found Budd's struggles to be extremely relate-able; it reminded me of where I was not too long ago facing a wide range of decisions at the end of my PhD program with motherhood being just one. His desire to find peace through giving back to others really resonated as well.  It was his soul-bearing honesty that really struck me, in particular his difficulties navigating in different cultures. As an Anthropologist I found it really refreshing when he writes about culture shock and the barriers in communication (both in terms of spoken language and in body language) he encountered. He is a great story teller, capturing the personalities of the people he met along the way in such simple yet insightful ways and constructing a strong sense of place. I found his story engaging, compelling, heartbreaking, and uplifting. I laughed out loud at certain parts (being shocked by all the mzungu is something I've experienced many times in Tanzania), and cried at others (the relationship between the grandfather and grandson in China is so beautiful). I would highly recommend this book. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Biittner's Book Review: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome Jerome

A little late but better than never. November's book club pick, and our last book of the 2012 Bookies season, was "Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)" by Jerome Jerome. This is another pick from the 501 Must Read Book list that One Practical Woman and I have been slowly working our way through. The title only provides a hint as to how odd this little book would be. Essentially this book describes, in ridiculous detail, a trip down the Thames by three men and their dog (Montmorency, who is by far the best character in the book). I very quickly started to feel surprise that these men are even able to get out of bed in the morning never mind plan an outing on a boat. It is almost infuriating how incompetent and self-centered they are. That said, the whole book has a very satirical tone. It can be quite witty at times, and somehow manages to not feel dated, but the dryness of the humor would not necessarily translate well for everyone. It would make a great play as it has an almost Ionesco/Theatre of the Absurd feel to it. I would recommend this book but to people I think would appreciate the humor that can be found in the mundane.

We have made most of our picks for next year; I'll post these shortly. I will also (mid-December) post my list of books read in 2012 including those books I highly recommend. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Biittner's Book Review: My Left Foot by Christy Brown

Another month, another book review. This is the second last book of this year's book club line up and the second autobiography/memoir. I was really looking forward to reading "My Left Foot" as I clearly remember watching the movie (and Daniel Day Lewis win an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Christy) when I was a kid (I was eight when the film came out). I've always admired authors (as someone who sucks at writing) and Christy's story really made a big impression on me. That's probably what I enjoyed the most about the book: I loved reading about Christy's journey learning how to write, how to be an author. The movie and book both cover his childhood and development as an artist quite well, his struggles with his identity, capabilities, and his cerebral palsy, but the book excels in highlighting the author's journey as an author. I love the circular nature of the book (when you get to read about him writing the numerous drafts that would eventually the first two chapters of the book your are reading) and the final pages are so powerful to this end. Christy's voice is so strong that it is hard to believe that he wasn't always a great writer. There is just so much to take away from this story; the more I think about it, the more I recollect like how crazy big his family was, or what a nasty, sharp sense of humor he has. I find it is similar to Jann Arden's memoirs (Falling Backwards) in how brutally honest and self reflexive/critical it is. It is a great read. I would highly recommend that you read the book and then treat yourself to the movie.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Life Happens, Literally!

It's been said that "life is what happens when you are busy making plans". For me, life is what happened when I was busy trying to not make plans. A couple of months back I wrote about facing decisions - a discussion of some of the decisions I was facing following the completion of my PhD and starting to look at planning for my future.

I decided at that time to trust my gut, to focus on breathing, and to not stress out about all the decisions I thought I had to make. I chose to move back home to be with my husband and my family, to not apply on jobs that would move me away from them, and to continue my full-time non-academic job while still pursuing any sessional teaching positions locally that my schedule could accommodate.

Another decision that had been made months prior to the post was that my husband and I wanted to start our family. I must admit that part of my anxiety over making decisions regarding my career had to do with my uncertainty over whether or not "the baby thing" would actually happen for us. Our decision to try to have a baby was largely based on our decision to stay in Edmonton near our families and where my husband has a stable, fulfilling career. I did not talk about this in that post because it was a sensitive, private issue for me at that time. Further, many other bloggers, far more articulate and talented than I, have already addressed the issues facing female academics today including especially the decision to, or to not, have kids, when it is "best" to try to fit a kid into your career path, and what are the impacts (both positive and negative) on those who chose to have children. These were all issues that ran through my head as I wrote that post on facing decisions, but was not willing, nor able, to address at that time. Now I can admit one question, in particular, stole my sleep: what if we are not able to have children and I'd passed up applying on a great tenure-track or permanent teaching position while in the process of "trying"?

