A River Runs Through the TBR

My post today is due to a lucky intersection of my love of the new release shelf at the library and being stuck in my novel.

My TBR could be all new fiction releases.  It really could.  And as I am tearing into today’s book while my son plays at the library I am going back and forth with myself over if it could be a social science book or a nature book for BookRiot.

And then I was like, why does it matter?  I can read and review anything I want and it doesn’t have to fit into a challenge.  It’s Oliver Sacks’ last book.  It’s been on my Amazon wish list since I learned of it.  And when it’s shining at me in its library issue apocalypse proof dust jacket from the new releases cube it becomes mine for the next four weeks with no thought.

And this is what reading can be about, too. Expanding horizons but going back to the old loves.  So I am letting myself read a book before the challenge is completed.  The joy of the book I see on the internet in front of me in all its accessible and free glory.  I can’t forget that.  I can’t forget how I used to choose books as a kid:  some my mother told me to read, but then sometimes I went to the library with the only agenda of combing the shelves to find some unknown gem that I needed to entertain me next.  I used to go to the library before a camping trip and pile up four or five of the things and get through them in a week of binge reading punctuated by being outdoors.

River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks

The last collection of his own essays that he put together, knowing that his death was imminent. I am not counting this even as a posthumous book because this is the year I am reading The Master and Margarita for that.  And it’s his essays, not an anthology.  I am almost embarrassed at how hard I tried to fit this into a category when it was early March when I picked it up and have a ripe 10 months to go to get through a 24 book challenge with a one sitting book and another comic book I have not gotten to on the list.

Oliver Sacks lived one of the academic lives in this world I wish to have a chance to live.  I say academic because he lived through the Second World War in England as a young child and I’ll pass on that.  But in Sacks’ writing he brings back the fascination of the world of science and neurology.  I always looked at an article that would get in the New Yorker of his because I knew it would take me into territory I had not been in before.   He brings back the magic and mystery to science in a world that has imagery now and unbelievable technology.

Even after my fancy psych degree, he adds to my understanding of evolution and the social history of science, as well as explaining the hard to understand neurological concepts behind the functioning of the brain.  He talks about rare case studies, which is how I started reading him in college with An Anthropologist on Mars, but in this book he also considerably talks about the history of discoveries and their context.

It always looks to me like Sacks is playing in his writing, gathering up the existing ideas to challenge our conceptions or help us understand them.  It reminds me of the enjoyment I honestly derived from putting together college papers, learning something new via my research and my own joy of discovery.  The nerdery is real.

There is a fascinating essay in this book on how the changes in the brain can change not only someone’s speed in interacting but their conception of time and how it can be drastically different from what is measured on the clock.  He writes about ideas that were right way before their time but discarded and forgotten about because there was no knowledge base or context with which to understand them.  He writes about how creativity is fundamentally different than virtuosity and how something completely new comes from what has already been done.  He writes about hiccups in neurology that increase our understanding of the typical functions of the brain. He talks about the work of Darwin, the work of Freud pre-psychoanalysis and the times when science was looking at brain function as a collection of centers responsible for a specific task.   He talks about science when it was about classification and description and moving into explanation and theory of why something is the way it is.  And the consciousness of life forms previously thought to have less self awareness than they might in all reality have.

If you like nature, and science, and neurology and social science and the history of scientific discovery, Sacks’ written for an educated public dabbling is absolutely ideal.  I can’t read too much of his neurological accidents because I start to worry that my own brain is too delicate a network of functions that could go awry at any moment of my life leading to any number of weird debilitating conditions.  Conditions that would force me to rely on my own neuroplasticity to overcome more than the fancy medicine of today. While this fear is not entirely without ground I have too many other things to think about while I hope to not have something like that happen to me and take reasonable measures to prevent it, like driving safely and trying to eat more plant based foods than cheeseburgers.  Mmm, cheeseburgers.  And crappy Mom wine.  Sometimes Diet Dr. Pepper.  Anyway.

