Wednesday, January 28, 2015

To Be Read

I am once again writing to you from the comfort of my own workspace.  Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of our visitors leaving.  Kiddo is still slightly in mourning for the unbridled frenzy of attention that is a Nana and Papaw visit, but Pizza Day at preschool seemed to help with her grief.  I on the other hand am grateful to once again be sitting in my writing chair and not furthering the damage to my already bruised and aching tailbone and lower back in that abomination that Barnes & Noble calls a cafe chair.  (There was a snow carnival incident.  I was the only adult to fall on the ice, and that includes the ones who were actually skating and not just walking around in boots like me.  There's a reason I'm a writer and not a ballerina, okay?)  Anyway, I'm enjoying my comfy cushion, my nearby space heater, and fast wifi.  (Also, my desk doesn't wobble, unlike the wonky table at BN yesterday.)

All ready to go.

Isn't this a happy chair?

But I digress.  Seriously.  My brain is all over the place today.  I have lots of work to do, and so my post will be short.  Now that I've shared a bit about my reading in 2014 and a little about what I'm reading currently, I thought I'd give a quick rundown of what books are on my To-Be-Read list for 2015.  So here they are in no particular order:

The Savage Detective, Roberto Bolano (This has been on my list for ages.)

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander  (I actually have this one.  It's just a matter of picking it up and reading it.)

This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz (Don't ask me how I've never read this one.  I'd also like to read The Brief Life of Oscar Wao.)

J, Howard Jacobson

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (I've never read anything of hers before, but this one made a lot of end-of-year lists.  Now I'm curious.)

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (This one is not out yet, but you can bet I'll be getting it as soon as it hits the shelves.  Also, on an unrelated note, auto-correct decided his name should actually be Kazoo.)

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Tenth of December, George Saunders (I got this one for my birthday, and it keeps calling to me from the shelf.)

Jennifer Worth's Midwife Trilogy

Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam Trilogy

How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran

White Teeth, Zadie Smith (Not sure how I've missed this one either.  I've already read On Beauty and NW.)

Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon

There are so many other books that I want to read this year, but this is a list of the ones that have made the list that I carry with me at all times, my I'm-at-a-used-bookstore-so-check-for-these list.  I also resolve to read more Alice Munro because, well, that's always a good idea, isn't it?

So, what's on your to-be-read list for 2015?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quick Thoughts and Slow Wi-Fi

Day 2 of the Great Barnes & Noble Exile of 2015.  My house is full of family, and I am working at my favorite BN cafe yet again.  Not complaining, though.  There are fewer distractions and temptations for procrastination here than there are in my little office/guest room, and the hot chocolate is so money (though not as good as mine, obviously.)  And on top of that Google Music is giving me my own personal Lilith Fair while I work.  (I've heard Shawn Colvin more in the past two days than I have in fifteen years.  I kind of wish that Sunny would just get home already.)  On the downside, I am so unspeakably tired, and I somehow managed to sit across from the magazine cover (Rolling Stone) with a giant picture of Nicki Minaj's boobs.  I have to say, it feels a bit early in the morning for that much cleavage.  But at least I'm not tempted to look up and get distracted, so there's that.  Also bumming me out is the inexplicably slow BN wi-fi this morning.  Let's just say that my music isn't the only thing having a 90's flashback.  The wi-fi is slow that I keep expecting to hear that dial-up modem noise and the AOL "You've got mail" message. #firstworldproblem

On the happy side, I started Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 this weekend.  If there's one thing I love, it's starting a massive novel, and this one certainly qualifies.  Coming in at a whopping 1157 pages, this erstwhile doorstop should keep me busy for a week or two.  I also just finished his YA(ish) illustrated novella, Strange Library, which was creepy and mysterious and wonderful.

Yesterday during my BN time I did take a few minutes to wander around looking for deals on books that I simply couldn't live without, and I made a great find.  I heard Jeff Bridges promote this a couple of years ago on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and I wanted to read it then.  Nothing like learning about Zen Buddhism by way of The Big Lebowski quotes.  And the book really ties my bookshelf together.

