January 2018 Reading Wrap-Up

Reading is many things to me.  It's entertainment and education.  It's the broadening of mind and spirit.  It's escapism.  Looking the books I read in January, I can see how each of those elements is represented in my reading choices.

Harry Potter was pure escapism.  Reading it was a chance to get reacquainted with old friends, to ride alongside in an adventure I could fully anticipate because it was well known and comfortable, even in its saddest moments.  And that last book is so very sad!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists was meant to broaden the mind and spirit by exploring the challenges faced by women around the world.  I discovered that while we still have a ways to go here in America, Nigeria seems to have an even longer road ahead of it when it comes to equality for all.  Little slights or outright abuses need to be addressed and rectified whenever necessary.

What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions was equally entertaining and educational.  The author's answers to those absurd questions were often laced with humor.  After attempting to explain a complex scientific fact or work through a compound math equation, he'd throw in a bit of welcome levity to make the dry science more palatable.

Moonheart and Ricochet Joe were pure entertainment.  New to me stories that held the potential to delight.  It took me a bit to get into Moonheart but eventually the setup began to pay off and the tension built to a satisfying conclusion.  Ricochet Joe, which I would consider a novella or novelette, had an interesting premise but seemed too brief and underdeveloped for my tastes; I expect better from Koontz.

The Bell Jar was terrible.  Just terrible.  I learned that I do not enjoy Plath's writing and will never pick up another one of her novels.  On the bright side, I've been meaning to read this for many years and can finally cross it off my list.

As These Relate to My 2018 Book Challenge
The Original Reading Goals Image

In January I read:
  • 2 non-fiction titles.
  • I read 3 Kindle books purchased prior to 2018.
  • I read one modern classic.
  • I read a total of six books toward my overall goal. 
As the Challenge Stands After January:
  • Read 4 classics.
  • Read 20 books from my physical TBR piles.
  • Reread 1 series.  
  • Read 17 Kindle books purchased prior to 2018. 
  • Read 3 non-fiction books.
  • Read 69 books total.
I also read three comic books in January but I do not intend to count them toward my goals as they are so quick and easy to read.  Counting them feels like cheating!

This Gets a Little Harder Every Time It Happens

Going back to regular programming here on the blog is difficult after writing a post like the one I wrote a few days ago.  I am still worked up.  Angry.  Tired of the ridiculous and ridiculing memes that are circulating on Facebook.  Tired of articles circulated as news when, in fact, they are mere opinion pieces lacking any nuance or thoughtfulness. 

I can't tell you how often I write up a pointed response only to delete it.   

So I scroll on by, biting my tongue.  Biting my tongue about the dismissive and patronizing comments about the generation that we're allowing to be murdered in math and English classes across this country.   

Then I come here and stare at the blank page wondering what in the world I should write about now.  How do I return to regular programming?  How can I switch from dead children to fluff and nonsense?  How abrupt is that?  How jarring? 

It's difficult.

That's why you get this post.  It's my sorry attempt at a transition from the serious to the seriously unimportant.  

I'm sorry I can't do better. 

School Shootings, Gun Control, and Mental Health

Yet another tragic school shooting occurred yesterday.

According to this Guardian article, there have been eight school shootings resulting in death or injury in the United States since January 1, 2018.  This figure contrasts with the figures collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, which includes incidents where no loss of life or injury occurred but that a gun was present or possibly even discharged.  Excluding yesterday's horrific event, Everytown for Gun Safety has recorded seventeen (17!!) incidents.

Seventeen gun-related incidents in seven weeks. 

It's appalling.



I know that talking about this subject is not easy.  I also understand that the topic of gun control is a red-button topic for many people because they see it as a direct and immediate assault on their 2nd Amendment Rights.  Frankly, I don't care.  I don't care about your butt hurt feelings if you hear about dead children and your first thought is for your precious firearms instead of those who were injured or even killed.  Maybe that attitude right there is part of the problem in this country.  When an inanimate object seems to be of more inherent worth than human lives...I find that troubling.

And don't tell me this isn't the time to talk about this issue.  Don't tell me we should be praying and grieving alongside the families of the fallen instead of working toward a solution.  That's bullshit talk.  That's distraction and subversion.  Here's why.  When you average a deadly or injurious school shooting nearly once a week, there will never be a "good" time to address the problem.

No, the time is now. 

