Reading: January 2020

Do you use Goodreads? Once upon a time, I made notes about books I’d read in a small notebook designated for that purpose. Goodreads is so much better, with images of the books, summaries, and access to others’ short reviews.

They also do a fun page at the end of the year that summarizes my reading for the year: how many pages I read in how many books, shortest and longest, the ones I liked most and least, and how their ratings measured up on Goodreads. See my results here.

My specific goal for this year is to read at least four books each month, for an overall total of 55 books. Yes, I know, that math doesn’t work, but I know that some months I will read less and others more, so I do expect to be able to exceed the four books per month.

Except I didn’t make it this month. I am currently reading my fourth book, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley. That review will appear in next month’s reading post.

The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love this book, a magical (“m-word”) ode to stories, to story lovers and story tellers. She even weaves in the storytelling involved in video games, a field with which I have little experience. I rarely reread, but the stories within stories and the connections between them that eventually become apparent deserve another go.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband and son decided to celebrate BIG birthdays by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. While they were away, I decided to take a virtual quest with Bill Bryson up the Appalachian Trail. I’m not a backpacker and this book confirmed my inclination to stay off tall mountain trails, but I enjoyed reading about his trek. I was surprised at how much I learned…not a simple memoir, he weaves history and natural science into almost every chapter.

Year of the MonkeyYear of the Monkey by Patti Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this as a giveaway from Alfred A. Knopf by entering a contest on Goodreads.

I have never read a book like this- memoir, poetic prose, tribute to lives well lived, dream… To be honest, I knew the name “Patti Smith,” knew that she was a musician, but I had to google to find out more about her. In fact, I had to google a lot of names and books and places to keep up with the narrative. Smith is clearly a super-smart cookie and creatively open to listening to the directions and whims of the universe. I admire that.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: November 2019

Let’s all Read More Books!

I’m always reading, and I always have more to read. We have so many bookshelves people have joked that we live in a library (sounds good to me). My library basket also overflows, and I regularly have to return unread books because I can’t finish them fast enough.

Books star at the top of my gift lists, both to give and receive, like the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We’re all thinking about gift lists right about now, aren’t we? Below are thoughts on what I’ve read this month; for more suggestions, you can see my reviews through the link to Goodreads at the bottom of this post, or search “reading” and “books” on my blog.

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The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the madness of the world in recent years, I’ve tended to stay away from dystopian fiction. However, Oryx & Crake was a favorite when it came out, I was between library runs, and I had The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf. It does seem interestingly prophetic… I may have to go back and reread Oryx & Crake before moving on to MaddAdam, though.

Dear Evan HansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Trigger alert: in case you’ve been under a rock & didn’t know (I didn’t…) this is about suicide attempts, both successful and not.

I read this cover to cover in one day as we traveled from the West to East Coast. It’s beautifully written, believingly charactered, and simultaneously tragic and life affirming. Now I need to see it on the stage…

Update: I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat whenever I’m in the car, and I have to say, I like the book better than the music.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sittenfeld just may not be speaking my language. I gave up on Prep a few pages in. I made it through Sisterland, but it felt forced. I loved Eligible, but it’s a modern day Pride & Prejudice. I had high hopes for You Think It, I’ll Say It that didn’t pan out. An exploration of romantic love via short stories, some characters felt repetitive, only a few stood out as well-developed, and mostly I felt sad for the personal and relational brokenness depicted throughout.

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a family saga different from any I’ve ever read. The storms the four Skinner children weather together knit them together, and also form them as unique individuals. They are wild and strong and expressive in different ways. The book doesn’t move fast but I was so intrigued as to what was happening with each character that it pulled me along, especially with an intriguing twist near the end.

“What I wanted to say to this man was that the greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them, we believe in ourselves, and that is the most powerful thing of all” (195).

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and MoreThe Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed for relevant information. A fascinating look at how people can best honor their individual body clock.

Since I quit my day job six months ago, I have had the opportunity to notice how and when my body/brain work best. For example, when I need to sleep/wake. When I’m hungry without the call of “lunchtime!” When the internet distracts me and how to harness it. When I feel most/least productive and creative. Skimming this book helped me to understand both why and what to do to take advantage of how my body wants to operate. Not always practical when you have standing obligations, but still helpful as a guideline.

