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Archive for the ‘Friday Five’ Category

I was about to type “I didn’t read as much in March as I usually do…” but then I looked at how long some of the books I finished in March are, and turns out I did read quite a bit. These were my favorite five, in no particular order.

  1. A Match to the Heart by Gretel Ehrlich – The telltale way to know I really enjoyed a book is that I immediately seek out other books the author has written. This was a memoir about getting struck by lightning, and it was fascinating. I’m super excited to read The Solace of Open Spaces.
  2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Ok, I lied. There is somewhat of an order. This was my absolute favorite of the month. Laini Taylor is a world-building rockstar. I’m about halfway through the second book in this duology (Muse of Nightmares), and it’s just as good.
  3. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – This was my second time reading this one, and it was just as lovely this time around. If you like fairytale retellings, check it out.
  4. Microscripts by Robert Walser – A collection of essays compiled from notes the author scribbled on scraps of paper. I picked it up because Maira Kalman is the illustrator, and I love her. I’m so glad I did.
  5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – Technically two books but my copy has both of them in the same volume, so I counted it as one. I don’t remember how many times I have read this and I love it just the same every time.

What is the best thing you’ve read recently (books, articles, bumper stickers – whatever)?

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In no particular order…

  1. The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan – I grew up on a farm, and my parents still live there, so I get to go back and visit frequently. I am drawn to any story about farm life and making it work. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the resources of two successful actors to fall back on, but I digress. Actually, that’s not a digression. This book is a good example of how much work it takes to make a farm functional, even if you have a lot of resources. She also charmed me with various instances of finding things and causes they loved and throwing all their excess money at them rather than just buying more stuff for themselves. I really enjoyed that.
  2. Wintering by Katherine May – I took so many notes on this book that I’m not sure I can summarize them. Instead, I leave you with some of my favorite quotes (lifted shamelessly from Goodreads because I’m wintering and reserving energy for other things because…just read the book):
    – “If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too…[that] is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”
    – “Here is another truth about wintering: you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange of gifts in which nobody loses out.”
    – “Doing those deeply unfashionable things—slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting—is a radical act now, but it is essential.”
    – “Winter is when I reorganise my bookshelves and read all the books I acquired in the previous year and failed to actually read. It is also the time when I reread beloved novels, for the pleasure of reacquainting myself with old friends. In summer, I want big, splashy ideas and trashy page-turners, devoured while lounging in a garden chair or perching on one of the breakwaters on the beach. In winter, I want concepts to chew over in a pool of lamplight—slow, spiritual reading, a reinforcement of the soul. Winter is a time for libraries, the muffled quiet of bookstacks and the scent of old pages and dust. In winter, I can spend hours in silent pursuit of a half-understood concept or a detail of history. There is nowhere else to be, after all.”
    – “Much to my regret, I have yet to befriend a robin.” (ME TOO I HAVE THIS SAME REGRET)
    – “The right to sing is an absolute, regardless of how it sounds to the outside world. We sing because we must. We sing because it fills our lungs with nourishing air, and lets our hearts soar with the notes we let out. We sing because it allows us to speak of love and loss, delight and desire, all encoded in lyrics that let us pretend that those feelings are not quite ours. In song, we have permission to rehearse all our heartbreaks, all our lusts.”
    – “Now my evenings have the consolation of mugs of emerald-green tea made with fresh mint. It’s not so bad, but the time seems to stretch, and I’m finding myself in bed by nine, perhaps earlier if I can get away with it. It’s a profoundly unsociable way of living, but it gives me those clearheaded early mornings in the inky dark, when I light candles around the house and relish two straight hours when nobody can make any demands on me.”
    – “That’s what humans do: we make and remake our stories, abandoning the ones that no longer fit and trying on new ones for size.”
    – “They say we should dance like no one is watching. I think that applies to reading, too.”
  3. How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell – Do you sense a theme? The title is a bit of a misnomer, because it advocates actually doing quite a lot. Just…things that are important and not necessarily the things that society/patriarchy/capitalism and other such nonsense wants you to believe are important. Is it possible that when you can truly stop doing those things you may have time for the things that matter most to you? I hope so.
  4. Loveless  by Alise Oseman – “Give your friendships the magic you would give a romance. Because they’re just as important. Actually, for us, they’re way more important.” Oh, the young adult angst! Perfectly captured. Reading this book was like listening to my students/customers. I had never read a rom-com with an ace main character, and it was lovely. I particularly enjoyed the parts that illustrated the impact and importance of friendships.
  5. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – I only read this because it is the first in a series brought to my attention by a Happy Endings Book Club selection from a few months ago (I have a habit of only reading series in the order they are written if possible, so the book I received as part of my subscription had to wait). I’m so glad I started with it! It’s basically a fandom fantasy wherein the fan meets/befriends/falls in love with the celebrity. It reminds me of good times on the MRMB (Michael Rosenbaum Message Board). Now I’m excited to see what happens with Alex and Lauren in All the Feels

