Author Archives: rfornelli

About rfornelli

I am a teacher in North Dakota.

World’s Worst Jobs: Part 3

Standard

This is a continuation in a series I began a while back, where I analyze jobs I am thankful I don’t have. Check out part one and part two.

Circus Performer: Who actually does this, in our modern era? Pretty much only those born into it, or who are freakishly flexible and whose prospect for fame was greatly exaggerated, possibly due to being a member of The Abby Lee Dance Company. Please note that, while I romanticize running away with the circus, I realize they make peanuts (a suitable pun), have no job security or retirement plan, and are forced to wear sequins for, like, twelve hours a day. Do you know how itchy and uncomfortable that must be? Circus folk also take a lot of heat for abusing animals, shilling the rubes, and being hairy, more so than is decent for someone wearing such a skimpy v-neck. Truthfully, I thoroughly enjoy going to the circus when it comes to town (but have only attended sans child — now that he’s old enough to go I may rue the day we take him to the big top). However, I have a stable family, a mountain of debt, and no appropriate skill, which all prevent this dream of becoming a showman (showwoman?) a reality. Let’s break this category down a little further, with two especially unattractive options.

Acrobat: Vomit-inducing motion sickness unfortunately prevents me from considering participating in so many potentially life-threatening activities, that I’m assuming that walking the line (slang term for acrobat that I think I just made up) would be no different. How disappointing. Honestly, though, these people are literally one step, sneeze, or strong breeze away from meeting their maker. I cannot fathom the desire to follow in the family’s footsteps (another pun, but accurate, since we all know every acrobat does it as part of the family business — I’m looking at you, Flying Wallendas), when it is a career steeped in danger, as a quick google search will immediately reveal. These performers clearly have a lot of guts.

Clown: In fact, there is no safe circus job other than clown, right? Sad clown, happy clown, clown-car-extra clown, short clown, fat clown, clever clown, clumsy clown, hobo clown — there is no end to the types of clown someone could choose to portray in the circus. And yet, who wants to be a clown? When they aren’t giving the actual kinkers a break, they are probably the grunt workers, cleaning animal dung and kenneling the big cats. They have to wear so much makeup — there is a very good chance they all suffer from enlarged pores. Most distressingly, they make a living by terrifying children and 37-year-old female teachers in rural North Dakota…who live in my house…so me.

More to come.

Peace and love.

Books I Sincerely Regret Reading

Standard

*These are just my opinions. Don’t come for me.*

Being an adult, it is rare that I am mandated reading outside keeping up with what I assign my students, though it happens yearly when I take classes for continuing education credits. Basically, reading is a favorite hobby of mine, and I can — and do — read mainly whatever I choose. I usually read reviews and try to choose books I truly think I will enjoy, because I almost never dnf (did not finish) a book. It hurts my sensibilities to think that I might put one or two hours into a book just to stop reading it and never find out what happens, which might only take another couple hours. (My husband, on the other hand, argues that I shouldn’t bother wasting hours of my life finishing a book I don’t like when I’m supposed to be reading for fun.)

I have finished a lot of clunkers in my life — books I really and truly hated at the time and even still — and the four or five hours it took to read them is time I will be begging for as I lay dying. That seems as good a place as any to begin.

1.As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I read this novel because I was in a phase where I wanted to work my way through “the classics” that I wasn’t assigned to read in school. I remember thinking, “I really liked ‘A Rose for Emily.’ It’s time I read more Faulkner.” Well, that’s the last I read from Faulkner because, as it turns out, he sucks. The plot goes a little like this: a mom/wife dies so the family has to travel with her casket to bury her somewhere in the deep south, but they are terrible at it. It’s all sort of hazy in my memory, but I think there was a flood scene where they almost lose the coffin. Mom starts to smell as they travel (of course). And I know Dad steals money from his kids to get dentures so he can remarry as soon as his dead wife is in the ground. I just…can’t. I’m sure my college professors would have found some way to make this more memorable, enjoyable, or poignant, but I read it alone and had to bribe myself to finish it by setting intervals on my timer with snack rewards in between. I kept thinking, “This much bad stuff really wouldn’t happen to one family in such a short time,” yet the book just kept going…on…and on…until I thought I would still be reading it when I was riding in my casket in the wagon driven by my untrustworthy husband and delinquent kids.

