Monday, July 1, 2019

Introducing my July Mind & Body Challenge

I didn't plan to write about my July challenge on July 1st. I wanted to, of course, because I want everyone to tell me how awesome I am, but I also admit receiving congratulations before actually beginning is pretty meaningless. So I thought I'd wait until I was half-way through to tell y'all I've been doing this challenge. That way, if I failed, no one would even to have know. But I posted a sweaty selfie on my Instagram story after my workout this morning and captioned it "day one of July fitness challenge done." And then a few people asked what challenge I was doing, so I thought, why not make myself vulnerable and write a little about what I'm doing and why?

I made up a challenge for myself for July. Here's what I pledge to do each day:
  1. At least three miles (probably always on the elliptical, but I might switch it up)
  2. Read for at least 1 hour (leave my phone in another room and set a timer)
  3. Have no more than one alcoholic drink
It's a mind and body challenge for me, and I think it's the right mix of being challenging (no days off from the gym, no not prioritizing reading, and no saying, "sure, I'll take another!") while also being doable. Will I always like it? No. There will be days I do not want to go to the gym. There will be days I make it to the gym and want to leave after two miles. There will be days when I want to have more than one drink (okay, that will be most days.) But I hope that this challenge will help me refresh and re-prioritize. I don't entertain dreams of getting to August 1 and saying, "why not keep going another month?" Okay, I do hope I keep reading for an hour each day. But I hope I will take in how I look and how I feel and make new and different goals for August. Also, July is my least favorite month. The summer heat seems neverending. Autumn seems so far away. It's often the time of year when even at 6 a.m., it's too hot outside. July feels like an endurance event for me every year, so why not flip it to enduring something that makes me feel good and feel like I'm accomplishing something? This year, for the first time, I'm more cognizant that the year is half-over. Working in academia, July doesn't feel like a significant month, but it really is. Why not use July to refocus and make new goals? I do it every January.

Now tell me: do you like to challenge yourself? Do you make mid-year goals in July?

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Salon: We're Halfway Where?

The Sunday Salon.comHere I am again, despite a strong January of reading and blogging, finding myself wondering how and when to come back to this space. Do I announce my return and hope it sticks? Do I pretend I haven't been gone? The half-way part of the year seemed like the perfect time to stop and write about my favorite books of 2019 and reflect on my year in reading so far. Because really, I don't have a good story. The truth is, I'm been doing other things. I work full-time. I have a very talkative almost five-year-old. I'm working on a second master's degree. Many days, I find myself so terrified about the state of our world and my country, I can't let my mind rest long enough to sit and read or write. Some days I feel too guilty about not doing enough to let myself find joy in the things I love. Some days, everything I do feels futile, so I delight in playing board games with Hawthorne and hoping I'll feel better about the state of the world before he's too much older. Before the oversimplified answers no longer satisfy his curiosity and his ability to read social cues. Before I expose him to the news. But lately, I've come to really miss this space and writing here about (mostly) books. But I also feel a pull to simply write more, so I might do some of that here too.

But you're here for the books, right? So far this year, I've read 34 books, which despite being a small number (to me), feels pretty good considering how little it feels like I read most weeks. Given that, it's not surprising almost half (15) are audiobooks. My audiobook listening is more routine. I listen when I drive to the gym. I listen when I drive to work (after I drop Hawthorne off at school). I listen when I cook dinner or wash the dishes. I listen when I can't decide what to do and want to play a matching game on my phone. Because so much of my reading has been on audio, and I tend to prefer nonfiction on audio, I'm not terribly surprised a third of my reads (13) are nonfiction.

This year, I feel as though (even more than usual), I read when I love what I'm reading. I also have no problem setting a book down if I'm not enjoying it. Given that, I'm not surprised all but three books I've read I rated 4 stars or more. Seven books are five star reads. That's a really high percentage, but it makes sense.

Here are my favorite reads of 2019 (So Far):

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (my thoughts)
I read a galley of this novel last summer, but I got it on Audible to listen to this spring, and I loved it just as much, but I also appreciated the rare experience of re-reading. The audiobook cast is stellar, and it's one I could listen to again and again.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
 I tend to avoid platitudes such as, "Everyone should read this book," but I admit, as I finished, I do wish everyone would read this memoir. In this intimate, brilliant, and searing memoir, Jacob recalls conversations, mostly with her six-year-old son. It's a masterful capsule of the complicated political issues of our time, and Jacob navigates raising her half-Indian, half-Jewish son, her interracial marriage, and the complexities of parenting beautifully. The art is also extraordinary. It's another one I could read again and again.

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxes Parenting from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster
I read Oster's first book, Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong when I was pregnant. It transformed my pregnancy, and it's a book I recommend to everyone who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. (Seriously, I handsell this book to everyone, including most recently, a bartender at my favorite neighborhood spot, who a week later reported back how amazing the book is and has now become a friend.) So even though Hawthorne is almost five (!), I knew I wanted to read her new book about parenting the baby and toddler years, and I love it. For me, it was more about reinforcing all the great decisions we made as parents (ha!), but it still is a great resource for parents.