I am stuck trying to add a villain motivation in my novel.  The one motivation that he does have is not enough and there is a duality that exists and both sides of the duality need explanation.  Can’t just have gratuitous evil with nowhere to go.  I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t want those of my ilk saying, ‘it could have been better if this particular aspect had more use in the context of the story.’  It would be a missed opportunity, right?  Like every time something comes along in your life that you would be really proud of yourself for pulling off but to actually get there is an obstacle course of setbacks, self doubt and general suck.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  Any villains want to share some motives with me?  What about people who also have a deep love for Oliver Sacks and his prolific contributions to the understanding of the fascinating natural world?  Please let me know.


I Pause in Making Christmas to be Well Read

So, in addition to the Christmas books that adorn my posts of December, I am also working on finishing the one reading challenge I made it through this year.

I considered doing Modern Mrs. Darcy but she wanted a book about modern issues and that was the last thing I wanted to read, which is pretty dramatic for me, as the books I talk about today were struggles but I made it through them.  I don’t want to read about our mad president, I don’t want to read about climate change and all the other mismanagements that will keep me up all night for the anxiety.  I would rather struggle through books I barely understand than increase my awareness of how screwed up everything is.  Argh.

Next week I shall bestow upon you all the list of everything I read for Book Riot’s Read Harder, but the ones I am discussing today are the last ones that made it under the limbo pole to count toward this year’s challenge.

A Nonfiction Book about Technology:


Forensics, Val McDermid

I spent most of the year hemming and hawing over what to read for my book about technology as it threatened the sweet place in the sand where I bury my head. There are so many books out there about the internet and how everyone knows everything about you and I doubt there is much I can do about that other than giving up the convenience of my online endeavors, like my deep and abiding love of Amazon.  We are in the middle of a Christmas season and I didn’t want to comb stores for the Lego set I wanted for my son.

Also I need a distinct human interest element to any book about technology. I want people’s stories and how they have changed through time, not something dry on this is how this works. Some people like that, but not me.

I noticed that this gem had been waiting on audio all along in my audible app, just waiting to be discovered.  And it is narrated by a woman with a Scottish accent because McDermid is Scottish herself!  Perfect. It is a primer on the technology used to detect whodunit, complete with famous historical vignettes. I would love to write and research historical fiction like she does and if I did I would absolutely want to make something separate out of my research.

I believe the many reviewers who reported that if you watch enough TV crime shows, much of these topics you already know something about, but I have not done a lot of crime solving TV in awhile.   So I liked it.  It was perfectly tailored to my level of ignorance, and talked about the differences in justice systems around the world, which was a nice touch.

Runners Up: Thunderstruck, Erik Larssen, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

A Collection of Poetry on a Theme Other than Love:

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King of a Hundred Horsemen, Marie Etienne

I refused to rate this on Goodreads because I didn’t understand it.  There are some brave souls on Goodreads who must have a different, or any understanding at all, of this collection, who rated it, but I needed academic help.  I read it.  The last segment of poetry about birds resonated and made sense but I wandered through the rest.  She very possibly could be brilliant, people who know something about something think she is, so I am in no position to refute that even if I find her work inaccessible.  Does this help my reader understand how little I wanted to read a book about modern issues facing our world? That I would get through a hundred pages of translated poetry I didn’t understand?

I love Mary Oliver, and Stanley Kunitz, and Roald Dahl, and the poetry collections I have on my shelves but this was tough.   I needed context, the old Gothic classrooms and an PhD student at my alma mater to get me through this.   But I did it.  There you go, Ausma Zehanat Khan, author that made me do it!  Anyone who has a better understanding is welcome to help me out here.

Also, thanks to BookRiot for posting about possible fit ins for this category.  It would have been a challenge to even find a  book that would qualify.

A Book Published by a Micropress:

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Tender Industrial Fabric, Toby Altman

This was Roxane Gay’s brainchild and I do love me some Roxane, especially on the Twitter, but I didn’t understand this one either.  There were more stanzas and pieces that made sense that I could hang on to, like some descriptions of grief, sexuality, love and nature.

This looked to me like an artistic labor of love, even though it was somewhat lost on me, which I don’t even like to admit, because I think I am missing out a little here by not getting it.  I don’t know.  My father is a poet and where I get my love of writing and he has always seemed unapologetic about not understanding a poem, even if The New Yorker took it, but really, I have a deep and abiding fear that everyone else really does know more than I do sometimes.  And I am missing out.  Even as it is sitting next to me for this review I keep reopening it and hoping the magic will beam out at me, like it got over its shyness. Naw.

