Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

For the past few years, I’ve been downloading the free reading calendars from Everyday Reading. I follow Janssen’s directions for printing a large “blueprint” size via Staples, and print one out each summer and each December and hang it on my kitchen wall.

At this point, I think I am doing it mainly for me rather than for Carla… but… at least right now that’s okay. 

(All About Me Aside: While I definitely encourage holiday reading each year to increase the magic quotient for Carla, I also do it for me. Last year, for the first time ever, I tried to read some adult Christmas books. I made a list based on recommendations from people I trust and adore… and then my experiment was a huge flop. I am not going to list them here because a) I’m pretty sure I mentioned them before, even though I can’t find it and b) I know all too sharply the feeling of betrayal and failure that accompanies recommending a book and having a friend/family member dislike/dismiss it. In this case, not liking these much-loved books made ME feel like the failure, I can assure you. Anyway. I want to try again this year, but I am recalibrating slightly by trying to find books that Carla and I can enjoy together.) 

Anyway: I am contemplating the December reading calendar and realizing that we may have finally outgrown our holiday book collection.

It’s not like I’m throwing them away or anything. I love our classic selection that includes things like Bear Stays Up for Christmas and Latke the Lucky Dog and beautifully illustrated versions of books like Oskar and the Eight Blessings and The Night Before Christmas. (I try, I really do, to inject some sort of religious element into this season, so we do talk about the story of Jesus’s birth and we discuss the miracle of the oil. We have a few books that lean more toward the religious, like Room for a Little One and Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, but most of our books are more secular in nature.)

All images below from amazon except where noted.

(Another Mainly About Me Aside: Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, but since it overlaps with the Christmas season, I like to give it some prominence in our winter celebrations mainly to feel like we aren’t implying that one side of Carla’s heritage is more important than the other. This may matter to no one but me, but I am just making it up as I go along here.)

Onto the Book Search!

A few years ago I ordered one of my favorite Christmas chapter books – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson – and read it to Carla. I don’t think she really enjoyed it as much as I did (although perhaps it will be more resonant this year). But what I want is more books like that. Good stories that evoke the spirit of the season and warm the heart. I don’t care if they are religious or secular, about Hanukkah or Christmas or any of the winter holidays we don’t personally celebrate but would be interested in exploring. My only stipulation is that I am trying to veer away from picture books this year. We have plenty, and I don’t know if they will appeal to my nine-and-a-half-year-old anymore. (Sob.)

During my search, it seems to me that there is quite a dearth of this very specific kind of books for Carla’s age range. But we shall persevere.

I got, as gifts, two books that might work: A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens and A Little House Christmas Treasury by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started reading the latter to Carla last year and I think it might be the right kind of thing. 

There is a collection by Louisa May Alcott I may need to own: Christmas Stories: 32 Classic Stories & Poems for the Young & Old.

Carla and I are going to see one of her friends in a performance of The Nutcracker. Maybe we should see if our library has a copy of Nutcracked by Susan Adrian to get in the proper frame of mind? (I personally think the entire Nutcrackerstory is… how can I put this tactfully… I can’t think of a way; suffice it to say that it doesn’t resonate with me particularly well but I do enjoy the music.) 

Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas seems to pop up on “best Christmas books for tweens” lists. But I don’t know if it would appeal to Carla. On the other hand, if she does like it, there are two others in the series we could read. I’m adding it to the library holds list.

Carla is LOVING James Patterson’s Katt and Dogg books, so obviously Dog Diaries: Happy Howlidays: A Middle School Story is on the list.

I initially passed over this book because it strikes me as ridiculous, but… it gets good ratings and Carla does really love dinosaurs. So I am putting a hold on The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher as well. 

I completely forgot that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was a holiday book! I think I may have it knocking around in a dusty bookcase somewhere along with the rest of the series.

The Naughty List by Michael Fry (NOT to be confused with On the Naughty List, which looks like quite the steamy Christmas anthology) looks cute… although I am already growing weary of the “child travels to North Pole to correct a mistake, hijinks ensue” story line.

Reluctantly, I have ordered The Christmas Pig from the library (reluctant because I continue to feel morally uncomfortable about supporting the author). 

Perhaps The Last Holiday Concert would be a good one; I love Andrew Clements. 

How about a nice holiday mystery story? Pinky Bloom and the Case of the Magical Menorah by Judy Press looks very cute.

Oooh! A Nancy Drew Christmas by the pseudonymous Carolyn Keene sounds right up my alley. Not quite sure if Carla would enjoy it – she’s not as obsessed with mysteries as I am. But this story features a ski resort in one of our favorite states, so maybe that would win her over! Putting that one on hold for sure.

Along similar appeals-to-me-but-perhaps-not-to-Carla lines is The Very Merry Murder Club collection of “wintery crime and mystery stories.” Alas, it is not available at my library.

Would The Girl Who Ruined Christmas by Cindy Callaghan be a good option, I wonder? I could see Carla being turned off by the title… or possibly intrigued. And… is it too tween-y?

I like the sound of Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett – a collection of humorous stories.

Or maybe one of the Enid Blyton collections? Christmas Tales or Christmas Stories. And don’t they look like they are illustrated by Quentin Blake? (Amazon doesn’t say and I didn’t do any additional digging.)

As long as we are looking at short stories, I am going to add The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer to the list. It’s kind of old (published in 1980, before I was born!), and may be for a slightly more mature audience (amazon confusingly lists it as having a “reading age” of 4 years and up and a “grade level” of 7 through 9), but if I can find it, it could be worth a try. (Alas, our library does not have it. Perhaps I can find a good used copy from amazon or ThriftBooks. I remember with great fondness Singer’s short story collection When Shlemiel Went to Warsawbut that one isn’t available either.

This collection of stories about the winter solstice – Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice – sounds really interesting. I love learning how people in countries other than mine celebrate winter.

Although it is yet another of the “child travels to the North Pole” genre, North Pole Patrol by J. C. Deelstra sounds like it has potential.

Okay, I know I said no picture books, but this illustrated version of O. Henry’s classic The Gift of the Magi looks stunning… and that’s a story I haven’t shared with Carla yet.

Eve Bunting’s One Candle also looks beautiful and the story sounds heartfelt.

Nostalgia for The Baby-Sitters Club books made me look twice at Ann M. Martin’s On Christmas Eve, but it sounds very heartwarming!

On an entirely different tone, Krampus and the Thief of Christmas by Eldritch Black sounds different and potentially interesting. Although I can’t tell if it is truly scary or not. Carla is not a huge fan of scary.

What am I missing? What are the Christmas/winter/winter holiday books you (and/or your kids) read every year? 

