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what to listen to next

I am entering yet another season of required reading – my to-be-read queue of real-live-print books is stacked high and will remain so for a few months. My fun-reading will be reserved for the humble audiobook.

Not complaining. I have a deep and well-documented love of audiobooks. But I will admit… now that season four of GoT has returned, it’s taking a concerted effort not to fall back into that audio trap. I don’t need to spend the rest of my summer listening to the same 90 discs of audio I ALREADY LISTENED TO TWICE LAST YEAR. Ahem.

In defense, I have glutted my phone with new audiobooks to entice me. Remember my favorite free audio source, Overdrive? Well, there’s a new guy in town named Hoopla – his checkout procedures are more streamlined and his catalog is always available (simultaneous downloads = no checked out items, no holds lists, and the joy of instant gratification). The app interface is… um… maddeningly awful, but that hasn’t stopped me from expending all of my 10 downloads each month.

Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish…. is… not… a book I would think I would like. It had a moment of surging popularity at my library when it came out, but I just do not think novels in rhyming verse are really my thing. Novels for grown-ups, anyway. However, I heard a Rakoff story recently in an old episode of This American Life and I just thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. And it made me sad because Mr. Rakoff has died and this was his last work. And also, if I want to avoid falling into the GoT trap, I need to remind myself of the pleasures of Relatively Short Books – and this one is only TWO PARTS. Two parts. Two. TWO! I could listen to two part WHILE sleeping.

… or I could stick sliiiightly closer to my wheelhouse and stretch the limits of my attention span with a few lengthier YA titles. Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals was on my radar but not my TBR list – I haven’t ready any of her books since I had an ARC of Golden in the long ago dark ages. I liked Golden well enough, but Barnes’s books always feel a little… ah… plot-hook-heavy for my personal tastes. But I saw this on Overdrive and thought to myself “Hey, you know what’s probably pretty good on audio? Plot-hook-heavy books.” Or, I could try a Printz honor that’s been on my TBR list for awhile. I read Terry Pratchett’s Nation in grad school and unexpectedly kind of loved it, so Dodger has been on my radar for quite some time. It feels so great to f-i-n-a-l-l-y read a book you’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time – audio is a great way to make that happen.

A month ago I made up a short list of Overdrive books that The Boy might like to listen to. Out of all of my suggestions, he picked The Bluest Eye – a book that I thought was brilliant and loved on audio, but, in retrospect, is the complete opposite of a book that The Boy would like. This is why I am sometimes awful at reader’s advisory, folks. Anyway, we’ve been talking about the book while he listens and it reminded me that I haven’t tried to shove a classic novel down my throat lately. I read My Ántonia in college, but I have little recollection of what the story was actually about. I started listening to this one on Hoopla for a minute last week and thought the available narrator was pretty good. Now all I will have to do is subject myself to the horror that is Hoopla. I can’t really get into it now – I may break out in hives. It’s new. It’s technology. It’s new technology. Things will iron out, eventually, and in my relentless-endless-lifelong pursuit of a good listen, I will keep trying.

reading wishlist: summer 2014

Hey, you know what is both fun and interesting? Talking about the weather!

I jest. I jest with tears in my eyes, tears of hostility, confusion, and disbelief. It has been such a ridiculous long winter. My apartment actually had heat this year, and we’ve had weather in the 50s this week…but I’m in some kind of freaky state of seasonal denial. It can’t be nice yet. What’s going on. How will I dress myself? Will I get sweaty? Can I wear my Bean boots? Surely as soon as I decide I like the weather then it will snow again. Even in July. Nothing is sacred.

This is all to say: I’m getting buzz on these books with summer month pub dates and I cannot yet admit to myself that summer will actually arrive. These books will never exist.

That is where I am at this year. In April. Help me.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

I have trouble with sequels and series. As in, I rarely read Book 1 before Book 2 is published. Or read Book 2 before Book 3 is published. Perpetually behind. Also see: everything I ever watch on television.

It took me over a year to get around to reading The Diviners, but I read it! I READ IT!! Well, I listened to it, if you want to get technical. Anyway, I feel as though I should read the sequel just because of the principle. I mean, the book was good, too, but I’ve always heeded the pull of Principle at least as often as the pull of Good Book.