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman
I admit: I made time for this one because the audiobook is just over three hours, and I loved the first 100 pages of Beartown, which I still haven't finished because I was reading it for book club and I didn't finish in time, and then it hasn't felt like a priority, but I really should get back to it because it was a book I didn't think I wanted to read, but I was blown away by his language and characters. But this memoir/collection of essays is wise and funny and charming. I loved it so much for the ways it made me laugh outl oud and ugly cry. I bought two copies: one for my spouse and one for my favorite podcast host who became a dad this spring. Backman speaks to this generation of new fathers in ways that are expected, but also unexpected, as I kept reminding myself that this book was translated into English. The IKEA piece is one of the greatest essays I've ever read.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
This memoir, about what it's like to grow up Asian adopted by white parents in a very white town, is a gift. It's beautifully written and a story that is incredibly special and unique, while still providing much-needed lessons and commentary about race and love. It's filled with wisdom, kindness, and often tough love, but it's filled with lines that had me highlighting what felt like half the book. That it is Chung's first book is hard to believe, but I'll be in line for every book she writes.

Atomic Marriage by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors, so while I semi-patiently wait for her new novel, I was ecstatic for this Audible orignial novella. I loved every word, and I still think about it, months later.

And Now We Have Everything by Meghan O'Connell
The most recent addition is the most recent audiobook memoir. We each gave birth to a baby boy the same year, and while we had very different experiences, I crave memoirs where women write honestly and unapologetically about the complicated emotions and realities of parenthood. O'Connell narrates this herself in a way that takes this intimate memoir and makes it feel as though I'm simply listening to a friend, albeit one who may have told this story a few times because her phrases are so eloquent and quotable, but it's also still raw and clear she's still processing and articulating how to best tell these stories.

Now tell me: what are your favorite reads of 2019 (so far?)

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

audiobook thoughts: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The backstory: I bought this audiobook in 2014 when it was a Daily Deal, but like so many of the Daily Deals I buy, it never rose to the top of my audiobook TBR. On Litsy, CareBear hosted a low stakes read-a-long: read the book in February and discuss it at the end of the month. I'm so glad that I read this book but also that I had people to discuss it with because there is SO MUCH to discuss.

The basics: This novel is set in a country house West Hall, Vermont in 1908 and the present day. The town has had quite a few strange disappearances and deaths over the years. In 1908, Sarah Harrison Shea, who is struggling with the death of her daughter, Gertie, and writing in a diary. Her husband and doctor confuse her grief with psychosis. In present day, 19-year-old Ruthie and her little sister Fawn live in Sarah's house, and their mother is missing. When looking for clues, they find Sarah's diary.

My thoughts: If I'm being honest, if I knew I was reading a paranormal ghost story, I might not have picked it up. But I thought I was listening to mysterious historical fiction. And I was. While there are paranormal elements, it's a paranormal that feels very real and very grounded in emotion. McMahon builds the world and characters beautifully. I giddily described this novel to Mr. Nomadreader as "delightfully creepy," which is not a phrase I use often. But it is delightful and creepy. I love that McMahon made me understand the actions of her characters as normal and easy to relate to. Both timelines are compelling, and McMahon deftly discloses different things during each part that provide layers and context.

Audiobook thoughts: Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite narrators, and she was excellent with this book. I did start this over about an hour in because I felt like I wasn't sure what was going on. I think that had more to do with my wandering mind than the novel, but there is a lot of world-building early on, and it's important to pay close attention to what is happening in the novel and what is happening in the passage's from Sarah's diary. Once I got into the book, however, I had no problems following the different elements.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 45 minutes (336 pages)
Publication date: February 11, 2014
Source: personal copy

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Winter People from Amazon (it's only $2.99 on Kindle today!)

Challenges: Around the Year in 52 Books (dual timeline), Litsy A to Z, Pop Sugar (ghost story)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Love Letter to Daisy Jones & the Six

Dear Taylor Jenkins Reid,

I'm so glad Daisy's publication day is here and the world will get to enjoy it. I was lucky enough to get a galley of it last June and instead of saving it, I read it compulsively in a single day. I had high expectations, as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was my favorite read of 2017. I've been recommending it to a lot of people the past two years. And since June, I've been saying, "you read Evelyn Hugo, right? Her new book is even better. Pre-order it." I did too. I pre-ordered the audiobook because the cast is incredible: Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer, Pablo Schreiber, and more. I also chose it as my Book of the Month because I want a hardcover copy. I'm in good company, as Reese Witherspoon picked it for the Hello Sunshine book club this month. Plus she's making my dreams come true and making it a tv show. Daisy Jones & the Six is a book I want to read and listen to over and over and over. In fact, I'm officially bestowing my highest honor on it: for only the eighth time in my twelve years of blogging about books, I rated a book six stars out of 5. Welcome to my Hall of Fame, Daisy.

Favorite passages: "I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else's muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story."

"It is what I have always loved about music. Not the sounds or the crowds or the good times as much as the words--the emotions, and the stories, the truth--that you can let flow right out of your mouth. Music can dig, you know? It can take a shovel to your chest and just start digging until it hits something."

Rating: 6 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Source: publisher

Want to read for yourself? Buy Daisy Jones & the Six from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, March 4, 2019

The 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist: A U.S. Reader's Guide

After writing this post for seven years in a row, apparently I took last year off, but I'm back with my thoughts on a very U.S.-friendly and number of pages-friendly 16-book longlist filled with many novels from my TBR and a few I hadn't heard of that sound really interesting. The hardest part: deciding which one to read first.

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Milkman by Anna Burns
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
Circe by Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

The One Coming to the U.S. Soon

Normal People by Sally Rooney (coming April 16, 2019)

The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S. (But I ordered them from The Book Depository)

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
Remembered by Yvonee Battle-Felton

I promised myself I wouldn't commit to reading all sixteen, but I realized I actually want to read all of them. And this year's longlist is doable. It's only 4762 pages, which means if I read 86 page a day, I can read the entire longlist before the shortlist is announced. I have very little faith I will, but I can.

Now tell me: which title are you most excited to see on the longlist? 

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!