Turns out I need not have worried. I'm pregnant.

So yup, it happened for us and so far everything is going well - both in terms of the pregnancy (another post on that later...maybe...) and in terms of my career. I just had a great Summer Term contract teaching a night class on cultural anthropology, and just started another contract for Fall Term for a world prehistory course that my non-teaching job schedule and due date accommodate. I've also secured a year-long distance education tutor position for this academic year that will help support us through my maternity leave.

I realize I'm lucky for so many reasons. I'm very content with how things worked out. I now only feel twinges of anxiety when a "perfect" job posting pops up in my inbox but no longer feel like I'm missing out on opportunities. Instead I'm excited about taking on the title I've chosen for myself for the next phase of my life: "Mommy & Academic-at-Large".

Besides, if I learned anything in grad school it is this - I can be extremely productive when sleep deprived.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Biittner's Book Reviews: Falling Backwards A Memoir by Jann Arden

Another month, another book review.

This month I had the pleasure of reading Jann Arden's memoir "Falling Backwards". I really enjoyed it. I love it when you feel like you are sitting down with a friend chatting about your past and sharing memories over a cup of tea, or maybe a couple of glasses of wine. This is because of the narrative style; her story is mostly told chronologically although she does tend to drift off topic (appropriately to provide context for who or what she is talking about). She describes her memories as snapshots and I'd have to agree. She certainly captures the concept of casually flipping through an old photo album, revisiting various points in the past.

There is something so lovely in how honestly and simply this memoir is written. This isn't to say that Jann Arden doesn't deal with some very difficult/tough, emotional, gooey things because she most certainly does. Her description of a sexual assault is just gut wrenching but illustrates how unfortunately common this type of experience is for many young women. Her experiences with addictions (of her own, of those around her) will likely resonate with many readers too. She blends the dark with the light allowing her sense of humour to shines through.

I've always loved Jann Arden's music but now I can say I really appreciate her as an author too. I'll definitely seek out her other written works. I would highly recommend this memoir. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Biittner's Book Reviews: Josephine B. Trilogy by Sandra Gulland

Our August book club selection was the first book in the Josephine B. trilogy by Sandra Gulland - "The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B".  The copy I borrowed included the other two books in the series - "Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe" and "The Last Great Dance on Earth" - which means I read all three. I could not put these books down. I didn't know much about Josephine, other than she was the wife of Napoleon, before I started reading the novels. I was surprised by so many of the revelations of the novels - from her early years in Martinico through her first, turbulent marriage to her imprisonment and close brush with the guillotine. I was surprised by the fascinating life she led before she even met Napoleon. They had such an interesting love story and found the last novel to be pretty heartbreaking.

The pacing is excellent; I consumed the trilogy over a weekend. I really feel that Gulland's careful and comprehensive research allowed her to create a very detailed and realistic picture of who Josephine B was. I would highly recommend this book. It is one I'll likely add to my personal historic fiction book shelf as I'd love to get lost in Josephine's life again. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Biittner's Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This month's book club pick was one of my own. I selected it for two reasons: first, it was on my "501 must read books" list, and second, I have been wanting to read something by Le Guin for some time now. Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is the daughter of Alfred Kroeber, the first person to receive a PhD in anthropology in the U.S. and the founder of Berkeley's Department of Anthropology.To me this meant that anthropology-related themes like culture contact/conflict would be significant parts of her books/narratives. I was not disappointed. 

