Saturday, December 29, 2018

Reading Recap: November Edition

Life is interesting.  One minute you think, "Gosh, I'm so busy and stressed," and the next minute you realize that the minute before you were in an idyllic place of peace and you would give anything to go back.  This happened in my life a few weeks ago.  I thought I was overwhelmed with life (hosting Thanksgiving, concerts for all of the kids, having colds and sinus infections circle our family) and then--boom--my dad got a terrible diagnosis and we are still trying to understand it.  

I didn't feel like writing for quite some time, but I'm ready to get back to it.  Maybe it's because of the imminent New Year, maybe it's because "la, la, la, la life goes on" but whatever the reason, I'm here.  

Ummmmmm, yas.

And, I realize my reading recap for November is coming at the eleventh hour.  I almost scrapped it, but November was full of good books that I want to talk about.  

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I had misconceptions about what this book was about for yearzzzz.  Which is a real shame as I was an English major.  I gifted this book to my niece who always raved about it and thanked me profusely.  Still, it took me a long time to get to it.  But now that I've read it, I wish I had read it sooner.  If you love books or writing, Francie Nolan's story will speak to you.  Joy and sorrow played equally on the pages and Smith's writing was dreamy, while still conveying the most mundane aspects of life in Brooklyn during the early 1900s.  

My husband and I visited Brooklyn when we were in NYC this summer.  We even walked across the Williamsburg Bridge (and I am terrified of bridges).   This definitely added to the experience of reading the book and helped propel me through some of the slower passages.  

The Ministry of Ordinary Places

Wowza.  This book hit me hard.  

Martin talks about loving your neighbor practically.  She writes about embracing the place you live and doing a good job caring for your neighborhood and the people in it.  I have been an avid follower of her blog and her Instagram so I was excited when this came out.  But at the time I read it I was feeling frustrated with my neighborhood.  I wanted to move and just hole myself up in my house until we could leave.  Martin's stories and insights challenged me to walk around my hood appreciating it and being open to talking to people.  

I can remember a specific episode when I felt annoyed to see a neighbor while I was out walking the dog.  Instead, I stretched out of my comfort zone and approached her.  We talked for a bit and exchanged numbers after finding out our kids were accepted into the same band.  Now I have a carpool and a new friend.  #winwin

The Unmade World

The book club book of the month.  I loved it so much at first but then the author lost me.  He expanded the scope of the novel so much that it was ridiculous.  By the end, I was marveling at each unlikely plot twist and hoping for the end to come mercifully.  To make matters worse, I was laid up with a terrible migraine caused by a nasty sinus infection and missed book club.  Ugh.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

I found the Flavia DeLuce series long ago and have loved these books so much.  I was preparing to host Thanksgiving and was using this novel as both a coping mechanism and a tool for procrastination.  It worked for both like a charm.  

A new book is coming out in January and I'm totally excited.  

Almost Everything

Reading this book was serendipitous.  I needed to read this just before hearing about my dad.  I remember reading it and crying, as I do with most Anne Lamott books.  She deals with life and death and grief, writing and loving and hating, and through it all there is a thread of hope that sparkles.  It made me take heart.  It made me rethink some long-held beliefs and helped me feel the freedom to be messy and make mistakes and try again.  I underlined a ton and I think I need to review those passages now...

Stay tuned.  The December Reading Recap will be up soon.  Happy New Year y'all! May 2019 bring you good health, happiness, and lots and lots of reading!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stress Reading

2018 has been one of the most stressful years on record for our family.  We've lost people we love, we've faced new parenting challenges, job stress, and one of our children had surgery.  It was rough.  And maybe it's that time of year, maybe I feel the need to be ready for whatever might come next, I'm sitting here taking stock.  

no, really.

What worked...and what didn't?
How did we handle these circumstances with grace and what made us come apart at the seams?

