Essays on the reading life

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

3 words: literary, conversational, amiable

 

I didn’t think I was in the mood for bookish essays, but the good Citizen Reader announced an Essay Project, beginning with Nick Hornby, and I can’t resist a reading-related Project.

Then I got a few pages in and started praising Hornby and Citizen for the delightful reading experience. Turns out I was in the mood for bookish essays (at least Hornby-style bookish essays) after all.

It’s weird: I wasn’t particularly interested in the books Hornby writes about, but his comments on the reading life were quite perfect.

I kept marking lines that made me smile, and before I returned the book to the library, I captured my three favorites. Here they are:

  • “A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I’d forgotten pretty much everything I’ve ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am now cheered by the realization that if I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever read then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.” (p. 43)

 

  • “Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else.” (p. 58)

 

  • “Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path.” (p. 63)

(that last one!!!!)

 

My fellow readers, he’s one of us. (Except he also writes the kinds of novels that lots of people love, but never mind that)  He’s our readerly kin.

Thanks, Citizen, for the reading suggestion. This stuff’s worth quoting.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… literary essays, a self-deprecating tone, reading about books and the reading life, a touch of humor

 

Anyone else a fan of Hornby?

Currently: summer’s heating up

It’s mid-summer, and things are busy in the very best way.

Reading (books) | It’s summer, and of course that means reading about cannibalism. My book club’s chosen The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown as our next book, so it’s getting fascinating and darn grim. Not perfect for before-bedtime reading.

Listening | The excellent Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm sent me the audiobook of Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, and I’m completely engrossed.

Watching | I’m re-watching 30 Rock, which I first watched what feels like a lifetime ago.

Learning | After beginning to read Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam, I watched her TED Talk about time management, and it opened up my brain in a new way.

Loving | I’ve been deep-purging my house, and it feels amazing to see space opening up. The question is: Can I sustain the openness, or will I fall back into gathering mode? Stay tuned…

Indulging | Oh, my land. During a recent trip to Toledo, we ate Hungarian style hot dogs. Life-changing.

 

They even cater to vegetarians!

 

Celebrating | After some recent dietary restrictions, I’m easing back into normal food. And in our world, that means pizza.

The Dear Man and Pizza #112

 

Anticipating | We’re planning our next long weekend, and it’s gonna be super geeky and amazing cuz that’s our superpower.

 

What’s your summer looking like?

Royal weddings — what’s not to like?

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

3 words: sparkling, sprightly, romantic

 

The only thing that’s shocking about my liking this book is that it took me so long to read it. It’s only in the aftermath of the most recent royal wedding that I picked it up, so late to the party.

Which brings us to the following short story…

Why It Shouldn’t Have Taken Me So Long, or, My Lifelong Royal Wedding Watching Credentials

 

Royal Wedding #1

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

I was in elementary school, and thankfully, Charles and Diana were married in the summer, so my mom had no qualms about honoring my request to be awakened in the wee pre-dawn hours to watch the wedding on the telly. I believe I took notes (cuz that’s precisely how geeky). Then I proceeded to coax my mother into purchasing large coffee table books containing gorgeous photos of the blessed event.

Then we learned what a skunk of a husband Charles was, and so much for all that.

 

Royal Wedding #2

Prince William and Catherine Middleton

Ahhhhh… the defining moment for me was watching Kate walk down the aisle, and seeing the view from above. There were trees in the sanctuary!* It was so lovely I cried.

This marriage I have a good feeling about. I know much was made of “Wait-y Katie,” but I find it wise that they knew each other well before marrying.

This is the relationship that was the inspiration for The Royal We, although the American commoner element in the novel was eerily prescient of the arrival of Meghan Markle on the scene.

 

Royal Wedding #3

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

All I can say is: thank goodness for YouTube. Because when this wedding took place, we were on vacation in a television-free, Internet-free log cabin in the woods. The place had been reserved well in advance of a wedding date announcement, so I forewent viewing in real time. Because we live in a splendidly modern era, I watched the thing the following week, and, as a bonus, got to skip the dull preachy parts and boys’ choir. (I know: wrong. This is wrong.)

They’re a beautiful couple who had a gorgeous wedding, but I gotta say: makes me a little nervous that they knew each other less than 2 years before the wedding. Who knows? It might work. (I wish them well, but I have my doubts about this one.)