I've also been enjoying the latest season of Downton Abbey, and I can't wait to finally watch Sunday night's episode tonight.  Poor Steve will be banished to the living room yet again.  AND in less than two weeks The Walking Dead returns!  I don't think that statement requires any further elaboration.

Let's see, what else is new?  Found out yesterday that my spring term class is up to seventeen, so I'm super-excited about that, and I'm busily planning and reading lots of amazing essays to share with the ladies in my class.  My life is about to get significantly crazier with the beginning of the semester, but I'm just so happy to have this opportunity again.  Who'd have thought I'd ever be so psyched to be trapped in a room twice a week with 17 teenage girls?

Well, that's all I've got today.  Time to get busy working on lesson plans and writing.  Have a happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Forget About It

I've been thinking a lot about memory lately.  NPR has a new podcast called, Invisibilia, and we all know what a NPR junkie I am.  I don't miss my TAL or Moth or New Yorker podcasts for anything, though I have learned I can't listen to them with Kiddo in the car.  Don't even ask about that time I was listening to a story from Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, a story with a main character named, wait for it, Fuckhead.  Seriously.  With my four-year old in the car.  I've never pushed a pause button so fast in my life.  But I digress.

Back to memory.  The ladies from Invisibilia, while not talking specifically about memory, do talk a lot about the brain and all the tricks it plays on you.  And then I listened to a special science-themed Moth where a neuroscientist who studies long-term memory shares an experience she had with her father and his slowly deteriorating memory.  And then there was this morning...

I'm working on yet another draft of my latest short story, a story that is set in the late nineties, a story with autobiographical elements.  I like to listen to nineties music when I'm writing/revising it to get myself fully in that time and place.  So this morning, I'm at Barnes & Noble tapping away on my Mac (why yes, I do hate myself for writing that sentence), when the Foo Fighters song, Everlong, comes up on my queue.  No big deal, right?  Just another in a long line of 90's classics.  Except it was a big deal.  The most indescribable feeling swept over me.  I say indescribable, but, of course, you know I'm going to try.  It was this perfect wave of melancholy and nostalgia and loss and sadness and joy and some other unnameable thing I can't pin down. I have no idea if was just the song, or the story, or the combination of the two.  All I can say for sure is that I wanted to cry and laugh and maybe go for a drive (something that was significantly more affordable in the nineties.)

I don't cry.  I mean two things when I say that.  The first is that for medical reasons that I won't go into here, I am physically incapable of shedding tears.  I barely produce enough natural tears to keep my eyeballs from drying out and crumbling out their sockets, let alone enough to produce those fat drops that overflow lashes and track down cheeks.  The second meaning is that I rarely feel the urge to cry.  I don't sniffle over sad movies or books.  I'm not a sympathetic crier who chokes up when they see a friend in pain.  I'm not emotionless; I just don't express my feelings through tears that often.  Sometimes I wish that I did/could.  So the fact that a song that I'm only moderately fond of could reduce me to a sentimental puddle (though not actual tears, of course) is bizarre and remarkable.

So what is it?  What triggered that weird wash of feelings?  I have some theories about deep memories that may have been triggered (which I won't share here).  It could just simply be a result of having taken my meds late yesterday.  It could be that my health is a factor.  Maybe it's all of these things, or none.  What I do know is memory is a tricky thing.  (Not exactly an original thought, I know, but bear with me.)

For as long as I can remember (see what I did there?), I have been the Queen of Memory.  As a kid I would memorize and perform LONG poems in competition.  Song lyrics stuck in my brain like the words were printed on sheets in my brain.  Then there is the fact that my memory is heavily photographic.  I'm not perfectly eidetic (did I use that correctly?) or anything, but when I study for a test, I remember the words as they were printed on the page in book, not as abstract facts.  I knew every detail and plot twist in every movie I ever watched.  Much of my academic success has been based on my ability to memorize large quantities of data.  But I've noticed that over the past ten to fifteen years my memory has taken a sharp dip, and I don't think age or the internet and its information overload are solely to blame.