What have you enjoyed reading lately?

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I usually have a hard time narrowing down my top five reads of the month, but January was easy. I can even rank them. Of the 13 books I read in January, these were my favorites (in actual order of preference).

  1. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith – This is the best book I’ve read in a while. It took me a while because it’s pretty heavy material, but I love Smith’s writing style. This interview is a good example of the perspective he brings to his writing.
  2. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – Close second. I read the ebook, but I’m going to buy a copy to add to my bedside collection for mornings when I need a quick pick-me-up to get going. I love Gay’s humor and charm.
  3. Noor by Nnedi Okorafor – Such gorgeous writing. I love novels that describe ordinary moments in exquisite detail. I also love plots that keep moving and make me stay up late to find out what happens next. It’s unusual to find both in the same book, but this one has both.
  4. My Body by Emily Ratajkowski – I went into this expecting to be annoyed by complaints about privileges her body has afforded her (she’s a model). Any time I had such a twinge (e.g., the chapter where she waxed philosophical about getting paid a lot of money to vacation at a luxury resort and document it on social media. Meanwhile, I work in student affairs where I make in a year what she gets paid in a session.), her exposition of capitalism, inequities, and the complications of her place in it (both privileged and disadvantaged) brought me back to her side. If I were to teach a class on memoir writing, this book would be the required reading for the lesson on nuance.
  5. Pure by Linda Kay Klein – This book was one trigger after another, but it was ultimately helpful for me to read. If you grew up in purity culture (and you probably did, whether you were in the fundamentalist, evangelical thick of it or not), this may give you fun new things to discuss with your therapist.

What is the best book you’ve read lately?

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December was one of my read-a-bit-of-everything months, so I didn’t technically finish many of them. Here are the ones I did finish that stuck out.

  1. Winter by Ali Smith – I really like the way Smith wrote these characters. Some of them were more likable than others, of course, but they read real (if that makes sense). I am looking forward to reading the spring and summer novels.
  2. Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo – This memoir was rich and deep. I found myself re-reading passages because the language was so lovely. I would expect nothing less from Joy Harjo.
  3. Taste by Stanley Tucci – I enjoyed reading this book for many reasons, but mostly because it seemed that he got more relaxed as the book went on. It went from TV persona to putting things like “a fuck of a lot of garlic” (I think it was garlic – if not, let’s just pretend it was because a lot of garlic always makes sense) in an ingredient list. The only thing that would have made it more enjoyable was listening to him read it to me which I am likely to do this year some time, since he reads the audiobook. Yay!
  4. Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo – Is it a poem? Is it a novel? Yes. It’s the best of both worlds. Beautiful story about the influence of a name, understanding where you come from, and finding where you belong.
  5. A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw – I like the way the author developed this plot. It kept me curious all the way through. Without giving too much away, I felt compelled to scope out Ernshaw’s social media for real world context and its potential influence on the plot. I could see this book being used to make points that she didn’t intend for it to make, but I liked the premise and the twists.