But probably all micropresses and their projects are, by definition, labors of love.

All right, so the roundups continue next week with what I did for BookRiot.  I could have really binged to make it through Popsugar too but I have done slightly more writing this year.  And that is the ultimate goal whilst there is available brain space. A limited commodity.


Comments/shares/likes are welcome!!!

I am grateful for Stephen King

I’ll admit some mixed feelings about November: it reminds me of how cold I am about to be for months and I have to re-acquaint myself to driving home every night in the dark.

But November is all about gratitude.  Practicing daily gratitude is a neuroscientifically supported practice in creating happiness.  What we think about, and thank about, we bring about.  I won’t expound here upon my layers of white privilege, but I try to remember it’s there in some superstitious hope that I won’t lose anything that I take time out to be thankful for.  Whatever, I can have my illusions.

Stephen King has not exactly made it onto my gratitude lists.  Ever.  Even last year when I did a thirty day gratitude journal with three different things every day for a month after I read Thank and Grow Rich.  I have been more neural toward prolific authors.  Possibly neutral with a dash of contempt.

I am sure Stephen King does not stay awake at night deeply concerned about my estimation of him.

But what turned it around for me was two of his books:  It, which I may have touched upon in a previous post because I read it in 2013, and On Writing, which I just finished on Friday.


It is a harder sell as far as gratitude, but I am grateful to him in this story because it was my first real experience of horror that crept into my brain, rather than being scary for more gory or base reasons.  I first watched the miniseries when I was nineteen and I first got to experience his specific brand of talented brain twisting. But then when I tackled his book in 2013, I loved the characters and the relationships in in their families and between each other, the life stories intertwined and their varied resulting fears used against them.

I remember my father reading It and then going to the movie and being disappointed that they left his favorite scene out of the movie.  I like memories of my parents being human, and memories that make me feel connected to them as people.

I am also mentioning him again today as a belated shout out to the new It movie, which I have not seen because I need to see it on a night where my husband is home so I can go to sleep after and I am not good at making time for movies, especially ones where I can’t watch with a five year old sponge scampering about.  It scared the crap out of me but here I am, back for more, back for the first scary thrill that he gave me.  You never forget your first time, right?

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Who doesn’t love On Writing?  I have not combed the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but it features in the blog posts I have seen about the best books for writers.  And it is true that it has good nuts and bolts of writing and that is important.  Another good nuts and bolts one that I first read when I started reading for writing advice was Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them.

But other than that, it came at an interesting time for me.  I did a ten day writing challenge on allaboutwriting.com and it was awesome.  Inspiring, fun, encouraging, got my wheels turning and refocused me a bit on writing, which is how many writers spend November.  I would recommend the course to anyone. I want to write more often so I picked it up to read during this ten day jaunt, which came at an otherwise busy time in my life as well.

Both the course and this book showed me I don’t have time right now to do the projects I eventually want to complete in my writing.  I wrote every day for ten days and got a post out, and I have more things to work on, but I had to trade in my exercise time to do this.  I am too vain, and too hooked on exercise, to give it up enough to be able to write as much as I would like to right now.  And I am grateful to Mr. King for validating how hard it is to work on writing when you have a day job that requires a good amount of brain space. He specifically mentioned the difficulty in writing on the side when you have a job that needs your brain.  He writes six hours a day.  I don’t have the time to do that.  But that is all right if I don’t right now.  I can still work on things, I just have to go easy on myself sometimes for not.  I could dial back other hobbies, like compulsive knitting while listening to books to write more. That might be a more appropriate sacrifice.  I mean, I can work out a little less often, but I missed it when I was using that time to write.   I had a few days that were just pure anxiety too in there and probably exercise would have helped that.  I got back to my first real workout in a week this morning and it felt great, even though I’ll be sore tomorrow.

Maybe I just need to stop being hard on myself, get better at reading books for writing more often and not spending all my time on fiction. My self imposed break from fiction definitely ended last night when I finished On Writing and immediately downloaded a book that I trusted would help me lose myself.  I took like 1-2 weeks off from reading fiction and I was gazing longingly at a specific shelf in the public library.  Like I used to look at a guy who broke my heart.  Who doesn’t read this blog.

