Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Moody Mood Reader

 I am a mood reader. My favorite thing in the world is that moment, when I finish a book and go stand in front of my bookshelves to pick what I will read next. 

😂 😊 💃 😳 😱 👀 😕 😃 😡

Do I want to laugh? Or cry? Or be scared?

Does the weather lend itself to a story of survival on a cold mountain? A trip to the beach? A cozy mystery?

What covers draw my eye? The one with cartoonish people laying on the beach? Geometric patterns? The one with all the flowers?

⛄ 🌊 ⛈ 👩 👨 🔶 🔷 🌸 🌼 🌺

I write out TBR lists, I make stacks of books I want to read next. But when it's finally time to choose I ignore the lists and stacks and go with my gut. 


It's a glorious feeling.


Except when it's not.


I'm also a moody mood reader--and that can feel like a curse. Hormones, the beginning of school, new routines, general frustration with household maintenence, world events, these things can bring me down. Throw in a bad attitude from one of my teenagers and I am in a state. 



This happened to me last week. There was a constant storm of negativity in my brain and then I finished a book and didn't bother starting a new one (a bad sign for this reader). I'm working through four tomes:
Middlemarch, 11/22/63, Empire of Pain, and Great Circle. I was annoyed at myself for starting all these 400+ page books. I needed to focus and get at least one of these completed. That was what this mood called for. 


I save Middlemarch for weekends so I didn't crack that spine. 11/22/63 and Great Circle both pull me into their plots but I couldn't get through the pages fast enough to appease the evil hobby task master on my shoulder. When I'd close one of those books I'd feel more despondant and frustrated with myself. 


Empire of Pain is hard to read. This is for two reasons: it is well-researched nonfiction written in big blocky paragraphs and long sentences and it is sad and disturbing. Though the writing is incredibly compelling, I found myself needing breaks and feeling hopeless between reading sessions. 


In a fit of desperation--for something, anything to lift my bleak mood--I started another book last night. Sanity be damned! I stood at my shelves and found All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny. It's the next installment in the Inspector Gamache series (which I LOVE with every fiber of my being). It was published and purchased last summer, almost a year ago exactly. Sometimes I like to hoard books that I am looking forward to. Just like with vacation, the anticipation is part of the enjoyment. 



I grabbed the book with the black and blue cover and settled into one of the leather recliners in my library. I started reading. And, I'm happy to report, it totally worked! 


I kicked that nasty little task master off my shoulder and fell in love with my favorite hobby all over again. 


Today, when I read a couple of chapters from Great Circle, I enjoyed myself and the story and didn't feel like I was racing against the clock. When I picked up Empire of Pain I felt hopeful knowing that the world is not a compeltely terrible place and later I would return to Paris with Gamache and Beauvoir.


This is Louise Penny. I feel exactly the same way about her as Leslie Knope feels about Anne and if I met her I think I would shout, "Louise, you poetic, noble land-mermaid!"


Being a moody mood reader only really sucks when you forget that you are a moody mood reader. I forgot that my attitude towards reading and life can change as a result of not only the weather or my circumstances, but also because of the books I'm reading. Remembering this about myself gives me power. I can do something simple and practical to change how I feel when I'm losing hope in humanity and books. I just need to drag myself to the bookshelves and reach for something comforting, hopeful, or different. 


Are you a mood reader? A moody mood reader?

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

To DNF, or not to DNF: that is the question

 ****DNF stands for "Did/Do Not Finish"****


I'm reading a book for book club that shall remain nameless at this time. It was a buzzy book a few months ago. It was picked by a celebrity for her book club and even nominated for a literary prize or two. I bought the book back in June, hopeful about adding it to my already large stack of books I wanted to read in the next few months. 


It was not Jenna's book club...
I have loved all of the books I've read from Jenna's list

At book club, last month, one of my friends said she had grabbed the book in question at an airport and after reading the first few chapters felt like it would make for good discussion. Could we read it? I love when we chose a book I already own so I was in favor. 


Around the 20 page mark, I was beginning to have my doubts. I texted my book club friend who had finished by then. I told her I wasn't loving the writing. 


"I didn't either. But the story is so good," she texted back. So, I pressed on.


Around the 100 page mark, I grew increasingly nervous. If I was going to DNF it, I probably should do it now. The story was ok, maybe a little slow, but the writing had not improved. It grated on me with every paragraph. Flowery almost to the point of incoherency, meandering sentences, inconsistencies in character descriptions. Ugh! But I kept going because it's for book club.

my muse

When I'm reading for book club I almost never DNF. I mean, I almost never DNF ever, but I'm even less likely to put aside a book that's not for me when I know I'll be discussing it with others. I want to be specific in my critiques and have a complete view of the novel. But I was really considering it around page 100. 


