Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Best Book of the Summer (so far)

I've read a few books this summer and since I'm about at the halfway point I thought it would be a good time to look back to see what I've liked and what I didn't and consider what books I will read in the next month and a half to round out my summer reading. 


I've read thrillers that are fun, series that I love, and books that have surprised me in both the best and worst ways. 

As I perused my list I thought about what would make a book "the best" to me at any given moment.  Well, it should be something that resonated.  For me, the best books are books I think about for a long time afterward.  My reading experience matters too.  Did I connect with the characters and themes?  Did it feel like I was immersed in the world of my book or was it hard to break into?  Could I set it down and forget about it or was I actually frustrated with my real life for getting in the way of my reading? 

After considering these questions while looking at my book list I knew I had an obvious choice.

The River by Peter Heller

This book is everywhere and that is not a thing that matters to me.  For a loooooong time I've craved a modern story told in the Hemingway fashion.  I think this book achieves that on some levels (with less misogyny as an added bonus).  Writing about nature can be difficult: I get bored easily and it can sound trite real quick.  But this book took me out onto the water in a canoe and made me care deeply about the two protagonists, an unnamed woman, and the world of the river. 

The flashbacks and inner thoughts of characters were just as compelling as the actual plot.  Heller does not stick strictly to the rules of grammar and it made the flow of thoughts and dialogue seem more authentic and helped build the voice and characterization of Jack and Wynn who could have been too similar to separate. 

But you could read all this on any review.  What I want to tell you is I couldn't put it down.  I knew I was reading it too fast and tried to slow myself down, but I couldn't.  Books like that are often hard to find. 


So, that is my best book so far...what is yours?  Leave a note in comments and maybe I can add your must-read to my TBR before September rolls around and schedules begin again. 
who are we kidding?  I jam on my planner all year long.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Let's Talk

A few months ago I read You're Wearing That by Deborah Tannen, a famous linguistic professor and researcher.  At the time I thought it was kind of long and overly technical in parts and overly anecdotal in other parts.  I would probably still say the same thing if we were chatting over coffee about it, but then I would tell you all the things I learned from it.

It's a book that sits with you and makes you think.  You read it and then you see it play out in all of your interactions and you think, "Wow, it's so obvious, now that I know what to look for."

Some things I took away:

1.  "The double meaning of connection and control"
Tannen talks about how speech that's intended to build connection can also feel like speech that's intended to control.  There are messages (the obvious meaning) and metamessages (meaning that is taken from the tone, when, and why something is said) that impact the course of our conversations and these can be very difficult to balance in the mother/daughter relationship. 

It's complicated

2.  When I was a kid I had the habit of asking my mom to feel my head to check and see if I had a fever.  It was an act of caring and connection that I repeated through my teens.  Apparently, this is common behavior because women tend to share their "minor misfortunes" with their mothers in order to elicit a "metamessage of caring."  I have noticed this in my daughters too. 

3.  Advice from a mother to a daughter is tricky business.  Moms see their daughters as direct reflections of themselves so they think they need to help their daughters be the best they can be.  Daughters often take this advice poorly because they think their mother is just criticizing them.  The "big three" topics are hair, clothing, and weight and these should be approached very carefully or not at all.  If Tannen had to add a fourth, she said it would be "how they raise their children."  This list made perfect sense to me as both a daughter and mother.  

4.  She talked about a "disapproval sandwich" when a woman is "criticized by both their teenage...daughters and their older mothers."  This is valid. 

5.  I loved the chapter when she describes why this book is about women.  For women and girls, "talk is the glue that holds a relationship together--and also the explosive that can blow it apart."  Tannen goes in detail about the ways boys relate (competition, action) and the ways girls relate (connection, talk). 