2.Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

I can seriously not roll my eyes hard enough to portray my dissatisfaction with this piece of trash. Here’s the plot, in a nutshell: Rich man of her dreams marries her and turns into an emotionally abusive psychopath who wants to keep her locked up in a room in the basement. It starts on their honeymoon, I think, when he keeps her trapped in a room in, like, Singapore, or somewhere — he’s rich so I guess the hotel staff got good tips for helping him? She wants to leave him, but he keeps her passport. He says he’s going to kill her disabled sister when they get back to England so she devises a plan (with an alarmingly low chance of success in real life) to kill him first. I hated this book so much, mainly because all of the events seemed contrived and unrealistic. There was little explanation for husband’s behavior. The ending was cringe-worthy. The characters were flat and their actions were predictable. Skip it.

Finally, my memory is telling me this book is written in first-person present perspective, which is my least favorite narrative style.

3.The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

What is this book even about?! Holden Caulfield is a whiny, arrogant jerk who mistreats people and thinks that anyone who doesn’t do or say exactly what he wants is a “phony.” While perhaps a realistic look at the world through the eyes of a mentally ill teenage boy in the 1940’s, I, as a thirty-something woman found the protagonist unbearably irritating and the story uninteresting. Shockingly, this book still sells a million copies a year worldwide (according to Wikipedia), so somebody’s reading it. I’m guessing that it’s college kids forced to buy it for their American Literature course. Trigger warning: this book contains some language and at least one scene that is considered homophobic.

It is narrated mainly in first-person past tense, where Holden tells us what happened leading up to his current time. This is less annoying than first-person present, but still not my favorite.

4.The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

I dislike books for a variety of reasons, but this is an especially bitter case for me. I heard so many great things about this book — excellent reviews, pumped up recommendations from Booktubers — that I unintentionally let my psyche build it up to be “the awesome and terrifying American sadist novel of our time.” In all honesty, that was my bad — a rookie mistake. I should have known better, especially after seeing that Hutchison had never written an adult book before. The story seemed right up my alley — a serial killer captures, tattoos, and keeps teenagers in cages and poses them like butterflies mounted for display when he kills them. I was even on board with the villain recruiting his son to help tend the menagerie, or whatever. What I couldn’t get past was the stilted, forced, unrealistic dialogue: truly, some of the worst I’ve ever read. Each time the main character answered a police officer’s question, she was essentially performing a rehearsed dramatic monologue to a group of speech judges. Rather than an authentic portrayal of a police interview in which a victim is explaining the torment her abductor put her through, Hutchison writes it like a soap opera with our protagonist devising cliffhangers and puzzles and witty wordplay and cryptic foreshadowing, offhand, every time she talks. It’s beyond annoying. I would give this book zero stars if I could.

Is this another first-person perspective book? Is the Pope Catholic?

5.The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (and all other dying-children fiction)

As much as I respect John Green for his history videos, I could not fathom reading another book he has written if The Fault in Our Stars is his most popular. Part of the problem with this novel is the “cleverness” of the characters; it reads like someone spent a lot of time thinking up witty responses. The other part is the concept of this and other novels like it (My Sister’s Keeper, Thirteen Reasons Why, etc.) — fictionalizing children dying or being maimed by disease or losing their loved ones while making other issues the real focus of the book is in bad taste and gratuitous. Even if the story was interesting (it wasn’t), I would still feel the subject matter is nothing more than manipulative shock-value-based drama. To be clear, I am not arguing that writing about sick children is immoral. There are many actual children battling illness who could be interviewed and their story could be told in a powerful and memorable biography. Writing about fake kids who are facing diseases people actually have, while focusing on an improbable (and also boring and age inappropriate) love story trivializes a serious and terrifying subject.

Imagine this novel without childhood cancer. Imagine the characters meet at a church potluck and get together and decide to go to a book signing by an author they love, yet he rejects their questions. Then imagine Gus dies in a car accident instead of slowly withering from cancer. Would the story really be different? I mean, the characters would have to be well-rounded instead of flat (as they are in the book) — and otherwise the storyline wouldn’t change much. That’s how we can tell the cancer portion really is unnecessary to the story Green wanted to tell.

Furthermore, there is a risk of glamorizing dying that I fear negatively affects some of the most vulnerable: young teenagers struggling with finding ways to ‘matter’ or make an impact.

Do I feel this way about every single book where a kid is killed? No, because the subject matter is handled differently: as an important plot device integral to moving the story forward rather than an “excuse” for actions which set up “the rest of the story.” Books I’ve read that handle it best include Bridge to Terebithia, The Lovely Bones, and If I Stay.

Another flaw: it’s written in first-person present perspective, because of course it is.