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What are you reading? Any books you’re giving or hoping to receive for the holidays?

Reading: October 2019

I live in Northern California, in the San Francisco East Bay, where fall has come to be known as “Fire Season.” High temperatures and high winds plus summer-sun-scorched grasses in lots of otherwise beautiful open space make for a terrifying combination.

As I write, the Kincade Fire has scorched more than 76,000 acres of Sonoma County, including over 100 homes, and it’s only 30% contained. There was a small fire in the next town over from us last Sunday. And, in case you missed it, we were evacuated a few weeks ago.

PG&E continued the power outages for safety and inspection. This time our power did not go out, but winds snapped a cable that took out our WiFi for most of three days. Honestly, in some ways that was worse: I’m okay with camping at home so long as I have access to information. Thankfully, the planned blackouts have come to an end. For now.

However, when it’s too windy to walk the dogs and we have no internet access distractions, I’m happy to take that time to stick my nose in a book. Reading as an easy escape was just the ticket this month!

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The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a dream of a novel, and a nightmare, and perfectly written.

 

The Rosie Result (Don Tillman, #3)The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to the Rosie trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed start to finish.

 

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All artists (read: every human being) faces Resistance. Resistance takes many forms, but essentially looks like inactivity due to fear. Combating Resistance = WAR! In the fight, we encounter the Muse who has been with us all along except we haven’t been paying attention.

I didn’t always like this book, but I don’t like war, either. Pressfield is right all along: resistance, war, muse. All the way through, except it’s not linear. It’s an every minute of the day battle, and one I’m committed to. Let’s do this!

“…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…. We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on the planet.” (108-109)

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” (165)

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite having spotted this in a bookstore years ago, I almost gave it up a couple chapters in as I anticipated the story would be sad. I’m glad I persevered. This isn’t a sad story, but strong, a new take on coming of age. It tells of peace and war, brokenness and health, relationships with family, people who become dear, and the world. In the end, my only complaint was that I couldn’t tell when and where it was set. But then, I recognized, that very fact makes the story even more universal: peace and war, brokenness and health, occur at all times everywhere.

“Because I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. That is peace.” (102)

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the WorldThe Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not the best written book I’ll ever read, but certainly an important read.

When people ask, “Why can’t the developing world figure out its poverty issues?” there are so many answers. (To be clear, the US has plenty of its own poverty challenges).

But maybe the best is right here: we need to empower the women.

The big issues are connected in complicated ways: health, family planning, education, agriculture/food, work (especially unpaid labor), child marriage and human trafficking. They all have root in gender inequity and potential solutions stemming from steps toward gender equity.

This book is global and specific. Gates preaches what she also puts into practice in her own life. I thought I knew a lot on this topic, and this book opened my eyes to how much I have left to learn.

EchoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Your fate is not yet sealed.
Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,
A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.

This book begins and ends as a fairy tale, just what I had been looking for. In between, it contains three stories of musically gifted young people facing extremely difficult situations. Their stories echo one another though their lives are completely different…except for the possession of one very special harmonica.

I couldn’t stop smiling through Part Four, an enchanted evening indeed.

I wobbled in the middle, because the stories seem sad. But that’s the point: you don’t see how things will end while you’re in the middle. So you need some beauty and light, and music is an excellent provider of both.

“Some of the parents are asking why the school district is paying for a music teacher during a war. But Mr. Daniels says everyone needs a little beauty and light in their lives, especially during the worst of times” (529)

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What are you reading?

Reading: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

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Summer Reading 2019

Hey, Friends, I just signed up as an Amazon Associate and I will earn from qualifying purchases. So go ahead, click the titles linked to Amazon, and purchase, please! All reviews continue to be my own.

Notes on the recent round-up…

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reads like a novel and cut me to the quick. So much insight! Since I read carefully and took notes, I don’t need to see a therapist anymore (hah! We ALL need to see a therapist…).