Although I will admit that I am a shameless Judge-A-Book-By-It’s-Cover-Girl, and am therefore a little miffed about the cover redesign. As I am about most cover redesigns. Whyyyyyyyyyy must you change covers mid-series WHYYYYYY this is everything wrong with the world I promise.

Abroad by Katie Crouch

This is a book for adults, but oh-boy did the description tickle all of my reading fancies. Teen protagonist? Yes. Set in Italy? Yes. A group of creepy girls who “turn  quaint fantasies into an erotic and dangerous rush through the darkest realms of friendship and love?” Oh yes. A comparison to The Secret History? Well now you’re just going overboard, flap-copy writer. I’m officially going to read this book, you can lay off the Jessica-bait.

Words and their Meanings by Kate Bassett

This is a much longer post for a much longer day, but I am struggling with this little niche-genre I so love that is Contemporary Young Adult Realism. Every book that I should love, I don’t. I’m perpetually underwhelmed. I’m guessing that I am reading the wrong books – I am trying to like books that fit into some plot or character mold that I admire in other writers, but that just aren’t up to snuff craft-wise. Conundrum. Anyway, I’m trying to branch out a little and read some more lesser known/first time authors – books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own. I heard Kate Bassett interviewed on Sara Zarr’s This Creative Life podcast and added Words and Their Meanings , her 2014 debut, to my TBR list. Bonus: set in Michigan!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A new Jacqueline Woodson. No elaboration necessary.

Okay, fine. I will elaborate, with exclamation points. New!! Jacqueline! Woodson! Poems! Autobiographical poems! Middle grade! Amazing!! Wow!!! Will Read!

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Ms. Haydu wrote a book called OCD Love Story that I really want to read. In fact, it’s sitting right over there, in my Leaning Tower of Library Books. I can’t tell you how many times I have renewed it because I would be embarrassed. But I want to read it! I do! I have ever since I heard Ms. Haydu on my other favorite podcast, Narrative Breakdown.
Since I am officially beginning a season of Required Reading, I’m not sure that OCD Love Story is going to happen… buuuuuttt I will have an opening for a Treadmill Book soon, and from the peek I’ve taken at her 2014 book – Life by Committee – I think I might skip right ahead to Book #2

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

I adore Raina Telgemeier. I consider her a Patron Saint of Middle School Girls. A sequel/companion to her graphic memoir – Smile - makes me, uh, smile.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

I have neglected to tell you how addicted I am to Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Apologies. It’s a recent obsession, started right at the end of 2013. I have been sitting on a mega-long Magicians post, but I’m having trouble deciphering my own fangirl-ish ravings. This is also why I waited until the last week of December to write about Game of Thrones, and yes, these two loves are somewhat related.

Anywaaaaaaay is there anything better than coming into a series when the first two books have already been published AND the final installment is due within months? Not much! Super excited about this one.

What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn

Interwoven storylines with multiple narrators. American teens at boarding school in England. The 1960s.

I mean, it’s no Series Finale Where Magical Teenagers Go to Magical College, but this one sounds pretty good, too.

 

Too bad none of these books will be published because there’s a big snowstorm headed right to Boston as we speak. I am lying. I am not lying. I have no idea what is going on somebody please send sunglasses, iced coffee, and flip-flops.

 

Hollywood vs. The Giver

 

So it seems my favorite childhood book is finally (finally!) becoming a movie. I certainly cannot let this occasion pass without comment. (Comments which are loaded with spoilers, btw)

I have notoriously complicated feelings about Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It is a book that holds a special place in my heart and memory, a book I have probably read a dozen times.

As an self-respecting Professional Book Person, I acknowledge that shedding some of my own precious feelings about books is an essential part of the job. I am used to complicated book feelings. I get less riled up when the media misrepresents children’s and YA lit. I take movie adaptations with a huge grain of salt, and I am pretty good at considering the two as separate pieces of art.

But The Giver movie? I don’t know if I can approach this adaptation with my Professional Book Person tricks. Grad school may have given this book a beat-down, but within My Own Personal Canon, it holds up to multiple re-readings, to close scrutiny. I can’t pry The Giver all the way from my psyche, so I’m not sure I am going to be able to watch this movie as a separate entity or without considering what the movie should have been or could have been.