So, this is my journey, and I am glad other authors are there both to twist my brain, show me new things, even if they make me scared, and to say hey, I get how hard it is to do the work of writing while you are doing the work of the rest of your life.  Thanks, Mr. King.

Comments/ likes/shares!  Next week I have an idea on deck that’s more like my typical posts.


Don’t want to be busted like that

Travel writing sounds, on the surface, like one of the most appealing jobs out there.

And I chose a life that would not be amenable to doing it. Not in the least!  Likely because the amount of planning, flexibility, and uncertainty involved in traveling is something that I balk at when faced with in reality.  Trust me, my job has plenty of gray area, but I don’t have to rely on flights to get home, I speak the same language as most people around me and I generally know what is in my food.  I have different challenges.

My best friend is a regular globetrotter.  He rents cars and drives on the other side of the road, eats anything, and actually leaves the airport during long layovers to get drunk in the classiest way possible before checking back in to continue on his travels. The country he was in did get bombed on my birthday this year but Mark Zuckerberg let me know he was safe almost simultaneously.  His personality is so vastly different from mine.  Not so different that we cannot successfully travel together, which we have, but he is much better able to roll with all the game changers and loss of predictability and comfort that is endemic to seeing the world.  I call him my Travel Xanax.

We did take a mirror selfie before it was cool in Versailles back in 1999 in the hall of mirrors with a sweet disposable camera during our senior year of high school.  His idea.

The other piece I am missing to write a travel memoir is that I am thankfully not battling a serious team of demons at the moment.

The two memoirs I talk about in this post are both authored by women who travel in part to see the world but also to pull themselves back together. I am not going places to collect the pieces of myself that have gone missing or dark.  That’s my excuse.  I am not working toward one of my dream jobs because I am just too put together.

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Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Blair Braverman

A foreign exchange stay goes wrong for Blair and then is compounded by an abusive relationship when she is traveling back to the North for the unique adventure and experience of driving sled dogs for tourists.  This book is about the extreme regions of Alaska and her finding a home with some people in Norway and making friends. There are educative pieces for the reader about how these people live, which thankfully de-idealizes their democratic state as a utopia where no one ever starves because the social support system is just that good.  I am all about social support systems but I have often thought they are presented as too good to be true, which they are, and Blair absolutely points that out in her memoir.  Blair moves in places where she is one of the only young and unattached women and discusses the complications of being so in this man’s world.

This book is about the north, but it is a lot about Blair discovering and owning her personal power.  If you want a book that is more about the sport of driving sled dogs, there is that, but it is more about Blair’s evolution as a person, which is probably why I didn’t have trouble hanging in there with this one.  I like her friend Arild who ends up hosting her multiple times and healing some of her feelings about herself, I liked how balls she is with her sled dogging and making it in places that I don’t think that I could.

I think that people expecting more of the survival stories or technical piece will not enjoy it as much.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, yea, this could have been lumped into my last post of things I should have read long ago.  That’s out of the way now.

Sometimes I could worship at the church of Elizabeth Gilbert.  She says such beautiful and true things about spirituality and growth and the nature of loving others and oneself.  Some of my favorite passages I want tattooed into my brain forever.  A book that I thought when it came out was more floofy and fun actually had real spiritual substance.  I was pleasantly surprised about the depth of this journey on which she embarks.  I know I will return to it.

And then in other parts she is whiny and self centered and kind of an irritating mess.  She does not try to hide that she can be a needy clingy mess, and she puts the best words to it about how she sets herself up to be a needy, clingy, self centered mess, and I give her props for that, but in some parts I am like, seriously? I am conflicted about even the times that I judge her, like her thing about never wanting kids.  Having a child is so impossibly difficult, especially when you are used to and very much enjoy a life of freedom and entertaining yourself (like me) and I think if someone really does not want one then they should not have one and there is nothing wrong with that.  A lot of my favorite people probably won’t ever be parents and I don’t love them any less for that (like Mr Globetrotter and when he takes selfies with pizzas because they are his true love).

