reading

100 Books in a Year

I read 100 books in 2015. I didn’t plan it. I was originally aiming for 60 books, a few more than I read in 2014. Imagine my surprise when I had reached 50+ by June. I in no way claim that every book I read was quality; many, the majority, were far from it. I think that reading is its own reward, though this is a sentiment I did not have in college (oh callow youth!). Reading is important and no matter what it is, READ!

Here are a few of my favorites from what I read in 2015:

  • Fates and Furies
  • Neurotribes
  • The Girl on the Train
  • This is Where I Leave You
  • Cooked
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn
  • The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
  • The Wars of the Roses (really anything by Dan Jones – student of Starkey, SRB!)
  • On Immunity
  • Still Alice

Seriously, too many books to list them all. You can check out my Goodreads list. I read anything: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/778179-keanne?page=1&shelf=read-2015

I did want to share a bit of the great writing I read in 2015. Even books I didn’t love had great writing.

From Cooked:

If we address frankly what is evoked by cheese, I think it becomes clear why so little is said. So what does cheese evoke? Damp, dark cellars, molds, mildews and mushrooms galore, dirty laundry and high school locker rooms, digestive processes and visceral fermentations, he-goats, which do not remind of Chanel…in sum, cheese reminds of dubious, even unsavory places both in our nature and in our own organisms. And yet we love it.

 

From The Department of Speculation:

He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.

And

For fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, she’d suspend her fierce judgment of the world and fall silent there

From Fates and Furies:

By the time she came back, the boy had calmed. Sweat curled the hair at his temples. She put on the overhead porch fan and set the tray down on the little table, taking a lemon bar for herself. She’d survived on wine and sugar for months because, fuck it, she never really got a childhood, and what was grief but an extended tantrum to be salved by sex and candy?

I know there was more, but I cannot find it! Gah!

Will I read 100 books in 2016? Doubtful. I read what interests me, be it historical fiction or pulp fiction. We shall see!

What are your reading goals for 2016?

 

 

 

#MicroblogMondays: 52

52. That’s how many books I read in 2014! I like the symmetry of that number with the number of weeks in a year although it doesn’t match with how I actually read. I wanted to reach 50, so it is nice to meet and surpass a goal.

Now as the end of the year races towards us, I hope that wasn’t the only goal I met this year. Could be worse, right?

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#MicroblogMondays: Words

Daniel loves words right now. He asks me to spell everything. And we think he’s reading. If not 100%, he’s close. Very close. That amazes me. I feel like I’ve waited 5 years for him to read, yet now that he can, I’m awed at all that it takes to be able to read.

Today Daniel and I arrived home a little early, and Jimmy was sitting outside with his laptop. Daniel was fascinated and wanted to type words. The two of them played on the laptop for a while, Daniel intent on typing sentences.

It was honestly one of the most adorable things I’ve seen and a reminder of how quickly Daniel is growing up. He looked like a natural in front of the laptop screen.

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Becoming Reacquainted with an Old Friend

I’ve recently started a new activity on Fridays. I can’t call it a habit yet, but it is getting there. Brace yourself: I go to the local branch of the public library and check out books.

You were expecting something more exciting? Like Zumba? Hardly! I’d make a fool of myself. It started innocently one weekday when I went to the Fresh Market in the same strip mall for lunch (because i’m apparently a sucker for over-priced salads made with quality ingredients) and then walked to the library to visit because I was feeling nostalgic and frankly, not ready to return to work. I wandered through fiction and non-fiction sections, caressed a few books but left without checking out anything.

A few weeks later, I returned, both to the library and the Fresh Market (lunch time!). I left the library empty-handed, but I had looked up a few books in the catalog. I had talked myself out of checking out anything because the library had shortened its period of checkout, and it was difficult to find time to read. Time to read.

I used to read tons of books but had become used to maybe reading 10-15 books a year instead of the 80-100 it had been in the past. I had also started reading more books on my iPad since I could keep them forever, and it was so darn easy to click the button and have almost any book I wanted immediately.

I miss reading. It’s not like there aren’t (m)any books in my house, but it is difficult to settle down and focus, to give a book my full attention. It has become a lot easier to digest articles, quick reads and 140 characters. My mind is always on the millions of tasks to do and I am less able to shut it off. Is this being an adult? What’s that line about putting away childish things?