I feel like I’m beating around the bush, so here’s a thesis statement: I am concerned this movie will not do the book justice whatsoever. Yes, most of my concern comes from aforementioned young reading experiences and personal feelings. But some of them are not.

First and foremost… are they really filming this entirely in color? I hold onto a thread of hope that maybe the trailer is a trick, that the filmmakers wanted to save the black and white transition for the theatrical release,  for maximum impact. It seems like a bit of a hokey point to get hung up on, but it’s such an obvious move that to abandon it seems portentous. Every person I’ve ever talked to about The Giver as a movie – from my first reading in 1995 to my most recent re-read in 2008 – suggests it. Jonas’s gradual shift to seeing colors is a major turning point in the novel and such an important part of what separates Jonas’s community from our own. Such a smart plot device… and just so obviously cinematic.

I am starting to feel like a disgruntled Harry Potter fan. “But Hogwarts didn’t look like that in my imagination. The Great Hall was so much greater and Ron looked like this and Hermione wasn’t like that and…” But a work like Rowling’s – or any other high-concept kid’s book that ends up on the big screen – has so many fantastical possibilities that there is no way any interpretation will match up with the text, will stand up to your vision. The Giver is a more manageable beast, and despite its relative lack of Harry Potter-level opulence, seems almost more reliant on visuals. The shift from utopia to dystopia is slow – right in line with Jonas’s brainwashed twelve-year-old perspective. Lowry creates such a comforting utopia – it’s just like our world, but without the doubt, uncertainty, pain that sit with us even as children. The utopia is powerful and Jonas’s slow education even more so.

When I watch this trailer, I don’t feel comforted for one second. The sets and costumes are aggressively “sci fi.” The interior shots show oversized boxy homes filled with that affected, Jetson-esque furniture that is supposed to look futuristic. Instead of slowly injecting discomfort into an otherwise familiar setting, the aesthetics of the film skip right to the dystopia, which, to me, is a much bigger violation than a red apple.

Maybe I’ve just read the book too many damn times – my brain permanently imprinted with 20-year-old images. But I am worried that a great book that could have been a great movie has been Hollywood-ized to death. The world needs another teen sci-fi-adventure-romance, so why not The Giver? If I can make myself see the movie, I will have to work hard to keep my cool, keep that non-psycho Professional Book Person hat on tight and try not to have a conniption.

Or, more likely, I will wait until a trusted children’s-lit friend watches it. If they report back negatively, I will never watch it and pretend it doesn’t exist. The Utopia Of Your Favorite Childhood Book. I can hold onto that one.

old books on my mind

This post had me thinking about re-reads. I have a small cadre of books that I’ve read and re-read and re-read. When I talk about re-reading, I’m usually talking about the usual bunch – Lockhart, Dessen, Green, Naylor, Thomas, McCafferty. Harry Potter, of course, and a few other favorites. I occasionally revisit other books I’ve liked – especially if I can try it out in a different format – but it doesn’t happen very often. I usually stick to the same old re-reads.

Maybe it’s time to stir things up a bit. Here are some books I’ve thought about lately that I could re-read this year…

I posted about Donna Tartt’s The Secret History a few months ago but it has not left my mind. In fact, this book is starting to taunt me. Everyone is still talking GoldfinchGoldfinchGoldfinch, but those Goldfinch conversations quickly turn to The Secret History conversations (mostly because nobody I talk books with has actually *read* The Goldfinch yet…).

Also, I feel like every time I read a book I really love, I read an author interview revealing The Secret History as a major literary influence. The universe is pointing me toward a re-read.

Speaking of books I read to death in high school but haven’t touched in a few years, last week I checked out a copy of Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters.

Historically, I’ve had trouble convincing people this is a book of merit. It creates awkward situations. I leant out my ragged paperback copy in the tenth grade, eager to share this special treasure with a friend. She returned it a few days later. “I can’t finish it,” she said, red-cheeked and low-voiced. “It’s too weird. They’re like, lesbians!”

Anywaaaaaay, I’m a lesbian-sex-freak-pervert-reader. Moving on. I used to read this book every year, usually on vacation, at my grandpa’s house in Myrtle Beach. But it’s been awhile since I’ve been down south and awhile since I’ve read this book. My interest has been renewed because A) I’ve been thinking a lot about female friendships in general and B) I read an article where Lena Dunham cited the book as a major influence on that little HBO series called Girls. Which I think is amazing and is probably why I love Girls despite all sorts of logical reasons not to.

