Boxing Day

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I hope Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you may celebrate was wonderful for you this year. My family had Christmas Eve dinner at a local pub-type place and stuffed ourselves with fish ‘n chips and cottage pies. Then a quiet Christmas afternoon at my parents with games and movies. My husband was working, so I met him late with some take out Chinese and our little break-room dinner was honestly the highlight of my day.

I’m not a big Christmas person, but I love the week between Christmas and New Years. The winding down and reflection as well as the anticipation of what’s to come. What changes are within MY control and what am I going to do to keep propelling myself forward. To always be learning and always be growing.

This past week I finished two books. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. While VERY different, both were solid “like, didn’t love” titles for me. I couldn’t connect with Danler’s main character and the Crouch book felt like it was simply a prelude to a (very fun) screenplay.

While I am working this week, it’s a quiet schedule with no client meetings and not much follow-up. I’m looking forward to squeezing in another couple books to round out my year of reading. I’ll do a roundup of my favorite titles of 2016 next weekend.

The other side of the freeze

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We made it through the lows in the negative teens last weekend as a storm and then a deep freeze moved through the upper Midwest. With the exception of some very abbreviated dog walks, life simply carried on as we are Minnesotans and this is winter. We did discover Musher’s Secret, which is a wax to put on your dog’s feet. It protects from salt and snow and is AMAZING. It’s a bit pricey, but you only need to apply a couple times a week, so we realized one small tub will last us a long time. (Picture below taken from my living room just as the storm started last Friday afternoon.)

I finished Stoner by John Williams and enjoyed it thoroughly. I also re-read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This was one I hadn’t read since high school where it was clearly not something to which I knew how to respond. I remembered very little about it but this time it terrified the socks right off me. It’s amazing to me that such a cautionary tale is so relevant thirty years after being published.

Bad at Blogging

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It sure seems as if I am not committed to this blogging thing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. It’s just that when it comes to sitting down and completing a post, my brain seems to go blank. I’ve been working, I’ve been reading, I’ve been walking my dog in sub zero temperatures, I’ve been socializing, I’ve been cooking,  I’ve been watching silly TV shows (how can Grey’s Anatomy be on Season 13? I’m up to Season 8 on Netflix and can’t believe I’ve made it that far. Silly, soapy, addictive trash.)

So I’ve decided to add blogging time to my calendar. If something is on my calendar, it gets addressed. So I’ll start with a weekly reminder and possibly increase it as time goes on.

But the bullet points in my bookish world at the moment?

  • I finished my Good Reads challenge to read 50 books this year! I am actually at 52 with the likelihood of hitting 56 or so. You can follow me on Good Reads here. 
  • I am thinking of raising my goal to 60 books for next year. But we’ll see. I never want it to be about the quantity and sometimes the pressure of hitting the goal makes me rush or make selections that are less than ideal for my taste.
  • Book Riot has their 2017 Read Harder Challenge up and it looks like a great way to broaden my reading horizons. Currently compiling my list, which I am sure will change many times between now and the end of 2017.
  • I may look into a literature or philosophy MOOC next year.
  • One of the books I’m currently reading is Stoner by John Williams. It’s been on my shelf for years, and despite rave reviews from friends and critics I’ve always passed it by for something that sounded more interesting. But I was so wrong. This book is perfect and beautiful. It is what a novel should be. Tight and concise while addressing the biggest questions we face as humans: What is a good life? What makes life worth living?

 

 

Where did October go?

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I keep thinking that time is dragging, primarily because this ridiculous election season seems never ending. But I blinked and October is almost over!

We took a trip to NYC and had a great time. We went to MOMA, which we haven’t been to in 10 years or so, meaning it has been remodeled since our last visit. We loved the large open space. We also went to the Agnes Martin exhibit at the Guggenheim. I found it mesmerizing and felt drawn into her grid paintings. Something about her stuff is very satisfying to the organizational side of my brain. The rest of our time was spent wandering around, meeting friends, and enjoying drinks and food. Looking forward to our next visit.

I’ve been transitioning to 100% plant based in my eating and it’s going very well. I feel so much better and I’ve lost about 12 pounds in the last six weeks. Not really doing this for weigh loss, but it certainly isn’t something I’m going to complain about as I’ve been chubby my entire life. Rice bowls piles with veggies are my go-to dinner these days. Filling and satisfying.