Conversations need to happen not just among the citizens of this country, but among our legislators.  Serious conversations about the shootings, gun safety/control, and mental health issues should be ongoing.  The 2nd Amendment should not be overturned (bet you didn't see that coming!).  Guns don't need to be rounded up and collected - that's right, my dear paranoid right-wing friend, I don't want your guns.  I just want to put some reasonable safety measures in place.  And before you start crying about infringement, let's take a look at our beloved 2nd Amendment as it appears in our nation's founding documents. 

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Source: National Archives

That's it, folks.  That's all it says.

It doesn't say you have the right to bump-stocks, military grade weapons, extended ammo magazines.  Then again, it doesn't say you can't.

Does our Amendment need amending to deal with modern weaponry?  Remember, this was added to the Constitution in 1791.

Weird History put together a list of weaponry available in 1791.  As you can see, no assault rifles, bump stocks, or extended magazines in that list.  Do you think our Founding Fathers even considered a day when such marvels of death and destruction would be available so readily?  Do you think they envisioned a nation where its citizens would turn those weapons against each other not for purposes of defending the state or nation, feeding oneself, or for personal protection but for...God knows why?

Also, can we consider words two and three in that sentence?  Well regulated.  Well.  Regulated.  To my mind, that implies oversight, rules, and laws.  So why can't we discuss ways in which to regulate the average citizen's access to some of the more commonly used mass murder accessories at the very least?  Yes, I'm picking on extended magazines, bump stocks, and even military grade weapons.  Are those fun to own?  I'll say yes.  Are they necessary?  I'm not quite so convinced.

Also, if we're talking about having military grade weapons in order to fight against our government or an invading nation, I'd still put my money on the guy with the nuclear button, drones, aircraft, tanks, and naval ships.  Just sayin'...

Also, just because you have a gun doesn't mean you're the better shot, will get the upper hand, be in the right position, or will somehow become magically invincible simply because you are on the side of all that is GOOD and HONORABLE.  If only life worked that way...

And I guess that brings us to the argument to arm all teachers or to post armed guards at all schools.  Might it deter a few crazy gunmen?  I'll say yes.  However, there are still issues with both scenarios.  First, if the shooter could see the guard and could kill them from afar when the guard is unaware, there goes that line of defense.  Unlikely, sure.  So, let's say for the sake of argument that the guard is better trained, better armed, and wearing protective body armor.  How can schools that can't afford to pay for textbooks and other basic educational needs be able to suddenly pay for armed guards?  Funding is an issue for the majority of public schools in this country.

Also, here's something else to think about with armed guards.  I work on a campus with unarmed safety officers and armed police men.  There are several federal law enforcement agencies just a couple of buildings away.  City police patrol the area regularly.  Yet, we still have active shooter drills because even a well-staffed police force cannot be everywhere at once.  The same would be true of armed guards at a school.  Which door should they focus on?  How about windows?

Also, do you think that Virginia Tech didn't have a police force on campus?  They most certainly did and yet that massacre happened. According to their website, the department had 40 sworn officers, 8 dispatchers, and 7 security guards.  Thirty-two people died in that shooting.

So what about arming instructors and employees?  I can see this as a last line of defense and am not necessarily against it.  However, yesterday's assailant pulled the fire alarm with the intent of drawing victims from the safety of locked classrooms.   Why?  My guess is that this student knew the policies and procedures for an active shooter because he had practiced them as a student himself.  He knew there would be locked doors once the shooting started.  In order to do as much damage as possible, he pulled the alarm in hopes of drawing people out of those safety zones. 

Now, imagine the press of bodies that a teacher or administrator would have to assess in those moments.  Who is the shooter?  Was that a gun I just saw or was it a cell phone?  Crying, screaming, chaos.  What if they shot an unarmed person by mistake?  What if they killed an innocent themselves?

My point in raising these issues is not to say that armed guards and armed faculty and administrators is a terrible idea.  It might actually save lives.  I just wanted to point out that those options come with no guarantee.   When I hear people talk about placing guards or arming staff, they talk about it as if it would magically stop all this madness.  I'm not so sure.

This madness, to my mind, must be fueled by mental illness, diagnosed or not. After all, does a sane person commit mass murder?  Strangely, the professionals in the field of psychiatry offers some surprising information on this matter that seems to dispute my thoughts on the matter.

