Nonfiction November: Self-Improvement… Ask the Expert

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is brought to us by my talented friend Julie of JulzReads. (Hey, Julz!)

And here we have it…

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year I posted about self-improvement books, and guess what?

This year: more self-improvement!

 

Only this year, I’m asking the experts. (That’s you-all!)

Now that my life is a much happier thing overall, and now that I have some additional margin due to that much shorter commute, I find myself stretching in some new ways.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got the time management and efficiency pieces pretty much under control. I’ve upped my decluttering game.

And this can only mean one thing… we’re getting into serious Brene Brown be-brave territory. And also some facing of the Enneagram dark side issues.

We’re talking: becoming a better human.

So here’s my question to all of you good people:

What book made you a better person?

I’m looking for some books that’ll take me into the tough territory of really looking at the areas that have been neglected in favor of the easier tasks of getting more done in an efficient way. I’m talking: addressing one’s full humanity. It’s gettin’ real around here.

Nonfiction November: Nonfiction / Fiction Pairing

This week’s episode of Nonfiction November is hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves.

 

And this week’s topic is…

Pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

 

Knowing that I was going to read Beryl Markham’s memoir West with the Night for an upcoming book discussion, I first dove in to Circling the Sun by Paula McLain–an historical novel about Markham’s life.

 

And while both are lyrical in style, with vivid descriptions of Markham’s free-spirited, adventurous life, Circling the Sun delves into the complicated relationships of Markham’s life. If you read only West with the Night, you’d have no idea of the messy love triangle among Markham, Denys Finch Hatton, and Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen). The fictionalized account, based closely on the facts, takes a good, long look at the underbelly.

 

It’s a bit like reading an autobiography and a biography of the same person, and getting the glossy version from the person’s own pen, while the outside account lays it all bare. Only when the outside account is a novel, there’s also some judicious editing that creates a better story arc. And I’m OK with that.

 

I found the reading of West with the Night all the richer for having spent time with the fictionalized Markham in the pages of the novel. And I was struck again by the remarkable ways in which fiction, too, can speak truth.

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction So Far

It’s Nonfiction November, and that always makes me get all wiggly with excitement.

Plus: the streets around me look like this…

…so what’s not to like about this time of year?

We’re starting the month with a question from Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, one of my favorite bloggers. This week, she poses this series of questions…

Your Year in Nonfiction So Far
Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite of the Year

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Every time I think of this book, I smile. It’s one of those. A definite comfort read, and especially lovely when times are good.

 

Topic

Memoirs! Oh my goodness… this year, the memoirs. I’ve been vicariously living lots of other people’s lives this year and it’s been a year of personal expansion in all kinds of ways. And reading about people experiencing terrific and terrible things has expanded my worldview. It’s one of many factors that make me feel like I’m becoming my better self.

Here are some of the life stories that have inspired me…

Most Recommended

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

It’s short, it’s clever, it’s succinct, it’s personal. It’s quite perfect. If you like tiny snippets of story, memoir in bite-sized pieces, poetic and perfect writing, and humor… this one’s for you.

 

Hopes for Nonfiction November

More great nonfiction recommendations by other bloggers. I can’t wait. Based on last year’s Nonfiction November, I read and enjoyed Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake (recommended at Books Are My Favourite and Best) and Michael Strahan’s Wake Up Happy (recommended by Kristilyn at Reading in Winter). I’m excited to learn about great nonfiction books that made other bloggers’ favorites lists.

Book Club Update: Nonfiction Spree

Book club commuter… my new role! Previously, I lived in the same town as most of our book club members. Now I’m 45 minutes away — a totally worthwhile drive to spend time with friends, discussing books. But still: a change. And most recently, I got to host, so the good people of book club made the long trek south.

In recent months, another interesting shift: it’s been all about the nonfiction. And I love the nonfiction.

Here’s how it’s gone…

 

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

Discussibility Score: 4

Because: While we didn’t love the book (and I thought at least two of us would love the book — me because of my adoration of Brown’s The Boys in the Boat and my fondness for true tragedy, and my good friend because of her ghoulish tastes), we had a solid discussion of what we liked and didn’t. And how the writing and the structure of the book led us to those conclusions. I expected to feel a little bit more than I did, but I can’t fault an author for restraint, especially when writing about cannibalism.