The next time I visited to the library, I took the plunge and checked out a book. And I read it and returned it on time! Subsequent books were returned a tad bit (OK a lot) late, but I figure my late fees are a sort of civic duty in a time when budgets are shrinking. Right? I keep checking out books and finding time to read them. I finished one on the plane Monday and started another. It feels good not to feel like a stranger to the library. And oddly, I’ve read more downloaded books too in the last couple of months. We know that writing begets writing; does it work the same way for reading?

Maybe I’m back on the way to reading 100 books. Not this year but maybe the next.

This is not the post I thought I was going to write tonight. I apologize if it seems a little silky. I’m trying to write on the iPad, and it makes it difficult to get out my thought. Or maybe it’s Mercury Retrograde mucking things up.

What’s So Amazing About Really Deep Thoughts?

I can’t seem to write lately. I couldn’t put something together for National Infertility Awareness Week. I wanted to write something for PAIL’s most recent theme because believe me, I have lots of things to say, but I worked on a post for days and was never able to make it coherent.  I have several half-started posts in draft status. I guess this is what writer’s block looks like?

Maybe it’s that I am incapable of deep thought right now.  My brain seems flighty and moody right now. I have two new books in my iBooks and an honest-to-god tangible book that I checked out from the library on my nightstand, and I can’t bring myself to start them. Instead I waste time on Buzzfeed or Twitter.

I don’t think I’m the only one in my household suffering from Flighty Brain Syndrome. Jimmy and I have given up our weekly declarations that we WILL start Game of Thrones finally. We settle for repeats of space shows (there’s some weird shit in the universe) or even an episode of Starkey’s Monarchy (we’re on Henry II and Beckett). Or an episode of Coupling when we’re particularly brain dead (three words: “Lesbian Spank Inferno.” That episode is gold).

Maybe my brain has been trained to cool off this time of year thanks to 17 years of school on a traditional calendar. Muscle memory and all that.

Today starts Daniel’s last week as a 3-year-old. One week from today he’ll be 4. Mind. Blown (apparently that isn’t difficult right now).  We’re having his first kiddie party next weekend, and I’m thinking about garbage truck cakes and herding sugar-fueled preschoolers.

And we’re going to the beach for a week at the end of June. I think all 3 of us are counting down the days.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe my brain is on vacation already.

 

 

 

Reading Roundup and a Confession

Life hasn’t been only space TV shows, work, parenting and Listen to Your Mother over the last few months. I managed to read a few books, but I never had a chance to write a thorough review for them. At this point, a thorough review seems like a lost cause, so I thought I would combine my thoughts about them into this post. Maybe one will make it onto your “to read” list.

I Read Books!

Defending Jacob

A 14-year-old boy is found stabbed to death in the woods near his school, and Assistant District Attorney Barber is shocked to discover his son is the prime suspect in the case.  Jacob insists that he is innocent, and ADA Barber shifts into defense mode to save his son as the world he thought he knew falls apart around him and he is forced to confront unpleasant truths about his past as well as whether he really knows his son.  Most of the book is a courtroom drama, but there is a shocking plot twist at the end.

This book was a very fast read and very engrossing. That said, I didn’t think it was a very good book, but it earned raves from many prominent reviewers.   The father’s a jerk. The mother is a cipher, and Jacob is never fully present in the book. He is portrayed through recollections and stories.  One of Landay’s goals is to make you question whether Jacob is an sullen, emo teenager or a psychopath as well as whether there is such a thing as a genetic disposition towards violence. The problem is that you never get to see the world through Jacob’s eyes but through only his mother’s and father’s, and they are not what I would consider to be reliable narrators.

Landay employs a very surprising plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming – it truly shocked me – but I felt like he spent so much time setting up the twist that it impacted his characterization. Maybe that’s why Jacob never seemed like a main player in a book that is ostensibly about him and his supposed crime.

Coincidentally, I read the book a few days after the Newtown shooting and maybe it was too soon. Maybe the frustration I felt over the lack of character development mirrored the frustration we felt at being unable to ask Lanza WHY.  We’re left to extrapolate meaning from memory and conversation relayed by others when what we really wish we could do is talk one-on-one.

Far From the Tree

Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t had a chance to write a review for this book because I’m not sure how I could do it justice. Andrew Solomon spent a decade meticulously researching and investigating ways in which children can be profoundly different from their parents and what that does to our notion of family, identity and the world.  He begins with his own experience as the homosexual child of heterosexual parents and goes onto explore deafness, autism, disability, dwarfism, genius, schizophrenia, Down Syndrome, children of rape, criminals and transgender.