I have requested 8 books for Carla (and, honestly, for me) from the library and I have three books in my amazon cart. I also requested two Agatha Christies for myself: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery, in the hopes that choosing books by an author I know and love will result in a higher Christmas-book enjoyment rate than I had last year. 

It seems as though I am doing NaBloPoMo this month, which is 30 blog posts in 30 days. (Will I make it??? Only time will tell.) Details at San’s blog here.

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If you are new here, first of all, welcome!

Second of all, you may not be aware that I love to read. At the moment, I am in the middle of five books: The Chestnut Man by Soren SveistrupThe Wives by Taryn FischerThe Art of Screen Time by Anya KamenetzCultish by Amanda Montell, and Abel’s Island by William Steig

(I also have a book blog, which I post at far too infrequently.) 

While I am nowhere near as prolific a reader as many of the people reading this post, I tend to read around 75 books a year. Books are one of my favorite things, and one of my favorite topics. So I was delighted to get a few reading-specific questions when I first posted my Ask Me Anything form.

1) NGS asked, “What book do you recommend the most often?” and Stephany asked, “What books do you find yourself recommending over and over again?” 

Book recommendations completely depend on who’s asking and what they’re looking for. One of my all-time favorite books – and the one that popped immediately into my head – is The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I thought it was written so well, the prose was so tight, the style so unique, the emotion so vivid… It is an example, for me, of a perfect book. But I can also acknowledge that it probably won’t appeal to everyone! The person who recommended it to me, for instance, read it and said, “I see why you loved this so much.” But it wasn’t his favorite book, it didn’t rock his reading world in the same ways it did mine. 

My favorite genre of books is mystery/thriller, and I think my top recommendations change with time. The Round House by Louise Erdrich was a beautiful, heartbreaking mystery that I absolutely adore. For a great mystery series, I don’t know that you can get any better than the Alphabet Mysteries by Sue Grafton, or the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson, or Sophie Hannah’s Zailer and Waterhouse mysteries, or the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, or maybe Anthony Horowitz’s Hawthorne and Horowitz series

In thrillers, my favorites ebb and flow because there are so many fantastic novels being published every day. I adore A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne, because the writing quality is exquisite and the shape of the story is so unique and so well-fitted to the subject. The Push by Ashley Audrain had not only beautiful writing, but wonderful pacing.  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris was a heart-pounder with one of the worst villains I’ve ever encountered. 

In historical fiction, of which I am admittedly not a connoisseur, I can’t imagine anything better than Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. Although I did find Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone to be extremely engrossing, moving, and beautiful; it blends historical fiction with domestic suspense. 

When it comes to romance, which is another genre I generally eschew, I find myself recommending The Royal We and its sequel, The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. One of my all-time favorite books is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and that bridges speculative fiction and romance. Or, another all-time favorite, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – which spans romance and literary fiction, and is one of the most beautiful, tender books I’ve ever read. 

For literary fiction, the books that come to mind are The Namesake by Jhumpa LahiriA Little Life by Hanya YanagahiraThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

We haven’t even touched on speculative fiction, or short stories, or non-fiction! 

The horrible/wonderful truth of it is that there are SO MANY amazing books in the world, and none of us can ever read them all. But if you are looking for something specific, I probably have a recommendation for you.

2) NGS asked, “How do you fit in reading in your day?” If I read nothing else all day, I at least read before bed. One of the reasons I have multiple books going at a time is because I read via multiple methods. I usually have an audiobook, a print book (or several), and an ebook going all at once. When I dry my hair, which takes a good fifteen minutes, I read my Kindle. When I am in the car, or unloading groceries, or folding laundry, or going for a walk, I am listening to an audiobook. (Listening to audiobooks 100% counts as reading.) When I am waiting in the pickup line at school, or sitting outside one of Carla’s lessons or activities, I am reading. When I am eating lunch, I am reading. It adds up. 

3) NGS asked, “Is Carla a big reader? What does she read?” Carla is what I might call a burgeoning reader. She has enjoyed audiobooks for years, especially everything by Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume. (I think she has listened to Socks about a hundred times.) Before around third grade, she didn’t have a whole lot of interest in reading books for herself outside of the Gerald and Piggie books by Mo Willems. But last year, she got really into a series called Bad Kitty, which she tore through… and then she found another series called Notebook of Doom, and we had to go to the library weekly until she’d finished every book. 

Then, at the beginning of this year, I told her teacher that one of my goals for Carla is that she really love reading. Her teacher looked at me, very seriously, and said, “Oh, she will.” It seemed like mere days after fourth grade started that Carla had come home with a book – A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry – that she refused to put down. Suddenly, she was reading at meal times. She was rejecting my husband’s and my offers to read to her before bed in favor of reading to herself. She was gushing to me about the language style. She was dashing up to her room to get her book so she could take it to school. She was reading choice lines to me in the car. She was reading at recess.

It was like a switch had been flipped. Not only was she loving reading, but she was no longer intimidated by larger books with more words than pictures. She hasn’t found a book that has grabbed her quite like A Wolf Called Wander, but she is constantly in the middle of a book and she checks out huge piles of books from the library every time we go. It’s so gratifying to see her beginning to understand the magic of a really good book. (She is currently reading the newest Katharine Applegate book, Odder, which is a book in verse – a fact I did not know when I bought it for her. She is LOVING it.)

My husband and I still read to her every chance we get. He is currently reading her a book called The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch, although I don’t think either of them loves it a whole lot.  I am reading Abel’s Island to her, because it was one of my favorites as a kid. I have a whole stack of books from my childhood that I am “forcing” her to listen to; I usually read to her when she is eating dinner (which is almost always before my husband and I eat) and sometimes before bed. 

I could talk about books and reading all day. (Which is why I started the book blog… but apparently I don’t have enough time/wherewithal to make it a daily habit. Sigh. Maybe someday.) 

Are you a big reader? What are you reading now? What’s your favorite genre? What book do you find yourself recommending over and over?

(And if you have any questions for me, about reading or otherwise, feel free to fill out my Ask Me Anything form.)

It seems as though I am doing NaBloPoMo this month, which is 30 blog posts in 30 days. (Will I make it??? Only time will tell.) Details at San’s blog here.

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Apparently day four is the day when my careful less indulgent eating meal plan falls apart and I beg my husband to pick me up a frozen pizza from Target.

Listen, it’s possible that I could have made it longer if this were a typical year. But we are right back in the thick of Pandemic Living (worst idea for a magazine ever – headlines include “The Best KN95 Masks NO ONE Knows About (Yet)!” and “7 Best Ways to Ensure You and Your Loved Ones Won’t Need to Be Seen in the Emergency Room” and “Is Eyebrow Bling the New Lipstick?”) and I am not drinking alcohol during the week (for now) and so I prescribed myself some medicinal pizza for dinner last night. And some randomosity for today.