I really enjoyed "The Left Hand of Darkness". The world, Winter, in which this novel takes place is fascinating, and made even more so in that for the majority of the story we only get to see it through the eyes of an outsider, Genly the envoy to Winter. In what I will call the second half of the novel, we get to see Genly through the eyes of Estraven, a "traitor". The relationship of Genly and Estraven is complex, and so delicately and artfully constructed by Le Guin. The complexity comes not just from each trying to understand the nuances of each other's cultural norms but also from a basic biological difference - the people of Winter are androgynous, only becoming male or female during a period of mating called kemmer. Le Guin, therefore, constructed a unique way of dealing with the gender/sex issues; rather than having a typical "boy meets girl" scenario, we are faced with characters trying to negotiate a complex interpersonal relationship where sex is seemingly off the table. 

I would highly recommend this book. It has a great story with interesting and complex characters. The descriptions of the various peoples and Winter are so detailed and vivid. I will definitely be reading more of Le Guin's work. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Biittner's Book Review: The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

Our book club selection for this month was "The Bone Cage" by Angie Abdou. I was excited to have one of the Canada Reads (2011) selections on our list for this year as in past years I have tried to read all of their picks and I failed to do so in 2011.

Unfortunately, I was not a fan of this book. I say "unfortunately" because I always want to like an author's debut novel; I want to support any artist who creates something of their own, especially when I have no similar skill. I did like the narrative structure (dedicating each chapter to one of the two main characters Sadie and Digger). I did not like the uninspiring, almost cliché storyline and found the characters hard to like. It wasn't that the plot or character development was predictable per se just bland.  That said, I felt Abdou made a great attempt at presenting what it really is like to be an (aspiring) Olympian/athlete in Canada. Abdou also clearly shows how isolating each athlete's journey can be, and how difficult it can be to connect with people outside of, and within, your chosen sport. I think I just had a hard time connecting to the characters. For anyone involved in, or who has family members consumed by, sport then I would recommend it as I think it could be quite a poignant and/or resonant read.  All in all it was a decent freshman effort but not the right story for me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Biittner's BC Book (& Film!) Review: Barney's Version

I must begin with an admission: I actually read this book years ago and did not re-read it for this month's book club. I did, however, catch the film adaptation (Canadian made in 2010) last month so feel I can provide a decent review. I really enjoyed both the novel and the film although each take a different narrative position. I preferred the autobiographical approach taken in the novel as I became totally immersed in the story especially Barney's attempts to rationalize/justify his actions. He is not unapologetic though; I believe this story, his version at least of the events that really directed the course of his life, really is meant as his way of acknowledging his hubris, of coming to terms with some of the horrible things he did to his loved ones over the course of his life.

In the film, Paul Giamatti does an excellent job embodying the not-quite-lovable, hard drinking, impulsive, and often immoral Barney. But by the end of the novel/film, you no longer despise Barney; you might not like all he's done or the decisions he made at various points in his life but you do feel sympathy for what he's become (it is hard to not feel for the lost man he's become and his gradual decay relating to Alzheimer's disease). I loved how you come to question Barney's recanting of the events of his life once you find out he is dealing with Alzheimer's; it takes the "murder mystery" component of the storyline to a whole new level. The ending of the book/film is heart wrenching with a clever twist.

It is a great book with a respectful-to-the-original film adaptation. I would highly recommend both. They are both great pieces by (a) Canadian author/artists and well deserving of the high praise received by critics and readers/movie-goers alike.

This will be my last book review from B.C. I'll attempt to continue to blog my book club book reviews but will make no promises (but will do my annual list of books read at the end of the year).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Facing Decisions

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way lead on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
 I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

I know this poem is frequently cited to the point of almost being cliche but I find myself reflecting it on lately. Since finishing my PhD last June I have been faced with much uncertainty and many decisions. I have been looking for a permanent, full-time (but not necessarily tenure track) position at a university or college, and as such have been applying for a lot of positions. I scored my first interview for a term position shortly after defending, was offered the job, and chose to accept the offer. This meant I then had to obtain a leave of absence from my non-academic, full-time job and to move to B.C. for one term. Because the position is temporary and his successful, promising career is in Edmonton, my husband remained at home with our cats to hold down the fort. My fieldwork has taken me away for months before so maintaining our relationship long distance for a term seemed like a reasonable sacrifice for the important experience this position would provide.

Now my term contract is coming to an end and I find myself at a cross-roads. 