I cannot say enough positive things about this book. Solomon does a masterful job of helping you enter the worlds he describes and handles each identity thoughtfully and with great respect. I learned so much, and I also had so many ideas challenged. Each identity is its own chapter and that made it easy to jump around or take a long time to read the book (as I did).  I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a big book to chew on.

Lean In

So Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  I eagerly read this book, curious to see what had generated so much debate and whether I, as a working mother, would agree or disagree with Sandberg’s advice. Overall, “underwhelmed” describes my reaction to the book.  A lot of what she advises is common sense: marry a man who will be a real partner; even if you plan to take time out of the workforce when you have children, don’t use that as an excuse t0 check out too early; take a seat at the table; don’t let fear hold you back.

I don’t mean to imply that it is a bad book; it isn’t.  Sandberg offers a lot of useful advice about finding a mentor (if you have to ask someone, then they aren’t a mentor) and how to assert yourself (focus on what problem can you solve for someone).  I liked that Sandberg talked about the conflict, guilt and a judgment she feels from time to time.  Sandberg has achieved a lot and knows what she is talking about, but I expected more.   Sandberg’s advice is for the individual woman in the workforce and what she can do to succeed, but there is no talk about how corporate America and our work infrastructure must change in order to make it easier for women to succeed and have families.   She comes closest when she notes:

“For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. . . . But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.”

There is a lot of truth in that statement, but what is left unsaid is that encouraging women to aspire to leadership is not enough. Aspiration won’t be sufficient to break through the real barriers that exist; what can business do to support women better?

Summer Reading List

We’re going to the beach in about 6 weeks (yay!), and I have been adding books to my list in the (likely) deluded hope I get to read any of them.  Here are a few that have caught my eye:

Don’t worry. I’ll also go through my book sale treasures for the conspiracy theory books that are my guilty pleasure 🙂

Confession

I’ve stated that I will read almost anything, and I mean that! If a book sounds fun or interesting, I’ll give it a shot, no matter how pulpy.  To prove this to you, I’ll share what I consider to be my most embarrassing read:

The Left Behind Series.

Yes, I read every book in the series. All 16.  I checked out those suckers 3 and 4 at a time from the library.  I was hooked.  I was intrigued at how the authors would tackle the Rapture and the events in Revelations.

And they truly weren’t the worst books I’ve ever read. Sensational? Yes. Over the top? Yes. Dogmatic? Yes. But this all-but-professed atheist found them riveting. Maybe they play into my conspiracy theory-loving soul. Maybe I was bored.  I don’t know, but I read the entire series, and I don’t regret it.

What is the best book you read recently?

What is on your summer reading list?

What’s your most embarrassing read?

Of Strawberries and Microphones

Berry picker

Berry picker

Last weekend, Daniel and I went to a local farm and picked strawberries.  It was a blustery day, very unusual for May in North Carolina.  Daniel was so excited. Honestly, so was I. I’m not sure I’d ever picked my own berries before, and we’re fortunate to have several farms in the area that allow you to do so.

I quickly schooled Daniel on how to identify ripe berries vs unripe ones.  That explanation mostly worked.  I was left holding the pail as my super-fast little boy’s fingers nimbly plucked berries from the vine.  He might have picked a few green berries by mistake, and he definitely ate more than a few berries as he picked them. I gave up preventing him from eating them and tried to keep him from putting half-eaten berries in our bucket.

It only 20 minutes, we had a huge bucket filled with strawberries for which we paid only $10. Daniel tried to carry the heavy bucket to our car but after he left a trail of berries in his wake, I convinced him to let me carry the bucket.

I used some of the berries in daycare lunches for the week but was at a loss at what to do with the remaining strawberries before they went bad because I knew Daniel would want to go pick berries again and soon.  As I was prepping for the Listen to Your Mother cast party last Wednesday, I was inspired to bring along the remaining berries.  They had been picked by Daniel and he had more or less listened to my instructions, so it seemed right to have them at the party, like a little token from him.

***

Listen to Your Mother. Y’all.  I don’t even know where to begin or how to find the words. The cast was amazing and read flawlessly. It was so gratifying to hear the audience laugh at the parts that made us laugh and cry at the parts that devastated us. Our sold-out (!) audience was very into the show, and it felt like we were performing for family and friends. OK, many of us were, but there was an intimacy in the hall, and it was possible to connect one on one – a glance here, a smile there – with the audience.