  • We continue to be very, very lucky. The family members who have had Covid have fully recovered. The rest of us have somehow avoided it so far. Everyone is vaxxed (with the possible exception of my vaccine eligible niece but I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW) and boosted. My part of the world is fairly pro-mask, so most people in the few public places I visit are masked. I have been able to get my hands on rapid test kits and masks. My daughter’s school continues to take Covid very seriously, and has a mask mandate for everyone and a vaccine mandate for the faculty and staff. We are so, so lucky.
  • I know it’s just luck. I mean, as with a lot of “luck,” some of it is privilege. Where we live and where we send Carla to school being two stark examples. But it also seems so easy to fall into the belief that we haven’t contracted Covid because we are careful. I’m sure that’s helped, but I also know that LOTS of very careful people have been hit by Omicrom. We have either avoided it so far because we are super lucky, or it’s possible (I think) that we’ve had an asymptomatic case without knowing it.
  • Despite being SO LUCKY, I have been filled with despair all week. Early Pandemic-level despair, which I have been fortunate to avoid for many months at a time over the past yearish. The news – which I have been trying, semi-successfully to avoid (except when my husband texts me a particularly upsetting news item THANKS HUSBAND) – is so full of doom and gloom that I feel like I can sense my blood pressure shoot up with every headline. And we have been remote all week, which is a nightmare for my particular brand of child and her particular brand of mother. Plus, there has been the possibility hanging over our heads of another week of virtual learning, which is giving me a stomachache. I mean, there are LOTS OF GOOD REASONS to have virtual learning! Lots and lots! And I am grateful that I am not the one who had to make the decision, that’s for damn sure. But there are also, obviously, MANY BENEFITS to having one’s children physically in school, learning from a human instead of a screen, doing actual math instead of a video game (seriously) and interacting with friends in person. (Not to mention the benefits of in-person learning for the many, many parents who do not have the ability to work from home, or the bandwidth to work while supervising a child during remote school.)
  • We don’t know whether we will have virtual learning next week, too. I have been refreshing my email constantly. I don’t know what to hope for. That we continue to stay home and help drive down the number of Covid infections? Not that our school’s numbers were ever that high. That we return to in-person school for the sake of the children and the working parents and my own sanity? I think I will rejoice/weep at either outcome. Right now, I just want to KNOW so I can PREPARE MYSELF.
  • Possibly due to an urge to soothe the pandemic angst, or possibly this is just my typical post-holiday M.O., I have ordered a few lovely things lately. I got this gorgeous sweater from Nordstrom with a gift card. It is SO SOFT. And it’s totally different from what I normally wear – which tends toward casual and butt-covering. I recently bought a pair of these high-waisted jeans and I think the sweater would look very cute with it. But also… I can’t tell if the sleeves are TOO balloon-y? They are MUCH more balloony in real life than they are on the model. Do they emphasize my arms in a stylish way, or a cartoonish one? Do I look like Popeye after pandemic stress and despair forced him to give up his weight-lifting habit? The jury is still out. We shall see. On the Stay-at-Home Clothes front, I purchased a zip up hoodie that I’m hoping will cover my buttular region. It looks like it will cover my buttular region, based on the photo. But I share nothing in common, body-shape-wise, with the person modeling the hoodie, and I suspect my region is vaster. The hoodie hasn’t arrived yet, but it has “amazing” right in the name, so I have high expectations.

  • Retail therapy is fun even when the purchases aren’t for me. I also ordered this napping kittens calendar for Carla. We’d scrolled through many, many options and this was her favorite and she was obviously correct. I also got my husband another Magic Puzzle puzzle; I’d given him one called The Happy Isles for Christmas, and he loved it. I don’t even LIKE or DO puzzles and I loved it. My husband wouldn’t even let me help (my version of helping with a puzzle is finding one piece and then leaving), and I loved it. It is seriously so adorable, with a million fun things to look at, and even a list of things to find, like in a Where’s Waldo? book. Plus, there’s the “magic” aspect of the puzzle, which was really cool (but I can’t reveal that part because it is magic). If you are a puzzle lover or know one, this MUST be on your puzzle purchase list.
  • Did I tell you about my new salt and pepper shakers? It’s not a new purchase, but looking for those links reminded me that I got them in early December. We had been using one of those Costco pepper grinders for all our peppering needs, but the Costco salt grinders have never worked well for us… so for the last Costco-sized-salt-container-amount-of-time, we’d been salting our food with a Costco-sized salt container. Ridiculous. My husband’s family aren’t a salt and pepper on the table family, but even so, when they were here so often this past fall, I kept feeling so awkward about not having a proper set of shakers for the table. And my family ARE big salt and pepper at the table people, so I was feeling really anxious about it in advance of their visit. My neuroses are many and varied. The result is that I finally persuaded my non-salt-or-pepperer husband that I NEEDED these and I love them. (He does not love them. He only ever uses salt, and the salt grinder grinds crystals of salt that are, to be fair, bigger than your average engagement ring diamond. But it does not seem that you can buy a matching set of pre-ground salt and grindable pepper shakers. And they always [right?] come in a set.)
  • My computer is driving me crazy. the keyboard is not working correctly, and when i try to capitalize things, it either doesn’t work or it WORKS TOO MUCH. As when i am trying to emphasize VIa CApitalization, when the shift key gets over-enthusiastic and capitalizes two letters in a row. I have left the capitalization in this bullet as my computer wants it, for an example. It is Very ANnoying. YOu wouldnt believe how often i have to delete and retype. BLARGH.
  • Speaking of calendars, which we were, a few bullet points ago: if you use a physical calendar, what kinds of things do you fill it with? I do NOT use a physical calendar, even though I love calendars. I have tried many times in the past, and somewhere around February I forget about it and then don’t look at it again until June, when I make a renewed effort to use it… and then forget about it completely until I see Swistle’s annual calendar post and start drooling over all the fun and beautiful options out there. If you think I could resolve this issue with a daily calendar rather than a monthly one, you would be incorrect because I forget about those too. If I didn’t know this about myself, I would own Benjamin Dreyer’s day-to-day grammar and style version. What was the point of this bullet? Oh, right.
  • Speaking of calendars, again, still, I want to populate Carla’s calendar with important things, but I’m not sure what those THINGS should be. Obviously, I will add the birthdays of family members. And I think I can safely add the first day of spring break, the last day of school, maybe even the first day of school for next year if the school has posted that information already. But… what else? Do I add weekly things, like swimming lessons (which we are resuming this month yay/eek)? I WANT to add upcoming trips, of which we have two planned. I WANT to add summer camp (which we had to register for in early December do NOT get me started). But in Year Three of the Covid-19 Pandemic (I started to type “of the Current Pandemic” but that sounded much too bleak), I am wary. So wary. Do I put them on the calendar anyway, as a nod to hope and optimism?

