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March TBR

I finally finished bingeing (is it really a binge, though, if it takes you the better part of a year?) Once Upon a Time last month. The final season had a mostly different cast, and I was not a fan of one of the new actors in particular, so it took me a little more time to get through it. But I kept coming back because Alice (in Wonderland but she’s “been to lots of places”) was one of the key characters in the last season. I loved her part in the storyline as well as Rose Reynolds’s portrayal of the character.

So this month, in addition to tracking down the Once Upon a Time in Wonderland spinoff, I’m prolonging the Alice magic by re-reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. As I love all manner of tweaks and retellings, I may also read one or several of these:

I’m open to other Alice/Mad Hatter/Queen of Hearts/Wonderland retellings, of course. Fortunately, there are so many. Hit me with your faves. 

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges

Most of the books I’ve read so far this year have completed prompts on my challenges. A proper update on how each one is going is coming in the next few weeks, but these are the ones I’ve picked out specifically for this month.

  • Read Harder – Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (queer retelling of a fairytale)
  • Girlxoxo – The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh (keyword: beautiful)
  • 52 Book Club – The Maid by Nita Prose (we’ll try this January book club selection again to fulfill the prompt “published in 2022”) 
  • POPSUGAR – The two original Lewis Carroll selections listed above (from the advanced section – a duology – although I do have a lot of duologies on my general TBR list)

Lush Reads

A nice blend of challenge and comfort.

Additional Options

Mostly books that need to go back to the library soon but also some long-standing TBRs.

What are you reading this month?

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February TBR

My library is going to be stoked to get some of these back soon.

The problem is that there are too many books in the world. And by “too many,” I do mean “Yay! So many!” And by “problem,” I do mean “luxurious, lovely happenstance.” My TBR list is always going to be bigger than my time frame for completing it, and I’m just going to have to make peace with that. 

Here are a whole lot of books that I will likely start (and for the most part, finish) this month.

Book Clubs

  • Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson – I meant to read for two hours Monday night and then finish up the rest yesterday before book club, but then the pace abruptly picked up and so I had to read to the end before going to bed on Monday. Worth it. Who even needs sleep. 
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray – I want to be a personal librarian. Anyone reading here who would like to hire me to do that sort of thing? References available upon request.
  • A Match to the Heart by Gretel Ehrlich – Memoir about being struck by lightning. We are all fascinated and curious.
  • Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal – Fantastic Strangelings coming through with the magical again.
  • Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur – Happy Endings selection for the month of love
  • To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara – This is a pretty long book, Roxane Gay. You’ve never steered me wrong before, though, so I’m in.

Reading Challenges

I’ve added a couple of reading challenges (surprising no one – we all knew this would happen). Partly for me, but mostly because I know some of you like a little structure and I want to highlight challenges you may enjoy that I’m also participating in. If you want a challenge and none of the four I’ve chosen fit your tastes, fret not. Girlxoxo does this so much better than I do; here’s the master list of challenges they compiled for 2022

A lot of my selections fit categories on all of the ones I’m doing (although my personal meta-challenge is that, no matter how many I end up tracking, I won’t use the same book for more than one prompt on the same challenge). In fact, I may do a separate reading challenge update in the middle of the month to outline all the prompts and the books I read to match them. Here’s just a taste for this month.

Lush Reads

The lush themes for this month are food, love, rest, and dreaming. And chipping away at long-time TBRs. Happy.

  • Babette’s Feast by Julian Baggini – loved the movie and just recently found out it was a book. 
  • How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell – I really feel like this month is going to be the month I finish it. It’s just so inspiring…to do nothing…
  • All About Love by bell hooks – in honor of the recently departed icon.
  • The Alchemist by Paul Coelho – Approximately 12,341 people have recommended this book to me – will it live up to the hype? My expectations are pretty high.
  • Warrior of the Light by Paul Coelho – Might as well pick up the companion manual, too.

Additional Reads

This list is mostly an assortment of books due at the library soon-ish and racy/romantic recommendations from friends.

Clearly, I need to set aside at least one reading weekend this month. 

What are you reading now?

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I love my book club selections this month!

I have a slightly bigger reading goal this year (150), so I’m starting out ambitious. Some of these books are ones I started in December and hope to finish up this month, and some of them are books that I’m starting but know they will take longer than the month to finish. At any rate, I hope to get a good start on the 12.5 books a month needed to meet my year’s goal!

Book Clubs

I am a member of six book clubs (not counting the library club, where we talk genre instead of a specific book we’re reading together). Three meet at a specific time (in-person or Zoom, depending on various factors), and three are ongoing discussions online. All add fascinating reads to my TBR list.