More than any other year I've found my coping mechanism in 2018 to be books.  Reading for me, audiobooks when I'm folding laundry, talking about books with my husband, children, friends.  When life got hard, I cracked open a book and hid there for a while.  

actual footage of me

It may sound a little unhealthy (can you say "avoidance"??) but it wasn't.  In going to books I learned so many things this year.  

I learned how to love difficult people through difficult things (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Ginny Moon).  
I learned the value of occasional escapism (Gamache Books).  
I learned to laugh (Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves).  
I learned to relate to my teens (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter) and my younger kids (Henry and Beezus).  
I learned to pray (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).  
I learned to grieve (Traveling with Ghosts).  
I learned to see beauty in small things (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Ministry of Ordinary Places).  I learned that travel is a very good thing (Less), and so is coming home (Belong to Me).
I learned to love (Persuasion).  
I learned to live (Nobody's Fool).

Through fiction and non-fiction, my stress reading habit saw me through this year.  

I'm ready for 2019 and I'm hoping for a less eventful year.  But, now I know that I will manage just fine, with good friends, a loving family, and books.  Lot and lots of books.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

Reading Recap: October Edition

Fall is here, everybody!  This is not a drill!  My favorite reading is lazy Saturday afternoon reading with a big mug of tea/spiced cider/hot cocoa, and a blanket of course.  #basic #idontcare

I have been enjoying getting a little cozy this month. 

Traveling with Ghosts
My book club book of the month.  I didn't read much about this memoir before I began and that was a big mistake.  I was expecting a memoir akin to Lab Girl (which I loved).  This was not that.

The author is a scientist--a marine biologist--but science does not play a role in her story.  She recounts the sudden death of her fiance after a fatal jellyfish sting.  Then she goes on a grim pilgrimage of grief.

I didn't understand that this was about the grieving process and I couldn't relate to her desire to be far away from everyone and everything she knew while working through her loss.  I also felt weird about not liking a book about someone's very personal journey of sadness.

I'm sure this book has an audience, but I don't think it's me.  Most of the time I was cringing and wondering what would drive someone to visit a former concentration camp, Isreal during one of the bloodiest years, and Eastern European countries without even basic travel plans.

To Kill a Mockingbird
My daughter read this for 9th grade English this year.  I decided to reread it and loved every single minute.  I found myself identifying with Atticus and catching some nuances I missed in high school.  There are so many parenting pro-tips if you read between the lines (read in front of your children, let kids play, read in front of your children some more).  

I've been looking around the internet and noticed many people commenting that this book is problematic.  It's definitely not perfect, but when I think about the books that were being published at the same time, I can see that Lee was doing something different.  She highlights the racism of the town and then calls it wrong.  

I could talk forever about this book (Scout's voice, Jem, the trial which made me cry like a baby)...but I won't.  If you haven't read it, read it.  If you've read it, reread it.  

A Trick of the Light
Another in a line of the Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series.  They keep getting better and better.  The mysteries are interesting and I always learn something new related to the case the Chief Inspector is solving, but I'm really more invested in the recurring characters.  I am constantly checking to see if these books are being made into movies because I just can't get enough of Three Pines.  #nerd

Louise Penny to me

Only three for October.  November might be even less.  These months are full.  Traveling with Ghosts made me realize that I don't want my end of year reading to be books I "have to" read but can't stand.  Because life is so busy, I need books that I like.  

Also, I can't believe I'm not posting this until the ninth of November.  I had it all ready to go and then I got sidelined by a severe sinus infection.  Now that I'm medicated and not in constant, blinding pain, I feel up to writing again.  🙌🙌🙌
direct quote from me yesterday

Monday, November 5, 2018

PDR: Public Display of Reading

I feel like this might be a spicy take: I really don't like reading in public. 

I do it.  But I don't like it. 

There's something very vulnerable about letting yourself get lost in a story while other people could very well be staring at you.  