  • Ah, hope. I have an aerogarden in my dining room, and I have been growing a tomato plant for many months. It has been disappointing, to say the least. I think we have harvested maybe six tomatoes total. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Some of the leaves are yellow; I go in and trim, but branches keep dying. Even so, the plant keeps growing, and keeps putting out these little hopeful blossoms… and once in a while, a baby tomato emerges like a promise kept. I kneel on the floor every morning to inspect the plant, to remove dead leaves, to whisper words of encouragement to the blooms. Many of them spread their petals into a bright reassuring star, only to disappear during the night. It is so discouraging, and it all feels like a metaphor.

  • My husband and I just finished all the Succession there is to watch. It is SUCH a good show, and i spend every episode marveling at how I can be invested in so many people I find abhorrent. We are looking for our next TV show to watch together. I think the two we are deciding between are The OA and Sex Education. I feel like we have watched EVERYTHING, but of course that isn’t true. If you have suggestions, new or old, I am waiting eagerly to hear them.
  • My husband and I have started, but not completed, two satisfying projects. The first is, of course, the basement craft room makeover, which has been paused during the work week. The second, which we did on a whim, was to cull (most of) bookshelves. My husband and I are both avid readers and, perhaps more so, avid book buyers. We also both believe in owning books, which has its benefits and disadvantages. This means that we tend toward keeping every book we buy, when not every book is one we NEED to own. It makes me sad to get rid of books, but really: if I read a book and didn’t love it, and my husband isn’t going to read it, and it isn’t autographed, and it wasn’t a Special Gift from a dear friend or family member… then I think it would be better off going to the library, where they can sell it to someone who really wants to read it. I am very pleased by the stack of books we were able to cull (and the number of spaces we have opened up for NEW BOOKS). Now I just need the libraries to re-open so I can donate them and get them out of my office!
  • Our library system, by the way, is pretty awesome. Even though the branches are currently closed to visitors, you can still order books and pick them up at the drive-up window. Plus, they often give away free rapid test kits. Carla and I went to the library to drop off a stack of books the other day and there was a police car parked at one end next to a sign that said “enter only.” I kept driving to the other end, which is where I usually turn into the library parking lot, but it was blocked by another police car and a sign that said “exit only.” I had to turn around to get back to the new entrance, and then followed a winding path through the parking lot, demarcated by construction cones. At the other end of the parking lot were two people standing next to big stacks of boxes. They seemed to be stopping each car that drove through the lot, so I rolled down my window to find out what was going on. One of the people asked how many members are in my family, and when I said “three,” he handed me three Covid test kits. I took them, because you don’t look a test kit horse in the mouth, and then I dropped off our library books in the drive-through lane. Then I texted everyone I knew that the library had a supply of test kits to give away. One friend replied that she would head to the library immediately, and then she noted that her new supply of Kn95 masks had arrived. I cheered and told her I was excited for the new masks I’d ordered to arrive… and immediately felt a sense of dissociation. THIS is what we text each other about now? THIS is cause for excitement? Free Covid tests and mask delivery? Eeeesh. Welcome to the new world, I guess.

  • These are the masks I got for Carla, by the way. We got a small package, just to try. They are quite expensive, but I saw them listed on a bunch of “best masks for kids” articles and I have some friends who use them and like them. (I have a referral code that can get you $5 off, if you want to try them. It’s not much, but it covers shipping and a teensy bit extra.) They shipped very quickly, and should be here Monday. I hope they fit and that Carla likes them.
  • On the way home from the library, I asked Carla what she thought she would remember about this time, when she is a grown up. She said she thinks her kids will probably think we mean party masks when we talk about masks. (I think she is thinking of the kind of masks that people wear to masquerades.) I laughed and agreed, and oh how I hope that’s true. I hope that masks (and rapid tests and virtual school) aren’t a necessary and regular part of life from this moment on. I hope that she can look back on these pandemic years with a veil of fog, because it was such a small, insignificant part of her childhood. I hope the next pandemic isn’t worse. I hope she grows up. I hope she has kids.
This is the bleakest photo I have on my camera roll. But it’s hopeful too. Those black, empty branches are part of a living tree. Someday soon they will have buds, then blossoms, then leaves.
  • Life is so up and down. It’s always like that, always will be. But the downs – right now – seem so much deeper. I don’t know what I thought, back in 2020. That the pandemic would be temporary? That we’d wear masks for a year, deal with Covid for a year, then be done with it forever? I feel like I always knew it would be a longer-term thing. But thinking something, knowing something, are different than believing them. And maybe I didn’t believe that this would be our way of life for many years, possibly forever. It’s a hard thing, to come around to the truth.

  • We just got an email from Carla’s school. They are back in person as of Monday. Cue the relief. Cue the anxiety. I think I’ll go have some leftover medicinal pizza.

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My friend Kristina has written a book! (You may recall that I’ve mentioned it in the past, before she found a publisher; but now she HAS found a publisher, Sands Press, and her book comes out March 30!) I am telling you about it not only because am I delighted for and proud of Kristina for bringing a book into the world, but also because it is an excellent, heart-pounding, heart-wrenching thrill of a book. 

photo from amazon.com

The book is called Weight of Memory and it is like nothing I have ever read before. 

Mini Plot Summary: The main character, Lara, has lost her brother and she is really struggling. Her grief is crushing everything in its path and threatening to ruin her marriage and her mental health. One of the only things that helps is an old book Lara finds tucked away in an antique shop. She finds early comfort in its pages. But as she starts down the long, difficult path of the healing process, she suffers a new devastating loss: her memories of her brother are starting to disappear. She seeks solace in the book again, but this time, the story has changed… and the terrible things that occur in the book begin to happen to Lara, putting her marriage, her young daughter, and her life in harm’s way. She must try to understand the dark power she has unleashed and figure out how to repair the breach between this world and the next… without losing the only thing she has left of her brother. 

Mini Review: I don’t normally gravitate toward books about the supernatural, so I was surprised by how vivid and compelling that aspect of the plot was. But I wasn’t surprised by the quality of the writing, by the skill with which Kristina developed her characters, or by how invested I became in Lara’s struggle. This is a horror story at its best – and Kristina masterfully develops the tension in a way that made me jumpy and anxious in all the best ways. But what I love most about Weight of Memory is that it’s also a heart-rending excavation of loss and how we must make a place for grief in our lives. Kristina lost her own brother in a sudden, tragic accident and every word of Lara’s struggle carries the power and truth of that lived experience. I found the book simultaneously spine-tingling and deeply moving.