Instead of giving up on it completely, I gave myself a break. I didn't crack this nameless book open over the weekend. Instead, I finished a thriller and started a Louise Penny book I'd been saving to read. It was a very good weekend.


A fast-paced thriller was just what the book doctor ordered


But on Monday, I dutifully went back to the book club book. I slogged through another 50 pages, thinking about how annoyed I was with the writing but really wanting to know where the plot was headed and what the author was going to do with my favorite character. 


On that same day, I saw a bookstagram post about how disappointing this book was and listened to Laura Tremaine talk on her podcast about DNF-ing books that aren't working for you. #serendipity?


It was like she was literally talking to ME!


While I was making dinner, in my AirPods, I heard these words: "I do not finish books that I'm hating. If you hate a book, put it down. There is no book police that says, 'Because you started something you have to finish it.'" I mean...


And now I'm torn. Do I set aside this book, halfway through, or, do I keep going and see if the ending gives at least a little credibility to all the buzz?


The other members of my book club are not as neurotic as me about finishing books and they have DNF-ed books that were bugging them. I know they'd be ok with me not completing this one...but would I? 


What would you do????


Monday, August 23, 2021

August RWLB

 Here we are again! I remembered this recurring post! Yay for me! Yay for you!


Reading

I'm 50% through two very good books right now. 


I started Empire of Pain a while ago and I am riveted every time I pick it up. It's dense though, and a little depressing--like, how did we let this happen??? I should finish it up in the next two weeks but we'll see. This one requires lighter reads sprinkled in now and then so it may take me a little longer. I'm in no rush.



The other book I'm currently reading is 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I read this before bed each night and it is fun! There are definitely some creepy vibes and few scenes I needed to read in the safety of daylight, but mostly it's thought-provoking and plot-driven in the best way. It's nearly 900 pages so I didn't expect it to be a quick read, but still, I'd love to finish by the first week of September so I can move on to King's new release that's getting a lot of love from people I follow on the internet, Billy Summers.



Watching

Ummm...Ted Lasso came back so I'm watching that of course! This show is so good. If you haven't seen it yet, you have to stop reading right now and go watch the first two episodes. You'll fall completely in love and then come back here and leave a comment about how great Ted and Coach Beard are.  


And...because I'm basic and follow all the trends...I finally got caught up on Mare of Easttown. This show on HBO is veeeeeeeeery dark. There was an episode that was so hard to watch I nearly gave it up. I'm glad I didn't though. Definitely got Long Bright River vibes throughout the show which is set outside of Philly. Kate Winslet deserves all the awards for her performance which was absolutely gripping. And, Jean Smart was the absolute best mom I've ever seen on TV. Wow.



Listening to


We went on vacation a few weeks ago and I blasted Sublime in my AirPods while my kids played in the ocean. Is there any better music to listen to on the beach? I think not. 

i took this while listening to 'what i got'


My book podcasts keep me afloat during stressful times and coming home jet-lagged to headlines that made me sick and having a mountain of laundry to face, I knew I need the soothing voices and book talk that I find in my usual selection of podcasts. I'm a huge fan of Currently Reading and of course all things Anne Bogel, but last week I discovered, Book Talk, etc. So good when you need an hour of bookish escape but can't focus on an audiobook. 




Buying

I took my kids back to school shopping today and bought myself an outfit too. I've never done this before but after this summer, after this year, I'm celebrating each new season in whatever way I can! I got the cutest pair of pants at anthropologie and I have to share them with you:


Of course, my kids were making jokes about how they could have easily made these pants for me and saved me a little money. Maybe next time...


I've recently taken up cross-stitching at night while we watch tv. I'm an even slower stitcher than I am a reader, but I love it. It's relaxing and so fun to see the pattern emerge (albeit slowly). I bought the Caterpillar cross-stitch winter stitch along to give me a project that I will hopefully complete by winter. I love seasonally-themed crafts and this is one I can frame when I'm done. Plus, it's Nutcracker-themed!


So that completes another month of RWLB. Leave a comment with what you've been reading, watching, listening to, and/or buying this month. I'd love to know! 



Friday, August 20, 2021

Reading is FUN...right???? 😬

I love literary fiction as much as the next person...maybe even more. But sometimes those kinds of books can be heavy and depressing. When real life also feels heavy and depressing picking up a novel like that seems impossible. 


And then I know what my reading life needs is a little fun.

maybe I just need a pink unicorn pillow to make my reading life more fun


As August is coming to a close, with the headlines being so horrible and scary, I find myself needing books that don't add to the weight I'm already feeling. What I need is a little levity and I find that in books.


