Archive for the ‘Friday Five’ Category

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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I am finishing You tonight because a) it’s spooky season and this book definitely qualifies and b) it was recommended by the librarian who runs the public library book club which is tomorrow. I am enjoying it a lot, not only because this narrator is well-developed but also because he works in a bookstore. I am a sucker for books about books. Or even if they’re not really about books, feature books to a significant extent.

I have more of these books on my TBR list than on my finished list, but here are five that I have read and recommend:

  1. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence – I would like to write a book like this someday. It’s a fun premise – writing letters and breakup notes to books that have influenced her life. I love any book that makes me feel like I’m having a conversation with the author, and this one did.
  2. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – This book/series is one of my favorites. I may mention it a lot this month. It’s set in a fantastical world where people can actually enter books and alter them. The writing is so clever.
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer – A mysterious book society? Sign me up!
  4. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – I think most book lovers have dreamed of walking into an unusual bookshop with a seller who can make the perfect recommendation. Full of literary adventure, this books takes the idea to another level.
  5. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan – The title of this book is confusing – I suppose that a bookshop in a van could be on the corner but it could also be around the corner or out in the middle of a field. Anyway, the curious nature of the title doesn’t detract from my delight in the story at all.

One day, I’m going to have a shelf that’s all books about books.

These days, I’m writing about books.

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As I mentioned yesterday, I attribute part of my ability to read as much as I do to the use of different media. I have five apps on my phone through which I read, but I have other bookish apps that I use just as much (if not more). Today I want to talk about the five I probably use the most and why I like them.

[Aside: While I do have Audible and Kindle on my phone, I didn’t list them here because I’m trying to wean myself off Amazon, which is not easy because many of the indie writers I like to support only sell through Amazon currently and also because Amazon owns so many things.]

  1. Goodreads – Yes, I know – owned by Amazon. And I’m open to alternatives, but I haven’t found any that can come close to everything I have through Goodreads. Most of the tracking I do, I do through this app. Because of Goodreads, I can tell you every book I’ve read since 2012. I also have a gargantuan TBR list stored there. Best of all, I get a lot of recommendations from people I’ve met through various walks of life – online friends from fandom/writer groups/book clubs, face-to-face friends, coworkers, friends from grad school, writer contacts, and a unique group of like-minded readers whom I met through the app itself. It’s social media for readers, which some days, is the only kind of social media I’m into.
  2. Scribd – Through this paid subscription (currently about $10 a month), you can choose from their large selection of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, short stories, essays, etc., and there’s no limit to how much you can read or save to read later. I don’t find every book I want to read there, but it’s my frequent go-to for book club selections when I have already exhausted my book budget for the month and there is a waitlist for them at the library. Or when someone else puts a hold on a library book I’ve started and I can get it to them faster by finishing the book on Scribd. I also use it to keep track of specific TBR lists (e.g., my books about joy that I’m reading this year). As with most subscriptions, there’s no guarantee that any book that is available now will always be available, but I use the app enough that it definitely saves me time and money in the long run.
  3. Kobo – This is my “ultimately replace Audible and Kindle” app. It offers the same kind of subscription for audiobooks (1 credit for a monthly rate), and you can either have an ebook subscription (all you can read for $10/month) or you can purchase the ones you want to keep individually. It gives you a list of titles that you can get for free (and also lets you prioritize your favorite genres), and each purchase also earns points toward free books. If I ever purchase another ereader, it will be through Kobo. I feel like it’s trying to be every reading app I love but in an even more organized and user-friendly way. It seems like it’s here to stay – so much that some of my fave indie authors have worked their way over to also sell through Kobo, which is exciting.
  4. CloudLibrary – This is the ereader/audiobook app that our local library uses, so it’s the one I use. My current selections through CloudLibrary are the audio version of a print book I’m reading at night because I’m at a part that is very exciting and I have errands to run this afternoon, which will delay my getting-home time and I don’t want to wait until I get home to hear what happens next, my current lunchtime book, and the next book in the Phryne Fisher series because the library doesn’t have a print copy. It’s free through my library login (also free). Selection, of course, varies according to what the library purchases. It’s worth checking out which ereader your library uses (I also like OverDrive and Hoopla but don’t use them very often).
  5. Libib – Y’all. I have a lot of books. So many that when I’m out and about at bookshops or library sales or garage sales that I find myself veering toward when that stack of unwanted books looking for a home catches my eye on the drive-by, I don’t always remember off the top of my head what I have and don’t have at home. Especially if it’s by an author I particularly like (and thus compulsively buy). So I am cataloguing my collection, slowly and surely, through Libib. You can also keep track of the music, games, movies, etc., you own, if that interests you. The free version does limit you to 5,000 items, which is plenty at this stage of my collection (really, if I ever need more, I should just quit my job and become a library). Also, you can share your shelves with others (useful for people who browse bookstores on my behalf). If my home ever catches fire, this is what I’ll use to rebuild my collection/annoy my insurance company (because priorities).