Giveaway Details: Today, I am giving away a copy of Weight of Memory. If it sounds like you or someone you know would enjoy the book, leave a comment on this post. It can be about absolutely anything. Or you can tell me the last book you read, if you like to have a prompt. I will choose a winner by midnight Wednesday. 

And of course, if you prefer, you can always pre-order Weight of Memory on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or wherever you buy books. 

UPDATE: This giveaway is closed. Ernie, commenter number 3, is the winner! Ernie, I have emailed you to request your address and will pre-order a copy of the book for you. Hopefully it will arrive the day it comes out so you can be one of the first people to read it! Thank you everyone for participating!

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I checked out the ebook version of I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends from my library, and it was the PERFECT distraction from These Unprecedented Times. Maybe if you don’t care for Friends it would be less perfect, but I DID like Friends and still watch episodes on occasion and I really enjoyed the book.

In places – okay, a lot of places – it seemed like the author had just read all possible media content about the show and its actors, and was compiling it all in one place – like, maybe this book has no actual newinformation. But… I liked it anyway. I thought the author did a great job of finding fun facts about the actors and interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. And I WASN’T going to go read all articles on the topic, so I was pleased that she’d done it for me and summarized the best parts.

Another thing I liked was that the author did not shy away from some of the more discomfiting aspects of the show – like how it can be blatantly homophobic and how nearly everyone is white – which I appreciated.

What I liked most, perhaps – and this is probably a feature of the times we live in – is that she explained why Friends has such staying power, particularly as “comfort fare.” It grew even more popular in the wake of 9/11, for instance, and I can definitely see myself turning to the show for comfort and distraction even now.

But now I’m done reading it, and I’m looking for the same kind of warm, cozy comfort it brought me.

My usual go-to in reading material is detective novels, which are diverting but certainly not warm and cozy or comforting. I am reading the fourth Joe Ide mystery, Hi Five. I have Long Bright River by Liz Moore on my nightstand and an Agatha Christie book on my Kindle. I already own all of the Sue Grafton Alphabet mysteries, and might reread them for the millionth time – the exploits of Kinsey Millhone in the carefree eighties can be oddly soothing.

But I want more books like I’ll Be There for You. I don’t really know how to categorize it though, in order to seek out similar titles. Nonfiction books about beloved TV shows? Pleasant and familiar and uncontroversial subject matter? Some combination of benign facts and nostalgia and fun-but-not-salacious celebrity gossip? I read Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure a while ago, and that SEEMS like it would be exactly the same, but I don’t think it would give me the same kind of comfort. (It was a fun read, though.) The book about Gilmore Girls (Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham) seems closer, but I found that almost too cheery. Maybe it’s in its own category, but I feel like there have to be other books along the same lines as I’ll Be There for You. Maybe not, though.

If you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, and what I should read next, let me know.


What are you reading when you need distraction from the news?

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I just finished a book with which I fell so completely in love, I want to FORCE everyone to read it immediately.

Of course, in my intense desire to expose everyone to this perfectly wonderful book, I am fearful that maybe you won’t, in fact, like it. Which wouldn’t make me like you less, I promise; I know books of all things are highly subjective, and you might find the style irritating or disjointed or you might find the subject matter maudlin or disturbing.

But I still feel this strong, nay, irresistible urge to COMPEL you to read it, and then get all your friends and family members to read it as well.

Am I putting too much pressure on it? I’m putting too much pressure on it.

Eh, you may like it, you may not. Whatever.

Let me see if I can pinpoint, for myself, why I liked it so immensely. And maybe that will help you determine whether you think you might like it.

The book in question is “The Friend” by Sigrid Nunez.

the friend

Image from amazon.com

And, by the way, Sigrid Nunez is nearly 70 years old, which I find appealing as well. (You don’t necessarily hear a lot of buzz about older authors.) (Her protagonist in this book is also older; I envisioned the protagonist as a stand-in for Sigrid, although who knows.) She didn’t publish her first book until she was 44! She is a critically acclaimed author, and I am deeply embarrassed that I haven’t read her work until now. I feel an urgent need to read ALL her books now, in quick succession.

This particular book won the National Book Award in 2018, if that makes any difference to you.

Do I need to include a trigger warning here? Probably. The book deals, in large part, with suicide. So if that is a problematic topic for you, I sadly recommend against reading the book. (I can’t remember any specific, upsetting descriptions of the death, but I suppose I could have forgotten them.)

But its larger themes are more philosophical: Grief, and its forms. Love, and its actors, and its varying forms. Growing old, and what that means, and its inevitable conclusion. Writing, and what it means to be a writer, and the changing view of writing/writers. Those are the big ones.

More specifically, there is a woman whose mentor dies, and who – unexpectedly, without warning her or asking her – leaves her his dog. Not just any dog, but a giant Great Dane. (She lives in a tiny pets-free rent-controlled apartment in New York City.)

From the get-go, I was skeptical of the book. While I don’t dislike dogs, I certainly don’t love them. I didn’t want to read a book about a dog. I didn’t want to read a sad book about someone losing her friend. I opened it with great reluctance. I was soothed to find that the protagonist prefers cats to dogs as I do.

Also, the book is (sort of) epistolary. It’s written in the second person, directed at the mentor she’s lost to suicide. That’s unusual enough that it could be distracting or annoying or tiresome.

Some things I loved about the book:

  • The style is unlike anything I’ve read before. Some reviewers refer to it as “stream of consciousness,” which I get. But I sort of think of “stream of consciousness” as a semi-derogatory way to describe someone’s prose (I don’t know why). I think of it as a Joyce-ian, Molly-Bloom-ian type of style, with long voluminous paragraphs and few sentences and winding, difficult-to-untangle threads of thought. (Maybe that’s why I think of it as derogatory; I did NOT enjoy Ulysses.) This book is NOT like that. I thought of it more as reading someone’s diary: there are discrete paragraphs, often unrelated or related only in that way that thoughts link to one another in your brain. Sometimes it feels like you are reading her notes, as she researches a particular subject: Here she is, going through her research about (for example — may not actually appear in the book) student/professor affairs; there is a paragraph about an author who had a famously disastrous affair with a student; there is a summary of the changing cultural attitude toward student/teacher relationships; there is a literary quote about the lawlessness of the heart; there is a paragraph about university regulations around fraternizing with students; there is an anecdote from her personal life about someone she knew who had an affair with a student. I can see how this might sound unappealing; there is no singular narrative that flows from beginning to end. I mean, there is, but you get all these ebbs and flows as she interjects and retreats. But I found it wholly appealing – a very fresh and interesting way to approach telling a story. And she does it so deftly that I felt as though I was riding around in her brain with her. The little intuitive leaps made sense and even when she turned away completely from something, it felt… right, and understandable. Nothing ever felt disjointed or incoherent, each thought became simply a new tiny wave breaking on the shore and then melting back into the larger narrative sea.