There are two (maybe three) contributing factors that I suspect have something to do with my memory decline.  One is my belief that because I attempt to not dwell on unhappy or unpleasant memories, my brain has essentially grayed them out.  They still there, but because I have made a concerted effort not to dwell on them, they are not easily accessed, though I do believe they can still be triggered by specific things (more on that in a minute.)  This is going to sound unbelievably mushy, so forgive me, but I have forgotten so many details about my life prior to 2000 (pre-husband).  Obviously, some of this can just be attributed to age and the passage of time, but I don't think all of it can, which leads me to my next significant memory eraser.

Twenty years ago (we won't talk about how old I was twenty years ago), I still possessed a sense that I now lack, a sense that plays a vital part in memory.  Twenty years ago, I could smell.  A whiff of snickerdoodles in the oven was enough to transport me to every Christmas of my childhood.  Bay leaves?  Mom's spaghetti sauce.  (Apparently, all my scent memories centered on food.  Go figure.)  You get the idea.  As my ability to smell diminished, I think my ability to easily access many of my memories diminished in direct proportion. By 2002, I had completely lost my sense of smell (Yes, you can do that, and most people's inability to accept that is a whole other post.)  Sometimes it is a loss that I truly mourn.  Other times, it seems so far removed that I barely recall it.  But there are scents that I remember.  Walking into a bread shop, the reek of the seafood counter in the grocery store, Mom's bayberry candles at Christmas time, that glorious oldy-moldy smell of an old bookstore or library, the erasers and old farts smell of an elementary school classroom, and thinking about those smells can trigger specific memories.  But without the actual scents to frequently remind me, those memories are rarely accessed.  Sometimes I worry about how this sense loss might affect my writing, but that's for another day and post.

The third area that I think plays a significant role in my diminishing memory is an obvious (and much written about) one: Motherhood.  "Mommy Brain" is real, and I think that having a gregarious child while being an introvert creates a whole new level of mental and emotional exhaustion that is not conducive to forming detailed memories of things like movie plots, historical dates, book characters, grocery lists, etc.  I'm less focused, less sharp, a little slower, and maybe that's okay.  Maybe it's better for things to be a little fuzzy when you're a parent, especially of a small child.  And I hope that one day some of that mental acuity will return.

All of this brings me back around to the music memory/flashback I mentioned earlier.  There was no specific memory triggered by the Foo Fighters.  It was more a memory of a feeling, and a hazy feeling at that.  So what does that mean?  Am I so disconnected that the most I can resurrect is a vague/slightly weird feeling?  I don't know.  What I am sure of, however, is that memory is a vagarious thing.  We are all of us unreliable narrators.  That memory I shared in a previous post of my husband's proposal (or whatever we're calling it)?  Turns out I was picturing the two of us sitting side by side on a piece of furniture I no longer owned at that time.  My brain made a composite story of that moment, and if I hadn't thought a bit more deeply, I would have just accepted that it all happened on a sagging loveseat with a spring protruding through the fabric like John Hurt's alien baby.

As I wrap this post up, I'm not really sure how to end.  I struggle daily with trying to imprint memories of Kiddo's childhood onto my brain, to etch certain moments so deeply in my memory that nothing can erase them.  I think about family members whose precious memories have been wiped away by disease.  I wonder at the vastly different recollections of people living through the same event.  I speculate over which moments in my life really happened the way I recall (probably none.)  Perhaps this is partly why we write, to try to record a feeling or moment in whatever flawed way we can manage before it disappears.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

This Magic Moment

We survived the birthday weekend.  The big number five has come and gone, and we are left with sagging streamers, slowly deflating balloons, some Guardians of the Galaxy Legos, and a very grown up Kiddo.  While most of you started your week yesterday, school was out yesterday for MLK Day, and so my work week starts today.  It's back to writing and planning for the quickly approaching spring semester.  (Did I mention I'll have sixteen students in my Comp class? So excited.)  It's also time for really real-life things like waiting for the refrigerator repair guy (my hero) and attacking the laundry that has multiplied like a mutant virus in our hampers.