6.Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Good heavens, listening to this on an audio book was literally torture. I would not be at all surprised if it was piped into the cells at Guantanamo on a loop. The “I’m so clever” first person present tense/keeping a fake diary to play the long game/husband not knowing how to act like a normal human thus creating added suspicion — nope, I can’t. I just cannot.

Side note: this book utilizes first-person past and present narration — the bane of my existence.

7.The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (and all other Holocaust fiction)

The issue I have with this book is the same as the “dying kids” trope: there are actual survivors of the Holocaust to write about in a poignant way, so why are authors making up fake people to cover a sensitive topic fantastically? Is death as narrator (who literally gives away crucial plot points and ruins any possible foreshadowing or surprise) that inspiring or original? Or could we just write a narrative biography with no fantasy but make it interesting? It would probably take too much effort — why bother to research when authors can just make up stuff they don’t know or use deus ex machina to solve otherwise unsolvable problems, such as how to make a main character survive a neighborhood-leveling bomb. I am just so tired of lazy writing.

Oh, and is there a bunch of first-person and present tense writing in here? Is the Queen British?

Happy reading, friends.

Peace and love.

Light Reading for an Impending Apocalypse

Standard

I sit on my couch, cradling my aching head while trying — all at once — every known homeopathic remedy to fight my way through a sinus infection sans antibiotics, when my thoughts wander to a headline I recall scrolling past: Stephen King Insists the Coronavirus Is Not Like The Stand. 

First, let’s all take a moment to give thanks that Coronavirus is not the nonfiction counterpart of Captain Trips. Now, let’s pretend for a minute that it is. In that case, the people who are well-read will rule whatever is left of the world.

Follow me down this rabbit hole for a moment. Disease strikes. Mankind fights for its survival. With a decrease in available workers, plumbing, electricity, all modern technological advances (luxuries and ‘necessities’) eventually fail, including the internet. Doctors  will try desperately to heal the ailing with inadequate treatments. Farmers will have to shovel the land by hand. Politicians, repudiated for their weak understanding of science and poor preparation for global catastrophe, will be banished. Athletes will be relegated to the physical labor of repairing crumbling buildings and sidewalks (since, apparently, looters will destroy the towns and/or some natural disaster strikes everywhere civilization still exists), for their unmatched strength and nimble limbs will have been honed for just such a task. Who will be left to take control — to organize and plan, to seek answers to new, yet ancient, problems, to lead the populous into an era of peace and compassion, humility and togetherness? 

Nerds, it is us. Unite (even though we are mainly introverts who would come out this weekend but unfortunately we’ve already made plans…)! We’ve prepared for this exact scenario. We’ve read the books — like, all of them — every single one. We’ve studied the rhetorical devices, appreciated the wordplay, memorized the figurative language. We’ve stayed in the bathroom during breaks in hopes that our coworkers won’t try to talk to us. Now is the time we claim our power and use the knowledge of ages and the wisdom of the greats stored in our giant brains to recreate the remaining people into a happier, more loving, and gentler society, already properly envisioned in our overactive imaginations. 

As I consider the question of what to read to adequately prepare for the catastrophe the Doomsday Preppers believe is rapidly approaching, I think about the books I’ve read over my lifetime. If I was truly worried about an apocalypse, I think my final reading list would look a little something like this:

1.The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

This is a series of ten adult fantasy books, and from the first time I read the books in college to the last series read-through when the final book was released, it has remained one of my all-time favorite stories. The premise is a very ill man finds himself, after an accident, waking up in an unfamiliar environment, which he suspects he is imagining. As it turns out, saving the Land becomes, for our protagonist, intrinsically linked to saving himself — what he believes is good, and worth fighting for, and worth making sacrifices to obtain — whether the Land is real or not. I can’t express how much joy I have derived from these books, nor relate to you how many tears I have shed over this series.

“There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.”

2.The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 

In a similar vein to the Thomas Covenant series, I have read and reread these books numerous times. The overarching theme is that even in the darkest, saddest, worst, most fearful times, there is still hope and love and friendship and happiness to be found. We observe the courage and perseverance of our main characters even in what appears to be certain defeat (and, for some of them, unfortunately is). These stories can show us what dedication and loyalty truly are. They demonstrate how to overcome overwhelming odds, crushing temptation, and painful despair. They inspire me to be more optimistic and to recognize that, while I may not “win them all” I may “lose” with pride, and cling to my belief that the good in the world will defeat the bad.