  • The prose is so clean and well-written. She has a very spare writing style, nothing extraneous, every word chosen precisely and with reason. Which is not to say that there isn’t a great deal of beauty in her words – on the contrary, her writing is lovely and evocative. I found myself rereading some sentences many times, marveling at their clarity and simplicity.


  • The subject matter is so heavy, yet she treats it so lightly. No, that’s not right. Maybe, she treats it with such a light hand. She seems so comfortable with the inevitability of the subjects of aging and death and grief… and she writes around the topics with such depth and breadth… that the gravitas isn’t pulling you under with each new sentence.


  • Related: she has a great sense of humor. You’ll be talking about aging and then suddenly you’re talking about poop. But not in a jarring way. In a charming, amusing way. (Oh clod I am not doing this justice at all. I should just stop talking.) There’s this one point where she relates a conversation with a friend. The friend wonders if she’s ever considered finding a therapist; she thinks the friend is talking about a therapist for the dog; the friend is not. It’s gentle humor, but helps keep the book light.


  • The book is meticulously researched. As I was reading, I was certain that any subject she raises in the book has been thoroughly and comprehensively researched. She’s read all the literature related to suicide or dogs or whatever. She’s got all the relevant quotes. She’s dug into the pertinent scientific journals. She’s read related news articles. She’s combed through Wikipedia. You know this only because she pulls out the best tidbits to share – again, kind of like you might scrawl off a particularly juicy detail about, I don’t know, a work project, in your diary – and they are fascinating. But it is clear that they are the gems she plucked out and shined up, and that there are truckloads of dirt clods that she left behind. It’s impressive and, frankly, kind of awe-inspiring.


  • She handles the central relationships of the book with such care. Basically, you’ve got a woman and her dead mentor. And you’ve a got a woman and her dead mentor’s dog. And, really, you’ve got a woman coming to terms with herself without her dead friend. Each of these relationships is drawn with such tremendous compassion and thoughtfulness and grace (this seems like the wrong word, but I keep coming back to it) that I was wholly drawn in, wholly won over.


  • Lurking in the background is that this book is about a writer, writing. Writing figures into the overarching narrative as kind of a linking force and maybe even a personal imperative. The protagonist is a writer, her mentor is a writer; their writing brought them together, kept them together. And she’s figuring out how writing fits in to her grieving process.


Perhaps you should know, before you read it, that I finished reading, closed the book, and wept like a child. Great body-shaking sobs that I could not control or suppress. And yet I welcomed the tears, because they were so well-earned.

Have I managed to make it sound dull and off-putting? Possibly. Hopefully I have not done more harm than good in recommending it to you.

Well, I think you’d be best off just reading the book. I loved it. I wish I could read it again for the first time. I look forward to returning to it again. And then again. I am so very glad I read it.

If you read it, let me know, will you?

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A few months ago, I asked for advice about kids’ books with an instructive element. I loved the comments on that post – they were so full of good ideas, and I have since requested many of your suggestions from the library.

THEN. After I published the post, I got an email from A Kind and Generous Person who just so happened to have an entire STACK of the Joy Berry books I fondly remember from my own childhood.

Her children had outgrown them, she said, and she was thinking about the best way to release them from her house. And would I want them?


She boxed them up and sent them to me, FOR FREE – AND DID NOT EVEN WANT ME TO COVER THE SHIPPING – and they now live in my daughter’s bedroom. (Can you even believe how KIND and GENEROUS and ALL-CAPS WONDERFUL that is?!?!)

Joy Berry Books 1

I get a little tingle of delight EVERY TIME I see this stack of books!

We have read them several times over. Carla was OBSESSED with them when they first arrived, so we read all 20 of them right away, two-at-a-time before naps or bedtime. And then she began asking for specific books. And now we work them in among the other, less-instructive books that crowd her bookcase.

The books, by the way, are as wonderful as I remember… PLUS they are better, because now I am the one trying to teach my own child certain concepts. And some concepts are HARD.

Joy Berry Books 4

The elephant is already very clear on the concept of disobedience.

Thank goodness for Joy Berry. She very clearly and simply lays out a term and what it means and then offers several clear, firm, no-nonsense examples, all accompanied by a cartoon that shows the concept in action.

Joy Berry Books 5

There’s always an animal along for comic relief/extra shaming.

Then she lists simple examples of what you should do and what you should not do in order to avoid the concept being taught.

Joy Berry Books 6

SO EASY to abstain from disobeying! Just follow the two steps! (Disclaimer: May not be quite as easy in practice as it seems in the book.)

It was such a wonderful, pleasing case of serendipity. That this Kind and Generous Person would not only have the Joy Berry books, and be done with them herself, and be looking to pass them on to someone else… but that she would also read my blog at the exact moment I posted about my longing for those very books.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me itch to pass along the kindness.

To that end, I happen to possess three books that a) I LOVE and b) I am no longer in need of and c) I would wholeheartedly recommend you buy anyway because they are soothing and easy to read and short. So I would like to give them away to you.

They are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and they are slim “guidebooks,” if you will, to the inner workings of a two- and three-year-old.

Louise Bates Ames

I have no idea why these are not ordered CORRECTLY. It is driving me batty (although apparently not so batty as to retake the photo), so let’s just quickly look away, shall we?

The two-year-old book and one of the three-year-old books are gently used. The other arrived from Amazon as a surprise extra, and Amazon – which apparently has more money than it knows what to do with – just shrugged its shoulders and said, “keep it.” So the book is fresh as the day it arrived, more than a year and a half ago.

The books follow the same basic structure, outlining the characteristics of a child of that age, techniques for dealing with a child of that age, accomplishments and abilities typical for the age range, how the child sees the world, etc. There are “real life stories” sections in the back of each, where parents give a brief description of some problem they are encountering and the author responds.

I like these books for their cheery and matter-of-fact tone, for the “help with routines” sections, for the books/toys suggestions at the back, and for the short lists of “things to avoid” when interacting with your child. Sample, from the book on two-year-olds: “Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly.” Second sample, same book: “Avoid any questions that can be answered by ‘no.'” I don’t know why, but these simple suggestions give me the giggles. And have I mentioned that they are short and very easy to read? Some parenting books are so dense. Others are so wordy. These books are so quick. Of course, that also means that they don’t really cover anything in-depth. But as an overview of what to expect from your kid at a specific age, they are top notch.