When I'm looking for books that are fun I often gravitate towards thrillers and mysteries that sweep me up in intricate plots, books that have propulsive force driving me to turn another page. Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache books are fun for me, even though they often describe a gristly murder. I'm totally in love with Three Pines and the character development through the series makes these books obvious picks when I need shelter from the world: I'm going to a familiar place filled with people I have seen grow and change across 16 books. Bonus points for descriptions of croissants, wine, and coffee.



I'm currently having a great time reading 11/22/63 which is more mysterious than thriller-ish. Who Is Maud Dixon? also scratched this itch earlier this summer. And Maud Dixon gets bonus points for short chapters. 


Another genre I reach for when I need to lighten up my reading is books that are like soap operas. I was a big All My Children fan back in the day and reading stories with hyperbolic drama keeps my attention when I feel distracted. 


I read Olympus, Texas this month and Stacey Swann managed to keep me thinking about her characters even after I had closed the book. Instead of scrolling through social media and seeing hot takes and non-expert expert opinions, I went to bookstagram to read and comment on posts about this great novel because I needed someone to discuss it with.


        "Could you believe Arlo??"

        "I know! And what about Hap?????"


The Fortunate Ones was like this for me too. 


twisty, turny plots + controversial decision making = me racing to the last page


i literally gasped at a certain plot point, totally blindsided me


A genre that I'm just recently exploring for fun books is romance. I'm a pretty PG-13 reader so I prefer closed-door romances (where most of the action takes place behind a closed door). But, as a 90's rom-com lover, I appreciate the humor and fun of a good love story that doesn't take itself too seriously. 


I read The People We Meet on Vacation on vacation and it was delightful. I haven't read Beach Read (by the same author), but it's on my TBR and my actual bookshelf. Things You Save in a Fire was a perfect palate cleanser this spring when I needed a story that would make me forget my virtual school woes. 


palm trees sold seperately

I also have to include PG Wodehouse. His books are slapstick and laugh-out-loud funny. When I'm really struggling, I grab a Wodehouse book and feel markedly better by page 50. 



Fun reading is a crucial part of consistent reading for me. It gives me the break I need from the heaviness of literary fiction and life. It helps me approach reading with the same love I had when checking out Babysitter's Club and Beverly Cleary books. And, the authors who are writing these works of fun fiction are GOOD and are doing something magical: giving the reader a little levity and joy, crafting a plot that keeps your attention for a few hours, or scaring the pants off their reader. 

This is the feeling I want in my reading life


These books are just as important as all the prize-winners, classic Literature, and books that make you think deep thoughts. They are all part of a balanced book diet. 

my philosophy on balanced food diets





Sunday, July 25, 2021

RWLB

One of my favorite podcasts does a monthly episode where the host and one of her friends discuss what they're reading, watching, listening to, and buying (RWLB). I love these episodes and thought it would be fun to do a blog-post version. 


This will be a recurring series of posts, so look for it around the 25th of each month. 


Reading

I had to start with this category of course! 


Right now, I'm almost done with the book The House of the Spirits. I am a Patreon supporter of the Novel Pairings podcast and they read this book with their Classics Club. I'm always a little behind but reading a book that's being discussed on a podcast makes the entire experience so much more enjoyable. 



That being said...this is a hard book. It's dense. The chapters are long, the pages are full, and Allende's story-telling style, while completely stunning, can also be a bit much. I've been meaning to read something by Allende since my high school Spanish teacher waxed poetic about the Chilean author's sometimes overlooked contribution to the literary canon. I will be glad to have read it and I'm super impressed with Allende, but it was more intense than I was bargaining for during the busiest part of summer. 


To balance The House of the Spirits, I picked up 11/22/63. My book club assigns extra credit books to each member (there are only three of us), and this was my extra credit book. I'm loving it. The book is long, but the story moves quickly.



Watching

My husband and I just finished watching The Bureau, a French TV series about the French version of the CIA, the DGSE. We watched it on SundanceNow. The show has subtitles which is not my favorite, but I fell in love with the characters. Even though this was definitely a spy show, there were plenty of emotional arcs and lots of character development. The last two seasons seemed a little rushed, but overall, we loved watching this. And I like to imagine that my ability to understand and speak French improved (it didn't). 

bonjour, oui, l' arret, donc...I'm practically fluent


Listening to

Peloton did a series of classes set to Spice Girls music and now I'm reliving my youth. In high school I loved, loved, loved the Spice Girls and I'm finding out they still bring me so much joy. Their music makes me want to dance and energizes me. I'm even thinking of rewatching their movie (which I had memorized back in the day), Spice World. My kids will make fun of me until the end of time, but I do not care!

spice up your life!