Do I pursue further opportunities in B.C. that may or may not someday in the future (2 or 3 years at least) lead to a full-time job? This would mean additional time away from my husband on and off for a couple of years while waiting for a job that may never happen. Should the full-time position come up, and should I successfully obtain that position, we'd have to bank on my husband agreeing to leave his current career path and agreeing to move our lives here permanently away from our family and friends.

Or do I pass up on these opportunities hoping that something closer to home will come along? There are so many advantages to staying home: we get to keep our house, my husband can remain on his promising career path, and we can remain close to our family and friends.

But I worry that if I turn down too many offers or pass on too many opportunities eventually I'll run out of both. I worry that I won't be happy unless I'm pursuing the career I worked so hard towards, or that I won't find something to fill the void  if I never get an academic position. In all honesty, part of me also finds the prospect of having to start over somewhere new kind of exciting too.

Although I love the idea of taking the road "less travelled by" and feel that in many ways I have always chosen the overgrown, untrodden path, I no longer have the confidence nor clarity to even identify which path is which. Worrying has led me to another quote from which I have taken great comfort and returned to contemplating many times in my life:

"We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ― Joseph Campbell 

I think this may be the better mantra to focus on. Rather than focusing on identifying my path and worrying if I have made and will make the "right" decisions, right now I think the only decision I can and should make is this: breathe and let go. 

With every breath in, I will take in all the wonderful things I have in my life right this moment, and I will take in the life that is waiting for me. 

With every breath out I will release the anxiety and uncertainty, and I will let go of the life I had planned. 

And I will trust my gut, which has led me down so many great paths on so many great adventures, because that is the other cliche quote I should keep in mind: that it is not the destination, it is the journey.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Biittner's B.C. Book Reviews Double Feature: Kidnapped and The Lock Artist

I'm a little behind on my book reviews for my Bookies so I thought I'd cover both in one posting.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Honestly it is because I really don't have much to say about our February book "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was a good read but nothing that special. I felt it was quite formulaic in that it was very similar to Stevenson's "Treasure Island". I thought it got off to a great start with much promise for adventure, but slows right down once the main character (David) escapes the pirate ship. Even though some of his escapades with Alan are interesting, I still found they did a whole lot of wandering around, laying low, and hiding. My favourite part is when they stay at Cluny's place, and the pace of the novel does pick up from there (the bagpipe "duel" is kind of ridiculous).

Would I recommend this book: Only to people who like Stevenson, or perhaps a young reader who has expressed an interest in reading some classic novels.
Purchase or borrow: Support your library and borrow this book.

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
I really enjoyed this book. Such a lovely read. I couldn't put it down, and read it in a single sitting. The story and how the narrative is constructed is just so compelling. I loved the characters (quite sympathetic for better or for worse) and I really got wrapped up in the story. It was clearly and simply written but still evocative.

Would I recommend this book: Absolutely.
Purchase or borrow: I lucked out and got an autographed copy as a fluke from Chapters. I'm glad I purchased it as I am sure I will re-read it again and will definitely lend it out as a recommended read. It's a great book to borrow though as it is a perfect holiday read. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I feel after 30 days of "Ripped in 30"

Those of you who follow me on twitter may have noticed that for over a month now I've been posting about "day # ripped done". Simply, I decided to make a 30 day commitment to myself in the form of taking 20 minutes six days a week to take care of my physical well being. I decided to follow the Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30 dvd workout program to help me achieve this goal.  It has four weeks of an interval system where you do three sets of 3 minutes strength, 2 minutes cardio, and one minute abs. Each week brings new exercises and increases in difficulty. Beginner and advanced modifications are also provided.

Today I finished day 30.

So how do I feel?

I want to start off by saying that yes, I did lose weight and yes, in all honesty, that was my original goal - to lose some weight that had been "weighing" down my self esteem for years. However I do not want to focus on that. A dear friend recently made a blog post that made me re-evaluate what I really should have wanted to achieve by making this commitment: a healthier me. So what I will talk about, what I want to emphasize, is how I feel I've become healthier by doing this 30 day workout program.