 

So if you mash up William/Kate and Harry/Meghan into a single storyline, you basically have The Royal We. A young American college student attends university in England and meets the Prince of Wales. They chum around, and then they fall in love. And the American commoner marries the prince, but only after the usual boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl business plays out.

 

It’s sparkly, it’s light, it’s stylish, it’s fun, but it’s not silly. You can read this novel and have just a hint of the guilt but all of the pleasure.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… royal weddings, rom-coms, unlikely love stories, the success of the girl next door

 

Anyone else a fanatical watcher of royals committing matrimony?

 

*there’s not a public domain photo available, but if you Google Prince William wedding trees, you can see it

18 for 2018 update

Mid-year approaches, and it’s time for a check-in on the 18 for 2018.

Since the last update, I’ve knocked off a few more items.

Here’s photographic evidence of the latest conquests…

 

Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister

The Dear Man, his sister and her husband, and I trekked to Minnesota and Canada to visit my dad. And it was a spectacular trip. Here’s some scenery and a photo at Betty’s Pies…

 

Begin meditating

Just this morning, I was listening to episode 49 of the Typology podcast, in which Julianne Cusick (a fellow Enneagram One) spoke about how horribly difficult it is for Ones to be still.

Truth, sister!

I’ve been meandering my way through the delightful book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, resisting every step of the way.

Despite being certain that I’d have a mediation habit firmly established by now, I will report that I’ve meditated exactly twice. For one minute each time.

And I intend to try it again at least weekly for the rest of the year. I’m saying this counts.

 

Visit 3 history geek places

The Dear Man and I recently hit about 6 historically geeky sites in one day. I really should’ve raised the bar on this one. During our recent canoe trip in Ohio, we saw the airplane that served as Air Force 1 for JFK and LBJ — the one that carried Kennedy’s body home from Texas, Simon Kenton’s grave, the site of four forts, Wright Brothers historic sites, and the birthplace of Tecumseh. Not to mention Erma Bombeck’s grave (literary! I loved dipping into her books from my mom’s bookshelf when I was growing up.)

Verklempt!

 

Remind myself to slow down once per day

I set up a Google Calendar alert that pops up on my phone and buzzes on my Fitbit, and invariably it happens at a moment when I’m whirling around like a pint-sized tornado. Then I take a deep breath. A really deep breath. And I actually slow down. For just a moment.

 

And I’ve made a mid-year substitution to the list, after hearing on the Happier podcast that this is permissible. (Dear heaven. I needed permission from a podcast to change one of my goals. Such a One.)

Off the list: Paddle board a second time.

While I really liked paddle boarding in Costa Rica, I seriously don’t feel like trying to wedge it into this summer’s activities. It was stressing me out. So off it goes.

New on the list: Do a deep decluttering of my house

Just when I thought I’d KonMari’d to my full potential, I realized I’d barely scratched the surface. During my most recent Goodwill delivery, the trunk and back seat of my car were packed to the gills. And it feels so good I can hardly believe it. My new sport is entering a room of my house, looking around, spotting the next thing to go, and tossing it into the Goodwill pile. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I’ve reached Olympic qualifying status.

 

And there are several projects in progress… calling old friends, following flower-arranging hashtags on Instagram, and roasting vegetables. And my reading challenge progress is respectable.

So… based on what remains on the list, the second half of the year is going to be domestic in the extreme. Here goes…

Here’s the full list… Items in italics are Done!

  • 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
  • Bake 2 family recipes
  • Replace long wool coat
  • 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

 

So, my fellow list makers… What’s on your list of goals for the year?

Educated in pain

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

3 words: unsentimental, graphic, dramatic

 

I’m a queasy reader. Anytime there’s cruelty in a book (I struggled with the first parts of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Jane Eyre), I tend to bail out.

And Tara Westover’s memoir almost had that effect on me. I was appalled by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her family. And I mean, appalled.

Her father repeatedly put her in terribly dangerous situations, her brother flat-out abused her physically and emotionally, and her mother stood by and let it happen.

The thing that kept me reading was the knowledge that she’d make it out. Otherwise, I would’ve stepped away. It was just that painful.