  • Dial “A” for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto – We discussed this one on Tuesday, so I’ve already finished it. It was a wild ride. I listened to the audiobook. Highly enjoyable.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – I love this author, and I’m looking forward to reading and discussing it over beer with the church folk.
  • I Forced a Bot To Write This Book by Keaton Patti – We were going to read this last month in Follow the Reader, but several had a hard time finding a copy so we pushed it to January. I’ve read some of it already, and it’s pretty entertaining. This is the sort of thing I’d enjoy reading aloud to party guests when I’m schnockered (aw, remember when I had parties? I…don’t miss it. But also I do. It’s complicated).
  • Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon – Happy Endings selection that sounds fun.
  • The Maid by Nita Prose – I’ve had this on my list since it was announced, and I’m so happy that it’s finally out and it’s our Fantastic Strangelings pick for the month. It sounds like a great read for fans of Clue, cozy mysteries, and charming characters. 
  • Noor by Nnedi Okorafor – My Christmas present to myself was a Literati subscription so I can just have Roxane Gay’s book picks mailed directly to me. I don’t choose a lot of science fiction on my own, but I think I’ll like this one.

Reading Challenges

In addition to my book club selections, I want to be more intentional about keeping up with the two reading challenges I’m doing this year. 

Lush Reads

Committing to my word for the year through reading/study/reflection worked really well in 2021, so I’m going to continue the practice. Part of this is to get back in the habit of journaling, so I’ve chosen four books that help me explore topics on well-being-esque topics with daily or weekly prompts. Real talk – I’ve already gone off the rails and completed several “days” in one sitting for at least two of these books, so I’m not sure it’s going to take me all year to finish them as designed, but at least they will get me back into the habit of daily journaling, which is my purpose in reading them in the first place.

I also am finishing up/starting three books that talk about living abundantly and seeking delight and remaining healthy and sane in the process, all of which go along nicely with “lush.”

  • The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – If being utterly charmed is something you’re into, just go ahead and keep this one by your nightstand.
  • Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel – Practical advice from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – I ran into this one as I was going down a hygge rabbit hole after seriously cozying up my bed linens. Intrigued.

Other Selections

December was one of those months I couldn’t settle on just a few books. So I have a couple of books I’ve read a few chapters of and want to finish up. Also, I have quite a few books that I need to return to friends or the library soon, so they’re on the list, too.

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I have been slowly reading this one for about three months now. The story and characters and language are all wonderful. 
  • How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith – I started listening to this on the way home for Christmas and the chapter on Angola Prison made me madder than it’s responsible to be while driving. So I’m only a little bit into it, but it’s a fantastic tour of several monuments and landmarks and their significance. Highly recommend. Check your blood pressure beforehand.
  • Role Models by John Waters – I borrowed this from Sarah 14,000 years ago, and I found it while dusting shelves last week. Past time to read and return it!
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – This has been on my TBR list a long time and is due at the library this week, so I want to hurry and finish it so the person waiting for it can get to read it. It’s so lovely.
  • Music on the Brain by Arlene R. Taylor, PhD & Michael R. Hudson – I received several copies of this from my friend Matthew (thank you!), who works across the hall from Dr. Taylor, so I have a couple left to loan if you’re local. Great read so far!
  • Blood Hollow by William Kent Krueger – Gosh, I love mystery series. And I want to get this one back to Lois so someone else can enjoy it. 

So the list may look a little daunting, and I’m not expecting to actually finish everything this month, but this is what’s on my current pile.

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Cozy viewing position, complete with fuzzy socks

I don’t watch a lot of movies. I like TV better, because I have time to get more invested with the characters. But I also don’t typically keep up with TV shows in real time. My favorite way to watch TV is to binge once the series finale is available on the Netflix. 

Therefore, my favorite things I watched this year aren’t particularly new. Just new to me. Actually, one of them wasn’t even new to me. So to confirm – we are 100% off the rails with this prompt (does this really surprise you?).

At any rate, here are the highlights of the audiovisual stories that accompanied my year:

  1. My Neighbor Totoro – I watched this online with Spiderfriends. It is very cute and sweet and I love it.
  2. The Magicians – This is one of the rare instances where I like the adaptation much better than the book. I don’t know if it’s because TV allows for musical numbers (Under Pressure! One of my favorite scenes!) or because just seeing the characters as others saw them made me like them better (really not a fan of Quentin in the book but in the show he’s ok) or because the actors are just so lovely (well, hello there, Arjun Gupta). Probably all of the above. But it’s one of my favorite shows I’ve watched in a long time.
  3. Once Upon a Time – I never finished this show in its entirety, so I am rewatching it from the beginning. I love a good fairytale retelling, and this is all of them in one. Plus I can leave the music that plays on the DVD’s home screen (yes, I am one of the relics who also still have a Netflix DVD subscription) running for hours. It’s so soothing.
  4. Schitt’s Creek – Another one of the best shows I’ve watched in a long time. I loooooove this show so much. It’s hilarious and endearing and helpful. If you haven’t seen anything I’ve listed and are adding them to your list, watch this one first. Or if you have seen it…you know you want to rewatch it. 