Yesterday I was at the ophthalmologist's office with two kids waiting for 40 minutes, you bet I pulled out a book.  Everyone (including my 7-year-old) was watching Love It or List It reruns on the oversized TVs mounted on the walls.  I still felt self-conscious.   

I read at LOTS of doctors' offices

Once a week I spend a few hours at Barnes and Noble.  I sit in the cafe with broccoli cheddar quiche and a coffee.  After catching up on the 1,000,000 emails I get each week from the kids' schools, I crack open a book and read for a bit.  Are my lips moving?  How is everyone else able to drink coffee and read without spilling all over themselves?

all. the. time.

And of course, at baseball practice and soccer games, I have been known to fill any downtime with a few minutes of reading. 
me at the ball field
But, I can't really get comfortable.  I prefer laying in my bed or curling up on the sofa to sitting on bleachers with a book. 

I find myself reading and eavesdropping which means I'll just have to reread that sentence/paragraph/page again.  I have a bad habit of hearing every conversation happening around me whether I'm trying to focus on a book or I'm talking with my family over a dinner.  #creeper

Give me my own home over Starbucks any day!  I'll make the coffee and snacks.  I can wear comfy pants and not worry about shoes.  No one is looking at me while my eyes track the words across the page or I dribble coffee down my chest accidentally...again. 

It seems, though, that all the cool kids love leaving their houses and reading in the big, wide world.  It seems this way because of all the cute bookstagram photos. 

Am I being misled by social media (it wouldn't be the first time)?  Am I the only one who reads publicly under duress, purely for the occasional photo? 

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Today is Sunday.  After four days of clouds and rain, there are patches of blue sky that fill my heart with hope and happy thoughts.  

I went for a walk with my husband.  We took in the fall colors and the neighborhood decorations.  We talked and laughed and no one interrupted us.  

And then, after lunch, I took my two youngest children to a birthday party at a birthday party mecca: laser tag, bowling, and arcade games all under one roof.  It is my son's favorite place.

"Who cares," you say.  "No big deal!"

Well, I say it is a big deal, ever since they opened a Barnes and Noble next door.

I didn't need another book.  God knows I've got too many unread books in my house already.  But, after some leisurely browsing, I settled on Virgil Wander because I adored Peace Like a River and it sounded like something I'd love: a small town story with a quirky cast of characters.  Yes, please.

I grabbed a venti hot cinnamon spice tea from Starbucks as I paid for my book.  There were no empty seats in the place.  I guess I wasn't the only one looking for the calm that only comes from books and drinks prepared by someone else.  I left and headed straight for home.
the GOAT of teas

Now that I'm here, I'm thankful those white, marble-top cafe tables were occupied by older men with laptops, women with lots of bags and big earrings, and in one case, a mother and daughter chatting happily together.  

I can read and write comfortably at home and Barnes and Noble served its purpose: a little alone time, being surrounded by books, and walking away with a hot cuppa.  

Plus, when I got home one of my older daughters had cleaned up the messy kitchen and baked pumpkin muffins.  Teens are truly wonderful sometimes.  Sometimes.  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Reading in Real Life

Today all of my kids are at school after a run of sickness.  I am in that euphoric state that will either result in great productivity or absolutely nothing.  But, if you're reading this I must be favoring productivity.  Yay me!  

I took the dog out this morning.  It's one of those cold days, somewhere between fall and winter.  It might rain later.  The trees in our yard are maroon, orange, and red--really red.  Ruby and I wandered around the yard for a minute or two and then, when we went back in, I was immediately met with the smell of heater + candle and a comforting sensation: warmth.  This is why I love cold months.  That split second makes the cold house and the heavy jackets worth it. 

Yesterday I put on a pot of hot apple cider and watched my whole family gravitate to the couches.  Carrying books and mugs we rested.  It was delightful and just what we needed.  

I set a goal to finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by the end of the month.  I've pushed it aside for the last two months and now I've got some momentum working in my favor.  The book is great for fall because it is a little melancholy and a little hopeful.  I'm learning so much about a period of American history I thought I knew well.  And learning through story is my favorite.  