6.  The concept of how, in a group of three, there is often "alignment" between two people and the third is left out really struck me.  I could see it actually happen when one of my daughters and my husband and I would talk.  It was like only two of us could agree on any given topic.  The metamessages, tone, and body language can contribute to the alignment too.  This makes a complicated verbal dance into a tight rope walk over hungry alligators.  I also saw it with my three daughters: two will align in any given conversation leaving the other out and being left out of connection is really frustrating for girls and women.  

7.  She gave some strategies for moms with teenage daughters (I have two currently and will eventually have 3 at the same time).  When things start to escalate you can stop the conversation.  Remind your daughter, "You don't have to like me, but you have to treat me with respect."  Using humor is a trick most dads get instinctively, but moms can benefit from it too.  Instead of trying to do more of the same while getting bad results we should try taking a left turn to move the conversation in a new direction.  #helpful

This Instagram is from when I was reading this book in the bath to relax after a "heated discussion" with one of my teens. 
V. relatable.  

These concepts and strategies are still rattling around in my head, helping me better identify healthy and unhealthy communication.  I'm no pro, but I'm able to know when to just stop a conversation now, instead of pushing it into an argument.  

If I could revise the book I would add a few bullet points at the end of each chapter for easier reference.  I might also trim down some of the examples she gives that seem repetitive and I'd definitely reevaluate the chapter on emails and instant messaging...but it was kind of fun to see how far technology has come since 2006.  

I'm happy to have read it and feel confident that this book has led me to improved communication with all the women in my life and a deeper understanding of the science behind things I had always taken for granted.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Summer Reading Moods

It's summertime in these parts.  We've had lazy days, days at the beach, visits from family, visited family.  There are a few things we still want to do and a vacation on the horizon.  But the next couple of weeks I feel like I will be walking on a tightrope, dangerously close to falling into the abyss of chaos that my life can become with four kids and little routine. 

This weekend we spent time in Harper's Ferry, WV.  It was a fun overnight trip that included fighting, sniping, laughing, complaining, kindness, and grumpiness.  Though those things sound like they can't coexist, the more I'm a mom, the more I realize they do more often than not. 

As usual, I packed three books because you never know what you'll want to read at any given moment.  I ignored my book club book in favor of the next book in the Louise Penny series when I got some time to read while the kids were in the pool after a day hiking and visiting historic sites in 90% humidity.  I was completely immersed in the world of the book--it was glorious.  After a long, full day we went to dinner and I was happy and optimistic. 

Well written, immersive novels make my heart flutter.  I find myself reaching for them instead of my phone.  I look for people to talk to about them.  Reading is a hobby, not a job so I should be able to find joy in my books.  And when I do, I get up from my reading chair refreshed and content--even if I was just crying over a moving scene.  Ahhhhh.

replace the bottle of perfume with a book and this is me

We came home and I spent time working and trying to corral my kids on Monday.  I was getting more and more frustrated and I realized my mood was tied to my book--I had switched over to the book my book club had picked and I can't stand it. 

After I recognized this shift in my mood and the way each time I turned a page I felt like I was dying a thousand deaths, I made an executive decision.  I'm done.  That's it.  This need to complete books is to discuss them is ridiculous.  If I hate the book, I need to ditch it.  I set the book aside and I feel liberated, empowered. 

Life is too short to read a book I can't stand.  There are lots of other books I want to read and I know exactly what I don't like about this particular book (I'm 200 pages into this 400-page novel) and it's not changing. 

Maybe it's more important to be mindful of the ways my books are making me feel in this season, where I'm home with four kids trying to avoid losing my mind.  I like thinking deep thoughts, feeling feelings, and laughing...I don't like being annoyed by poorly edited novels, catching contradictions that seem obvious, and not being able to tell the difference between the voices in a multiple perspective novel.

Reader: know thyself!

Maybe someone needs to hear this: it's ok to set it down.  To not like the book everyone else loves and to not finish your book for book club if it's physically painful to keep going.  Do your family and your mood a favor and set it down. 