But sometimes I think she needs something to focus on other than herself.  Her reluctance to focus on someone other than herself may be why she starts the novel sobbing on the floor of a gorgeous suburban home because she does not want to fill it with children after all.  I alternate between admiring her ability to just fly off for a year of self discovery and joining the ranks of other women who cast a bit of shade her way because many women have to pull themselves back together with a lot fewer resources at their disposal.  Another time I felt that way was when she admitted that she throws herself big expensive birthday parties on the regular for non milestone birthdays, in like, Manhattan.  I think the last adult birthday party I attended was six years ago. I was like really, you don’t just go out to dinner with your current guy and have a drink and call it a day like the regular people?  You have the emotional and financial resources to do this and subject your friends to it? Nice. I took my birthday off from work but not from parenting.

It also does not help that when I picked up this book I also knew that she recently used the attention from her friend’s terminal cancer announcement to announce that she was in romantic love with the woman and left her current husband for her.  Like, we couldn’t just focus on the friend, ol Liz had to pop up for her piece of the pie.  Because there is no other time to confess your love to someone.

But I loved the things she said in this and in Big Magic.  I want to read her Signature of All Things because I am curious now about how she uses, if she uses it, in her fiction and what her themes are in her stories.  She is an artist and she speaks all the spiritual things I know to be true in my heart.   I want her words while she also annoys me.

I don’t want to be broken in the way that necessitated these books so maybe travel writing shouldn’t even be a pipe dream for this old mom.

Holiday week!  I hope everyone is enjoying the summer love with the people whom they love 🙂



Outlaws and Bad Feminists

No one can be the perfect feminist.  No one can be the perfect activist for any social cause.

Depressing, given our recent political climate, at least where I I live in the United States.  I made the depressing, although not completely conscious, choice to read two books on feminism for my Reading Challenges right around the time that we did not elect our first female president in part because misogyny is still a very real thing in our country.

So is racism.  You can’t read Between the World and Me and deny that racism continues to be a part of our world, but I feel that I can be lured into a false sense of security that feminism is not, in fact, enjoying the same fate.

And in moments we shall have a disturbing leader at the helm, whose racist and feminist attitudes somehow did not prevent his coming into power.

We have to hang on to the gains that we have already made.

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Romantic Outlaws, the Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley  by Ruth Gordon

This is a gorgeous interwoven portrait of a famous mother and daughter pair who both believed and gave up family ties and general respectability in order to live and assert the notion that women should be just as free to do as they please as men.  Pursue careers, go and do what they would like to do, have sex with whom they please outside of marriage, although both women were monogamous in their relationships with men by choice.  These two women were both greatly admired by many of their contemporaries while also remaining on the outskirts  of respectability.

Both also suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, with Mary Wollstonecraft having two suicide attempts, which the author explains in a way that garners empathy for the times that she chose to make these attempts.  It was a sad and lonely world for Mary at times, and then without thinking clearly because of being depressed, it was easy for her to choose to stop hurting so much. Ironic that her life was cut short from giving birth to her second daughter after all, after wanting so badly to escape it in unhappier times, and then when things are good for her she slips out of the world in a matter of days.  Depression robbed Mary Wollstonecraft of some of her hard won dignity, in my opinion, and if she had not suffered from it she would have been even more formidable.  Interesting also that her daughter did not make the same choices, despite being numbed and repeatedly devastated by the loss of children.

Mary Shelley went through bouts of it, too, although she was more often surrounded by friends and distracted by the constant responsibility of caring for her husband Percy B Shelley, who although brilliant was selfish and completely idealistic and in the moment.  Her younger years, after running off with Percy with her sister and living with other wealthy people  remind me of my own graduate school days. Not because I was spending my time with history makers and writing a modern classic, but because there was a lot of selfish behavior. I was dating my own version of Shelley, an idealistic man who really wanted romantic love and felt it should happen for him whether or not he did anything to take care of his relationship or make any sacrifice, no matter how small, for it.

Neither Mary was the perfect feminist.  Both pined after their wandering men and invested more in them than they got in return.  Both took care of their men (and many of their relationships. Both were at the ready to put themselves aside for a friend in need) at their own expense.  Mary Shelley let her husband take lots of the writing spotlight for her own work and after they died there was a period of backlash against all the progress they did make in changing the world’s views and treatment of women.   But both lived the closest to their ideals as they could manage, which is more than you can say of anyone, past or present. They fought for the time and space they needed to write and participate in the creative life that they both found sustaining. This book is beautiful, captivating and well-written and does give me home of some of the progress we have made in advancing the second sex.  Gordon did a spectacular job at researching and painting a very human portrait of these two women who never got the time together they deserved.