 

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Discussibility Score: 3

Because: Our book club loves discussing sociological trends, so this book opened up a good line of conversation about what’s going on with the middle class and the former middle class. And also about alternate lifestyles (people living in campers and traveling to seasonal jobs) due to reduced economic circumstances.

 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Discussibility Score: 5

Because: We actually discussed the book for more than an hour. And we were only discussing the first half of the book! (We split it into two meetings, because the thing is 600+ pages long.) We were fascinated by the way Laura’s early years make up so little of this biography. And how itinerant she was as a young adult. We’d just gotten to the part where Laura’s relationship with her daughter was getting kind of weird, to our minds. And now we can’t wait to read the rest. (Thanks to Bybee for the rave review on this one, which strongly influenced our decision to read it.)

 

So… for our next book club: more Laura Ingalls Wilder biography reading, as we finish the book. And for me… a real-life trek across the prairie to book club.

What I’ve Done with 10 Extra Hours Per Week

My life these days reminds me of a ComEd commercial from the ‘90s. It showed an older couple slow-dancing while listening to the radio, and the tag line was, “What do you do with your power?” I tried to track it down, but found this one about monsters instead.

The idea of “What do you do with your power?” is resonating with me these days.

With 10 fewer hours of driving each week, I suddenly have so much margin I hardly know what to do with myself. Except I know exactly what to do with myself. I’ve known for years.

Here’s how I’m spending my newfound power…

 

Cooking

Apple crisp (America’s Test Kitchen)

While I haven’t exactly achieved domestic goddess status, I’ve been actually chopping vegetables, mixing them with other food items, adding spices, and applying heat. People, I’ve been cooking! And except for a couple of notable failures that first week (they were magnificent, if I do say so myself), the results have been pretty darn good.

My go-to cookbooks:

Pretty Simple Cooking by Alex and Sonja Overhiser

Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor

Also: Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines — for the ricotta pancake recipe, which I’ve already made twice

And occasionally the interwebs, for things like the skillet apple crisp recipe

 

Reading

My reading life is different! I’ve returned to mostly reading printed books. And while I’ll always love audiobooks, I truly adore the comfort of sitting down with a book. And the speed! I read so much faster with my eyes than with my ears. But mostly it’s just a return to my natural state… book in hand.

 

Sleeping more

Waking up to these windows!

I much more consistently meet my sleep target these days, and my Fitbit and I are happy. That later wake-up time is life-changing.

 

Organizing shelves and drawers

Open this…

…and find this! (drawer dividers… I might like them too much)

I dearly adore organizing, so this is one of the pleasures of settling in — especially when I slow down to let myself just enjoy the process.

 

Preparing a house for sale

Selling a house is so much work, I can hardly believe I got it done. But with the help of our crackerjack team, I did, and it sold, and thank goodness.

 

Buying flowers

In my new domestically blissful state, putting flowers in a vase and then letting my eyes be drawn to them every time I’m in the kitchen… this is some good stuff.

 

Hanging out with this guy

The best part: I love the ease of spending unscheduled time with my favorite human. Not only is he the best person I’ve ever met, but he also makes me laugh.

 

So tell me… have you ever gained some extra time in your weekly schedule, and if so… what did you do with it?

Bookish Tourist: The Bookshop in Nashville

The Bookshop – Nashville, Tennessee

3 words: bright, lovely, well-curated

Our recent visit to Nashville had a single mission: attend the wedding of the Dear Man’s dear nephew and his dear fiancée. Mission accomplished! The wedding was one of those really, really good ones — where the couple are so right for one another and it’s truly a blessed occasion.

Rehearsal dinner & amazing BBQ

Plus, at the reception, there were s’mores.

 

When we weren’t spending time with family, we did some history geek tourism and we stopped by a bookstore whose Instagram feed delights me.

The lightness of those white bookshelves! Those light fixtures!

And the bookshop is every bit as pretty in person (though my photo doesn’t do it justice).

We browsed a good while, and I finally selected two books to buy for my home library:

 

 

 

 

So we’ve got some fiction (such a favorite!) and a new nonfiction book about a president, by an author whose writing I adore.