So, now that I've put that aside, I can pick up another book to fill the gap in my roster.  I think I'll tackle East of Eden this summer.  I've been looking forward to digging into a big classic that I haven't read yet and a few people have recommended this one to me. 

How does reading change your mood?  What book experiences make you feel refreshed and content and which ones are physically painful? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Reading Recap: June 2019

June is over and July is here!  Long, lazy summer days have me in their grip and I am v. happy about this.  Naps are my life and we spend an inordinate amount of time at the pool.  School ended in a haze and we were just so done with it.  Now we have a flexible routine and lots of reading time.  
actual footage of me every day at 2pm

I was prepared for June being a terrible reading month but it was actually pretty good.  I read six books.  Call it escapism if you must...because that's what it was.  

Here we go:

1.  The Goldfinch.  I wanted to finish this one in May but it ended up being June.  It was a complicated book.  I think I felt every single emotion towards Theo, Hobie, Pippa, and Boris.  There were parts I absolutely hated and there were parts I couldn't stop thinking about.  Tartt is an artist with language, even in those hated parts.  

This is a journey story about Theo.  He meets an unlikely cast of characters as he experiences mundane and extraordinary situations over a short period in his life.  He makes good decisions and some really, really stupid ones.  The reader is forced to question how his childhood changed him, the lifelong ramifications of certain friendships, and how grief can be woven into our lives like a silvery thread in a tapestry.  It's probably a classic.

I'm really glad I finished it before the movie comes out this fall.  

2.  Murder at the Vicarage.  I didn't enjoy this book which is a new experience with an Agatha Christie work.  Miss Marple was a peripheral character and the narrator was all over the place.  I was so annoyed with most of the characters that I just didn't care about the mystery.  Blah.

3.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  I really enjoyed this book which is a common experience with an Agatha Christie work.  Apparently, I have an affinity for Poirot.  I care about him.  And the characters were a little more complex than in Vicarage where all the characters seemed cartoonish in their stereotyping.  Anyway, I will now take a break from Christie for a while.  

4.  The Dream Peddler.  This is not a book I would have picked up in a million years.  It is about a peddler who sells dreams in a sleepy little town that is reeling from a tragedy.  I read it for book club and it was so surprising.  The author's descriptions were incredible.  It was like, "yes, that's exactly how that sounds/feels/smells/tastes.  how did you find the perfect combination of words to describe that???"  She made a story that could have been overly sweet and kind of silly but instead was an exercise in empathy and highlighted the beauty in the ordinary.  

5.  The River.  Too much is being said about this one on the internet but I read it and loved it.  I love Hemingway's approach to nature and writing and Heller does a good job of offering a similar approach with his own energy.  Heller tells the story of two young men traveling down a river and trouble ensues.  But it's not about the trouble.  If you are looking at the trouble you might miss the relationships, the statements about masculinity, and the reverence of the natural world.  This book might require two readings to really understand some of the more nuanced themes.  

actual footage of my life in May and June

6.  Inkling.  My 10 year old picked this for our mother-daughter-book-club.  At first, I was like, "Ugh, a book about an inkblot."  Granted, I did buy it, but I thought the kids could read it and leave me out of it.  I read it because I'm a good mom.  

After the first 30 pages, I was hooked and couldn't stop myself, actually.  Somehow Oppel makes a compelling story that had me shedding a few tears out of an intelligent inkblot and a conflicted boy.  I don't think the characters I read at 10 were so well rounded.  We both agreed Ethan's little sister who has Down Syndrome was a complete ray of sunshine and his frenemy Vika was a jerk, except for she wasn't always a jerk and you could kind of understand why she was behaving like that.  Bravo, Oppel.  

The best part of the book for me was that Inkling would imitate any of the books he "ate" the night before so he would be talking like the BFG or Anne of Green Gables or Hemingway.  It was awesome. 

I can't wait to see what's in store for July.  No spoilers, but I'm already off to a great start!

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?  Also, what did you read in June?  Share in comments and we can keep the book chat going.  