 

 

Speaking of What Jessica Is Doing on the Internet Instead of Being Productive, I’m a little bit obsessed with the lost Malaysian flight. I mean that with all the respect in the world toward the crew and passengers and I pray-pray-pray they are safe and sound, but look guys, I watched every season of LOST. This is freaking me out. It’s the same compulsion as the “Do I Have This Rare Disease?” Google Game – it’s horrifying, it’s terrible for the nerves, but it’s very difficult to stop clicking.

I keep tabs on NPR’s book coverage for work, so of course I clicked on the article titled “Malaysia Flight 370 and the World’s Attention.” I was hoping for the announcement of a memoir or an exposé or something juicy, but what I found was… Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet. I read The Hatchet repeatedly in my 4th and 5th grade years. I also can’t stop refreshing the Malaysian Flight page on Reddit. This astute NPR writer sees right through my strange habits for what they are: anxiety-bait.

That being said, I still want to re-read The Hatchet.

 

And speaking of books I loved as a child, The Boy reminded me yesterday that Cheaper By the Dozen is available on Overdrive. One of my favorite books of all time, which I also haven’t read in forever, and decidedly less horrifying.

Or I could just read Game of Thrones again. If I start now, I could have the first three re-read by the time season four wraps and be ready to move on A Feast For Crows!

Let’s all pretend this is a rational course of action.

reading proclivities

I have been reading the same handful of books for too long. I feel mired in a book swamp, like I will never finish these books and will be trying, feebly, to finish them until the day I die.

Oh, the drama.

I have nothing against the books I am reading, nope. They are all fine.

Sure, none of them are yanking me away from my other obligations. But I don’t expect all the books I read to appeal to me like that. I think it’s valuable to read books specifically because they don’t yank on me, actually. Reading outside my tastes is a valuable endeavor, personally and professionally. If I only read books that I thought I would like then I would just re-read the same 10 Pink-Covers for the rest of my life. That is not the kind of reader I aspire to be.

However, feeling as swampy as I am, I think my currently reading selection is lacking a certain balance.

I do read multiple books at once. This horrifies many people, but I have been doing it for so many years I can’t really even adequately justify myself anymore. It’s like asking why I prefer a certain spoon with their cereal. It’s just the spoon I like, okay? What does it even matter? But more importantly, I can’t stop reading multiple books at once because that would require finishing EVERYTHING I’m reading until I’m just reading One Single Book and that just gives me the heebie-jeebies. Blargh.

I don’t like to read too many books, though. Instead of actually FINISHING any of the books I am currently reading, I’ve thought intently about what amalgamation of books I would prefer to be reading at once and how I might better devise my reading in the future.

You know, after these five books kill me. Beyond the grave reading planning. Yes, sir, it’s that kind of week.

1. The Audiobook

Let’s start with the most obvious: I like to have an audiobook on deck. This is a practical habit – I do a lot of my reading while commuting… but since moving across town, my commute includes more walking, more transferring trains, and more Rush Hour, Can’t Get a Seat or Hold A Book Without Whapping Someone in the Face stuff. I keep my headphones in and use that lovely little white headphone clicker to instantly apply an audiobook when needed.

(That is the Yuppie reason why I like to always have an audiobook. The real reason is that I like to fall asleep listening to a book, and I am freakishly anxious about sleeping and potential insomnia. I will actually listen to ANY audiobook at this point while I try to go to sleep, but it’s better when it’s something I’m, you know, actually into).

I am fairly picky about what I listen to on audio, but that is a much longer post for a much longer day. If I can’t find anything new to listen to, I am perfectly content to listen to books I’ve liked in the past or revisit some old audio favorites. It doesn’t matter. I just like to have a book to shove in my ears when I want to shove other stuff out.

Right now, I am listening to Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black, which is definitely a good listen, but is due back on the 21st. I should really stop [insert whatever bullshit distraction I am inventing for myself] and get on it.

2. The eBook

This is also an obvious category, but a new one for me! I have made the delightful discovery that yes, I can read an eBook on my iPhone WHILE I am running on the treadmill. And I actually prefer it over other While You Run entertainments (except, perhaps, watching Girls).