Do you use these apps? Others? What do you like about them?

I’m writing about books all month!

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I have read some really great books this month. I have only been sharing the things I plan to read but I seldom really talk about what I learn or what I love about them. So I think I’m going to start making the last Friday of the month (ish – maybe sometimes the first Friday of the next month) the top five reads I’ve enjoyed (with maybe the occasional “save yourself” PSA if I run into a book that I really didn’t like).

But today I want to talk about stars. Not the actual stars, although those are nice (I see you, full moon in Pisces on Monday), but rather the star ratings that I use when I log my books on Goodreads. I know that there are generic meanings, but I think that people pretty much ignore those for the most part. And by people I do mean me. I ignore them.

Here’s what my ratings mean instead:

  1. One star – Yuck. I’m embarrassed on behalf of humanity that this book exists. I don’t have this reaction often, but when I do, it’s visceral. I felt this way about Twilight (which I read – all four books – just so I could explain IN DETAIL exactly what I didn’t like to people who were like “How do you know if you haven’t read them?”). Also Bridges of Madison County. How anyone ever read that terrible book and thought, “Let’s prolong this drivel by making it into a movie” is beyond me. I have a copy that I use for blackout poetry, which greatly improves it. These books lived rent-free in my head for a long while, and they made me want to turn off my give-a-damn about my love of reading.
    [Aside – if you enjoyed either of those books, great for you. Read what you love; just keep reading. I’m sure you despise something that I love, and that’s ok, too.]
  2. Two stars – Meh. It may have taken me a long time to finish this book because it did not hold my attention at all. I many not have even finished it, which doesn’t happen very often. A lot of my two star reviews are classics which, admittedly, may just not be my preferred style but it felt like they in particular droned on and on. Anna Karenina is one such book – a few nice descriptions but overall too tedious to finish. Plus, I don’t think Tolstoy liked her (or maybe even women) that much. A Woman of Substance was suspiciously lacking in substance itself. Madame Bovary made me want to drop out of my honors humanities course from sheer boredom (I didn’t…thank goodness we only spent a week on it).
  3. Three stars – Good. Or…it was fine. Meh+, maybe. I don’t have vast complaints about this book. I may even be able to understand why other people liked it or why they thought I would. It didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, though. The most recent book I gave three stars was The Midnight Library, which I really wanted to love, but alas, no.
  4. Four stars – Great (or at least very good for what it is). I recommend it, particularly for people who like this genre. Most of the books I read fall within this category.
  5. Five stars – I LOVE IT AND EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT EVEN IF THEY NEVER READ THIS GENRE. I definitely own it and have probably bought additional copies to give away to reader friends. If you mention it, I will likely clap enthusiastically and perhaps hop around in joy a bit. I just can’t help myself. It’s possible that this book will make anyone who reads it a happier/better person. I may have cried when I finished because I was sad it was over. I felt this way about Their Eyes Were Watching God and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Anxious People is my most recent 5-star review. Stop what you’re doing and go read it now.

Do you track and rate the books you read (do you do it on Goodreads? Are we friends so I can see your recommendations?)? If so, how closely do you stick to the generic meanings on your ratings?

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This week is heavy. Here are five ways to help:

  1. Donate to Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.
  2. Donate to Imagine Water Works.
  3. Donate to TEA fund and/or Frontera Fund.
  4. Buy gift cards/donate to GoFundMe for your/my favorite bookshops (or restaurants, or other small businesses) in flooded states.
  5. Help Afghan refugees.

Bonus: drop other helpful links in the comments.

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