This morning I read 20 pages and felt sad and also laughed out loud.  All this to say: it is an accurate portrayal of life.  

My other goal for the month is to finish The Ministry of Ordinary Places.  I think I could probably do it easily if I could stop thinking deeply about each sentence and underlining every page.  It is a challenging, beautiful book.  There are only 213 pages but each one is dense and I often find myself reading a few pages and then turning Martin's words over and over in my mind.  Some books are like that for me, especially when they come into my life at just the right time.  

I wish I could say I'm always reaching for a book or that I choose my book over TV before bed.  Neither of those is true.  And I'm coming to a place where I feel ok with that.  Life is meant to be more than sitting in a room reading.  I want to write, watch my kids play, spend time with friends and family, and go outside.  I love reading but it's only part of who I am.  

I'm glad that when I do get the opportunity to crack open a book I'm reading gorgeous writing and thinking big thoughts.  That's what I want from my reading life, and that's what I'm getting.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reading Recap: September Edition

September was hard.  I feel like every month I say that, but this month: Wow.  Back to school, new routines, travel, going to my Grandmother's memorial, and off the charts humidity and rain.  I am ready for October. 

I had hoped to get more reading done, but the four books I finished were important ones.  They helped me relax, taught me something, and took me out of my little world for a while. 

Here are my October books:

"Nothing's worse than saying goodbye.  It's a little like dying."

I decided to start the month with a graphic novel and this graphic memoir has been sitting on my bookshelf for years.  I heard it discussed on a podcast and decided it was time.

It didn't knock my socks off.  The art was striking but I've read better.  I learned a bit about Iran from someone who lived through much of the revolution but I think I would have liked a longer forward or afterward to add more perspective.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
“People don’t like these facts, but I can’t help that. If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
My book club read this for September and the conclusion we reached is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is completely fine.

The story was a good one.  Things were revealed slowly, building a sense of mystery and making those pages turn.  But, I didn't find it "hilarious" as it's been lauded.  There were some parts that made me chuckle thanks to misunderstandings and crossed wires.  But I certainly wasn't rolling on the floor laughing or anything. 

Maybe the reviews were too buzz-y...if I had been expecting a story that centered on the psychological development of a character who had been through hell and was trying to live a "normal" life, I think I would have loved it much more.

I would file this novel alongside the likes of The Rosie Project and Ginny Moon and maybe Turtles All the Way Down (all of which I liked slightly better).  Eleanor deals with big themes like death and trauma in accessible and non-threatening ways.  I never felt super depressed, but when I would put the book down I'd realize my shoulders were clenched by my ears.

It is almost a meditation on empathy and how we can connect, and it's crucial that we connect, in a world that seems bent on isolation.  Loneliness is likened to cancer and the reader sees, up close, just how damaging it can be.  For these reasons, I'm glad to have read it, but I wish I hadn't been set up to think this was a funny little rom-com of a book. 

Nobody's Fool
“Throughout his life a case study underachiever, Sully—people still remarked—was nobody’s fool, a phrase that Sully no doubt appreciated without ever sensing its literal application—that at sixty, he was divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable—all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.” 

My husband and I like to recommend books for each other and he recently encouraged me to pick up Nobody's Fool.  Richard Russo is one of his favorite authors and I hadn't read any Russo.  It was time.

we are a little gentler when recommending a book but the idea is the same

Nobody's Fool is over 500 pages and that made me annoyed.  (#notpettyoranything) My Goodreads reading goal is slipping out of reach and I wanted to read shorter books to make a dent in it.  I forgot how much I love a well-told story.  This book reminded me.  

Sully is a tough case.  He doesn't make good decisions and he's on a "stupid streak" for most of the book.  Ms. Beryl is Sully's landlady who is coming to terms with giving her son control of her house and money as she fears she's becoming slightly senile.  I don't think I can properly communicate how much I love these two.  