All of this real life, this everyday stuff, has gotten me thinking about magic.  Not the David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear kind of magic.  Not even the Amazing Jonathan/Penn and Teller snarky, ironic kind of magic.  I'm talking about the magic that gets manufactured in our minds, the kind that we dream about and talk about and have come to expect.  Everywhere I look (especially the internet and social media), I see some new post or article about the magic of falling in love, a magical wedding/honeymoon, marriage-is-magic, the magic/miracle of pregnancy, the magic of childbirth and motherhood, even writing gets portrayed as some magical communion between writer and page.  And I know that I am probably the least magic-prone person on the planet, but seriously, everyone, ENOUGH!

Allow me to change course for just a moment and share a personal memory.  It's April 15, 2002, and I'm sitting on my sofa in my tiny apartment with my boyfriend.  I think we're just idly chatting (even if the conversation was veering into rather random territory), and it takes a few minutes of puzzled listening before I finally say, "Are you proposing?"  He confirms that he is, I agree, and that's pretty much it.  Six months later, we were married in a ceremony that by today's standards was laughably quaint but still had the same result: at the end we were man and wife.  Fast forward nearly seven years and find us expecting a baby, eight and Kiddo arrives six weeks early.  Five more and we're eating a Frozen-themed homemade cake and crossing our fingers that the balloons stay up until the celebration is over.

What does any of this have to do with magic, you ask?  I say, very little.  When my husband and I met, we fell almost instantly in love (well, maybe I shouldn't say "we," but I think he did too.)  But it was all very much without fanfare or fantasy, or as I might have called it then, "drama."  My husband is a quiet, thoughtful man who seems to spend very little time imagining how things "will be" or "should be," and his way of approaching life appealed to my no-nonsense sensibilities.  I've embraced his fantasy-free thinking and applied it to many areas of our lives together, and I believe it has saved us both from a lot of extra heartache and disappointment.

Whenever a life milestone approaches, I make a concerted effort not to imagine how it will play out, not to embellish said imagining with romantic flourishes.  In short, I don't fantasize about a perfect vision of the event.  This can be difficult with Pinterest and parenting magazines and mommy blogs and marriage books all giving you a very different message.  In fact, I would argue that Pinterest is built and exists on, nay feeds on, people's fantasies.  (Before anyone starts to freak out, I'm not knocking Pinterest.  I know lots of you find great ideas, recipes, kid crafts, etc. there.  Just bear with me for a moment.)  How To Take a Perfect Pregnancy Photo Shoot, Throw the Perfect First Birthday Party, 30 School Lunches (No Repeats)!  There's nothing wrong with any of these things, but collectively they play into our magical mindset.  For a moment, for a life, to be meaningful, it must be full of magic.

I've met so many women who are devastated when their childbirth experiences don't match up with their ideal, women whose children were born healthy and perfect, but for whom there was still a letdown because it wasn't how they imagined it.  Just the other day, I saw yet another post about childbirth being a beautiful, spiritual experience.  I asked my husband if that was the moment when I called everyone in the birthing room a liar (including him.)  Come on, ladies.  Isn't having a baby hard enough without saddling ourselves with the pressure to be spiritually present?  I mean, I'm not suggesting that there aren't women who feel that they're childbirth was a spiritual summit, but maybe, just don't go in expecting it.  Kiddo came six weeks early and was whisked away to the NICU almost as soon as she breathed room air.  I didn't get to hold her until hours later, and even then, it was for a limited amount of time, and she was hooked up to countless wires and monitors that beeped and whistled at us non-stop.  If I had spent months picturing a movie-perfect moment of our eyes meeting as she was laid on my chest seconds after delivery, I might have been devastated.  As it was, I was simply grateful that she was okay, well-cared for, and out of my body.

Please understand that I am not putting myself forward as having done everything right, or even as the killer of all magic.  There are beautiful moments of grace in our lives, but they are different for everyone, and speaking as someone who has battled clinical depression for many years, I have found it helpful to focus my energy on appreciating that first intentional baby smile or that first "I love you" from your wobbly toddler rather than trying to imagine what that next magical moment of grace might be.