What did you enjoy reading last month?

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Food and wine with friends is always a good day.

The prompt for today is “best day of 2021,” so I thumbed through my planner to find the best day. I was already up to five by April, so I just decided to go top ten. In order (somewhat) of occurrence:

  1. Inauguration Day (January 20) – I am not a person who believes that political leaders (particularly milquetoast, capitalist, and/or status-quo-y ones) are the answers to our problems. I suspect that in order for someone to make it to the highest offices in our country, they’ve probably had to (and will continue to) compromise a lot and do some pretty shady things that likely do more to add to our problems than to solve them. When I vote, it’s typically for the least objectionable person who could actually win whose future speeches are the least likely to inspire me to damage whatever screen I’m viewing them on. But I enjoyed Inauguration Day. I enjoyed hearing Amanda Gorman share The Hill We Climb, and I loved watching her capture the day on Instagram. The Bernie memes still make me laugh. It’s just a day to take a breath, and it was nice to do so.
  2. Spiderweb Loves You – This virtual performance on Valentine’s Day was a poem I pieced together from text conversations with Maggie and Michelle. As with our conversations, topics ranged from favorite TV moments to the stressors of the day. I love them both a lot, and I love that Spiderweb gives us a specific space each year to love on the people who are important to us.
  3. Birthday celebrations (technically spanned more than one day, but let’s be real – there are no rules here) – Between visiting Texas Tulips and having lunch with Tammy, wine/coffee/pastry/book shopping, dinner and hangout with CM and Sarah, an All Booked Up outing with Sarah and Joan, and new shelves and delicious early dinner with Steph, Nathan, Tammy, and Matt, I was especially well loved on the days surrounding my birthday in March.
  4. Wine and pizza at Fortunata with Kim and Beth – It was the perfect evening. Friends, food, wine, live music that we definitely sang along to, getting out of the house. Such a lovely time with two of my favorite people and some of my favorite simple pleasures.
  5. Denton Community Market – Maybe I went on opening day? The day I’m remembering was at least one of the first days in April that it was open for the season. I usually avoid DCM early on (let the crowds thin out and the summer veggies show up), but this year I was excited about it. At any rate, my favorite DCM day was the one where I saw (and hugged!) so many friends in person whom I had mostly just seen virtually for the past year.
  6. Maggie and Michelle weekend!!! In late May, Maggie and Michelle came to see me! It was so exciting. We ate delicious things, chatted, and watched TV for a long, luxurious weekend. I miss them so much. The weekend was so fun we decided that it needs to be a yearly(ish) ritual.
  7. In-person gatherings – My Cookbook club, church book club, and Follow the Reader are meeting in person again! We started getting together again about mid-year, and it’s been so nice. 
  8. Spiderweb at the farm – One of CM’s friends has a farm nearby (with sheep! And donkeys!), and we were invited over to lounge in the pool, enjoy the outside and make art a few evenings during the summer. It was an amazing little mid-week reprieve. 
  9. Colorado trip! I actually took a vacation this year. I went with Spiderfriends to a cabin in Colorado where we hiked (well, they hiked. I mostly wheezed and stayed at the cabin), read, played games and enjoyed each other’s company. It was nice to take a real break (from both jobs!) for a few days.
  10. Spiderdead – So many of my best and most memorable days include Spiderweb Salon. I really love these people and the community we have together. I got to help share a friend’s poetry during our yearly grief ritual, and it was a great experience. It was my first time performing on stage at Rubber Gloves, so that made it special to me, too.

The fact that 2021 holds so many best days for me indicates that I had a pretty good year. It hasn’t always felt that way, so this was a nice discovery.

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My reading plan derailed a bit this month as I was finishing many books planned for October and got a late start. And also in part because I just some different books than I planned to read. That happens sometimes. Anyway, here are the five books I read/started in November that I enjoyed the most.

