Monday, April 16, 2018

The Joys (and frustrations) of Starting a New Book

This weekend I started a new book.  

I just love that feeling.  As soon as I close a book after reading the final page my mind begins scrolling through my TBR list.  What will be next?  It's a feeling of excitement and anticipation that I don't often get to experience in other parts of life.  

Some people feel sadness upon finishing a book.  Saying goodbye to characters, to a world.  Having to move on like that is akin to grief.  

Not me.  I love finishing.  I love checking books off my list and picking new ones. I get giddy at the thought of starting another book.  

When I was done with my book I walked over to my bookshelves for a minute and just looked.  I remembered many of the circumstances in which I purchased the books lined up there and the people who recommended them to me.  I thought through the books I need to read this month for book clubs and my own reading goals.  I know this is such a nerdy confession but it was so much fun!!!

I decided to dig into next month's book club book and get that one off my list asap.  I have plenty of time but I liked the thought of finishing early and giving myself some time to process the story before talking it over with the group.

At this moment, I was optimistic but also a little sad.  The new book called to me, but so did the stack of books that I had set aside to read in April.  There are some gems in that pile.  

But, I cracked open the pages and began.  Ah, a fresh start!  

After a few pages, after a couple of chapters, I still couldn't get into the story.  I was puzzled.  What's up with my brain?  I kept plugging away.  Reading and rereading sentences that were not overly complex.  Wondering why this story wasn't flowing and each page finished seemed like a herculean task.  

I put the book away and felt relieved to get a break.  That's weird.

On Sunday afternoon I picked it back up again and something fell into place.  I was reading through the story and gradually found myself enjoying it, my mind painting pictures and seeing the characters alive.  The cadence of the dialogue felt intuitive.  

Later, I was talking with my daughter and I realized that the last book I had read was very different from this one.  The one I had started was a modern story of a community of African Americans living in North Carolina.  The book I had finished was a Korean family saga that was set in Korea and Japan.  

My brain was fixed on the style and tone of the Korean story I had just read.  I had to switch gears dramatically and that was making it more difficult to get into the new book.  After 100 pages, though, I was in and enjoying it.  

We talked about how reading is so wonderful because you get to peek into so many different worlds, different lives.  Learning about new cultures, even down to differences in dialogue, happens naturally in a novel.  But then, when you start a new book it's like you're dropped in the middle of a world, populated with people you don't know and a culture that you have to adapt to, it's a brand new experience.  And, it can make your brain ache a bit.  

Reading more diversely is a gift but also a challenge.  I love reading the Louise Penny series of books because the setting and many of the characters are familiar.  It is comforting to get to know a world and be able to step into it again and again.  But, growth and the strongest cognitive benefits of reading come from giving your brain the exercise of close reading by reading about a new country or world and settling in with characters you've never met before. 

What are you reading now?  Is it a challenge or a comfort?  

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Little Fun Goes A Long Way

A friend of mine recently heard some of the drama that has been going on in my life.  With a teen and a tween living in the same house, that just can't be avoided sometimes.  I was feeling blue and she shared the name of a podcast that might help.  

I have a love/hate relationship with so many things and one of those things is advice on what to read/listen to/watch.  I'm always polite when someone suggests something, but because I already have a long list of things to read/listen to/watch, I usually ignore the tip.  

thanks, but no thanks.

However, I was desperate and this friend has helped me before.  So, I gave in and listened.  The podcast was so good and just what I needed, not only for my kids but for me as well, that I then proceeded to listen to 3 more podcasts before the end of the day.  

One of the main things I took away from this mini-binge was that fun is important in families.  Laughing and having a good time is key.  Board games are integral.  Time together is not wasted. 

While I knew this already, having a reminder moves ideas like this from somewhere in the muddled mess of my brain into the front, and then I'm intentional about it (until it gets mixed up in the mess again and I need another reminder...).  

Maybe you need a reminder now and then too.  Maybe this can be your reminder.  Ignore the dishes for a minute and laugh (they will still be there after you've had your fun).  

Discipline and responsibility and work and routine and learning and training are all my natural go-to's.  But fun is something I have to work at.  