Here they are in our living room, because the Unruly home library is not yet open for business. (The move! The boxes! Thank goodness there’s a public library less than a mile away.)

 

Anyone else doing any bookstore tourism this fall? Any great finds?

18 for 2018 Update

While I was all busy with moving plans these past few months, I neglected my 18 for 2018 list like nobody’s business. And now it’s time to get back on track. Today we’re taking a look at the rather paltry Q3 progress…

During the past few months, I’ve accomplished four of the things on the list:

Call old friends on a regular basis

Because sometimes I’ll do things I want to do only if those things are scheduled (this frustrates me about myself), I set up a reminder in Google Calendar to prompt me when it’s time to call a faraway friend. Then I actually call. And it’s making my life a better, richer thing.

Burn a candle when writing

I’m literally doing this one as I type this post. I lit a candle in the middle of the kitchen island, where I sit with the laptop, and it’s a pretty dreamy scene.

Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them

I watched this video, bought some flowers, and arranged them. I was feeling all satisfied with my work after two successful attempts. And then I attempted to blend two bunches of flowers I bought at Trader Joe’s, and I couldn’t get them right. We’re going back to the basics, my friends…

 

Do a deep decluttering of my house

The home library still looks like this…

So did I mention that we moved?

It’s only completely dominated my free moments the past few months. And for all those months, I was decluttering like a wild thing. And then, at the last moment, right before the moving van arrived, I pitched a whole bunch more stuff. And post-move, we went through a week of making daily Goodwill deliveries. Now we’re down to twice-a-week Goodwill drop-offs. And we’ve got miles to go…

 

So here’s the updated list, with the items I’ve accomplished in italics. All those things in normal font? I gotta get at it!

      • Call old friends on a regular basis
      • Buy typewriter key jewelry
      • Go on southern vacation with the Dear Man and Younger Sister
      • Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister
      • Roast vegetables once a month
      • Burn a candle when writing
      • Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them
      • Invite friends for dinner
      • Begin meditating
      • Memorize 5 quotes
      • Visit 3 history geek places
      • Replace long wool coat
      • Bake 2 family recipes
      • Buy warm winter coat & boots
      • Remind myself to slow down once per day
      • Complete 2 of the 3: Book Bingo, Read Harder, and Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges
      • Zipline
      • Do a deep decluttering of my house

Will I make it? Stay tuned…

 

Anyone have any advice for me on how to knock any of those remaining items off the list? I’ll gladly hear anything you got!

 

 

Literary life advice

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

3 words: philosophical, quotable, introspective

 

Well, I did kind of a dumb thing when reading this book. I tore right through it.

And while this is a sign that I’m loving a book, it’s also a sign that I’m going to be left with a wispy but happy recall of a reading experience. And that’s definitely the case with this one.

My faint recall (already) is this:

Letters to a Young Poet is a lyrical, thoughtful, and encouraging treatise on the creative life.

And while I’m not living The Creative Life, I love reading about people who do. And this book gives insight into the parts that are horrible and wondrous. And it especially addresses the loneliness that can result from that life.

I found it most consoling.

And I kept marking passages I adored.

Like this…

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” (p. 34)

For a person who’s always leaning toward the future, this is some tough and wise advice.

 

And for a person in the midst of a house search when reading this book, this line struck me: “…this circumstance, along with other practical difficulties in finding a place to live, helped make the restlessness around us seem as if it would never end, and the unfamiliarity lay upon us with the weight of homelessness.” (p. 46)

Overly dramatic for my situation? Definitely. But that helped nonetheless.

 

And this wisdom, which I find more true the more I live:

“If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outerworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadness with greater trust than we have in our joys.” (pp. 82-83)

And then he goes on to explain how sadness transforms us, and it’s one of the loveliest and most moving things I’ve ever read.

And I’m pretty sure I’m going to go along my merry way and forget it.

 

So: this blog post is my reminder to not do that. Future Self, re-read those pages. Heck, re-read the whole book — it’s only 109 pages, and I promise you, dear darling Future Me, that you’ll be glad of it.