Is there a movie or show you’ve really liked this year?

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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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Resolving 2021

I’m participating in December Reflections, a challenge issued by Susannah Conway every year, and many of the prompts are things I want to include in my musings about how 2021 went. So I’m going to wrap up the end-of-year review now and leave the rest of the month to post specific moments that stand out.

This was one of those years that some resolutions really took off while others did not. I listed five main goals at the beginning of the year:

  1. Read 120 books.
  2. Write 300,000 words for my copywriting job.
  3. Make spaces in my home “more inviting.”
  4. Build a steady practice for art/music/dance/creation.
  5. Pursue joy.

I definitely exceeded the 120 mark for books. It’s only December 2, and I’m already at 128 for the year. This is good news beyond just meeting a goal. It means that, for the most part, my focus and time management have been pretty consistent, all things considered. 

I did not meet my word count goal for my copywriting job, and I’m at peace with that. I feel like the person who made that goal was basking in some vacation time and also maybe looking at a new pair of boots that would be easier to justify buying with a little extra cash on hand. One thing I’ve learned by making resolutions is that the most realistic goals are not set when I’m in the midst of enjoying time off. That self forgets she has a full-time job and gets super ambitious. Dreams are great, but so is not having to work 60 hours every week. A reasonable schedule. That’s the real dream.

Regarding the cozy spaces in my apartment…I mean…maybe? Sort of? The goal was a bit vague overall, so whether or not I met it is also vague. I did get two cute bookshelves from Steph that make the living room look better, and I made the office a more workable space. I still don’t have people coming over regularly (and frankly, I’ve enjoyed the reprieve), so I don’t have a lot of motivation to tidy. I organized the office better so that Maggie would have a place to sleep when she and Michelle spent the weekend in May, and I got bored and rearranged my bedroom during Icepocalypse. My home still doesn’t look the way I want it to most days, though. The changes I did make have given me so much joy, though, that I will likely make more specific goals for next year.

I have probably written more this year than the previous two or three years combined (not counting my copywriting job). I am also collaborating with my friend Sarah on an album. I have not quite reached the lofty 25 hours of practice a week that my former self was going on about (lol when? When would I do that? What was I thinking?), but I have definitely made more room for and progress on creative pursuits this year.

I loved having “joy” as my word for 2021. I read quite a few delightful books on the subject, and even on bad days there are usually moments of light and longing and…aliveness (dare I even call it hope?). I’m sure I’m not done with the word, but I’ll talk more about that in depth later in the month.

I hope this year has been a good one for you so far, and I hope you have a lovely December as well.

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Tabbed for discussion

For years I had seen signs around town for Spiderweb Salon shows. I may have even stumbled into a few of them. They were odd and subversive and breathtaking and challenging and magical and haunting and angry and hopeful.

In a word, perfect. Exactly what art is meant to be.

True to my observer persona, I watched and admired from afar, happy to get a once-in-a-while glimpse of this lovely art collective. Sometimes I considered introducing myself, but I held back. After all, I already had two thriving online writers groups and a group of writer friends I met sporadically with in person. I kept in touch with writing/artist friends from fandom and other spaces through Facebook groups and blogging. And while I was an active member of my church choir, I hadn’t really performed or played piano or danced in so long that I was sure I would never find time to practice enough again to pursue it for real.

Then in January 2019, Sarah invited me to the first meeting of Follow the Reader, Spiderweb’s new book club. We had a main book selection and a supplemental read. Sphinx, written by Anne Garréta, was the centerpiece, and it was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I don’t want to give away the linguistic restraint the author used, because I really want you to read it and discover it for yourself. Garréta is a member of Oulipo (Google it if you’re a fan of rabbit holes. And welcome to freakin’ Wonderland), which is the experimental literary collective that Daniel Levin Becker writes about in Many Subtle Channels, our supplemental reading that month.

These book selections would have been enough to keep me coming back. But that’s not all I found that evening.

The people in this group talk about books, reading, and literary life the way I talk about books, reading, and literary life. We discussed the books we read, but we didn’t just muse over the content within, as if something written by a human being could ever be discussed in a vacuum, separated from its place in humanity. The conversation flowed from art to history to oppression to current events to community support and back to art.

Spiderweb had my full attention and loyalty from that first meeting.

I went home and immediately committed to being a monthly supporter of their Patreon (shameless plug – support artists!). It took me a couple of months to start making an appearance at shows, but soon I was showing up at every performance and event scheduled.