All right, so after tackling those 500+ pages, you could think, damn, women have it good now. They can own property and do not need a husband around for much of anything if they don’t want him there.  They can have any job they want!  Sweet! But old cultural norms die hard:

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Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

No, we are still in the middle of those woods.  Although feminism does not require the life changing sacrifices as it once did, it hangs over us. Both in our entertainment and in the way the media still perpetuates the idea that it is unreasonable that (white) men shouldn’t always get what they want.

Gay starts the essays by writing about her own vulnerabilities: her worst feminist flaws seeming to be in her enjoyment in rap music, to which I can relate, her impostor syndrome as a PhD and college professor, her trying to reach out to black students where she teaches and how they are still very different from her.  Although not a flaw, I do particularly like the self disclosure of her love of Hunger Games and how the book helped her to get through the dreaded time at the gym.

It’s a good opening to the subsequent shredding of many things one can put forth as beacons of progress, especially with race relations.  Because racism is much less acceptable than other forms of denigration it has burrowed into subtlety.  I listened to her feelings about Tyler Perry movies while driving in the car and the whole time I was like, damn, sick burn, Dr. Gay.

Feminism was a shred of less subtle forms of denigration.  A news media coverage of a gang rape of an eleven year old girl where the newscaster seemed to feel that this little girl ruined the lives of the men going to jail, not vice versa.  The discouraging popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, where the whole point of the stories is a woman reconciling herself to a BDSM lifestyle to be with an insanely rich, damaged and controlling man.  I am at least happy that some of the romance novels I read for the Christmas posts involved women and men connecting over their family values and their hearts desires rather than a battle over who was going to be in control and who had to deal with it in the bedroom.

What are your thoughts on the future of racism and feminism as we soon transition to a new president at the helm?

Shares/Comments/Likes are loved.

Joy and Magic: Two Books I Needed a Long Time Ago

This is not the usual magic that of which I blog.

This is spiritualism. As hard and fast as spiritualism gets.

I needed these books circa 1996-2003.

Not that I don’t need them now, but life instead has taught me these lessons instead of my having initially read of them.

Briefly:  I was a writer long before I was anything else of much note.  I wrote my first story about a tadpole who was afraid to become a frog in first grade. It also was my first year on the swim team but I was so much smaller than the other kids I felt like I would die before the end of races I lost (hm, I feel I revisit this as an adult with running.  Once wasn’t enough?).  I had some notable successes as a writer early on, especially after the summer before 8th grade where I wrote compulsively all summer, which I didn’t know then was the key to luring out the fickle muse.  One of the best things I wrote as a kid came to me out of thin freakin air and I wrote it on napkins with a pencil because it was coming so fast.  And then I created a standard of work for myself that I couldn’t readily repeat as I wanted.  I was a kid and I was already well aware of the muse I couldn’t rely on.

So I focused on becoming a Psychologist. Plenty of gray area there to keep me interested but no fickle muse threatening to desert me and remind me I am a merely shell of my former self.  And I largely abandoned writing for a very long time. I did some college writing classes but even then I was afraid of the teasing of the fickle muse.

I needed you, Elizabeth Gilbert:

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Big Magic, The First Book You See in a Bookstore (Popsugar)

Even how this book came to be in my life was magic.  I walked into the money pit that is our local independent bookseller after hanging out to see if they wanted me to testify in family court in the dead of winter for hours.  And there it was.  I didn’t buy it then, but I saw the colorful cover in the foyer, not even the actual shop.  I wasn’t ready.

And I am not completely supportive of Gilbert taking the focus off her dying friend lately to be like oh I am in romantic love with you and I finally decided to tell you.

I needed this book more than The Artist’s Way.  I liked The Artist’s Way, don’t get me wrong, and that was the first book I read about the spiritual aspects of creativity when I first chose to return to writing. Morning pages at the time were instrumental in helping me to process a disastrous relationship without which I would not have been ready to build a relationship with my husband, who I met four months later. But Big Magic had the message I needed of don’t be so rigid and so serious. The most important thing is to show up. And let go and let the powers that be. Enjoy and follow your curious and creative whims. Take it seriously but realize that it is a game.  And absolutely don’t make your creativity responsible for your daily living.