Here's how I'm trying (**disclaimer**this list will change and evolve, as I will forget and revert to my usual worker bee status, the kids will drive me crazy and I will give up, but I will keep circling around to this list, as best I can):

1.  Gratitude: I put up a piece of paper.  I used tape, it was whatever paper I could find.  I had wanted posterboard and time to do fancy lettering, but it is FINE.  I announced that we will fill the paper with the things we are thankful for.  When that paper is full, I will put up another.  The kids are adding to it everytime they are in the kitchen.  #progress

In the same vein, I noticed my kids don't ask for things and they rarely say "please" or "thank you" to me and my husband.  This is not their fault, they have been trained to ask others for things kindly but to demand or take from us.  We are rectifying this.  A little gratitude goes a long way, even if it's just for a juice box.  

2.  Games:  I love games.  But, we are in a busy season.  So, lately, I've been pulling out UNO.  It's quick (sometimes) and we can all play before or after dinner when we have 15 minutes.  We've played a few times so we'll probably grab some new card games for this weekend.  BLINK is a great one that is truly fast, and we love to play Go Fish and Old Maid.  The wonderful thing about card games is they are easy to set up and clean up.  #winning

3.  Weekend fun:  We can get in a rut with weekends where we're cleaning, going to church, doing homework, and taking naps.  To me, that sounds perfect.  But, we've been trying to use weekends for fun sometimes.  We recently went to see a friend run in a track meet at a college in Philly and in January we explored a museum.  Even just a trip to a fun place for dessert adds a little more fun to an otherwise dull weekend. 

4.  Play:  Now that the weather seems to finally be warming up on the east coast, we are going outside.  This means playing basketball, baseball, and soccer together.  We will be drawing with sidewalk chalk on the driveway and blowing bubbles.  Yes, even 13-year-olds love bubbles.  I'm determined to be intentional about this.  The vitamin D is good for all of us.
This is me in the springtime unitl my allergies kick in at which point I want to scratch my eyes out of my head

5.  Books:  You had to know this was coming, right?  Reading out loud is fun.  It gives you new things to talk about and deepens your connection.  But recently, I had a very specific experience that was so much fun for our family.  

The kids were fighting with me and each other.  No one was happy.  It was one of the last gray, cold days and homework and dinner were looming.  I had to go in the basement to help my son pick out books to take to his first-grade class.  While we were down there, I was looking through the shelves of picture books and board books I had saved when it came time to donate the books we were done with.  My heart literally warmed as I perused those titles.  Books I had read hundreds of times (not an exaggeration), stories we laughed at together, life lessons learned through narrative.  I grabbed some of our favorites and carried them upstairs and sat on the couch with a stack next to me.  

I opened one and began reading.  The kids came.  They heard the familiar phrases and character names and congregated around me.  I couldn't believe it.  I wanted to cry, but I also didn't want to interrupt this moment, so I sat there reading with my kids' faces trained on the book, their ears catching every word.  It was literally magical.  

"Ok, time to make dinner, you've got homework."  No one moved.  

"Come on, one more, please," my oldest child said.  I read one more and promised we'd do this again soon.  And we will.

If you have kids that you used to read Shel Silverstein, Julia Donaldson, or Sandra Boynton to, go dig out those books and read them again.  You won't be disappointed.  

So that's our spring fun-time list.  How do you incorporate fun?  Give me all your ideas!  

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

YA and Middle Grade: It's complicated

I haven't read much YA or middle-grade fiction lately and I was wondering why.  I went through a period where that was primarily what I was reading.  I wanted to connect with my kids, as well as make sure what they were reading was appropriate.  It felt like the right thing to do.  

After a while, I just couldn't handle another book that was targeted at a younger generation.  I missed the classics and literary fiction that have my whole heart.  But, I have a great fondness for many of those middle-grade and YA books.  So why did I stop?

I think I just couldn't.  When you have kids, your whole life is altered.  You speak differently (fewer swears and "stupid"'s and "hate"'s), you watch different TV shows (the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song is permanently stuck in my brain) and eat different foods (what they like + what they need to like = dinner).  I felt like giving up "my" books was a step too far.  

We read picture books and bedtime stories and read alouds, but my reading for pleasure time needed to be my own. 

The YA and middle-grade genres are full of gems.  But if you're reading a gem because you feel obligated, it changes the experience.  Also, I often felt frustrated.  I would love a book and recommend it to my kids and they would say, "Cool," and then go read what they wanted.  