2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons; 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind―which means three out of four did not.
Sourced:  Pacific Standard

These figures raise a couple of questions for me.  First, does the lack of documented psychiatric history mean there was, in fact, no form of mental illness at play?  Had the individual in question sought out help or been forced into counselling would a disorder have been identified?  Were they mentally ill despite the missing diagnosis?  It seems possible, perhaps even likely.

Yet, let's assume the most common denominator is the real factor here.  According to an article in the NCBI, loneliness can lead to psychiatric disorders as well as health problems. 70% of the mass murderers studied were loners.  Does that mean we as a society need to be more mindful of the isolated and unseen?  Would inclusion and acceptance have prevented these horrors?

What about substance abuse and its roll?  Isn't addiction a form of mental illness? It has earned a place on the American Psychiatric Association's site, which leads me to believe this disorder definitely has some mental illness potential.

I'm not even sure what to say about a fascination with weapons.  I know a lot of sane people who are obsessed with their guns and yet I would trust them with my life and those of my loved ones, so this statistic alone this doesn't seem too damaging.  Noteworthy, perhaps, but I would need it contextualized to view it as a symptom of mental illness.

However, the research on bullying, as one scholar points out, "is associated with severe symptoms of mental health problems, including self-harm, violent behavior, and psychotic symptoms" (Cambridge University Press Article by L. Arseneault, L. Bowes, and S. Shakoor). 

Does all this mean the right cocktail of isolation, substance abuse, weapon obsession, and victimization at the hands of bullies could result in an undiagnosed mental illness?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I don't know, and I think it would be dangerous to erroneously attribute mental illness to everyone who shares these traits or experiences.

Still, it makes me wonder if we started working as a society to address issues of mental health if we could perhaps reduce these violent and horrific events from occurring with such frequency?

There are no easy answers.  Taking away guns from upstanding, mentally sound citizens is not the answer.  Addressing mental health issues may help, but its unlikely to be a cure-all either.  Equipping public places with armed guards or staff may save lives but, again, it's also unlikely to dissuade the truly homicidal who intends to die that day, too.

I don't know what we can do different.  I just know that we are doing right now isn't working. 

Photo Inspiration: Books & Little Boys

When I was pregnant with my boys I wanted what all mommies and daddies want: a healthy, happy baby.  Yet, if I'm being honest, I also wanted those babies to be just a little bit like me.  I wanted them to share my interests and enjoy the things I enjoy.  I wanted them to be readers.  I wanted them to love being read to and, when the time came, to find pleasure in reading for themselves.

I wanted little readers, so I read to them.

Well, I tried to read to them.

Little boys can be difficult, especially hyperactive little boys like mine were.

I remember trying to make reading at bedtime a routine.  KC was never the best listener.  Even when he was supposed to be winding down and relaxing, fresh from a bath and snug in his jammies, he was too busy to listen.  In between pages or even paragraphs, I remember tugging his monster trucks out of his hands and telling him to be still.

KC never did still very well.

He was busy.  Oh, so busy.

Trying to read to KC - Cleveland Ave, Flint, MI
I think this picture pretty much embodies our nightly routine.  Here I am, attempting to read to KC, and he's completely inattentive to the book in my hand.  No fascination with the pictures or words.  No begging me for another book.  Instead, when I'd finally close the book and make to the leave the room, I'd get requests for more water or yet another visit to the potty.

I'd usually make it through these small picture books, exasperated but satisfied that I'd read to my child.

Fast forward to Gage's arrival.

Another baby.  Another chance to nurture a reader into being.

I even had some unexpected help!

KC reading Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Suess to Gage.  Cleveland Ave, Flint, MI.
This picture melts my heart.
This gave me hope.  Perhaps KC had been paying attention!  He certainly knew that books were used as a means of entertainment where babies were concerned.  Never mind the book being upside and backwards.  He knew enough of the story to be able to recite a few passages here and there, mostly the "I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.  I do not like green eggs and ham!"

You would think this would be a turning point, that my non-readers became readers.  I mean, look, here is proof positive that they have some affection for books.

Well, friends, that was simply not the case.

I remember trying to read Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians to the boys when Gage was perhaps five or six, making KC eight or nine.  We were in Gage's bedroom in the new house.  The boys had been listening for maybe - maybe - five minutes when all of a sudden they were busy pushing their monster trucks around the room.  I told them to stop.  They paused.  I read.  They started vroom-vrooming again.  After this happened a couple of times, I lost my patience and stopped reading.