This a book of flawed characters who are mostly down on their luck.  It's gritty and painful, but Russo's story has a thin thread of grace running throughout the pages.  I was sad to be done with the book, and yet, it felt right.  

Worth every page.

I'd Rather Be Reading
"We are readers.  Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts.  Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers.  They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives."

I've been describing this delightful little book to everyone I see as a massage for my brain.  It was relaxing and soothing and I know those aren't typical descriptors for books and I don't care.  I can definitely see myself returning to this book the way I do to certain movies or TV shows when life (or the books I'm reading) are stressful and dark.  It was the literary version of a cup of tea and a warm blanket. 

Anne Bogel is the host of my all time favorite podcast and when I heard she had a new book coming out I quickly preordered a couple of copies.  It is a compilation of essays on reading.  Not preachy or braggy, she just tells the truth about what it means to love reading, to be a reader. 

Each chapter sparked a discussion I had with my friends and family or in my own head.  I will share some of these on another day, in a longer post. 

If you love to read: which, you probably do because you're reading this nerdy blog, you might want to pick this up.  You will feel seen. 


October is here and I am doing a buddy read with my 9-year-old and working through a book club pick that I'm not too sure about yet...What did you read in September?  Any big reading plans for October?  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Children in Fiction (or some fall favorites)

Maybe because it's fall, maybe because my kids have gone back to school, but for some reason or another I think of this season as a great time to read books about children. 

...or watch movies about children.  I will be singing this song all day now.

I'm not talking about the YA and middle-grade novels that I pick up randomly throughout the year.  In the fall I'm looking for an adult fiction novel that tells the story of a child or is told from the perspective of a child.  Either will do. 

When I read middle grade or YA I'm thinking about the messages that are intended for a pre-teen/teen audience.  Themes of independence, standing up for something when the odds are against you, and finding community are primarily on display in these books.  Often, the protagonist is compared and contrasted with their peers or called on to save the day. All things that are important parts of teenage development.

But, when I pick up a book that is intended for adults but is about children I find different messages that help me in my everyday interactions with kids.  Reading fiction like this can be as informative as a well-researched non-fiction parenting book.  The children in these books are seen in the context of the world at large and in relation to adults. 

Some things I learn in this type of fiction:  
Adults misunderstand kids.  Kids want to participate in things of deep meaning but often are discredited and don't have a voice.  Children are dynamic in these works--not all good or all bad, but multidimensional with real fears and frustrations and a great capacity for love.  Kids are smart and thoughtful in their actions.  Adults would do better to pay attention a little more closely to the things kids do and say. All things that can help me as I relate to my four children and their friends.  

file under: things I can learn from kids

Here's my list for quality reads about kids written for adults:

Hum If You Don't Know The Words
Based in South Africa...a child deals with horrible trauma in hopeful and realistic ways

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A young girl growing up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression

Ginny Moon
A foster child with autism is trying to fit into a new family while longing for her birth family

The Home for Unwanted Girls
An up-close look at orphanages turned psychiatric hospitals through the eyes of a child

To Kill a Mockingbird (duh)
Scout, a young girl growing up in Alabama, is confronted with injustice and racism

The Glass Castle
A memoir about growing up in poverty but not knowing it

Peace Like a River
Swede and Rueben, a sister and brother, need faith to make an epic journey through the badlands

The Flavia DeLuce series
A precocious, but not annoying, 11-year-old solves mysteries thanks to an interest in chemistry and the macabre

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Eva (abandoned by her mom) is raised by her dad to love food, a love that influences her whole life

The Impossible Fortress
It's the '80's and Billy is determined to steal a copy of Playboy with Vanna White

News of the World
Johanna is traveling across Texas with a Civil War captain bent on delivering her to her family after she was abducted by Native Americans

Sing Unburied Sing
Jojo is trying to grow up as he watches the imperfect examples of adulthood around him in rural (really rural) Mississippi

Before We Were Yours

Based on real events, the book tells the story of a group of children that were stolen and put into orphanages and then sold to new families

As I was writing this list I kept thinking, "yes, yes, that's a great fall book, yes."  