First, I am no longer constantly in pain. I have a "bad" sacro-illiac (SI) joint. If I spend too much time sitting around, being inactive, or even if I am too stressed, I can experience a displacement in this joint that causes excruciating pain in my hips, bum, lower back, and legs. For years I have woken up feeling this pain to variable degrees more often than not. About two weeks ago I noticed this changed. I have still had a bad day or two but the pain is far less intense, goes away much quicker, and I even have pain free days. This is worth all the sweat, tears, and other muscle soreness relating to the workout.

Second, I can touch my toes. Because of the pain, I move in ways that "protect" my SI joint and affected areas (again hips, lower back). In doing so I've really decreased my flexibility and haven't been able to touch my toes without significant effort or pain in years. Through the gradual stretching included in the workout, and the strengthening of my core to provide proper support to my SI joint, I have greatly increased my flexibility. I can bend over to tie my shoes and pick up things I drop. I can't wait to get back into a regular yoga class so I can enjoy the movement and new poses that before were unobtainable/unachievable.

Third, my stomach is doing great. Without getting into too many details, and the long backstory, I've had stomach/gastrointestinal problems for over a decade now. I've noticed a significant improvement. The problems haven't disappeared entirely but my documentation shows much fewer bad stomach episodes. The best part of this is, because I don't have to focus as much on how what I am eating will make me feel, I've begun to allow myself to eat what I want. This is really important because I love food!

Finally, I just feel great overall. I have more energy. I'm not sleeping as well (likely because I'm away from home) but don't really feel as tired. I love how I feel after working out (I workout in the early evenings after work, before dinner) because I know I've taken the time for myself.

I am going to continue with commitment but supplement in more yoga and bellydance along with the Ripped in 30 program. I might even be able to start taking spin classes again if my SI joint can tolerate it. Once it gets nicer out I'll start going for walks (I strongly dislike running!), and riding my bike. I am committing myself to 20 minutes of physical activity per day indefinitely. If I continue to focus on these four achievements that really have made, and future changes in my physical and mental health and wellness, then I am hoping that I can walk away from my scale and not focus on the numbers.

Please note: I am not a medical doctor. I was not paid nor reimbursed in any way to promote the Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30 program. I bought it on a whim from a major department store chain because it was on sale, I recognized the name, and heard good things about other DVDs in the series from friends and family. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Questions from a student to a (new) professor.

I received an email from a former student this week. She is in the process of trying to figure out what she wants to do (what degree and career path to pursue). It can be tough to figure out what path to take, and unfortunately the cost of tuition really doesn't allow one to shop around various disciplines any more so I totally understand what this student and many others are going through. That said I'm one of those odd folks that figured out pretty early what I wanted to do and then did it.

She had a number of questions that she asked me to answer to provide some insight into how I ended up teaching Anthropology. Her questions are so great I asked permission to post them along with my response; she agreed (my many thanks to her for this!). I hope that future students will find them useful as they consider their own path. You will notice though that many deal with what it is like to be a professor as she was seriously considering a teaching career.

1. How long have you been a professor?

I have been teaching courses as a primary instructor on and off since Fall 2008. My first experiences teaching were as a M.A. student way back in 2002, so I've been involved with teaching University courses since then.

2. How have things changed from how they were when you started and now? (based on education system, students...)
Obviously the thing that has changed the most is how I interact with my students. As a TA I saw students mostly when they would pop into my office hours to discuss their assignments or grades. Since I've become a primary instructor I tend to interact mostly with my students online. As you know I use twitter to be accessible to my students and to provide them one more way of getting in touch with me. There is also the added bonus that the students can also interact with each other in an informal but highly informative way. I've also really noticed in the last year the generational differences between myself and my students. When I first started teaching, again as a TA, I was the same age, a social peer. Now I am over a decade older than my students and constantly need to be aware of this difference because of the implications this has in making a connection and in making course content relevant outside of the classroom.

3. Do you still find teaching as rewarding as when you first began your career? What makes you want to teach and continue teaching?