I could be in a different place if I worked on writing when I could in the gaps of my schooling, but then I may have felt that writing was my true calling, not Psychology, which is also a calling for me. I love it.  As with many writing advice books, it is a funny book, like Bird by Bird, although I felt that Bird by Bird more focused on the inevitable neuroticism that is comorbid with creativity.  Even though Gilbert insists, and I agree, that creativity is largely a positive and uplifting force, it makes you crazy too, even after (perhaps especially after) it sprinkles on the largest of gifts, which to me would be a publishable piece.  Like, don’t expect it to save you from yourself all the time.  This was the advice I needed on how to think about and manage the requirements of keeping creativity alive in my life.  As a young adult we want to know we are heading back to stability, as much fun as it was to be without some responsibilities. I saw writing as a way to prolong the instability of life and I did not want that.  It was never meant to be that for me and maybe Gilbert would argue for anyone. I could have been more comfortable with my creativity for longer periods of time if this book had shown up sooner.

A final vignette:  I got high praise from a writing professor in college and I ran home and called my Dad (the writer I got it from, the man who I watch show up to his poetry on a daily basis before he is out of bed in the morning) and my Mom picked up. My mom’s understanding of my creative pursuits has been spotty at times.  And I said “Mom, am I majoring in the wrong thing? Should I do writing over Psychology?” and my mom said “You can’t become a Psychologist without school.  Do Psychology now, become a writer later.” And I was like, ok. I felt that was my message to stay on my path (because at what, 19-20 years old you think you have one path that you are married to and if you wander off it your life will careen toward all sorts of unimaginable/unforeseen destruction where you will ultimately NOT BE OK…I did get some treatment to help with that, and I help kids transitioning to adulthood with that).

A more general thought of spiritualism (A Book Guaranteed to Bring You Joy, Popsugar):

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The Alchemist, Paul Coelho

Choosing a book because you believe it will give you joy is enormous pressure for a book. I am sure Coelho didn’t lose any sleep about it, as this book, as it has nearly ten thousand reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 average rating.  That rating is even after the people who were not destined to find joy in it let the Amazon world know of its “lack of redeeming literary qualities” and “quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo” and I have to stop reading these comments because they are annoying me.  This is a fable, a basic text meant to teach.  It is set in a different time with different values.  You could apply the same criticism to Siddhartha, which is considered a classic.

I thought this book might be good because some high schools around here assign it, and I have had some kids with some real struggles tell me it made them feel good and it was important.  And that is all the endorsement I need. Sharp literary criticism need not apply here.

My favorite message from this is that the universe conspires to give you your hearts desire.  I mean, ‘hearts desire’ needs some real exploration to determine here, as many chemical processes/accidents in the brain can make us think that something is our hearts desire that could destroy us. I guess that would be our brain’s desire. But there are plenty of positive and society contributing hearts desires we can think of.  I needed this as a kid too to know that once I was an adult I wouldn’t be so alone.  I had this misconception that I see in kids now that adulthood will be more responsibility, but only equipped with the skill set, knowledge and perspective that I had as a teenage kid.  A frightening prospect. So, knowing the universe might help me along to becoming a healer may have been comforting at times I was about to NOT BE OK.  And the universe did help me, ‘hokey’ perspectives be damned.  I literally walked into the research apprenticeship I needed to become a viable candidate for graduate school programs.  Walked my butt in. My professors were like, don’t you have questions? Don’t you want to think it over? Nope, when do I show up?

I like feeling like the universe is there for me.

I want to hand these books out to all my creative teens.

Comments/likes/shares are always welcomed.



Reading Challenge: Being Female

I am writing this post a month before it will be published at 730 pm with a beer after my son was sent to bed record early due to his repeatedly poor behavior at daycare.

I have been trying to form my comments on the three books I am talking about in this post for days and maybe beer, defeat and ire will help give a narrative shape to the reading challenge books about being female.

A Book Set in the Middle East (BookRiot):

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Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I don’t know what it is about the explosion of memoirs this year in my reading, especially after barely reading them at all. I have read Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle, both haunting and somewhat traumatizing recollections of unstructured parenting, and if they didn’t turn me off to the genre, maybe I have a future in enjoying memoirs.  This did not even have to be a memoir and it won out over other Middle East books (my third this year but the other two had other categories).