Friday, June 28, 2019

My Scribbler Box

Subscription boxes are a thing, and I have purchased my fair share.  I love Page 1, Book of the Month, and Fab Fit Fun.  But my favorite is my Scribbler box.

I'm a writer and if you are too, you need to stop and consider this box.  It has improved my writing life and kept me writing even when I was too busy/stressed/emotional/just plain didn't want to do it this spring.  

The other day I was avoiding my writing time and then my kids ran in with with the scribbler box.  I opened it slowly.  So often I rush through the good things in my life--a passing glance at a beautiful sunset, a quick moment of gratitude in the garden that gets interrupted by someone asking me for something, and the joy of opening a package addressed to me.  

I was not going to let that happen.  

Another thing that makes the scribbler box so great is that you don't know what's inside.  It's rare for me to get a box in the mail without prior knowledge of its contents.  And usually, they are boring (baseball socks for my son, floor cleaner that we ran out of, gifts for my kids' friends).  But the mystery of what will be inside the box makes opening it even sweeter.

So, here's what I found:

A cute box that automatically makes me want to run to my computer.

Happy orange crinkle paper and postcard with the details for a writing contest (!!) on the back.

A fantastic coaster for my desk to limit the coffee and iced tea rings that have given my desk so much "personality" (the personality of a slob). 

Each month you get an inside look at the publishing process.  This has been soooo informative for this newbie.  

A book that highlights some of the box's themes with an autographed sticker.  V. cool. 

Coffee that is delicious and helps me write/read more.

Bookmarks for all that reading I can now do thanks to the coffee.  My favorite says "This is where I fell asleep."  #truelife

There is always a writing passport with tips and tricks for the writing life and an invitation to a live talk from an industry insider.  They are both life-changing.  

As a writer who believes in the value of reading as part of my craft, I love this.  This pad gives you a chance to reflect on what you just read and notice what the author did that you liked and didn't like.  

So, there you have it.  Each month there are different goodies but they are always useful and adorable.  My kids couldn't believe how much they packed into one box and I sat there beaming with joy for a minute before I toted everything up to my desk to get to work.  

This is not an ad.  I pay for this box with my own cash money.  It is so worth it.  The variety is great and I learn things that I couldn't learn anywhere else every. single. month.

Do you believe in subscription boxes?  What are your favorites?

Monday, June 24, 2019

Summer Reading 2019

Today is the first official day of summer for my kids and I am here for it.  

I survived the concerts, picnics, and finals and I'm ready for my reward now.  

Some might say I sound sarcastic, but I am so excited to have the kids home.  Don't get me wrong, my quiet time won't be so quiet anymore and there will be plenty of activities to drive them to (swim team, I'm looking at you), but I couldn't force another person to do more homework or wake up before 6:30 if my life depended on it.  

One of the many things I love about summer is that my reading time increases.  There are times I get interrupted, but mostly they leave me alone when they see I am reading.  I have trained them to know books are good for mom and happy mom = happy kids.  Plus, summer is the time we do our mother-daughter book club which means they are often reading the same book and looking forward to a girls' night out to celebrate all of us finishing.  

The free places we go often include reading time for mom too: the library, the pool, the park.  I feel almost giddy just thinking about this.  

Part of who I am as a reader is that I don't want reading to detract from living my life.  So, please don't misunderstand.  The number of books I finish this summer doesn't really matter.  I will read at the pool (but I will also go into the pool).  I will read at the library (but I will also peruse the shelves with my kids).  I will read at the park (after a nice walk or pushing kids on the swings).  Reading is a luxury and I just get a bit more time to spend on this particular luxury during this season.  

So, what am I reading this season?  Here's a short list of some books I'm excited to dig into, but please note this list is subject to change at any given moment depending on my mood.

1.  The Gown.  I've seen this everywhere and am halfway through.  The story is about the embroiderers of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress with flashforwards to a storyline set in the present.  This usually isn't my thing, but I am loving every minute of it.  