I love teaching. It is so rewarding. What really keeps me going is watching the light-bulbs go on - by that I mean, when I can see that a student has not only understood what I am talking about but that it has made them reflect upon how they view the world. I see this usually when I talk about topics like race and racism. Positive feedback helps too. I love getting tweets thanking me for answering a question so quickly and clearly, or an email thanking me for an interesting lecture topic. The best emails are the ones that say stuff like "I came into anthropology thinking it would just be my arts credit, but it turned into a class I really looked forward coming to".  I also am inspired and motivated by emails from students that ask questions about things they've seen on TV and want  my opinion or thoughts on it as this means I've really connected with them and made course material relevant to them as well. It's nice to know they've taken something away from my course beyond the credit they needed for their degree.

4. Is teaching what you expected?
Teaching is what I've expected in some ways. I knew I would find lecturing enjoyable but I definitely underestimated the amount of time I would end up spending preparing lectures (this includes refining them and fixing them up after I've delivered them in a course) and the amount of time course administration takes (e.g., answering emails, dealing with student issues). I also spend a lot of time working on feedback for my students (remember those midterm review documents where I provided the answers and explanations of how I marked - they are hard work) including preparing documents explaining expectations. Lecturing and interacting with students is the best part, making sure the course runs smoothly and you do everything you need to do to make your department/university happy is hard work.

5. What are the differences between a professor and a teacher?
Hmm. I guess it is an important distinction and one I probably should have thought about a bit more. Essentially I think they should be the same thing but in practice they are not. To provide a very quick, from the hip distinction, I guess I would see a professor as someone who teaches in Post-Secondary but has other responsibilities above and beyond just instruction (including research, publication, and University and Community service). A good professor should also be a good teacher - someone who is dedicated to facilitating learning both inside and outside of the formal classroom setting - but some focus more on their other duties. Yikes, this isn't the best distinction but it's all I got for now without some further deep reflection :)

6. What do professors do outside of class time?
Profs do much outside of class time. Keep in mind that I do not have a full time permanent position, but those who do teach three courses per term, serve on departmental, faculty, and other university committees. They supervise graduate students (and senior undergraduate students in special courses and honours programs). They conduct research and often are running a whole research team that may include members from other Universities. Profs are expected to publish the results of their research and attend professional conferences and meeting to present on their work. They are members of professional associations and frequently serve on their committees as well. Not only are they expected to publish, they are also expected to serve as peer-reviewers and to read other people's papers and recommend if they should be published. Profs will also serve on examination committees of graduate students within and outside of their Universities and may eventually be involved in reviewing departments or even other University programs. We are also expected to be involved in the larger communities in which are Universities are located. Teaching is only one part of the duties of a prof. For some of us, it is the best or least stressful part. Plus we also try to have personal lives but it can be really difficult to find balance. Right now, for example, I'm writing to you from Vernon where I have a contract teaching while my husband is living back home in Edmonton because that is where his career is and where we want to live. 

Also, I am really interested in anthropology but I'm not sure if I want to make a profession out of it (I've only taken one class after all - anth101). Out of curiosity though...

1. What made you want to become an Anthropologist? (inspiration)
 I first became interested as a small child thanks to my grandfather. I used to watch old specials about ancient Egypt and other cultures on TV. He also made sure I had National Geographic as I was fascinated by other cultures. When I got into high school I had a teacher who encouraged me to learn more about anthropology and when I realised I could study it at the UofA (I grew up in Edmonton) I applied to be an anthro major. I basically decided then that I wanted to be an anthropologist and get my PhD. 

2. Why did you choose anthropology rather than the more common professions like engineering, nursing, etc.?
I wanted to do something that lit a fire in me. I knew very quickly (a couple of classes into anth101 in my first year) that I wanted to be an anthropologist. Other careers weren't really an option because nothing seemed to fit quite like anth. I wasn't really thinking about getting a job. I just wanted my PhD. And once I went on my first dig, I knew I had to be an archaeologist. After I taught for the first time, as a TA, I knew I wanted to keep teaching Anth in a university so it was further incentive to get my PhD.