It’s been a pretty good reading month. I’ve finished the following books (with my star rating out of 5):

Pines by Blake Crouch (3 stars)

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell (4 stars)

You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson (4 stars)

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (4 stars)

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (4 stars)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (5 stars)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (5 stars)

My current to-read pile continues to grow, but I’m keeping up! I have 4-5 library holds coming in this week.

Shifting

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I have literally made 6 posts in this blog and am ready to shift the format a bit. While I love to read, writing reviews of the books feels like an assignment and it stresses me out. Why would I make myself do that?

I started this blog to keep track of my reading, but that’s what Goodreads is for. I would like this to track more of what my life was while reading a given book. So I am going to keep the name, because at the heart of it I am a bookworm, but I’m broadening my scope to write more about my day-to-day life. Because it’s so fascinating. Ha. But then again, this is really for me – I’m not living the dream that my blog suddenly takes off and makes me Internet Famous.

That being said, I finished Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss and loved it. 5 stars easily for me – rich character development and early 80’s NYC art scene. A bit too neatly wrapped up, but it didn’t matter. I was in love with these characters and only want the best for them.

We are headed to New York City this weekend for visit and to catch up with some friends. Looking forward to seeing the new Whitney Museum, wandering the shelves at The Strand, and trying a few new restaurants. This is my first visit going full-blown vegan and while I’ll try to stick to it, I’ll forgive myself if I merely keep it vegetarian and not 100% dairy free. It doesn’t seem fair to spring it on friends at the last minute. (I went vegan for health and environmental reasons. It’s a very anti-inflammatory way to eat and I have some nerve issues that it is helping.)

The dumb part of this trip? We booked our flight for 6:15am, so we have to get up at 3am Friday morning. Ugh.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

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sloh

Wow. I don’t even know where to start, because going into this book with very little knowledge is so much better. Sweet Lamb of Heaven is a metaphysical, psychological thriller that started good and then grabbed me to the point where I finished the entire thing in one three hour sitting last night.

Anna and Ned are married, but not happy. He’s not physically abusive, just neglectful and mean. When they have baby Lena, Anna begins to have auditory hallucinations. Is the baby speaking to her? When Lena starts to speak, the voices in Anna’s head go quiet and she thinks she has the reason behind the voice figured out.

This was it, this was how it happened: this was its departure. Her first word had supplanted the voice. And suddenly I knew, in a rush, what had been suggested to me, what had been hinted at opaquely in the preceding weeks – the voice had a life cycle. It passed through those who were newly born, in the time before they spoke, and when they spoke it moved on, displaced by the beginning of speech. It lived in the innocence before that speech, the time that was free of words.

When she makes the decision to leave Ned, she begins to sense that hiding from him would be the best solution for her and Lena. They go from Alaska to Maine and end up in a small coastal motel in the off-season. But even off-season the motel is filling up. Who are these people? What is bringing them all to this small, run-down motel?

Ned tracks Anna down and then things really pick up. No spoilers from here, but this book sent me down rabbit holes like crazy. I’ve been reading about auditory hallucinations, hypnosis, linguistic theory, dying languages…each entry sends me somewhere else fascinating.

Deep language is in all living things but all the others, it stays with. Only not humans…God leaves us, Anna. God leaves us.

The writing style is sort of like a philosophical journal, but captures the fear and confusion in Anna’s mind. By the end I was wondering if Anna is a narrator we can trust. Is everything truly happening as she says? I feel this is a book I will reread in a year. And as I am not a big re-reader that’s quite a feat for an author to accomplish.

 

Reading Pile

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Now that we are reaching the end of September, it feels like fall is truly here and our schedule is falling into place. My husband takes classes three nights a week and works full time, so I have some serious downtime. The hermit in me is very happy with this and while I could easily fall into the Netflix abyss, I try to get some reading in every day.

I have a few things going right now. Being in three book clubs and having an ever growing TBR pile will do this.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss is for an online club I am in. It’s supposed to be our September book, but I just started it last night. I’m enjoying it so far, so it shouldn’t be tough to finish this week.

My next postal book club read is The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell. I have never heard of it, but it sounds fascinating. A woman meets her aging aunt, who she never knew existed because the aunt had been in a hospital for over 60 years. The blurbs compare it to The Awakening or The Yellow Wallpaper. Yes to all that!