2.  Inkling.  The story of an "intelligent inkblot" that is my 10 year old's choice for mother-daughter book club.  It's fun and thought-provoking (what would I do with Inkling) and has a ton of hat-tips to other kidlit classics.  

3.  Little Fires Everywhere.  This has been on my TBR for-EVER and this summer I'm going to check it off the list.  I'm working on writing a novel that is a modern family literary drama and I think reading this would give me some inspiration as it falls squarely in that genre.  

4.  Garlic and Sapphires.  Again, on my list forever.  I wanted some non-fiction and this story about a food critic's real-life adventures in NYC sounds like it would also bring in a little humor.  I have a feeling I'll also be hungry after reading it and maybe force my family to visit the city in August or September.  

5.  A Great Reckoning.  I'm trying to get caught up on the Louise Penny novels and this is the next book in the series.  I can't wait to return to Three Pines.  

I have about a hundred other books but let's just start with these five and see what happens.  

What are you reading this summer?  Also, what do you think my book club should read after Inkling...remember our members are 10, 13, 15, and 37.  Give me all your recommendations.  

Friday, June 21, 2019


It's a rare occurrence that I do not finish (DNF) a book.  But it happens.

Recently, I put down one of the most hyped books of the year.  And I have feelings about this.

Unless you're living under a rock, you've probably heard about the book: Daisy Jones and the Six.  It's exciting!  Sex!  Drugs!  Rock-n-Roll! Told in an oral history format!  The cover is great!

I was excited to pick this for my Book of the Month subscription a couple of months ago.  Often, I get my BOTM box and set the new book in a stack of other books and move on with my day.  But this one was different.

So many people were raving about it on podcasts and Reese Witherspoon had picked it for her book club.  I didn't want to wait, I opened the box and ran to my favorite chair to start reading.

As I was reading, a friend texted me and asked what I thought.  She hadn't been able to get into it and she wondered if she had missed something.  I kept reading.

I felt such a swell of pride, pulling the book out of my bag at various school events and in between errands.  Surely someone would see me with this very hip book and think, "There's a woman who knows what's cool.  She's up on the latest trends.  She looks like a real style icon."  

But I wasn't connecting with characters.  I rolled my eyes at their amazing attention to the details of fashion as they were recounting things that happened years ago while they were high.  They seemed flat and typical.  I like nuance in my characters, I like depth and by page 125 I just didn't care anymore.  

The oral history that is also being touted as an exciting new format just seemed lazy to me.  I felt like I was being spoon-fed the story.  Perhaps if there were excerpts written like a magazine interview I wouldn't mind that, but for an entire novel, it wasn't to my taste.  

As I closed the book and set it aside I kissed my dreams of literary influencer good-bye.  I didn't have my finger on the pulse of the modern literary scene after all.  But, I believe there is still hope for me.  

Since dnf-ing Daisy I've heard friends complain that the Instagram culture is negatively impacting their reading lives.  We're not picking books that genuinely appeal to us, we're picking them because someone told us to or they've popped up on our feed a bajillion times.  There's a reason some of the current best-sellers are riding high and it's not always because they are good stories, well told.  

And, don't get me wrong, I think Daisy Jones and the Six could have real appeal to a certain reader.  But I'm not that reader, and maybe, just maybe I need to vet my books (and all things in my life) not just based on popularity.  

listen to mom

What did you think about Daisy?  If you haven't read it yet, do you think you will?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

What Do You Think?

I've been working on coming up with some new content for the blog.  I want to use this space to connect with other readers and talk about books and writing.  However, I haven't actually been able to connect with anyone.  

What content would you like to see here?  Do you prefer the reading recaps, lists, or posts that talk about the reading life?  Your feedback will help me so much!

I would love some direction before I dive deeper with the blog this summer and I think you can help me.  Let me know in comments what's working for you--and what isn't.