Buying

We are getting ready for vacation next week (yay!!!), so it feels like I've been buying a ton of stuff. The kids and I went to Target and loaded up on travel size everything. But the thing I'm most excited about is this new beach bag I ordered. I've used Scout bags before and loved them. I got an even bigger one than I had before because a family of 6 means a lot of towels, sunscreen, and books are required for a day at the beach. I love how lightweight and durable this bag is.




For some reason, this year I can't stop buying tank tops. They seem to be everywhere and I keep throwing them in my cart. I bought two at Old Navy and the other day at Target I grabbed another one! I don't know if it's just me or the stores are really pushing tanks this year, but I can't get enough. 


That was a really fun post to write! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Let me know in the comments what you're RWLB. 




Friday, July 16, 2021

On Writing in the Summer or...Not Writing in the Summer


 Every book on writing will tell you the same thing: you should do it daily. Set a word count goal, a minute goal, a page goal, and then stick to it. Be strict about writing daily. 


I suck at this.


In seasons when my kids attended school...I'm talking IN-PERSON school...I could set up a daily schedule and pretty much stick to it. I would write early and then maybe even get in a little editing just before the buses started circling the cul-de-sac, bringing my children home in the afternoon. 

i never realized how much i love that big, yellow bus

Virtual learning was a challenge but I found a rocky rhythm that made writing *almost* daily possible. The kids' time in classes would overlap for a couple of hours and I would take advantage of that time to shower and/or write. I missed a day here and there, but we were living through a pandemic so I tried to cut myself some slack. There were even some weekends that I managed to sneak away to write at my desk or sit amid the chaos of family life with a notebook on my lap trying to see where a story would go. It wasn't easy, but it was possible. 


This summer writing has felt impossible.


While the pandemic is not completely over, life has returned to semi-normal for my vaccinated family. And, after a year of being stuck at home, we want to go out and do all the things. There are camps and classes, friends coming over and time spent at friends' houses, big two-week vacations, and little weekend getaways. We use the standard response of improv when asked if we can commit to any new fun thing, we say, "Yes, and..." We add trips to get ice cream, baking projects when the friends come over, and any other fun and exciting thing we can do to augment the life in our days.

ice cream at the pool? yes, please!
And we barely make it to our beds at night, exhausted by all the living we did during the day. 


I am glad for this season and when I look back at this summer I'm sure I will be amazed at all the things we did. This is what it feels like to embrace life, I think. But my writing suffers for it. 


Routines change weekly and the time I set aside with the best intentions for writing invariably ends up being spent in a meaningful conversation with one of my kids or on a quick clean-up of the house which has also been neglected or driving a carful of teens and preteens to a pool. 


This week I'm going to try to change things up. I will have a few hours in a coffee shop and I will use them to write...even though I detest writing in public. Hopefully, this week will kick start my summer writing habits and I will get back into some semblance of a routine before fall. 


My husband wonders sometimes why I stress so much about writing every day (or at least every weekday). I always give him the same answer. The main reason I'm focused on adding writing time into my daily schedule is that it's good for me. It feels like a long exhale after it's done. My muscles relax as I feel the freedom that comes with knowing I've reached inside of my brain and pulled out something creative, emotional, or silly. Writing makes me feel alive and like I am a contributing member to the world of words I love so much. 

in the zone

 Don't get me wrong, writing isn't always easy or pain-free, but in the end, I feel unburdened in the best possible way and that frees me up for more living. 


What life-giving habit do you need to make more time for in this season?

Friday, June 18, 2021

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie; or, My Problem with Bookstagram

hours spent at the library


Summer has always felt like the best time to tackle big books that I've been meaning to read. Long stretches of empty time spread like a blanket before me while I lounge at the pool or beach. Lazy afternoons with nothing to do until dinner lend themselves well to books with high page counts.

I've taken on War and Peace, East of Eden, and The Goldfinch in the hottest months of the year. This summer may be record-breaking for page counts for me. I've started four books that are over 400 pages and I'm moving (slow but steady) through two 700+ page novels. 


I love getting completely lost in the disparate worlds of each of these books but at the same time, I'm fretting over my monthly reading totals which will surely drop thanks to all of these bricks I'm reading. 


I get annoyed with long chapters or solid pages of text, where dense paragraphs seem to roll on endlessly, or at least onto the next page. These things slow me down and I do not want to be slowed down.


But here's the tricky part...I'm actually enjoying these books, like, a lot. I look forward to picking up each one and find myself immersed in the stories and marveling at how authors can use such different styles and still take my breath away. So why can't I just relax and enjoy this good luck? 