  1. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny – The latest in the Inspector Gamache series. This one hit differently because it dealt with themes of the pandemic and different people’s reactions to it. It is set as the beloved characters of Three Pines are celebrating together again for the holidays. I love this whole series, but there were times reading this one that I had to put it down and catch my breath.
  2. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – Why did I wait so long to read this? I devoured this book in early November, and I’m already halfway through the third in the series. If you like magical realism and you haven’t read it yet, learn from my mistake. Do not wait any longer.
  3. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd – This is a quick read, but I was reading along with my discussion group at church, so I took it more slowly and finished it with them. Highly recommend for Christians who get mad at God every time they read the Bible. It might help you do that less. Be advised that it might not help you be less mad at Christians, though.
  4. Still Life by Sarah Winman – Not to be confused with the first Inspector Gamache novel. Beautiful storytelling. I am not finished yet because I keep going back to re-read really exquisite passages. The dialogue is particularly well done.
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Another “Why did I wait so long?!?!” title. For years, this book has been recommended to me by people who know what I love to read the most. They were right. It’s so good. There’s not one thing I dislike about it.

What have you read recently that you loved?

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Whew. The holiday season is approaching at a breakneck speed and I am not sure I’m ready. There are a few things I’m looking forward to, such as our mid-week Advent services, the solo I get to sing the first Sunday of January, and the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree, but for the most part, I’m already tired and over it. Here are some things that I enjoyed this week while trying to coax myself into the holiday spirit.

  1. Speaking of spirits, I have toyed with the idea of a wine Advent calendar for years but this may be the year it actually happens. A little celebratory libation to end each day and trying out some new wines? I think so.
  2. Some people love turkey, dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer), and other holiday standards. My favorite holiday foods are the pies. I would eat every single one of these. Except the pot pie, because yuck. But otherwise? Yum.
  3. Earlier in the week, Maggie and I had this exchange:
    Maggie: You know what I forgot about? FoodGawker
    Me: …..
    Me: !!!!!!
    Me: OMG ME TOO
    So I have spent a good portion of time this week strolling down Memory Lane by scrolling back through my saved recipes and remembering all the tasty treats I enjoyed courtesy of this site. Wow, at one point I really did think I was going to make my own cheese. I appreciate my former self’s ambition. That’s adorable.
  4. “I want to line the whole place with bookcases. Then I want to paint them green, because that is the proper library colour, and then I want to fill them with books and be happy for ever.” Life goals.
  5. If you’ve already done your gift shopping…I’m jealous and also do you want to do mine, too? No? Really? You’re just going to sit there and be smug with your I’ve-finished-my-shopping-already face and leave me to suffer? Well, ok then. But if you haven’t finished and want to order things in time for Christmas or your holiday of choice (or January birthdays…I don’t know your gifting habits), Sarah Bessey curates a gift guide that features places that do good in the world in some form or fashion.

What are some things (internet or otherwise) you’ve seen this week that you loved?

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(I enjoy that the name of the font used for the “Friday Five” in this pic is Glacial Indifference.)

In no particular order of favoritism (just in the order I finished them):

  1. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver – I want to hug this main character. The story is about all the terrible and wonderful things that happened after they came out as nonbinary to their parents. This would be a great book for anyone who wants to learn how to respond (and also how very much not to respond) when entrusted with the gift of who a person is.
  2. Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston – I looove Zora, so I went in with high expectations for these short stories that appeared in publications during the Harlem Renaissance. And my expectations were met. I only wish I had realized the editor is local before the day of our meeting. I could have invited her to be a guest at our book club.
  3. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab – I liked the first book in this series, and I was looking forward to the second. One of the reservations I had about the first (the character of Eli was a little flat) was taken care of in this one. I really like Schwab as a writer.
  4. Autumn by Ali Smith – I want to read all four seasons this upcoming year! I love how Smith uses language and reveals nuances in characters.
  5. Beach Read by Emily Henry – It may be because the main characters were writers. Or because they lived on the beach. Or because it talked a lot about book clubs and misunderstandings that happen during awkward encounters. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured it.

What’s the best book(s) you’ve read lately?