That was the last book I remember trying to read to my boys.

I wish I wouldn't have gotten so aggravated and impatient.  I wish I would have tried again the next night or the night after that.

Because neither of my boys are readers, not like their mom is, and I wonder if I simply gave up too soon.

Sure, they'll read the occasional graphic novel or Manga, but rare is the novel that captures their attention.  In fact, Gage doesn't even read the novels his English teachers assign; he reads a chapter two in the beginning, a bit from the middle, and maybe the last chapter.  KC, on the other hand, will read a novel if it appeals, but few do.

I still try, though.  Every Christmas they get a book from mom.

Gage's 2017 Christmas Present - Age 17

KC's 2017 Christmas Present - Age 19

Someday, they will be readers!

What I'm Playing - January 2018

I like video games.

I like playing them on my phone or tablet.

I like playing them on the PS4.

Liking something doesn't necessary mean you're very good at it, though.  If you were to compare my progress to more skillful players (like either one of my boys, for example), you would find that it takes me three to four times longer to finish a game than it does them.  I don't always make the best decisions.  Just like in real life, I am easily distracted by bright and shiny objects.  What this means is that I play the same games for months and months or even years and years because I am a sucker for side quests.

This penchant for not completing the main storyline is only partly responsible for how long I've been playing the first game I'm going to highlight.  The fact of the matter is I'm not the best at fighting with anything that requires aiming.  I'm more of a melee fighter, which is probably why I die so often.  When you're in contact with the monsters you're fighting, you tend to take a lot of damage.  When those monsters happen to be robotic dinosaurs, you tend to get squashed a lot. At least, I do.

I believe I am about 30% through the main storyline on Horizon Zero Dawn and I've been playing it for over a year.  I've got a lot left to unlock, including weapons, skills, and outfits.  This is somewhat amusing when you consider I eagerly paid for the DLC when I didn't need it.  Gage appreciate the purchase, though, as he had beat the game months ago and this unlocked a whole new storyline and additional areas on the map. Also, there's snow.  So much snow!

Moving on to the other PS4 game that I'm playing...

This game gets a lot less attention because it's new and I would really like to finish Horizon Zero Dawn before immersing myself in a new gaming world. However, when your kids get you a wishlist game for Christmas, you play it! 

This collection of Kingdom Heart games has been remastered for the PS4.  Because I only played one of them way back when the PS2 was our best gaming platform option, I didn't even manage to finish the storyline.  So, in reality, these remastered classics are going to be all new to me.  From what I've read on Amazon, there's over 150 hours of gameplay available.  It will take me years to make my way through all of the games contained on this disc.

So, that's the PS4 games.  Moving on to mobile.

There's one game I play all the time.  Daily.  For hours every day, mostly because you have to farm like mad.  Thank goodness for the auto feature!

I've talked about this game before.  In fact, it was just about this time last year when I wrote that post.  Nothing has changed.  I'm still addicted.  I'm determined to master this game.  Eventually.  Somehow. 

Maybe I should take up voodoo.

That was a joke, mom!  

But seriously, am I ever going to be able to defeat DB10 (the hardest dragon's dungeon) on my main account?  I begin to doubt...

Oh, did I mention I ended up with two accounts because of a login problem many, many months ago? I do.  Two accounts that require so much grinding. Luckily, both accounts have decent monsters and I'm able to help out our guild more often than not.  Although, I do believe I am one of the weaker links even though I'm at level 50, which is as high as you can level up in this game.  Funny thing about this game is that level 50 might mean that you're still in the beginner stages.  There's no real mechanism for telling if you're early-, mid-, or late-game.  Although, I suppose your ability to dominate in all the areas of the game is telling enough. 

The frustration that sometimes comes from playing Summoner's War can be relieved by a quick round or two in Trivia Crack.  I have two reliable opponents, my brother-in-law, Troy, and our friend, Jimmy. 

If you've never heard of this game, I think the title says it all.  It's a trivia quiz game.  Categories include sports, history, entertainment, art, geography, and science.  As you may well imagine, my worst category is sports.  I use most of my "try again" coins trying to win the crown in that category.

When I stop to consider how much time I spend gaming, I am impressed by how much I'm able to read.  Not to mention all the television and Netflix shows I'm able to consume!  I guess it just goes to show how much I love being entertained!