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

3.Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This lighthearted classic tale is purported to be an allegory, both of drug use and of politics of the time. As a card-carrying conspiracy theorist, I can attest that the allegations are one-hundred percent accurate, but also very probably not real. Even if it is true that the Queen of Hearts represents the Queen of England during Victorian times, that knowledge wouldn’t lessen my appreciation for the work as a silly, amusing story entertaining for both children and adults. It is cautionary in nature: Alice finds herself recklessly tumbling into a world in which she gets pulled deeper and deeper due to her insatiable curiosity and sincere appreciation for free food. The strangers she meets are crazy, unpredictable, treacherous, but, also, occasionally helpful and well-meaning. Basically, it’s life in a college dorm.

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

4.The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is a memoir that spent over 440 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and with good reason. Jeannette describes her early life as one with many obstacles she worked to overcome: being homeless, living in poverty, and being neglected and abused. Her writing style is elegant and compelling. Her story is heartbreaking and uplifting. She begins by describing how she set herself on fire. Her tragic early life has propelled her into a successful, strong, college-educated career woman. I haven’t often read a book as moving and inspiring, yet relatable, which simultaneously made me feel guilty about the life I’ve enjoyed. It’s a rare gem.

“Pick out your favorite star,” Dad said.
“I like that one!” I said.
Dad grinned. “That’s Venus,” he said. He explained to me that planets glowed because reflected light was constant and stars twinkled because their light pulsed.
“I like it anyway,” I said.
“What the hell,” Dad said. “It’s Christmas. You can have a planet if you want.”
And he gave me Venus.

5.The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

A unicorn is led to believe she is the last in existence, and thus goes to search out what has happened to all the others. It is a tale of having courage, and forging unlikely friendships, and finding or recognizing purpose and meaning in life, and accepting our innate nature, and defying the greed of our leaders for the betterment of the public. It is also about a unicorn, so….

“What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?” He gripped the magician’s shoulder hard, to keep from falling.
Schmendrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, “That’s what heroes are for.”

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the unlikely event of a civilization-altering calamity, it might be worth reading a story set in the midst of the “Roaring 20’s,” when people cared for little else but living in the moment and partying wildly on bootlegged hooch, recklessly squandering wealth in the expectation that their prosperity would continue unchecked indefinitely, in the time just before the stock market crash and Great Depression led many of these same players to suicide. Each time I read this book, I discover more to love. The tale of Gatsby and Daisy is timeless, and tragic, and unforgettable.

“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”

7.The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

I have lost count of the number of times I have read this novel but the story has remained near the top of my favorite books list (which doesn’t actually exist, but if it did I would never forgive myself if I laminated it because I’m too indecisive to make that type of commitment). I have taught it to my students seven years in a row and every time it was genuinely enjoyed by a majority of the class, a feat so rare it only happens as often as a double rainbow after a Blood Rain in Kottayam. Albom’s powerful imagery, simple prose, poignant lessons, and memorable characters combine to create a novel which was on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. As a bonus, this book is short and a fast read — perfect for a snowy afternoon snuggled on the couch with some hot chocolate.

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”

8. The Stand by Stephen King.

Because, well, it can’t hurt to prepare.

 

“Whatever lay ahead, he was glad to be alive.”

 

Peace and love.

Fall Frightfest October 31, 2019

Standard

Category 3: Nostalgia Views. October 31: Hocus Pocus. Rating: 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: I actually think this movie deserves better than a perfect score; as a teacher, however, I feel it would be unfair to introduce bonus points this late in the month and only grant them to my favorites without telling the others. The Divine Miss M sings “I Put a Spell on You” in a way that only a true diva can, and I cried at the end…again. Update: I just love this movie so much. The witches are hilarious. The plot is fun. The Halloween Spirit is strong with this one. I watched it while drinking hot chocolate with Halloween peeps and leftover candy. I regret nothing. I cried at the end…again. Don’t judge me. If you haven’t watched this movie, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out!

Fall Frightfest October 30, 2019

Standard

Category 6: My Phobias: Claustrophobia. October 30: The Silence of the Lambs. Rating 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: For the first time, I watched this movie straight through, unedited, with no commercials. Whoa. The plot was fascinating; it contained a decent amount of action, but also featured dialogue full of symbols and puzzles. Jodi Foster was almost unrecognizably young, but her acting was flawless. Speaking of brilliant performances, this is the second time Anthony Hopkins has made my list with a perfectly-rated film this month — way to go, Tony! Update: I am currently reading the novel for the first (but definitely not the last) time, and while it differs in some respects, I feel both are worth your time. The character Clarice Starling is a strong heroine — a worthy role model for young people. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is an icon at this point, on par with Michael, Jason, Freddie, or Chucky. I cannot emphasize enough how much the hubs and I enjoyed this one, and I am very excited to be able to finish the novel this weekend.