I am so damn proud of us and the show we put on.  That these 14 women and 1 man were able to swallow their fears, doubts and anxieties and bare their souls. To be brave, to use the word of the night. It’s one thing to write something, publish it and walk away. It’s another to stand up in front of a crowd and read it, exposing the most vulnerable parts of you.

But this cast did it and knocked it out of the damn park.

Mingling with my pride is a wee bit of sadness. It’s like the day after Christmas, when you have the let down after weeks of euphoria and anticipation. I can’t believe the show is over and that 14 people came to mean so much to me in such a short period of time.  But we’ve converted our FB group to an alumni group, and I hope that we can continue to stay in touch.  I can’t imagine any of us would turn turn away the possibility of more friends.

There are pictures to come and the full video will be on YouTube in a few weeks, but for now, check out show photographer Jess Rotenberg’s post on the show with a few gorgeous pictures.

Too often motherhood is portrayed in the media as black and white: you’re either good, perfect and saintly or bad, selfish and neglectful. In reality, though, we know that motherhood is complicated. Mothers are complicated. It’s not and we are not black and white. There are many, many, many shades of gray and I am honored that we were able to give a microphone to these amazing women and man so that they could tell their stories.

Beautiful flowers from the cast after the show

Beautiful flowers from the cast after the show

Happiness is Books as Far as the Eye Can See

Saturday was a GREAT day.  Was it because we won $640,000,000?  No (damn it!).  It was the annual library book sale.  It is no exaggeration to say that book sale weekend is one of my most favorite times of the year.  I’ve been attending the sale for 13 years, and I always go on Saturday because I consider that day to be the book sale sweet spot: prices have dropped to make mass buying affordable ($1/paperback; $2/hardback) but the books haven’t been completely picked over (that would be Sunday when the books go for $5 a box).  I have no scientific evidence whether my theory is correct, but it makes sense to me, so I’m going with it.

Book sale!!!!

This year was bittersweet because I attended the sale solo. In past years, I attended the book sale with my partner in crime Katie (because we are uber nerd English majors), but Katie had the audacity to move to Florida last year to be with her husband (humph).  Our tradition was to hit the book sale and then have a long lunch with wine. We’ve loyally attended the sale when it was in cramped quarters downtown, in a vacated department store, in a closed grocery store (fun because grocery carts were donated for us to use and books were literally stacked in the old cases) and most recently at the fair grounds.  Last year, the sale was in a smaller exhibition building.  This year it was upgraded to a much larger building.

Saturday I walked into the new space and was immediately overwhelmed and excited at the same time.  Books were everywhere!!!  In fiction alone, there were 5 rows of books two levels deep!  Since the move to the fairgrounds, the book sale has attempted to become a family event; a band was playing while I perused, making me bop (embarrassingly) as I searched.

You might wonder what books I look for.  Fair question.  Is it Proust? Henry James? Ha. Several years ago, you could have found me in the romance section.  I was a sucker for a good historical fiction romance novel in which bodice ripping and hereditary titles were the primary components.  Now, I focus on fiction.

And it’s not  highbrow fiction.  Sure,  you can find a million copies of the last few years’ bestsellers, but what I look for are books I would like to read but don’t want to pay full price for. I have a weakness for The Da Vinci Code-type books, so I buy a lot of them at the sale.  I also like what might pass for a type of chick lit.  I’m not a snob.  I’ll read anything as long as it sounds interesting. What I love about the book sale is how it democratizes books. You can find John Grisham next to Hemingway next to Proulx.  No rhyme or reason.

After a few hours, I’m wiped and tired and ready to leave.  There are tables and tables and tables of books I have not explored, and I feel a pang of disappointment , but there is no way I can examine every book.  I pay and leave.  This year’s haul netted me 26 books for $28.  Not bad.  In previous years, paperbacks went for .50, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave with 40+ books.  Now that I have a very active toddler, I’m very cognizant of what I can accomplish, so I think my smaller haul is appropriate.

I’m strange (ha ha you  knew that already) in that I don’t read my new books right away.  I’m the same with gifts.  I like to let them sit for a while before I use them.  Maybe I’ll review some of the books here although I won’t be surprised if I don’t.  These books are guilty pleasures.

It was a good day.

My haul

Do you have a book sale or similar festival you attend?

Chatterbox

Daniel is becoming a little person.  Ok, yeah, that sounds ridiculous.  Of course he’s a person, right?  He’s not a robot (who else remembers Small Wonder from the 80s?). It’s just that children are categorized typically as developmental stages: newborns then infants then toddlers, and you can sometimes forget that your child isn’t [pick developmental stage of choice] but a little person with likes and dislikes, opinions and a personality.