I read the Stephen Mitchell translation, because word on the street is that it’s the one. I was well pleased.

Give this book a whirl if you like… pondering creativity and solitude, lovely writing, life advice

 

Readers… what’s the book you want to remind yourself to re-read?

Perfect for book discussion

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

3 words: riveting, quietly dramatic, haunting

 

There’s a reason this book, first published in 1993, is still flying off the shelves today. Actually, there are lots of reasons.

I’m pretty sure we can consider it a modern classic.

Here’s why…

First, this story is sadly timeless. A doctor from an influential family has been molesting Native American women, and it’s only when he commits murder to cover it up, that his brother–the sheriff–discovers this horrific misconduct. In these days of #MeToo, this novel’s narrative is timely in a way that just hurts. But Watson’s treatment of the subject is sensitive and honest. For a book group, this is one remarkable book to discuss, because while there’s a villain, there are no true heroes. It’s complex and messy and sadly real to life.

Second, Watson’s writing style perfectly fits the story. It’s clear from the length of the book (fewer than 200 pages) and the power of the prose that he’s also a poet. Every word is carefully placed, which a reader only realizes upon reflecting later–because while you’re reading this book, you’re gonna be turning the pages fast. Watson pulls you right into the story from the start and makes you care about the characters.

David, the narrator, is a preteen boy at the time of the story’s events. But he’s telling the story from the perspective of his adult years, which adds some nice complexity to the narrative.

If you’re looking for a great book discussion book, or a fast-moving work of literary fiction, or a modern Western, or just a remarkable book to fall into… this one’s a winner.

Give this book a whirl if you like… an adult perspective reflecting on a traumatic event witnessed as a child, succinct and powerful writing, coming of age stories, #MeToo, Native Americans, modern Westerns

 

What’s the best book you’ve discussed with someone recently?

 

Currently: New House Edition

Hello, house!

We’re getting settled in our new home, and every day there’s so much progress and so much stuff added to the to-do list. But it’s all good stuff, and we’re getting through it swimmingly. The Dear Man makes everything better, even the endless rounds of garage door opener programming.

And today I’m sitting at the kitchen island with coffee in the special mug he gave me, and everything feels just right.

 

Here’s what else is cookin’ at the new Unruly Residence…

 

Reading | My reading life is disrupted all to heck because of the move. And I’m not complaining. Despite the flurry of activity, I finished re-reading Larry Watson’s masterpiece, Montana 1948, for a book discussion, and it was even more powerful than I’d remembered. And I finished Nomadland by Jessica Bruder for another book discussion just before the move. It was an unsettling thing to read while in transition, because it’s all about people who are displaced and migrant due to economic forces. Heck, it’d be unsettling anytime.

 

Listening | Since my commute has been reduced 95% (from 45 minutes to 2 [this is the part where I’m too excited even to flap; all I can do is get bug-eyed with wonder]), my audiobook listening boom time has come to a close. I’ll still always have an audiobook in the car, but it’ll be much slower going. And that’s a minuscule price to pay for those free hours I’m gaining as a non-commuter. During the move, I listened to Matthew Quick’s The Reason You’re Alive, which is magnificent on audio. If you like curmudgeonly narrators, give it a whirl.

 

Watching | Yeah, so the TV isn’t set up yet, so we’ve been watching exactly nothing. Except the occasional new homeowner YouTube how-to video on how to set up the garage door opener and thrilling new things like that.

 

Learning | I watched two YouTube videos about flower arranging, went to Trader Joe’s (right in the midst of our move), bought some hydrangeas, and I arranged those puppies! 

 

Loving | Our cat. She made the move and transitioned from Outdoor/Indoor to Indoor Only — all without a peep. We already knew she was the best in the world, but she’s seriously outdone herself. She’s one cool, calm, and collected cat.

 

 

Anticipating | One fine day, our house will be box-free and we will begin normal life. Until then, we’ll be unpacking and unpacking and unpacking… Seriously, people: Before the move, I KonMari’d twice.  I have no idea where all this stuff came from.

Celebrating | Every morning, waking up in the new place and looking through these huge windows… it’s one of life’s happiest miracles.

 

My fellow readers… what’s rocking your world this September?