If you (or a loved one) are in possession of a nearly two-, or three-year-old, and if you don’t already own these books, let me know in the comments if you would like a) Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, b) Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, or c) both. I will do some sort of random number drawing on Friday.

Oh! And whether you want a copy of the Louise Bates Ames books or not, I would love to know what your favorite instructive-type children’s book is… and/or your favorite/most useful parenting book.

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We have reached the stage of life where I am constantly searching for books that have some sort of teaching component.

Carla loves to read. And I find that reading a book about a topic and then discussing that topic and whatever lessons are inside it really help secure them in her brain.

But I am picky about the books.

The Berenstain Bears series is okay.

We have Too Much TV and The Truth and both are all right. Not perfect – Papa Bear is (as many cartoon/children’s book fathers seem to be) kind of a dolt, who seems to have as much to work on as the cubs do. And that annoys me, for some reason. Not that parents in kids’ books shouldn’t be real and vulnerable and have their own struggles, but… I don’t know. There’s just something mildly irritating to me about how the Bear Family parents come across. They are SUPER CHEAP though, so that’s nice.

I love the Frances books.

We have A Birthday for Frances and Bread and Jam for Frances and we have checked out Bedtime for Frances from the library many, many times. They are not perfect either; I seem to recall that the father threatens to spank Frances in the bedtime story, and I am not a fan of that. But otherwise, I very much admire her parents’ calm, unflappable way of dealing with Frances’s antics. My biggest complaint about the Frances books, perhaps, is that there aren’t enough of them.

Last fall, we were getting some… feedback from Carla’s teachers that she may benefit from a refresher on listening and following directions. So I researched a bunch of books on the topic, looked them up at my  local library (NOT IN THE SYSTEM AT ALL), and ordered a few highly-rated books from Amazon.

We read them each once.

(In case it’s not clear, I did not like ANY of them. I Just Want to Do It My Way would have been better titled “Staying on Task” or “Asking for Help” or something. And, in that book and in That Rule Doesn’t Apply to Me, I found the inconsistent rhyming and use of different fonts very irritating. Plus, they seemed to be geared toward a kid a bit older than Carla is. Which I guess isn’t the BOOK’S fault so much as mine. They are destined to be donated, I think. [To be fair, Why Should I Listen was okay. It showed multiple examples of a child not listening, and the consequences. And it also showed a few examples of how bad the child felt when others didn’t listen to him.])

Now, I am looking for books about talking to strangers and being polite and keeping your hands to yourself. I have a bunch in my Amazon cart, and I just need to order them. But what I keep wishing for is these books that I had as a kid.

At first, I couldn’t remember anything about them except that they covered a wide range of topics. But then I found them on Amazon! They belonged to a series by Joy Wilt Berry, and when I was a kid, the series was called “Let’s Talk About…” Looks like the originals came out in the early-to-mid 1980s. Of course, they are long out of print. (It seems like they got revised and republished a few times, as recently as 2000. But even those aren’t sold directly by Amazon.) (I haven’t looked for them anywhere else. YET.)

It makes me laugh to scroll through all the titles. If you take a look at the ones that I remember CLEARLY from my childhood, you may get a sense of what a delightful child I must have been.

I like to think I really absorbed the lessons of the books and have transformed into a polite, honest, non-greedy, hardworking, non-bossy person. But let’s be honest, I’m still not the neatest.

It’s comforting to think of my mother seeking out books in the same way I am now seeking books for my own daughter.

I suppose I can order used copies of some of them. I wonder if they hold up to my memory of them?

Anyway, I am wondering if YOU have any books of an instructive nature – about anything, really, from using good judgment to table manners to making friends to using an indoor voice and everything beyond – that you loved, as a child or as a parent.

In the meantime, I am going to go order some books from the Cheri J. Meiners Learning to Get Along series.

And maybe a couple of other random books for good measure. (At around $3-$6 a book, why not?) (I may have a book buying problem.)

Note: All of the photos above came from Amazon.com. I think you can see that if you scroll over the photos themselves, but… who knows.

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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Let’s talk about the books we have been reading. And NOT reading.

But before we do that – and before you give some suggestions for GOOD books to read, because, as will be perfectly clear in about 4,000 words, I have faced a real Dearth of Good Books lately – let us digress a little to discuss one of the major differences between me and my husband.

My husband and I both LOVE to read. We are both the type of person who buys a stack of books and then starts looking for the next book to buy while we’re not even done with the first book in the stack.

We are also both the type to read multiple books at a time.


That’s where the similarities end.

Here is a photo of our bed and nightstands. See if you can spot the difference.

Welcome to our boudoir.

Welcome to our boudoir. The duvet cover always looks lumpy but at least the bed is made.

So, my husband may read as many as three books at a time. I think, right now, he’s reading the second in the Game of Thrones series (so we can get started on season two of the TV show FINALLY). He checked out some book from the library recently, which I think he may have started. I can’t remember if he’s started Wicked or if he’s saving it until after he finishes the other(s).

He may also be reading something on the Kindle, and, occasionally he “reads” a book on tape while he’s driving to and from work.

Anyway, my husband’s nightstand is neat and clean. Aside from the few books, it holds a picture of me as a child that he has deemed especially cute, a recent issue of Consumer Reports, and a book of puzzles.

My husband's top-of-nightstand contents: reasonable and not in danger of falling on a person in the night.

My husband’s top-of-nightstand contents: reasonable and not in danger of falling on a person in the night.

He keeps reference books (and the aforementioned Kindle) in the open cupboard portion of the nightstand.

There are also two books I've recommended to/bought for him that he hasn't yet begun.

There are also two books I’ve recommended to/bought for him that he hasn’t yet begun.

Two of my husband’s favorite things to do are to a) pick the next book he is/I am going to read and b) put away books that have just been finished.

It’s one of his most endearing quirks – in fact, I think I’ve mentioned it in this space before – that he loves the task of rearranging our bookshelves to accommodate new tomes.  I’m not sure why; the simple logic of alphabetization, perhaps? The chance to go through all the books he has and hasn’t read? A combination of both?

It’s nice for me. I never have to set foot in our (tiny) “library” – or even get out of bed if I need something new to read.

But he has been frustrated with me the last few months.

Because I have been collecting books atop my nightstand like it’s the only book storage space in our entire house.

(It’s not. The “library” has three bookshelves. The office has two and a half. One of the guest rooms has one.  While we could always use MORE bookshelves, we’re not out of room by any stretch of the imagination.)

Take a look at what I mean.

You can't even see the pictures on the nightstand, there are so many books in the way.

You can’t even see the pictures on the nightstand, there are so many books in the way.

So, Internet, it has been an off few months for books.

Sure, I’ve found a handful I really enjoyed.