I was concerned about Daniel’s speech for several months.  I knew he understood everything, but he didn’t verbalize very much. I talked to the pediatrician (who wasn’t worried).  I Googled obsessively.  I reminded myself that he is a boy, and boys sometimes speak later than girls.  It’s not that he didn’t speak; it’s just that he was stubborn about it.  And then one day a few months ago, he started speaking and now he’s chattering like crazy.  Just like everyone said he would.

His speech has begun to alter story time.  A few days ago, he demanded, “Doodle read” the next book.  After J and I melted into a puddle of goo at the cuteness, we read it, and he filled in the words perfectly.  We were stunned.  He knows the titles of the books and says them when he wants them read.   He mimics our intonation.  Sometimes I can almost believe he is actually reading and not just remembering what we’ve read over and over and over.

One of our favorite books to read him is Good Night Little Pookie by the fabulous Sandra Boynton.  If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a simple, sweet story about a mother pig getting her little boy piglet ready for bed, and it’s a two-person story because Pookie has lines too.   This week, I discovered we can read our respective parts.  I can be Momma Pig, and Daniel can be Pookie.  And he nails it perfectly.

Is this remarkable?  Probably Not.  It’s just a sign that my little boy is growing and developing.  He’s not simply a toddler.  He’s Daniel.  He’s a little boy who is observing the world around him and participating in it.

Tomorrow, as we prepare our meal and eat it, I will be giving thanks for him.  Maybe next year he’ll be saying what he is thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Seasonal Reads: Fall and Halloween Books

I’ve mentioned several times how much I love Halloween and how much J and I love Fall, and I hope to instill that love in Daniel as well.  This year I went a little crazy and bought him several books to introduce him to the season – hey, no child was ever spoiled by having too many books, right?  Here are a few thoughts on them:

Apples and Pumpkins (Anne Rockwell) is about a family’s visit to a farm, and the little girl’s experience picking apples and choosing the perfect pumpkin for Halloween.  It’s a very simple book with a sentence on each page, and the illustrations are beautiful. Daniel loves this book and grabs it out of my hands to turn the pages himself when we read it.  It is an older book that has been re-issued, but it doesn’t feel dated at all. The only downside to this book is that it’s not a board book, so the pages can be difficult for toddler fingers to manage.

Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin (Mary Serfozo) is about a young tiger named Peter’s search for the most perfect pumpkin to carve (with the assistance of his father) into a jack-o-lantern. The book is darling, the story sweet and the illustrations excellent, but I don’t like it as much as the others.  I wanted to like it a lot since we are cat people (not this  kind of cat people), but I don’t because of the writing.   It rhymes, awkwardly, and it makes the story difficult to read.  I can’t get the words to flow when I read it as if I were stumbling.  Daniel likes the book, though.

Ghosts in the House! (Kazuno Kohara) is about a little girl and her cat (notice a trend?) who discover that their new house is haunted.   The story is very simple and easy to read, but it’s the illustrations that make the book stand out.  The pages are a bold dark orange, while the little girl and her cat are black and the ghosts white.  The characters leap from the page and while the book has a modern feel, its message is simple and old-fashioned.  It is definitely not your typical Halloween book. This is another book that Daniel grabs from my hands and tries to turn the pages himself.

Mouse’s First Fall (Lauren Thompson) is about a little mouse and her sister’s enjoyment of a beautiful fall day.  They study leaves, noting their color and shape, pile them up, jump in them and play hide and seek.  This book is completely about the season with no mention of Halloween.  It’s illustrated in bright, beautiful fall colors and while the story is very simple, it’s a great book to use to point out the different shapes of leaves and work on colors.

Corduroy’s Halloween (Don Freeman). Who doesn’t love Corduroy?  This Lift-A-Flap book takes Corduroy and his assorted friends through typical fall activities such as raking leaves and visiting a pumpkin patch to getting ready for Halloween.  Daniel loves this book because of the interactivity with the flaps, and it was a great book to use to introduce him to Halloween without any worries of it scaring him.  I also like that it’s a book with which he can interact on his own and doesn’t require me to read it to him for him to enjoy it.

For older readers looking for a novel Halloween treat, I suggest my friend Katie’s spooky three-part series “Buyer’s Remorse“: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

What are your favorite fall or Halloween reads?