3. Was anthropology your first choice of profession? If not, what made you change your mind?
When I was a kid I talked about being a mad scientist and then a medical doctor (cardiologist). By the time I hit high school I realized that my marks were good (I could get away with my smarts and some studying) but that I'd never be top of my class. I also wasn't that great in chem (which I really liked but just couldn't perform on exams) so I ruled med school out thinking I'd never get in. Now I know I could have got in and it probably would have been a faster route than my PhD ended up being :)  As I said above, once I figured out what anthro was, it was anthro all the way.

4. If you were to start over, would you still choose to become an anthropologist?

5. What do you like the most and least about being an anthropologist? (rewards and challenges)
Rewards: working with my hands outside, finding things that have been buried for thousands of years (the process of discovery), working with local communities, doing outreach projects with communities, schools, and kids, going to other places, experiencing different cultures, the anthro community is pretty rad (I have great colleagues who do such interesting stuff). Challenges: spending long, extended periods of time away from family and friends to do fieldwork.

6. What do anthropologists do outside of giving lectures at universities? (Is it all research? What are your personal opinions about your experiences?)
What anthropologists do outside of lectures in a university varies depending on what type of anthropologist (and person) you are! I could work as a consultant for development (oil, gas, forestry, mining) companies protecting cultural heritage. I could consult with multinational companies to provide advice on culturally sensitive/relevant business practices. I could work in a museum. I could be hired by a local community to work on education initiatives. Essentially as an anthropologist you gain a lot of skills that are applicable for a number of different careers or positions - you just need to find a good fit.

7. How does being an anthropologist affect your lifestyle or outlook? (do you have to travel a lot? family life...)
Being an anthropologist definitely impacts your outlook. You had a different perspective of the world and its cultures, and become a great critical thinker. Personally, it has meant making a number of sacrifices but these have been personal. Not everyone has had the same path. For example, I chose to put off having kids. I have colleagues who decided to have kids during their PhD. Now I'm trying to decide if I should wait until I find a permanent job to have a kid or to try to have one now before I get busy trying to ramp up my career. I've missed more birthdays, weddings, showers, family events then I can count because of being away for months at a time to do fieldwork or even just because I couldn't get away from my computer because I had a paper due, or I was traveling for a conference. In the six years I've been married I missed four anniversaries (including the very first!). But again I made the sacrifices because I felt I needed to. Other people might not have made the same decisions. 

8. Do you have any advice for students planning to major in anthropology? What should a student majoring in anthropology expect in the long run?
Advice for majors...well talk to your profs as much as possible especially once you start to get an idea of what you want to focus on. The more advice you can get on what courses to take and what kinds of volunteer/work experiences you can get while you study, the better off you will be. Talk to graduate students and find out what path they took, what mistakes they made, and what advice they have. So my advice is to do what you've done - get advice and never hesitate to ask for more. In the long run, anthro majors need to be prepared to NOT get a job in academia. They need to figure out how their skills are applicable to non-prof careers. It's brutal now and we are being told, as educators, to try to prepare our students for non-academic jobs. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Biittner's B.C. Book Review: 11/22/63

While I am teaching in BC I thought I'd blog my Bookies book club reviews. 

Our January selection was 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  

First, I should begin by saying I am a HUGE fan of Stephen King. It is kind of ridiculous. I love his novels, even his crappy ones, so I knew I would be biased from the start. Well good ol' Steve continues to out do himself. I've said it before and I'll say it again, almost dying in that hit and run accident was the best thing to ever happen to Stephen King (cruel yes but that doesn't make it any less true). His too close brush with death has added such a wonderful depth and realism to his novels. As the King of Horror, he has always written dark, skin crawling novels (and short stories, which I would argue that pre-accident were his forte) but now he writes novels that provide chills because they deal with the emotionally scary stuff in life (mostly love and loss).