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I am skeptical about self-help books. I want to know the author’s credentials (formal or experiential) before I commit to taking what they have to say seriously. But credentials are not enough. If, at any point, I get the sense that the author is trying too hard to make a point or wrap something up in a neat, little trite bow, it’s hard for them to get my attention back. I will DNF* a book meant to advise or inspire me faster than any other type of book if I am the least bit dissatisfied with it. Or worse, I will finish it out of spite just so I can rant about how bad it is on the internet.

Sloppy advice books are the Twilight saga of nonfiction.

But when the writers get it right, these books become some of my favorites. I 5-star them on Goodreads, give them away as gifts, and recommend them with reckless abandon. Here are the first five that come to mind.

  1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. I thought it would be a fun weekend read from the person who writes some of my favorite TV dialogue. But I hadn’t even finished the first chapter before I was reaching for my notes journal and scribbling down all the lessons I was learning. If you feel stuck and suspect it may be nerves or fear holding you back, this is just the kick in the pants you need.
  2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – Speaking of kick in the pants, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read to get out of creative slump. Tharp’s main art is dance, but the principles in this book can easily be applied to any creative pursuit. Highly recommend to artists of any kind.
  3. Burnout by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski – In all my therapy sessions, not once have I ever been taught how to complete a biological stress cycle. Or – that’s not completely true. I have been given good advice on things I can do to relieve stress, but this book breaks down why it works and what to do when it doesn’t. Reading this book cut the occurrence of my panic attacks in half because I learned how to identify the signs that lead up to them so I can head some of them off at the pass. Eternally grateful.
  4. Quiet by Susan Cain – I apparently have not marked this one as read or rated it on Goodreads, but I have pages and pages of notes on it. Before reading this book, I knew in my head that there was nothing wrong with being an introvert, but Cain’s social commentary showed me that it’s not just not-wrong. It’s a superpower. This is a very gratifying and encouraging read.
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Ok, hear me out. This book is not just about having an organized home. I mean, it is, and it will absolutely help you do that. But it also reminded me not only of the importance of surrounding myself with beauty and joy but also just how easy that is to do.

Honorable mention goes to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Both of these books remind me to stay focused and give practical advice for doing so. Also, if Luvvie doesn’t make you cackle out loud, your sense of humor is broken.

What books inspire you?

I’m writing about my favorite books this month.

*DNF = Did not finish

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My vacation officially started yesterday, so I’m looking forward to a lot of reading in the next week. I’ve already finished two books that I had begun earlier, so we’re off to a good start. When I plan vacation reading, I typically lean toward favorite series and authors. There are many authors who, when their new books come out, I will always read. Here are the first five who came to mind.

  1. ACF Bookens – One of my favorite cozy mystery authors. I am heavily invested in the lives of both the St. Marins and the Stitches in Crime characters, and I am super excited to read anything she comes up with in the future.
  2. N.K. Jemisin – If you haven’t read The Broken Earth Trilogy, stop reading this and go read that instead. It’s so good. Anyone who enjoys fantasy or sci-fi should check her out. The City We Became is very close to the top of my TBR list, and I may just have to push it ahead next week while I have some time.
  3. Louise Penny – I was delighted to remember that I already had purchased the audio of The Madness of Crowds when I was preparing a list of books to bring with me on the trip to the farm. I’m about 2.5 hours into it, and of course I’m already hooked. I love the Three Pines mysteries, and I still mourn the original audio reader for the series (RIP).
  4. Jasmine Guillory – Damn, she can write a sex scene. You don’t have to start with The Wedding Date, as each novel can stand on its own, but that’s where I would start.
  5. Helen Hoang – Also very hot sex scenes. I love the incorporation of neurodivergent characters in her romantic stories. The Kiss Quotient is my favorite, but they’re all fantastic.

There are so many others that come to mind, but I never hesitate to pre-order new books these authors put out the moment I’m able to do so.

What authors are on your “always read” list?

I’m writing about the books I love this month.

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