Ultimately, so much of life is about hard work, about doing what you don't want to do.  It's not pretty or glamorous or effortless.  In fact, it is the very opposite of effortless.  To quote one of my favorite Mary Engelbreit posters, "Life is just so daily."  (Emphasis mine.)  I get it.  We all could use a little more magic in our lives to break up the monotony of the slog.  But I am of the opinion that magic cannot be manufactured.  I understand the impulse to make every moment of our kids' childhoods so fantastically happy and magical that they nearly burst with joy, but mostly kids (like us) find joy in small things that have little or nothing to do with the perfectly coordinated birthday party you just arranged.  So parents, are we simply wearing ourselves out to raise kids with ridiculously high expectations?  And really, I don't care how well you plan a party, some kid's always going to eat too much icing and puke in the bouncy castle.  Every time.

The area where I most struggle with this mindset, however, isn't in my wife and mother roles.  It's my writing.  I know writing is daily.  It's sitting in front of my computer and typing and typing and revising and revising until I (maybe) have something that someone might want to read.  Yet, I find myself dreaming of the perfect story when I could be working.  (Sometimes literally.  Any other writers out there who dream about plotting out stories?)  I find myself fantasizing about success instead of sending out work.  This blog is part of my keep-ass-in-seat strategy, in fact.  Sometimes it even works.

So now that I've alienated as many readers as possible, I will wrap this thing up.  But seriously, I believe this is something important to think about, particularly for people who struggle with depression.  It has certainly helped me.  So now, I will put my money where my mouth is (obligatory cliche) and show you my less-than-fantasy homemade, Frozen-themed birthday cake.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This Post Has Been Revised.

So I did it.  I took a deep breath, bit the bullet, [insert additional cliche here], and shared my blog to Facebook.  I've been putting it off, copping out, and sharing my posts to Google+, you know, for the five people who are still on there.  (Don't tell my husband I said that.)  But I've held off on Facebook because I didn't want to edit myself (note: This is impossible, apparently.  I chickened out and took one post down before I shared it.)  My previous blog was read by friends and family, and I sometimes felt limited by that knowledge.  So my hope was that by keeping my musings on the DL (I can't believe I just typed that) I would get all loosey goosey (or that) and talk about things that were actually important to me in an honest and open (translation: potentially offensive) way.  So far so good.  But now, this is the first post I've written with the knowledge that it may actually be read by someone I know.  A whole new ballgame. (I'm going crazy with the cliches today.  I'll make it a theme.  Ok, here goes.)  So now it's time to pull the cord, rip off the band-aid, jump in with both feet....

But seriously, this does relate to something that has always bothered me -- and every other writer on the planet who isn't an orphaned hermit living in Antartica -- how do I deal with knowing my audience?  As a writer, you get all kinds of conflicting advice: Know your audience.  Write for yourself.  Don't think about your mother reading this.  (I may have just added that last one.)  What if someone you know reads your fiction and imagines themselves as a model for one your characters? What if someone mistakenly assumes the story is your story? What if an acquaintance reads your writing and decides you're a deviant?  What if your mom reads something you wrote and disowns you? (Just kidding, Mom.)  How do you shut those voices out of your head while you're already doing something incredibly difficult -- a.k.a. opening a vein and bleeding on the page?

And it's not like I don't already have tons of voices in my head --former professors, writing friends, advice I've read -- so now let's add the cocked eyebrows and turned down mouths of every disapproving soul who clicks on my blog link or (hopefully some day) reads my stories.  I'm talking about the people who not only don't think you can write, but also the ones who (heaven forbid) disagree with you, and not in a let's-have-a-great-discussion-about-this kind of way.  I'm talking about those people for whom everything is a moral judgement.  People who don't read/watch/expose themselves to anything that goes counter to their worldview.  And what if they are people you actually care about?

I know.  I'm asking a lot of questions and giving few answers (okay, none.)  I can't tell you how to deal with this question as a writer.  I certainly don't have it all figured out, but I can tell you how I'm working to combat it presently.  It's a little thing I'm going to call WWSD.  (My originality is overwhelming you right now, isn't it?)  I won't insult your intelligence by explaining what the Ws and the D stand for, but I will clarify that the S is for my husband.  He may be a quiet and gentle soul, but I can't think of anyone more genuine.  He doesn't edit himself for people, not his speech, his personality, or his opinions, and he somehow manages to never be horrified or embarrassed by mine.  (Or at least he doesn't show it, which is even more miraculous.)  I also have a dear writer friend who is more fearless than me by miles and miles.  So I try to think about them when I write.  Would they be shocked and horrified by me and my thoughts?  Would they care if someone else was?  Probably not.