My bedtime read (on my Kindle to let my husband sleep) is a psychological thriller called Sweet Lamb of Heaven. I’ve gone into it not knowing much, and am happy about that. I do know that it was recently on the long list for the National Book Awards this year so am excited to be unintentionally reading one of those books too.

Now that there is a chill is in the air, I also have a pile of cookbooks next to my spot in the living room. It’s soup and casserole season! For health reasons I am primarily vegan so I have a few books by Isa Chandra and Deborah Madison.

 

 

Go Set a Watchman

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Boy, this was a slog for me. I had not been planning on reading this at all, but as it is a book club selection I felt obligated. I still am not sure how I feel about doing so knowing the controversy surrounding Harper Lee’s estate and the publishing of this novel.

A quick synopses: This is set about 15-20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is coming home to visit her aging father, Atticus. She is single, although being pursued by the charming Hank, and living in New York City. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Jem has passed away since we learn this in the first few pages. The bulk of the novel is Scout’s interaction with her family and town folk as normal part of her visit home. There are some great flashbacks to when she was a child; those were my favorite parts. At one point she sneaks into the courthouse to listen to a city council meeting about how to resist the NAACP and is shocked to see her beau, Hank, and Atticus as part of this group.

She reacts strongly, as one would expect, but the remaining third of the book was her trying to reconcile what she heard with what she knows about her father and family. She stands her ground, but I found it preachy and moralistic. It ended with almost an “agree to disagree” sentiment, which seemed a bit too neat for me.

Having read both of Harper Lee’s novels back to back, it seems clear that Watchman was a sort of draft of Mockingbird, or at least an abandoned attempt at a novel. Mockingbird is so much clearer about it’s point. There is much less murkiness or ambiguity. More of the characters are fleshed out, where in Watchman it feels like Scout is the only fully formed person on the pages. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars on Good Reads. I didn’t out and out hate it, but wouldn’t recommend it and don’t intend to read it again at any point.

The New World

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It only took me about three hours to read ‘The New World’ by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz. What a fascinating little love story. 

Jane is on an airplane when her husband dies suddenly. By the time she gets to the hospital he is dead and his head has been removed. It turns out Jim had registered with a cryogenic company named Polaris without ever discussing it with her. 

A little more than half the book is Jane dealing with her anger and grief, alternating with chapters on how Jim is adjusting to his new world where he can live forever. The last part recounts their relationship and fierce (but not always happy) devotion to one another. 

The alternating points of view and jumping timeline makes me question exactly what happened, but I have theories – some happier than others. There are even some visual clues in the print edition, although you wouldn’t miss anything big reading a digital copy. It’s beautiful little  book trying to offer a perspective on some very large questions. What is the purpose of life? What’s the meaning of love? How do we hold on to our memories? Of course the answer is that there is no right answer. It’s different for everyone. But wouldn’t it be nice to love someone whose answers are the same as yours? 

To Kill a Mockingbird

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I just joined a new book club with a few bookish friends I found online. It’s a postal club, so each one of us picks a book and buys a notebook. We write down our thoughts and mail it to the next person on the list. Once the book makes the rounds, you get your original book with a notebook full of thoughts from everyone else.

The first book I received was ‘Go Set a Watchman’, the new Harper Lee book that came out last year to much hullabaloo and controversy. I hadn’t planned on reading it, but will certainly do so for this group. The sender thoughtfully included a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which I haven’t read since high school, a long time ago. AHEM. 


I am so glad I took the time to reread it. I had forgotten all but the very basic plot. To review, the book is narrated by ~9 year-old Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch. She and her brother Jem are being raised by their single father, Atticus, an attorney in their small Alabama town. It is set during the Depression and racial tensions are running high all over. Atticus accepts a case for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape by a white woman. The outcome of the case exposes Scout and Jem to the darker side of human nature.

I had forgotten about characters like Calpurnia the housekeeper, and the wonderful scene at her church. Or Aunt Alexandra and her fussy concern about how the family is viewed by the town. Judge Taylor, Dill, and, of course, our hero Boo Radley. 

Scout’s innocent and matter of fact narrative style drives home some uncomfortable points to readers obviously older and more wordly than she. I’d like to think I’d be like Atticus and be willing to climb far out onto a limb, knowing it’s right but risky. But honestly? That’s a mighty scary and lonely limb to be on.