Fall Frightfest October 29, 2019

Standard
Category 2: 21st Century Favorites.
October 29: Scary Movie. Rating: 5/5. Comment: I heart this movie (and subsequent sequels). It’s got every type of humor: slapstick, wit, allusion, inuendo, and mockery. I can’t help but laugh out loud every time I watch it. (“Cindy, do you know where I am?” “Ummm…You’re behind the couch. I can see your feet.”) It is my guilty pleasure. Update: In a total coincidence, we watched this on October 29 the year we first reviewed it, too. This didn’t age terribly, and so long as you know the references, you will probably enjoy it (isn’t that true of any spoof?). I knew almost every joke yet I still laughed. I recommend.

Fall Frightfest October 28, 2019

Standard
Category 3: Nostalgia Views.
October 28: The Evil Dead. Rating: 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: Though released as a horror film, this movie was so poorly done and everyone laughed so much that the sequel was released as a comedy. Maybe it’s because I’m in a tense mood, or maybe it’s because the clay-mation almost looked realistic, but I was actually scared during this movie and even jumped on several occasions. Update: Ah, to be young again. It’s not that scary. But it is, in my opinion, the best of all the Evil Dead franchise. Don’t get me wrong — I like cocky, joke-cracking, self-amputating, vengeance-seeking Ash. But this movie was more “Ash is like a real person just like me and I wonder how I’d react,” y’know?

Fall Frightfest October 27, 2019

Standard

Category 7: Stephen King Favorites.
October 27: The Shining. Rating: 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: Jack Nicholson may, perhaps, be the greatest actor ever. I must take this time to thank his eyebrows for their award-winning performance. Though it differs in several significant ways from the novel (which is one of my all-time favorites by King), I feel this movie is, in its own right, a sensational success. Update: I almost dropped this movie to a four, but I wonder if I’m being overly critical. Here’s the major problem I have, and I bet Stephen King would agree with me on this: Dick Hallorann flew all the way from Florida to Colorado because Danny contacted him with the shine, but couldn’t even sense he was in danger of getting axed by a raving lunatic? His injury is a major deviation from the book (King wouldn’t have been so sloppy in logic) and only serves as a deus ex machina to rescue the otherwise helpless (and virtually useless) weeping, hysterical woman trapped in a tiny room with certain death bashing in her door.

Fall Frightfest October 26, 2019

Standard
Category 3: Nostalgia Views.
October 26: Beetlejuice. Rating: 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: While it is a bit dated, I love everything about this comedy. There is nothing particularly “sad” — though the main characters are young and on top of the world before they die (in the first ten minutes) — or “scary” in this movie — despite the scenes involving giant snakes and women who were cut in half. The music, the animation, the concept, the acting, and the ridiculous jokes come together to form a highly underrated family film. Update: Coincidentally, we watched this movie October 26 in 2012, too. I’m unfortunately going to have to disagree with young me. With age, I’ve come to see this as a sad movie: a young couple struggling, while living, with fertility issues and dying in a tragic but preventable accident; the same young couple feeling displaced, helpless, and scared, then learning they are trapped for over a century in a home drastically changing around them as life moves on without them. Maybe I’m just particularly sensitive this year, or maybe I’m reading too much into what was supposed to be a silly movie.

Fall Frightfest October 25, 2019

Standard
Category 8: Josh’s Phobias: blizzard driving, heights, and car accidents.
October 25: Misery. Rating: 5/5 (Originally 5/5). Original Comment: It takes a truly stellar cast to pull off such an incredibly realistic and, simultaneously, frightening performance, especially since the majority of the film’s scenes features only two characters. There is a reason Kathy Bates is a movie star, even though she’s “not the movie star type.” The story itself is psychologically damaging in its authenticity. I was afraid (and by afraid I mean slept in Mom’s room) when I read the book the summer before my senior year of college. That Halloween, when I watched the movie on television, alone in my dorm room, I was terrified (and called Josh at 4 a.m., telling him to wake up and protect me; consequently, he was very angry when I ran into his room and made him snuggle me until it was time for him to escort me to breakfast). And today, having for the first time ever watched the unedited version on dvd, I am particularly horrified by the “hobbling” scene. If you’ve seen it, you know the part of which I speak. Update: I just hate winter driving. With fame comes risk, and social media makes it even easier for stalkers to become obsessed. I wonder what this movie (book) would be like if written today. But I genuinely don’t want it to ever be remade. It’s perfection as is.