Ok enough rambling. About the book of the month! *Spoilers Alert*

It is a weighty undertaking but I could not put it down. I got sucked right into the storyline, felt invested in the characters, and was dying to know how it would all shape up. I loved his connecting this storyline to that in IT: the kids he first meets in Derry who actually open up to him and who he shows to dance are from IT (the darkness/bad stuff they talk about is IT so Jake/George enters their world just after they've defeated IT. This is a mechanism King has started using in the last decade or so - he integrates real world occurences into his storylines AND incorporates his own fictional storylines from other novels into his new ones. I love, as a King fanatic, finding all the lovely little breadcrumbs he scatters to connect to his other books. I found the book also nicely complemented some of the larger themes, including the consequences of time travel, as presented in the Dark Tower series. I had no idea how the book would end but thought it ended in the only way it could. I don't think this will be the last we'll see of Jake/George, not if King keeps writing the way he has been!

Also like most people I love the JFK angle, and I love that the world where JFK survives doesn't turn out to be a wonderful one. Sometimes things happen for a reason (something King is all to aware of) no matter how horrible they seem at the time. I loved all of the background on Oswald. I feel like I learned a lot about the lone gunman who changed the US, and reading the post-script it seems like King did his homework on this.

I thought there were some great secondary characters and that the first part of the book (in Derry the first time he goes back to change history by killing the custodian's father) was gritty and gripping.

Recommendation: If you liked this book definitely check out Lisey's Story, Duma Key, and Under the Dome. Also if you haven't read the Dark Tower series you should. I would equate it to the Lord of the Rings series in terms of importance and quality etc.

So to conclude:
Would I recommend this book: Absolutely
Purchase or borrow: Buy! I'll be reading it again. Although I really slowed my pace down and read every single word, I still feel like I missed something. I'm sure I'll find other breadcrumbs on the next read through.

Take care my dear Bookies. I look forward to next month's book (gotta track down a copy to throw on my Kobo).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Quinoa salad

I thought I'd follow in the footsteps of a dear friend (The Deliberate Mom) and blog about one of my favourite recipes: quinoa salad. Now I better begin by stating the obvious: I am an archaeologist not a chef. This recipe is really flexible so you should adjust it to your taste. No matter how I change it, it always seems to go over well. It is great as a side but I generally eat it as the main course.

- quinoa (1 cup uncooked; I use Tri Roots organic from Costco)
- sprouted bean trio (1 cup uncooked; I use Tri Roots organic from Costco)
- large can of chickpeas  
- large can of mixed bean medley
- 2 large bell peppers (I usually use 1 red and 1 yellow to add lots of colour)
- 3 green onions 
- a good sized bundle of fresh asparagus
- 1 container of grape tomatoes
- 2 good sized limes (or you can use lime juice)
- sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- cilantro (fresh or dried), to taste

Other possible ingredients: corn, celery, zucchini, cucumber, edamame, black turtle beans, yellow wax beans, fiddleheads (if only I could find some fresh ones!!)

Make the quinoa and sprouted bean trio according to package instructions. I use 1 cup of quinoa with 2 cups of water, and 1 cup of sprouted bean trio with 6 cups of water. I bring them, in separate pots, to boil, then bring them down to a simmer. After 15 minutes of simmering I take them off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes or so.

Rinse the canned beans and chickpeas then heat at a low temperature while the quinoa and sprouted bean trio cook. 

Lightly season the asparagus with the sea salt and black pepper and cook (I do this in a glass dish in the microwave). Be careful to not overcook it. Let cool slightly then chop into bite sized pieces.

While the quinoa, various beans, and asparagus cook, I chop all the veggies finely, except the grape tomatoes which I halve. I throw it all in a large bowl. 

Season with cilantro to taste, then add the chickpeas, bean medley, and asparagus. 

Squeeze the juice from one of the limes over the mix. Add sea salt, fresh black pepper, and cilantro to taste. Mix well. You can then incorporate the quinoa and split bean trio. I don't even wait for them to cool.

Add some more fresh cracked black pepper and cilantro. Squeeze the second lime over everything and give it a good mix. Finally add a generous amount of feta cheese or serve with the feta on the side to accommodate your vegan friends. You could add a dressing but I really find you don't need one if you use fresh veggies. 

This batch makes enough for me to have for lunch for one week (7 meals), but will easily feed 8 - 10 people as a side dish. It is really filling but light at the same time. I feel so good after eating it.

Let me know if you have any other ingredients you think would work. I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate quinoa into my diet.  Enjoy!