Unless you're running a bookstore or in college, your leisure reading should be what YOU want to read.  And, moms, you don't actually have to read all the books your children read.  They will find books and love those books and there are websites and Amazon reviews to help with the appropriateness.  This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I'm happier now.  

I occasionally pick up a book that one of my kids recommends to me and have stopped trying to give them so many of my favorites.  We spend exorbitant amounts of time at the library and bookstore and they don't really need another person trying to hand them more books.  I love the freedom of picking what I want to read next without any coercion and it's only fair to give them the same experience.  

We talk about books all the time and I've also realized, our tastes in books are not the same.  And that's ok.  I was secretly hoping that all of my children would be born with a passion for Austen and Dickens and Hemingway, just like me.  They would love a cozy mystery and be completely turned off by science fiction.  That did not happen, and the world is better because of it.  Making that realization has freed me and the kids to develop our own literary preferences.  We are individuals after all.

Allowing myself to read the books that attract my attention makes me a much more voracious reader.  The same is true of my kids.  

I still haven't mastered the art of not finishing books I can't stand, but at least I've made this step in the right direction.  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Reading Recap: March Edition

March was a hard month for my family in many ways.  And, while it's true that books are a kind of therapy for me, sometimes my brain needs to watch a million episodes of a show I've seen hundreds of times (Brooklyn 99 saved me this month).  

I did do some reading this month and spent some time listening to audiobooks.  I also started more than I finished so my April recap should be stellar.  

This is what I read in March:

The Wife Between Us
I really enjoyed this fast-paced thriller.  I had ordered it as my book of the month months ago.  I often get super excited about my pick and then set it aside after it gets here.  But when I circle back to them, I'm always glad I did.  

Also, the owner of my indie bookstore suggested it to me when I expressed my frustrations with The Woman in the Window.  This is why I love going there, the book recommendations are always good.  

It was an intricate plot that kept surprising me.  I don't want to give too much away, but reading it made me wish I had read it with a friend so I could commiserate over every plot twist.  There were so many surprises and I'm difficult to surprise.

"I've learned the danger of failing to observe the things I don't want to behold."

Hallelujah Anyway
I recently put a ton of requests on Overdrive, audible for the library.  This one came up and I listened to it over the course of two days.  

Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.  Her take on spirituality/writing/living soothes my weary soul.  In a world pushing you into worry and fretful attempts to fix oneself, she suggests a strange alternative: being ok with your body and trying to find joy even when things aren't great.  

I needed this breath of fresh air desperately.  And her take on the prodigal son story from the Bible resonated with me deeply.

"My parents, teachers, and the culture I grew up n showed me a drawer in which to stuff my merciful nature, because mercy made me look vulnerable and foolish, and it made me less productive."

The Lost City of Z
After Hallelujah Anyway, The Lost City of Z showed up in my Overdrive bookshelf.  I heard this was being made into a movie and that David Gann is not to be missed.  

I liked it but it's not my usual read.  It was a bit gory and a total adventure story of the quest to prove the case for a spectacular ancient city in the Amazon.  I will definitely read more of Gann--I learned so much and it was never boring.  Still, I doubt I'll be reading tons of nonfiction adventures.  

Reading about people who didn't give up and took huge risks made me feel more courageous and optimistic.  I didn't strike out on a grand quest in March, but I was less likely to be afraid of trying new things. #winning

"...much of the discovery of the world was based on failure rather than on success--on tactical errors and pipe dreams."  

Magpie Murders
My favorite of the month.  This came in my Page 1. subscription box.  It was a fun experience.  You get to tell them about your likes and dislikes and give them your Goodreads handle.  Then, they choose a book for you.  It's a bit more expensive than my usual subscriptions but if the next two months are as good as this month, I may have to splurge and keep it going.  

Magpie Murders was a bit of a puzzle and a complete British cozy mystery.  If you like Agatha Christie and aren't afraid of a challenge, this book is for you.  There was an added layer of complexity and lots of literary mystery references, like Easter eggs, hidden in the text.  It was long but worth it.  

"You must know that feeling when it's raining outside and the heating's on and you lose yourself, utterly, in a book.  You read and you read and you feel the pages slipping through your fingers until suddenly there are fewer in your right hand than there are in your left and you want to slow down but you still hurtle on towards a conclusion you can hardly bear to discover."  (Preach)

What did you read in March?