Her family claimed to be hardcore Mormons, but there was no godly love happening here.

And while Westover, having escaped via education and strengthened via therapy, appears to have forgiven them, I’m still ticked on her behalf.

But she truly used her talents and worked ridiculously hard to succeed academically. After never having attended school, she started university coursework and eventually earned a doctorate from Cambridge. Darn impressive.

So this book was an emotional roller coaster. Westover takes us with her through her journey, and it’s not an easy one.

I suffered while reading it, but I’m glad I did (even though it’s haunted my dreams).

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of unconventional and violent childhoods, stories of overcoming the odds, memoirs of breaking free from an abusive family, stories of  the importance of education

Great audiobooks

June is Audiobooks Month, and today we’re gonna celebrate by taking a look at some standouts. I’ve narrowed down the best audiobooks I’ve listened to in the past 12 months.

I’m a fussy listener (I bail on audiobooks that don’t work for me), so this list is Only The Best Stuff.

Let’s start with great audiobooks expertly narrated by their authors…

We’ve got 3 celebrity memoirs

And one celebrity-penned short story collection

 

And in the realm of audiobooks read by professional narrators…

Some amazing nonfiction

  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

 

Some magnificent fiction

 

And here’s a look back at last year’s and the previous year’s celebrations of Audiobook Month.

 

My fellow listening readers… What’s the best audiobook you’ve listened to this year?

How I blog: then and now

Ten years of blogging went by in a flash, though when I think about all that’s happened in those years, it hits me how long that really is.

While real life has changed more than my blogging life, over the decade I’ve also made some changes to the way I blog. I’ve changed blog platform, and I’ve changed the tools I use for blogging.

I love reading about other people’s workflow and tools, so today we’re going behind the scenes to look at the Unruly blogging process.

The Platform

Then: Blogger
Now: WordPress
Why the change: One word: plugins
I kept hearing about WordPress plugins, and I wanted them. I wanted plugins that would play nice with social media and plugins that would let me use forms and all the other plugins for all the other reasons.

Also, another website I manage is a WordPress site, so I was gonna be doing Gale Courses to learn about WordPress, so the stars aligned.

The transfer to WordPress was not as smooth as they said it would be (all those encouraging things I found online that said it would be seamless… yeah, not so much).

But: no regrets. I like this new home of mine, and I like the WordPress app, and I like tinkering with the whole thing when I have time.

The Software

Then: Microsoft Word
Now: Google Drive
Why the change: Google Drive: it’s available everywhere

Back in the day, I drafted blog posts in Microsoft Word. As I read, I added notes on the piece of paper I use as a bookmark, and then I transferred those notes to Word and expanded on them. It worked.

But once I started using Google Drive… oh, my land. Life-changing.

Now I draft posts in Google Docs, and I can add thoughts and ideas from anywhere. No need to wait until I get home, and no need to boot up the laptop. Instead, I carry it around in my purse. I can add thoughts when I’m in the grocery store line, or when I’m waiting for my oatmeal to cook, or when I’m reading wherever I’m reading. I can add notes about books when I’m sitting with my feet up, in front of the fireplace, reading a book.

I cannot tell you how much I love this.

And the other piece of the puzzle: Google Sheets, where I track my reading. I also track my reading (all the books since 1996!) on Goodreads, but Google Sheets is where I add all the data: the 3 words that best capture the book’s essence, the appeal characteristics, the reason I read each book.

And I love that I can add notes about each book to Sheets from anywhere, too. Sometimes the perfect adjective hits me, and I open Sheets and toss it in there.

The Hardware

Then: laptop
Now: laptop and iPhone
Why the change: portability!

These days I’m running around all over the place all the time, and I love being able to post from my iPhone. I don’t do it often, but in a pinch, I’ve done the entire blogging operation on my phone. Pretty amazing. (Thank you, WordPress, for your nice little app.)

A couple of months ago, I got a wireless keyboard, and that’s made things even easier. I can type on a keyboard so much faster than I can type on my phone, and I’m actually writing this very post using my wireless keyboard at Caribou. (Very happy right now)

My usual process is to add stuff to Google Drive as I’m reading a book, and then I write most blog posts using my laptop and pre-post them. But if I’m out and about, or if I’m traveling, the iPhone + wireless keyboard is the thing.