“…change and loss travel together.” (6)

“You’re going to have to feel pain–everyone feels pain at times–but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering” (62)
“…if I’m clinging to the suffering so tightly, I must be getting something out of it. It must be serving some purpose for me.” (63)

“Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.” (65)

“When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists. But if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret…. But if I live in the present, I’ll have to accept the loss of my future.” (66-67)

“…we talk to ourselves more than we’ll talk to any other person over the course of our lives but that our words aren’t always kind or true or helpful–or even respectful. Most of what we say to ourselves we’d never say to people we love or care about, like our friends or children….pay close attention to those voices in our heads so that we can learn a better way to communicate with ourselves.” (404-405)

“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and experience something before its meaning becomes apparent.” (407)

Every Last WordEvery Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book paints
a loving portrait
of an adolescent
struggling with, dealing
with, living with
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It contains everything
I enjoy about
Young Adult Lit:
well-developed characters,
an important issue
handled with gentleness,
surprises and creativity.

Little Do We KnowLittle Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book tackles a lot of big issues–friendship, teen romance, child-parent relationships, life transitions, dis/loyalty, faith and abuse–and mostly does it well. It cut a little too close to home for me in certain regards which made it somewhat uncomfortable reading.

KitchenKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FREE Kindle edition for Amazon Prime members!

How is it I’d never heard of this book? It’s SO beautiful! To sum it up in a word, this book is about *embodiment.* Characters grieve for their loved ones who have passed from physical life, and find their way back to life and each other through the physical comforts of preparing and eating delicious food. The writing is at once spare and exquisite. She says so much in so few pages. My copy also included her prize-winning novella, Moonlight Shadow. I cried at the end of both.

Some of these quotes I included because of their imagery, others for their characterization or philosophy:

“Suspended in the dim light before the window overlooking the magnificent tenth-floor view, the plants breathed softly, resting.” (16)

“The conversation we just had was like a glimpse of stars through a chink in a cloudy sky–perhaps, over time, talks like this would lead to love.” (30)

“To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on as usual in spite of it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities?” (56)

“Why do I love everything that has to do with kitchens so much? It’s strange. Perhaps because to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul. As I stood there, I seemed to be making a new start; something was coming back.” (56)

“…although I couldn’t have put it into words, I came to understand something. If I try to say what it is now, it’s very simple: I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.” (81)

“I knew it: the glittering crystal of all the good times we’d had, which had been sleeping in the depths of memory, was awakening and would keep us going. Like a blast of fresh wind, the richly perfumed breath of those days returned to my soul.” (100)

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday PlacesGlory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curtice takes life’s simple moments and reveals their glory for those who have eyes to see. Sometimes the pace feels oh-so-slow, but I stuck with it, reading slowly over weeks as a way of remembering that my life, too, has glory written all over it. My favorite story came right at the end, #49: Hijab. Its beauty of connection had me in tears.

Speak.
Speak of the world to us.
You are the wildest and holiest experience.
You are the greatest adventure.
You are the best miracle-maker.
You are the trust lover.
Your voice echoes inside of us,
digs its way into our bones and veins,
our senses and brains,
into the most hollow corners,
into the darkest spaces.
Oh, you fill us.
Fill us again and again,
in every experience, glory abounding.
Amen. (32)

“…when we can’t see what’s ahead, a path is cleared, and we are no longer afraid, for glory lines the path at our feet, benedictions abounding.” (118)

O God of Mystery,
If I have tried to place you into a box,
break it.
No mold can hold you. (167)

“What matters and what is dust in the wind? Do our little moments of joy or pleasure, our pings of grief and stress, mean anything…?
Absolutely. Our moments matter because our humanity matters, and if we can’t find it in the chocolate aisle or by the assorted rice in the middle of our local marketplace, we will have a hard time finding it anywhere.” (180)

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones set in contemporary Los Angeles… Love! I plowed through this smart, chock-full of book and pop culture references, laugh out loud funny book.

“She refueled during the day by grabbing moments of solitude and sometimes felt her life was a long-distance swim between islands of silence. She liked people–she really did–she just needed to take them in homeopathic doses; a little of the poison was the cure.” (17)

“Oh my God, she thought, it’s hard to be human sometimes, with the pressure to be civilized lying only very thinly over the brain of a nervous little mammal. Maybe other people’s layer of civilization was thicker than hers; hers was like a peel-off face mask after it had been peeled.” (29)

“Moms of a certain age know dozens and dozens of people through various channels, so they have to perform this human equivalent of canine butt sniffing all the goddamned time.” (37)

“Reading isn’t the only thing in the world, Nina.”
“It’s one of only five perfect things in the world.”
“And the other four are?”
“Cats, dogs, Honeycrisp apples, and coffee.”
“Nothing else?”
“Sure, there are other things, even good things, but those five are perfect.”
“In your opinion.”
“Yes, of course in my opinion. Everyone has a different five perfect things.” (180)

Silence: In the Age of NoiseSilence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“We live in the age of noise. Silence is almost extinct.” (37)

This short tome, simply and beautifully written, accessibly addresses an important and oft-overlooked topic: silence. The author is a fascinating subject in his own right, and his pursuit of silence is inspiring. He weaves in wilderness exploration, ancient and modern philosophers, innovators and entrepreneurs, poets and writers, musicians and performance artists to help us grasp the necessity of silence in our noisy age.