But the majority of books I’ve started have been stinkers.

Yet… I can’t bring myself to just… quit.

Which is odd. Usually, I have no problem deciding that a book just isn’t working out for me, and closing it and putting it out of my mind.  Maybe my recent reluctance has to do with the high hopes I had for the books in question? Agent 6 is the perfect example. I devoured Tom Rob Smith’s first two books – Child 44 and The Secret Speech – and couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on Agent 6. And then it was just kind of… boring. So I’ve been halfway through it since… August? July? Who knows. But because I was so in love with the first two, and had such high hopes for this one, I just can’t GIVE UP, you know?

(The reluctance to give up on a book may also have to do with the book recommender, now that I think of it. Two of the books – Leaving the Atocha Station and The Orphan Master’s Son – on my unfinished pile were either purchased for me or recommended by my husband. And I think he also recommended that I read Await Your Reply, which I honestly can’t remember if I DID finish or not.)

I haven't finished a single one of these. Well, except Five Patients, which I've read several times. But couldn't finish on the last go-round.

I haven’t finished a single one of these. Well, except Five Patients, which I’ve read several times. But couldn’t finish on the last go-round.

(One of the books I haven’t finished – A Point in Time – was recommended by my father-in-law. So I can’t very well put THAT ONE back until I’ve good and finished the book, right?)

Let’s talk about the fact that there are four Patricia Cornwell books on my nightstand. (One in each pile, apparently. Way to represent, PCorn!)

I was a HUGE Patricia Cornwell fan my entire teenager- and college-hood. Her Scarpetta series was one of my all-time favorite mystery series. Until 2005. That was the year that she made an appearance at a St. Louis Barnes & Noble (or Borders?) and my then-boyfriend and I went to see her. She gave a little speech and then signed books, and we got our photo taken with her and I bought a copy of her newest book (signed) to give to my father.

Her newest book, at that time, was Blow Fly and it was a departure from her normal writing style. No longer first-person, but third-person omniscient.

And it was AWFUL.

I gave up reading her books until this past Christmas, when my husband’s aunt (my aunt-in-law?) gave me a Patricia Cornwell book that was a few books further down in the series. And I read it and enjoyed it! It wasn’t as good as I remember the original books to be.  But it was WAY better than Blow Fly. So I decided I needed to get back into the series, and to really do so PROPERLY, I had to read all of the books between Blow Fly and whatever book I got for Christmas; I can’t honestly remember.  It may be one of the ones on my nightstand WHO KNOWS.  Anyway, I read a couple of them – Book of the Dead and… something else – and now I’m trying to read Trace but it’s SO BAD.  The primary plot is dragging along like an overweight three-legged alligator and there are a couple of secondary storylines that haven’t intersected with the main plot yet… but you know they WILL, and there are only so many pages left in which they CAN, so I anticipate that there will be a sudden flurry of tying-togetherness that will seem haphazard and sloppy. Plus, one of the main characters of the series has morphed into someone fairly unlikable and I’m not really appreciative of that trend. Honestly, none of the main characters seem all that likable right now – like Cornwell is focusing so hard on making them flawed heroes that she forgot to make them relatable. And what else can I complain about? Oh yes, the WRITING. It’s as though Cornwell had an outline sketched on a cocktail napkin or something, but when she sat down to flesh it out, she didn’t have enough meat, so she’s filled in entire paragraphs with meaningless repetition and “character development” that makes me hate the characters.


So that’s why I haven’t finished Trace. It’s still on my nightstand because I feel DRIVEN to finish it, though, and finish the other intervening books between the god-awful Blow Fly and whatever book I read in December. But feeling driven to finish a book and actually plowing through to the end are two wholly different things.

Let’s move away from what turned into some real bashing of one of my favorite authors. (She really IS one of my favorites. And I sympathize with what’s going on with her Scarpetta series. It must be exhausting to have to continue a series that may have begun to feel a little stale to you… and tremendously difficult to switch writing styles when you have been writing in one way for so long. I am cheered to know that she DOES settle into the new style and I have every reason to believe that the rest of the series will be GREAT.)


There are two Thursday Next books on my nightstand.  I started reading one a while ago and had the sinking feeling that I’d read it before. I couldn’t actually remember what HAPPENED in the books, thinking ahead… but as I would be reading along, I’d feel strongly that everything was happening as I knew it would.  Very odd sensation, to not know what was coming around the bend of the next page, but to know, when it happened, that you weren’t surprised in the least. I am explaining this very poorly. It was like book déjà vu. There.

The other Thursday Next book is – I think? – the most recent, and I had taken it with me to Montana last summer and who knows if I read it or not. I haven’t yet cracked the cover to see. (Although who knows if I would even REMEMBER if I HAD read it. Sheesh. Maybe I should give up reading all together.)

Right now, I am reading Canada, which I am thoroughly enjoying. (After all, it does take place in a part of the world very near to where I grew up.) The plot – while elongated – is engaging and most of the book is contemplative in a way that makes me actually THINK about what the author is getting at, and there’s a lot of nice description and character development of interesting, flawed-yet-relatable (mostly) characters and, well, it keeps me awake far longer than most books have of late. So that’s SOMETHING.

A good book, a bad book, and a terrifying book.

A good book, a bad book, and a terrifying book.

So that’s on top and nearest to the bed, which means I am less likely to plop it down as my eyes are growing heavy and tip a entire pile of books off the edge of the nightstand, which has happened oh about twenty times in the past few months.

Most of the other books on the nightstand are not really the kind of books you read all in one go.

Kind of a random assortment, isn't it?

Kind of a random assortment, isn’t it?

You pick them up on a night when you’re not in the mood for serial killers (although, when am I not in the mood for serial killers????) or literary fiction, and read a poem or a chapter until your mind is either settled by soothing rhythms and sounds or set a-racing by the terrors of child birth/rearing so that you must turn, instead, to Trace, which puts you asleep almost immediately.

The last pile on the nightstand has NO REASON to exist.

I did NOT like Everything Asian. But by golly I FINISHED IT!

I did NOT like Everything Asian. But by golly I FINISHED IT!

Well, to exist on my nightstand, that is.

It’s a pile of books I have actually finished. (And I enjoyed some of them! In a couple of cases – the Rob Lowe memoir and The Boy in the Suitcase and the Sophie Hannah book and maybe that’s it – immensely!)

Are they still there to remind me that a) I AM capable of finishing books and b) good, readable books DO exist?

Who knows, Internet. Who knows.

Now is your chance to shake yourself out of the stupor that this long and ridiculous post has undoubtedly forced upon you, and recommend some other books for me to read. And, while you’re at it, books I should NOT read. I’d rather not ADD to the pile, you know.

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