I'll tell you why: Bookstagram.

from my Bookstagram account


I have a personal Instagram account where I share photos of my kids and only accept friend requests from people I know IRL. But a couple of years ago I made a Bookstagram account. It's just a regular account that is public, where I post all things bookish and keep the personal information to a minimum. I follow other Bookstagram accounts, publishers, booksellers, and book bloggers. 


At first, it was really fun. It was all bookish enthusiasm and earnestness about well-loved books. But slowly it began to eat away at my reading life.


It started with book influencers peddling books they hadn't read for publishers who sent them free copies. I quickly learned to read posts carefully so I could tell if this person had actually read the book they were raving about or not, but I still get fooled sometimes.


I began to notice that I was feeling pressured to join "read alongs" with my favorite Bookstagramers, buying buzzy books because of the sheer volume of posts I was seeing, and changing my reading to accommodate poetry month, "non-fiction-November", and various other monthly reading challenges. 


TBR, not the books I read in June

I read to learn and I don't need a social media app to remind me to read different genres, themes, and a variety of authors from wide-ranging experiences. It's true that I have found some books that have taught me important things and broadened my worldview, that I wouldn't have known about except through Bookstagram, but those came from personal conversations from a few Bookstagrammers that I have built friendships with, not from the frantic peer pressure that springs up every month.


The end of the month book totals are depressing, too. Bookstagrammers lover to flex what they read by posting all the covers of the books they read that month displayed in a single image. I get it, some people read a lot more than me (these are the ones who post...no one who reads less than me, or the same as me, posts...), and that's ok. But it really takes the wind out of your reading sails to see people completing 20-25 books a month. 


reading in Kauai

When I reflect on why I'm feeling twitchy as I read, I think it's the net effect of the Bookstagram influence. So for the next few weeks, I'm going to limit my time on that app and prune the people who I follow. When I do these two things I find I read more and care less about Bookstagram and more about if I'm enjoying the books I read. I also find myself back in the driver's seat, choosing what I read and why and when. This is a hobby I do for joy, relaxation, fun, and learning so I should get to be the boss of it.



******Disclaimer: Bookstagram isn't the devil. Consumed in small doses with a healthy frame of mind it can be really fun and rewarding. I have found friends from all over the world on Bookstagram who are my absolute favorite follows. But approach it with caution because it can quickly get out of hand.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Summer Reading: 2021 Edition


This is my 16th summer as a mother. In that time I’ve tried all kinds of ways to keep my kids reading through the hottest months of the year: library programs with their disappointing prizes (one year, our library gave out 1 raffle entry/book read, the prize was a bike but they didn’t announce the winner until September…try explaining that to an eight-year-old), homemade reading charts (thanks, Pinterest), and plain, old-fashioned begging. 



Last year our reading plan was pretty successful. Most days the kids read for an hour but it was almost always a painful hour. I made book baskets for each kid based on what I thought they should read and the lists of summer reading ideas from their teachers. If they completed the books in their basket they would get $50. I have learned that my children are best motivated by cold, hard cash—they take after their mom and dad, I guess.

As summer approached this year, I reflected on last year, what worked and what didn’t. Yes, all four kids read all of the titles in their baskets, but I had to drag them to the den daily and they complained about it loudly. 



I remembered the summer I spent devouring Gone with the Wind, just because I wanted to read a really ambitious book. There was another summer when I stayed up late reading through The Babysitters Club Super Special editions with a flashlight in my bed. Lazy days spent stretched out on the couch reading, with the AC blasting and a pile of books nearby marked most of my summers from kindergarten through eighth grade. These are some of my fondest reading memories.

I also remembered the summers in high school with lists of books I was required to read and journal about. One or two of those books made an impression, but those summers were nothing like my past experiences or the way I felt getting lost in Life of Pi on a beach in Kauai just a few years later. 

I decided I had to improve upon last year’s summer reading plan. There will still be a minimum hour of daily reading, there will still be $50, there will still be book baskets. The major difference is that this year, the kids get to pick the books they read.



We had reading meetings last week (this may be my favorite kind of meeting ever). They shopped our shelves and thought about what they wanted to read this summer. I explained that if a book is not working for them we can swap it out. We can be flexible. Isn’t that what we all learned in 2020?


They each brought lists with a wide variety of books and even some that completely surprised me. I don’t know if this will turn from a “have to” to a “get to” situation, but I do know there is already more excitement about summer reading than last year. And who knows, maybe one of the kids will connect with a book like I did with Gone with the Wind, maybe they will stay up late reading, or pack a book in a beach bag. Hope springs eternal.