As I near the end of this post, I immediately start reviewing it in my head.  Did I leave out a damn or smooth over a touchy point?  Did I forget to mention that some of my stories have sexual content? I'd like to think no, but I'm probably kidding myself.  But I'm going to try to do better.  Every time.  Every post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On a Lighter Note...

I got the gloves! Yes, Kiddo got me the fingerless gloves I asked Santa for, and she got the ones from Ten Thousand Villages.  What a smart girl for a four year old! (Okay, soon to be five.)  And may I add that they are a REVELATION.  I wear them all the time, but I especially enjoy them when I'm writing.  Here's my fingerless gloves happy face:

Heavy Thoughts for a Tuesday Morning

These days it seems like I have so many thoughts and questions and concerns playing on a loop in my head that it's difficult to narrow them down to something reader-worthy.  I don't believe that the world is any more of a scary place than it was thirty years ago, but it sure feels like it recently.  And with the advent of social media, we now know everybody's opinion on said horrors, which is sometimes even more scary than the events themselves.  Some days, a quick glance at my newsfeed turns into a spiral of despair over violence, hatred, apathy, and the approval of these things by people I actually know.  Certainly we are not the first generation to fear what the future holds for their children, but it doesn't make the fear any less potent.

I wish that I had something new or relevant or important to say about those fears, but I'm afraid my thoughts settle into the same track as many other parents.  I've been on a bit of a dystopian reading kick of late, and suddenly, with conservatives desperately trying to chip away at a woman's right to birth control, books like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale don't seem so far-fetched.  I fear for my daughter's future as a woman in a country where more and more it seems like to call yourself a Christian woman, you must also label yourself a second class citizen.  I realize that we are meant to be in-the-world-but-not-of-it, but that doesn't mean we are supposed to be different just for the sake of difference, which is what most of the anti-feminist vitriol feels like.  When did a woman having the same rights and status and pay as a man become a sinful, worldly idea?  And how do I teach my little girl to navigate these ignorant prejudices without becoming bitter and resentful toward her fellow believers?

These are heavy thoughts for a Tuesday morning sans caffeine.  I want to write about funny things, interesting writer things, amazing books I've read, but alas, my mind is stuck in this frustrating web of thoughts that just won't release me.  With all that's happened in the past week (yes, I know the loss of a cat seems small in comparison to world-sized issues, but just deal with it, ok) to me personally and add in horrors like what's been going on in Paris, the inadequate Ebola response, and the slaughter of hundreds and maybe thousands in Nigeria, it's difficult to focus on my reading and writing.  I must pray more.  For those around me, yes.  For those who are far away and unknown to me, yes.  For those who make our country seem small and ignorant, yes.  For those who work tirelessly to make America a better place for everyone, yes.  For my precious little girl who has not yet learned to edit herself or doubt herself or fear, yes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

[Un]Happy New Year

There is something inherently risky about being a pet in our house during the new year.  Murray, my funny and possessive gray and white kitty?  January 2007.  Hobbes (aka Hobson), my precious and gentle tortoiseshell Persian? December 30, 2009.  And now the latest: Our sweet Abby Tabby, who would have been sixteen years old in March died on Wednesday.  Despite her advanced age, she still seemed and looked much younger than she was, and age may mitigate but never erases our devastation.  She was quirky and loving and vocal.  She was a voracious eater, indulging in the dog's food daily, despite our best attempts to deter her.  Even Sam, our Komondor, looks for her and seems a little sad and lost.  I say "even" because Abby hated Sam with the special kind of venom one usually reserves for Pauly Shore movies.