“Wonder is the very engine of life.” (2)

“Nature spoke to me in the guise of silence. The quieter I became, the more I heard.” (14)

“The silence around us may contain a lot, but the most interesting kind of silence is the one that lies within. A silence which each of us must create. I no longer try to create absolute silence around me. The silence that I am after is the silence within.” (25)

“…[silence is] about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than ovethinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough.” (51)

“To listen is to search for new opportunities, to seek fresh challenges. The most important book you can read is the one about yourself. It is open.” (125)

Women in SunlightWomen in Sunlight by Frances Mayes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slow, dreamlike descriptions of beautiful Italy. Too many characters (all the town folk), and sometimes the narrator changes without notice- I read paragraphs several times to understand who was speaking. Good book, but it won’t send me searching for other books by Mayes.

“I’ll puzzle out my own story, mapping constellations. Wish I may, wish I might.” (17)

“That’s travel: time expands and compresses in unexpected ways.” (201)

Library Love

“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening

Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.

The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.

The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.

My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.

With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).

One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.

At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will  read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.

Books: May-June 2019

Notes on the recent round-up…

100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F. Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book in December on Aarti Sequiera’s IG feed (one of my fav Food Network Stars) but couldn’t get it in time to start on Jan 1. Still, it was the right book at the right time. Simple writing and not always applicable (I’ve been married for a long time, while Downs is still hopeful she’ll meet the right guy), but still, the challenge to be brave is the same no matter what individuals face on any given day. I heard myself using brave as a verb: “I braved up today and…” and God used it to help me make a courageous decision I’d put off for too long. On to new adventures which will require even more bravery!

“…hold on until the Lord makes it really clear that you’re supposed to let go. Ask God. Ask people you trust. Ask your own heart. But while you are listening, persevere, and lean toward holding on until God and other people make it really clear that you’re supposed to go” p130.

“I hope you’ve already taken that first step because I am sure, like I’ve rarely been so sure of anything before, that your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where your map is going to take you” p231.

Outer Order, Inner CalmOuter Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Happiness Project and thought this would be similar. Not. It’s a ton of short practical tips for decluttering, creating order, and achieving inner calm. She admits throughout that some tips will work for some people and not others since we all have different triggers and tolerance levels. For my taste, it was almost too much. Her Top Ten Tips were helpful, but I encountered most of those in her first book.

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is that the last few words of each chapter also serve as the title for the following chapter, a neat literary trick.

Such a smart writer, Kingsolver took on so much in this book that at times it felt tedious. The house falling down around the characters stands as metaphor for our world cracking from the havoc we’ve wreaked on it as well as our country under the dubious leadership of a Pied Piper’s false promises. Evolution requires conflict, as do ideological debates, and evolution and debate both play central roles in this book. Shocking how, in some cases, characters can hold staunchly to their false beliefs despite truth like the nose on their face, while in other cases two seemingly opposite views can be equally accurate depending on perspective.

In these last few years I have despaired for the house crumbling around us. I have felt fear and loneliness, anger and frustration for the division in our country that lies in people with whom we at least occasionally share a roof. In the end, I think Kingsolver means to leave us with hope. The walls are, indeed, crumbling. We may very well soon find ourselves unsheltered. We feel ourselves likely to die, yet we might yet discover the warmth of the sun.