So the upshot is: it’s all gotten more mobile, and I’m a happy blogger because of it.

So, my fellow bloggers… what are your favorite blogging tools? And how has your blogging changed over the years?

Mysteries I can’t wait to be published

Anyone else look at their library hold list just for thrills and anticipation? So do I. And right now I have such good stuff on the horizon, I hardly know what to do with myself.

Currently, my hold list is filled with pre-pub mysteries, and I feel like a kid again, waiting for the next library visit so I can stock up on Nancy Drews.

Here’s the grown-up version…

 

 

Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson

I love Craig Johnson, and we all know it. Every June for years, I’d have a super happy moment when his latest book was released and my hold came in at the library. This year, he’s got a September 4 publication date, and that means my June is gonna feel a little bereft. But… I’m skilled at anticipation, so things are gonna work out just fine.

 

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

It’s another Mary Russell mystery, and there are few things more delightful than that. Especially since June 12 is its pub date, so June is rescued after all!

 

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz has been hitting the mystery scene hard these last few years, with the magnificent Magpie Murders and his Sherlock Holmes novels, Moriarty and House of Silk. Now he’s beginning a new series with The Word Is Murder, which drops August 24.

 

The three of them are enough to keep me flapping in anticipation all season.

 

So, my fellow readers… What pre-pub books are you looking forward to?

 

Book club update: eclectic!

Sometimes our book club reads by theme. But lately, we’ve been about as random as humanly possible: a classic British novel, a self-improvement book, a horror/alt-history mash-up, and a romantic memoir.

 

Here’s how it went…

 

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Discussibility Score: 4

Because: We had quite the lively discussion about why the dude was in love with the weak, ailing sister instead of the strong, smart, interesting one. We also talked about the writing style–how it felt rather modern. And the pacing (so slow, but so building).

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Discussibility Score: 4

Because: We had different responses to Kondo’s approach, from full embrace to strong skepticism. So: lively conversation. I think this one is gonna crop up in future discussions of ife, if not of books.

 

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Discussibility Score: 3

Because: We none of us liked this book, despite the fact that one of us is drawn to novels that are quirky and violent. This meant we had a fine time ripping into it. For reasons. We disliked the cardboard characters, we disliked the holes in the plot, we disliked the unbelievable motivations.

 

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Discussibility Score: 3

Because: We just plain liked this book too much to really fully discuss it. And some hadn’t completely finished reading it. I loved the book too much to do anything other than extol its virtues. I’m not sorry.

 

What’s up next: true crime! We’re reading Kidnapped: The Tragic Life of J. Paul Getty III by Charles Fox.

 

Romantic memoir

Photo by Michael Nunes on Unsplash

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

3 words: humorous, personal, romantic

 

Don’t you love it when you find a book that keeps you reading past your bedtime? For me, this book was one of those.

The words that come to mind: delightful, engaging, romantic, funny, heartfelt, self-discovery, real.

It’s a classic romance, with a farm and a huge poodle. And it’s all true.

It’s also one of those stories I love reading about, but wouldn’t want to experience. I’ve never lived on a farm, and I never want to. Farms are a lot of work, and not the fun kind. The thought of being in charge of that much property—and the thought of needing a tractor… No, thank you. But I adored reading about it.

And there are parts of the story that are completely lovely and that I identified with in the nicest way. There’s a perfectly real and wonderful mid-life love story here, and there’s the story of finding one’s ideal home.

I knew Laskas from her fabulous book Hidden America, which Citizen Reader recommended. She’s a fun writer to read.

For example: “Probably I should pause here and explain the history of this poodle. Because it is important to note that Alex did not have this poodle when I fell in love with him. I did not know that Alex was a poodle person when I fell in love with him. Repeat: did not know. Alex dropped the poodle bomb about a year into the relationship.” (p. 25)

I was reminded of:

    • Amy Dickinson’s Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things because of the love story, the blend of humor and loss, and the sprightly writing.
    • Judy Corbett’s Castles in the Air because it, too, is a memoir about a couple moving into a bit of a wreck and turning it into the home of their dreams

All in all, a perfect delight of a memoir.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of city dwellers moving to the country, mid-life love stories, a light touch of humor, and compulsively readable writing