So, not such a happy new year here.  And you want to know what really sucks?  I can't read.  I can't write.  There's no getting lost in a book to forget about sadness for awhile.  My brain just won't focus.  Honestly, I'm having difficulty putting this blog entry together, but I'm determined to write my way through this paralysis.  So, here I sit, tapping away and trying to create a sentence that is neither maudlin nor flip.  And failing miserably.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking, "Being dramatic much?"  I'm guessing then that you've never lost a pet.  I see her and hear her everywhere, and sitting with an animal while they die isn't something you can just shake off and instantly move on from. (See? Now I'm ending sentences in prepositions.  It's the grief writing, and apparently, grief has terrible grammar.)

No wise or witty words today.  No lists or rants.  Just a sad person trying not to think so much about big green eyes or stripey tails and then writing about them anyway.

Abby (1999 - 2015)

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 - The Year of Reading Women and Keeping Track of It

Christmas, New Year's, family, presents, decorations, baking, and here we are two weeks later with Kiddo back in preschool and my husband back to work (though thanks to car trouble, I had to drive him there) and I'm finally back to writing.  Even my reading slowed down during the holidays (unheard of, I know.)  But I'm back, and I'm finally ready to crank out my 2014 reading log post and maybe even mention some of the things I'm excited to read in 2015.

Despite being a prolific reader for my entire life, I've don't think I've kept any sort of reading log/journal since I was a kid trying to work my way to the top of my local library's summer reading program incentives.  Certainly in grad school I made lists of books to be read, but I can't remember making any lists of my reading acquisitions -- and make no mistake, I am very aquisition-minded when it comes to powering through as many books as possible.

My parents mark the dates read on the inside covers of their books, but that didn't seem very satisfying to me as I don't usually re-read, and it wouldn't give me an overall picture of my reading year.  Also, unless it's a textbook (and even then I struggle), I find it nearly impossible to write in a book.  It's right up there with dog-earing or breaking spines.  I just can't do it.

One of my favorite professors from grad school mentioned her reading journal in her blog one day, and for some reason that was a total revelation for me.  I have no idea why it didn't occur to me before.  Also, I took an online survey (I believe it was for Book Riot) about how many books I read in a year, and I had no idea what kind of numbers to even ballpark.  On top of everything else, 2014 was the year of reading women writers, #readwomen2014, and so what better time to track my reading habits? [Edit: Just realized that I didn't include a total count/list of women writers I read.  Will have to write about that in another post.]

So here's a summary of 2014:

Total # of books completed (not counting books started, but not finished): 56 (this counts Station Eleven, which I technically didn't finish until after the first of the year.)

Total # of books started but not completed: 9 (Technically, one of these is still in progress.  The rest are abandoned.)

Overall, I don't think this is a terrible record.  I have a real compulsion to finish books, even if I'm not enjoying them, so I look on those nine books as a bit of an accomplishment.

Some standouts in non-fiction:

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion - How had I never read this?

Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey - Absolutely life-changing.  I want to read this again.

Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber - Church of Christ girl becomes outrageously liberal/progressive church founder/minister.  A must read.

Brain on Fire, Susanna Cahalan - Because if you were ever foolish enough to trust our medical system, you won't after reading this.

Fiction favorites:

The Secret History, Donna Tartt - Why did The Goldfinch win the Pulitzer instead of this?  Such an amazing book.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood - How had I never read any of her fiction before this?  Dystopian masterpiece. (Also read Alias Grace and Blind Assassins this year, and they were equally amazing.)

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I cannot say enough about this book.  I read it, and then immediately made my friends read it.  And then I read everything else she's ever written.  And watched her TedX talk and her interview on Tavis Smiley and... Can you tell I'm obsessed?

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro - My first Ishiguro (I've since plowed through most of his books.)  This one blew my mind.  So beautiful.  So original.  So perfect from beginning to end.

An Unnecessary Woman, Rabin Alameddine - Just an amazing book that you should go buy immediately.

And last, but certainly not least...

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert - Loved this book so much.  It was a whopper, but I flew through it like a novella.  Most wonderful/amazing/flawed/perfect/powerful female protagonist I've read in a long time.  I want to read this book again for the first time.

Looking forward to this year?

J by Howard Jacobson
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

And here's my current read:

So, there you have it, folks.  Go forth and read!