“‘No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.’
“‘Without shelter, we stand in daylight.’
“‘Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.'” (90)

“‘My mother used to say when God slams a door on you, he opens a window.’
“Tig gave this two seconds of respectful consideration before rejecting it. ‘No, that’s not the same. I’m saying when God slams a door on you it’s probably a shitstorm. You’ve going to end up in rubble. But it’s okay because without all that crap overhead, you’re standing in the daylight.’
“‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
“‘Yeah, but you might not. For sure you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.'” (415)

“Unsheltered, I live in daylight. And like the wandering bird I rest in thee.” (453)

The EditorThe Editor by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved Lily & the Octopus, I was excited to discover this on our library shelves and even more so to dive headlong into its pages. Rowley has an entertaining voice as a writer, original, creative, page-turning. In this novel, he presents us with a loving portrait of Jacqueline Onassis as an editor for a discouraged and lost first-time novelist. This is a beautiful book about self-discovery and the people who participate in shaping us to become better versions of ourselves.

“‘Saudade. It’s a word my grandmother used to say when she was missing home.’ Daniel’s grandmother was born in Brazil, and so every now and again some Portuguese pops up in conversation.
“‘What does it mean?’
“‘Oh. It doesn’t have an English translation….Not a direct translation, anyhow….It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.'” (199)

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book for the title, having no idea that it’s the story of how Harris learned to meditate. As a Christian, I call meditation “prayer” and the practice is a little different. I stuck with the book because all truth is God’s truth and I can always learn to be more compassionate, gentler with myself and the world, and–to the title–happier.

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magical tale, set in a Thames-side pub frequented by storytellers and story-lovers who become players and tellers both in another magical tale.

“They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils. They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.” 31

“‘I saw her myself, I did. She ran down to the boathouse quick as could be, and when she come out in her rowing boat, the little old one of hers, off she went, haring up the river…I never seen a boat move like it.’
“‘Haring up the river?’ asked a farmhand.
“‘Aye, and just a little slip of a girl too! You wouldn’t think a woman could row so fast.’
“‘But…”haring,” you say?’
“‘That’s right. Quick as a hare, it means.’
“‘I know what it means, all right. But you can’t say she was “haring up the river.”‘
“‘Whyever not?’
“‘Have you ever seen a hare rowing a boat?’
“There was a burst of laughter that bewildered the gardener and made him flustered. ‘A hare in a boat? Don’t be daft!’
“‘That’s why you can’t say “she went haring up the river.” If a hare can’t hare up a river, how can Mrs. Vaughan?'” 202-203

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation UnstoppableYou Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable by Jen Sincero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! It’s not rocket science, but it gave me little shots of enthusiasm for my own life.

“…the excellent thing about success is that it always comes down to one simple thing: the decision to keep going until you’ve reached your goal.” 2

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as important to know exactly what you want to do with your life as it is to know what makes you feel good.” 39

“What comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words wisely.” 76

“Procrastination is just fear in the form of brakes, and fear is not the boss of you.” 125

“The Moment of Truth or Poof: when all our no-nonsense dedication to achieving our goals and all our excitement about the brand-new life we’re creating for ourselves either stays strong or goes poof…” 151

“Overwhelm is a mindset; it’s the choice to focus on everything all at once and stress yourself out. Instead, choose to take your life moment by moment and savor it…” 167

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scovell has made a consistent and interesting career in writing mostly for TV. This book was funny at times, but not as funny as I wanted it to be. She drops a lot of names because they mean something to her, and probably to others in the industry, but meant mostly nothing to me as a reader. I hung in there mainly because she occasionally drops some gems about how to hang in with the hard work of being a writer. It got better towards the end as she lives into her identity both as a woman and a writer and takes a stand on behalf of other women in male-dominated fields.

“Writing is not what you start. It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see. Sometimes we’re afraid to share our work because we know those twin jerks–criticism and rejection–are out there waiting to beat us up. Once the assault begins, there are three possible responses: (1) run away from the jerks; (2) defend yourself against the jerks; (3) assume the position and say, ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another.’ The third choice hurts like hell, but the jerks often have useful feedback.” 22

“It’s always better to like doing something that to be instantly good at it. If you’re successful but hate the process, you’ll stop doing it. If you suck, but the work intrigues you, you’ll keep at it and get better.” 45

“An episode, article, or book doesn’t flow out of a pen or keyboard fully formed. Each work is built concept by concept, beat by beat, word by word. It’s a process of discovery. You head down a path which leads to another and another and another until you hit a dead end. Then you backtrack to where you made a wrong turn and look for a better way through.
“When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking, “Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly, the work comes into focus.” 87

“…while work expands to fill the time, time expands to fill a mission.” 255