I am running 3-5 times a week right now, so I like to have something ready to read on my phone at all times. I don’t read very *quickly* on the treadmill, however, so I can’t check anything out from the library using Overdrive without it expiring on me. This leaves me with the wide, wide world of egalleys.

Another comment that could be a particularly lengthy blog post: I have to choose what egalleys I read carefully. Whether or not I am running, I typically end up reading egalleys on my phone, and I’ve had some markedly mixed results. Some books I am completely disinterested in, but if I read on my larger Kindle, I’m fine. Some books I can barely even understand… but if I check out the hard copy, I’m totally into them. I naturally read galleys with a bit of an evaluative intent, so I think it would irresponsible of me to read a book in a format or setting that would color my judgment.

I haven’t really tried to pin down which books work and which ones don’t, but I suspect it has to do with language style and sentence length. Right now I am reading Geoff Herbach’s Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders which I am finding definitely e-Readable.

3. The Backburner Book

The Backburner Book is the book that sits at my house rather than coming with me in my purse. It’s the book I read a bit of before bed or with my coffee in the morning. It’s the book that I return to when my other books aren’t quite suiting me. It’s the book that I’d rather savor than rush through.

A Backburner Book is often a comfort read – a little life-raft book in case you hate what you are reading but also everything else about your existence on this earth. Comforting reading, for me, is often re-reading. A re-read makes for a good Backburner because you can dip in from time to time without confusion or recaps.


Easy reading
in general can also be comforting. We all have our authors/genres/topics that give us immediate gratification – books that don’t ask too much from us. Mine tends toward nonfiction. Hippy-dippy self-help, mostly, but also books about food and writing. My current Back Burner read – Daily Rituals: How Artists Work – fits very neatly into this category. The sections are short and discrete, ideal for quick reading spells but nothing longer.

On the flipside, certain books hit the Backburner because they take so damn long to read that if I read them exclusively then I’d be reading the same book for months. Which, we have now learned, makes me feel swampy and also compelled to write really lengthy blog posts about things that aren’t terribly relevant to other humans. I’d like to tackle more long reads by throwing them on my backburner, though. I read Octavian Nothing this way once and found it quite gratifying. (Maybe I should start with Part II? Not having read the second half of Octavian’s story is becoming an area of my deepest reading shame…)

4. The Primary Read

Last but definitely not least… there’s the Primary Read. Otherwise known as “The Book You Are Reading.” If you are leaving the house, this is the book you grab. If your fun bookish friend asks you what you are reading, this is the answer you give.

If you are a single book reader, then this is the only category for you. Keep it simple! That’s a good thing!

If you are a multi-book reader, then this book could just be whatever book you are reading that doesn’t fall into any other category – whatever other categories your books fall into. It could also be a book that started as a treadmill egalley or an audiobook but then got REALLY good REALLY fast and has graduated to your Primary Read. Or you might just have a little pool of uncategorized semi-read books and your Primary Read is the one that suits you that day.

For me, the Primary Read is often:

  • The new YA book
  • The book I’m reading for book club
  • The book I’m reading for review
  • A particularly hot galley
  • Whatever else my little heart desires
  • Whichever book is due back first.

This is where I am getting stalled up. I have TWO Primary Reads. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, which is both strange and beautiful. It reminds me of those lovely, lyrical family dramas you find in adult lit – a less lengthy Middlesex with a younger spirit. I am also reading Lorrie Moore’s short story collection, Bark, which is a little difficult to convince myself to get into, but once I do the prose just… carries me all the way, like I’m on a tide.

But I’ve been reading both for weeks. WEEKS. I feel like my disinterest in reading compounds when there are TWO books to choose from, especially when neither provide The Yank that inspires me into a reading frenzy.

~

In conclusion, I need to stop micromanaging my reading life and just finish a dang book already.

And then finish another one.

And then only start reading another one if I have an open slot.

And not read more than four.

Forever and ever amen.

P.S. How the heck do YOU read? You are probably normal and just… you know… read. If you do something weird, though, fess up!!

29

Um, I turned 29 on Monday so let me share with you some wisdom about aging.

Oh, wait, I don’t have any.