The narrator copes with the oppressive changes to her life as an educated woman through reading.  Through wars and scary new laws, she reads, talks intelligently about books, and gathers women together to talk about books as well as their lives in the ways women all over the world are the same: dealing with identity, self-expression, finding and keeping love, raising kids.  The book discusses the political activities of Iran in a macro as well as a micro view.  As an educated woman myself, I can respect her journey and remember to treasure my own freedoms in this country.  And although one need not have read Lolita to appreciate the discussion of the novel in the book, I want to reread it now.

A Book About or Written By a Transgender Person (BookRiot):


Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

One has to be in the right mood to read Eugenides.  In all the writing advice I troll on the internet (and I am always trolling the internet for writing advice.  Some of it I even invite into my inbox) an oft shared gem is that there need not be too much backstory  revealed in the plot.  One should write out backstories, something I have been doing for the novel I am slowly hobbling into being, but copious backstory slows the action and disconnects the reader.  (Incidentally, that is why I kept the backstory of this post succinct:  all you need to know is the impetus of motherhood and La Cerveza Mas Fina to get me in front of the laptop.)  Eugenides, however, is such a master that he is untouched by this basic tenet of a gripping novel.  This book rides through half the story before the main character, who is intersex (I know, not really transgender, but 500 + pages later I am counting it as a book involving gender identity struggle/confusion) and his carnival ride of identity confusion is really tackled.  What did it mean to be a female in upper middle class mid century America, and then how was it different to be male? And to be an immigrant making ones way?  All the books in this post define female in a certain time and place, and this one looks at what both genders possibly mean.  When in this day and age they mean less and less.

Two other thoughts: one, I am disturbed when I read about incest and this is the second book I have read this year dealing with incest and it’s fabled consequences.  It is not as rampant as it was in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but in this book, the consequences, a person born with male and female genitalia, although he was XY, comes into being.  No iguana tails, just more genitalia and confusion than one usually bargains for. I might read more memoirs but I can’t say the same for stories involving incest.  Has not made me more incest-friendly. And second, I would like to know how Eugenides knows about being female.  In both this and The Virgin Suicides he describes what it is like to live in a woman’s body and experience her pattern of emotions.  He writes about boys, too, but I don’t think I could write about living in a male body so well, despite my education and having treated boys and I think have a passable idea of their frame of mind.

A brief third thought:  Don’t know if I will make it to The Marriage Plot.  If I want more long winded storytelling goodness I am going to wander into some more of John Irving.  The reviewers for The Marriage Plot make it sound dry and pretentious.  I imagine I will like Cider House Rules more.

A New York Times Bestseller (Popsugar):

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The Girls, Emma Cline

This one was all over in front of my face and I was shocked when I snagged it on a limited time price reduction.  All the critics were right when they comment that this book is more about being a teen girl in the late sixties than it is about the ranch and the murder that hangs over your head as the plot unwinds.  You know something terrible was done by common, if unmoored, people, and we all want to know how such things happen, but it is the intense discomfort of being the narrator that stands out.  Not the brief flashes of carnage. That is really what this is about. And, like in Middlesex, there are girls in love with girls.  Romantic love with girls.  In Eugenides the male character falls in love with a girl before he knows he’s actually a man, so it can pass as same sex.  Anywhoodle.  Cline’s prose is riddled with those powerful metaphors than surprise you with their truth. I started to stall out halfway through for reads less depressing and complex.  I wandered into some of the books I posted about last month before I read The Girls through to its conclusion of near misses and vague renown.  I needed some guilty pleasures to break up this book’s intense sadness and loneliness.  The Girls is wildly intense and I predict will win something.  Books I tend to need breaks from tend to be the shining stars, and I get that, but we need the books for breaks, too.  I vacillate between wanting to write a big star or a guilty pleasure, and then I think, I just want to write something that someone in the world wants to read.  I can’t be Cline or Nafisi or Eugenides, because they are already taken.

More women pushing boundaries and defining their worlds, I know.  I can’t help myself.  All these books were just too good.

The blitz to finish my challenges in the next 8 weeks presses on.