What do you like to read in the fall?  Anything missing from my list that you would add?

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Challenging Challenge after all

It seemed like last year every website devoted to books put out a reading challenge.  In January these feel exciting and new.  But now that it's September...well, it's kind of uncomfortable to check in on my progress.  

I didn't bite at every challenge I saw, but Goodreads always draws me in.  They only ask for a number:  how many books will you read this year?  Innocent enough.  At the end of the year, they provide you with a lovely infographic.  In years past, I've accomplished my reading goal and then some so this year I decided to be ambitious.  

75.  75 books in a year.  More than a book a week.  I was excited, sitting on the couch by my fire.  Of course I could read that many books!  It would be easy!

Now, it's September and I'm not in a good place.  

I'm 9 books behind where I should be to keep pace for completing my goal.  And I obsessively check to see when that number will go up--oh, wait, it just did.  10 behind now.  Great.  #notgreat

I've noticed that instead of making me feel good about reading, this year I'm viewing my reading life in unhealthy ways.  

44 books is pretty good for a busy mom of four.  This year I've read more "grown-up" books than in the past.  

Right now I'm "bogged down" by beautiful literature:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Nobody's Fool, and The Count of Monte Cristo.  All of them are over 500 pages and I've wanted to read all of them for years.  Instead of celebrating that I'm checking off these excellent novels, I'm frantically thinking about how I can cram in 10 books in the next two weeks.  

kids, leave mommy alone.

Quantity over quality does not seem like good math for the books I chose to read.

Is this a sign I need to rethink my dedication to an arbitrary reading challenge or an opportunity to be creatively strategic about my reading (new blog idea: October, the month of YA and mass market crime novels).  

When I get down to the heart of it, I know finishing my three big books will make me so happy.  I definitely love setting goals and accomplishing them but in this area of my life, I'm wondering if a revised goal wouldn't be wiser.  

The year is not over yet, so it remains to be seen if reading 75 books is possible or a pipe dream.  

Do you participate in challenges or avoid them in favor of a more organic reading schedule?  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Immigrant Novels

One of my absolute favorite things about reading is that it takes you to a new world.  This is not news to anyone who cracks open a novel with even a little anticipation, but it's always pure magic.  I can lead many lives all at once: imagining being a train with a murderer, sitting in a tiny dingy school in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, or traveling all over the world on an epic birthday trip.  

Lately, I've been enjoying books that expose me to the immigrant experience.  I am not an immigrant but am the descendant of immigrants and the wife of an immigrant.  It's not something I have first-hand knowledge about but because so many people I love have lived through an immigration, I want to understand it better: enter books.  

Stories that detail what it's like to move to a new country, where you may or may not be welcome, make the reader more empathetic.  It happens subtly and without guilt.  Reading about the first trip to a grocery store where you don't understand the packaging and process or how a kid who gets bullied and still manages to find friends gives my imagination the spark it needs to really consider what it's like to be on the outside of a culture.  Using my brain like this is good.

Just because these books are important, doesn't mean that they can't also be captivating and well written.  There is something about traveling to a foreign land, whether it's America, the moon, or exploring the New World that is just appealing to the human sense of adventure.  There is a desire to know what is in the world outside of us.  At least there is in me.  

If an author can tell a story of immigration that makes the unknown seem adventurous, then I am all in.  My least favorite kinds of immigrant stories are the ones that overtly tell you "this was difficult" and don't convey the little details that are so challenging. 

feelings are v. important 

Here are some of my favorite immigrant stories:
Exit West (of course)

Here are some that I want to read:
Americanah (I know, I know, I should have read this by now)

Have you read a novel that highlights the immigrant experience?  Can you add to my list?  Please?