I thought I was coming to this book club to reconnect with a friend from high school in a way that guaranteed we’d at least see each other once a month. And I got that (we’re currently working on an album together!). I also found a loving and beloved community that invites me to their stage and supports me in whatever I’m working on. We’re collaborators but we’re friends first, and that fosters an inspiring space for creation of all kinds. They’re the reason I’m dancing again and considering perhaps one day even doing it on stage again (maybe).

And, of course, it all started at book club.

I’m writing about books and people who love them as much as I do this month.

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Beautiful view on a farm outing with friends

I look forward to Joy the Baker’s summer bucket list every year. It’s typically a mix of places to go and things to learn and/or make, and it’s inspiring. Because summer tends to be a busier time for me, I am expanding my timeframe into fall (and really – the rest of the year). So this is my remainder-of-2021 bucket list. Doesn’t quite have the same ring but…oh, well.

  1. Get some ducks in order – Some of my goals are just reminders to get/keep it together enough to be healthy or at least not completely derail any progress I’ve made in various areas. To that end:
    – Pay off personal loan (last payment due in September!)
    – Carve out time to get back into Pilates practice
    – Make eye exam and yearly physical appointments
    – Write, edit, and submit a short story every month
  2. Take a trip with friends – Okay, so I’ve already done this one. We went to Colorado for a few days in June, and it was magnificent.
  3. Get a new (to me) car – Watson is showing signs of unreliability, and I want to trade her in before her upkeep starts costing more than a car payment would. My first car was a hatchback, and I’ve wanted another one ever since, so I’m looking at gently used options in the area along the lines of a VW Golf or Kia Soul.
  4. Take an overnight bookshop trip – I’ve been musing about going to Magic City Books in Tulsa for a while, but I think my next long-distance bookstore venture is going to be to Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio. They’re opening for real to the public on Monday, and I think a leisurely drive down there in October would be a great way to break in a new ride.
  5. Choose a new planner – I do love my Simplified Planner, but the siren song of Papier’s daily planner beckons me. I have had separate goal and meal planning calendars for the longest time, and the idea of having everything in one book is so appealing. Also…there are so many cover designs to choose from. *salivates*
Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with this cover…

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Mountain dragon from Colorado says hello

A couple of things I’m into these days…

While The Audacity is closed for essay submissions the rest of the year, Roxane Gay Books is now open for manuscript submissions. I love love love this and if you have a manuscript that you are waiting to submit because you haven’t quite achieved the *insert example of the hyper-capitalistic hellscape that is a lot of the publishing industry here* maybe this is an appealing option?

This meta monologue from Penny pretty much sums up my love of The Magicians (the show – I’ve yet to start the book but expect to love it, too):

“All I’m saying is you think you’ve seen stories like this before, so you can guess what’s going to happen. Who’s important and who isn’t. But that’s because you are trapped in your POV. You have a classic case of White Male Protagonist, Derek, and a Librarian simply can’t have that. But that’s why these books are so important. They’re such a gift. They can allow you to see other points of view. And once you start seeing that, you’ll find that the story doesn’t end the way you think, and the most important characters aren’t who you expect.”

“When you file people away as sidekicks, you don’t realize their importance to the story, and this story belongs to a lot more people than you think. Where to shelve a book – it’s not a little thing. You’re telling the world what to value, who to value.”

I’m excited to be working on some short stories for submission in a new local publication. More to come on this soon.

I hope you’re having a good weekend so far!

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Once again, I have a library problem. Or I’m a problem to the library. At any rate…I also have a solution.

So I was doing really well, only checking out a sensible number of books at a time that I could reasonably expect to finish before they were due back at the library. Just a little thing like having to schedule a time during their limited hours to pick them up was all it took to curtail my habit of going on a reservation spree and taking out more books than I could possibly hope to finish that quickly. But now that the library is back to normal hours and operations, and I can just pop by and pick up everything I’ve put aside at my convenience, I’ve reverted back to old practices. I wish I could tell you that the stack above represents even a fourth of the books I have checked out, but…no.

This month, I’m weaning myself off again. I’m never at a loss for something to read. I have four apps with books and audiobooks I can read from my phone. I also have hundreds of books in my personal collection at home. So there’s no reason I need to hold on to the library’s copies that someone else could be enjoying. I’m going to read my books for the clubs I’m in and my joy selections for the month, but other than that? Working on this stack of library books so I can get them back where they belong.

[One could argue that I could just return the books without reading them and check them out later when I know I have time for them, but one would receive a derisive scoff as a reward for this helpful suggestion which would then be completely ignored.]

Book Clubs

Joy Books

We’re going a little meta this month. These joy books actually deal with joy as a subject.

Library Books

These make it back to the library by the end of the month.

Pride Month!

Of course, I will also be reflecting on my favorite books written by LGBTQIA+ authors and/or starring LGBTQIA+ characters in my local library’s monthly book discussion. If you want to explore this genre, some of my favorites can be found on these lists.

What’s on your TBR list for June?

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