I do feel as though I am getting happier as I get older. My childhood and teen years and early twenties were greatfinecoolawesome but I was kind of a high-strung basket case for most of it. I still am a high-strung basketcase, of course, but the older I get the more equipped I am to see through my own bullshit. To put my emotions in order.

Also, I am becoming so aged, occasionally I can’t actually remember some awful things from my past. Nothing super awful, but you know, the everyday awful things. Years of my life are becoming just a little blurry.

It’s good. I like it.

I mean, I’m not crazy about being so close to the big three zero, but I’m also not feeling an urge to sky dive or or quit my job or whatever other 30 things people with blogs do before they turn 30.

My body is old: I take seats on the train without compunction, dye my hair every 6 weeks, and I cannot wear shoes from Target or Payless. My body is young: I have like, 7 pimples today. Unbelievable!

On any given day I am confused and moody and hopeful and doubtful and reasonably exhausted. I’m still only half sure of what I am doing here on this planet. Obviously having time management issues. Obviously having Internet management issues. But it’s okay. I’m okay.

29, doing fine.

28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

 

library card exhibitionist

It is the end of the month and I have read basically zero of the books I’ve checked out and that means they will still be here when all those books on hold come in and now I am in hold jail. Also, it felt like negative degrees this morning so I’m considering putting myself in apartment jail, too.

And then I remember that this time last year I was languishing in a freezing cold apartment, barely ever leaving my bedroom or even my bed and never the actual house. So I’m doing okay.

But I still have a shit-ton of books checked out and need to read much faster because I might die without having read them all.

Checked Out

The Circle by Dave Eggers [audio]

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Celeste and Jesse Forever [DVD]

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Schuler

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 by Sylvia Plath

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Dangerous Women ed. by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Dodger by Terry Pratchett [audio]

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators ed. by Anita Silvey

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath before Ted by Andrew Wilson

The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle by Lou Schuler [for The Boy]

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing  by the New York Writers Workshop

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

On Hold

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story [DVD]

The Way of the Wizard

Afternoon Delight [DVD]

Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Bell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell [audio]

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

My Education by Susan Choi

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Hild by Nicola Griffith

The Way, Way Back [DVD]

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

20 Feet from Stardom [DVD]

Philomena [DVD]

The Butler [DVD]

Dallas Buyers Club [DVD]

Game of Thrones Season Three [DVD]

Captain Phillips [DVD]

Blue Jasmine [DVD]

seattle 2014

Hello. I just got home from Seattle. It was my first trip to the West Coast and boy howdy was I charmed.

I was also charmed by this, my first opportunity to take a non-wedding related vacation in an exceptionally long time. I am married now, which means I am allowed to have sex, file jointly, and travel in peace. Also, own property.

Our first stop was Seattle proper, where one of my loveliest librarian friends has made her home. And boy, was it a nice home. First of all, do any of you have friends who have serious design skills? I feel like I am above average in my home decorating skills, but my darling Shelley? She has got something else entirely. More than a good eye – more like home design guts. Her apartment looks like she’s lived in it half her life – it’s filled with pictures and books and vintage furniture and art… basically, it was like stepping into an Apartment Therapy home tour. Just a lovely space.

Also, we met Ferdinand, my own ginger kitty’s male doppelgänger. Except skinny and all over the da-amn place. Ferdy made Peach look like a chubby, largely immobile pile of fluff.

We did a night and a day in the city. Our friend was so kind as to show us her favorite parts of Seattle as well as some of the required tourist spots. The big downtown library was first, of course. I was particularly enamored with George Legrady’s digital installation that displays library collection and circulation data in a visual live feed. 75% of my professional nerd-interests in an entrancing video loop. Amazing.

On Sunday, we hit up Ballard and Fremont. Farmer’s Markets, record stores, the antique mall, and brunch.

Yuppie stuff. Delightful, delightful yuppie stuff.

We even stopped by a bar for a 2 p.m. iced coffee cocktail. Shameless.

 

My boy and I usually have more travel aspirations than we have time or money. In order to afford our trips, we squirrel away tiny bits of money, slowly filling our special travel savings account for trips yet unimagined. We prioritize travel over many things – we don’t have a budget line item for concert tickets or video games or even books – but our trips have been relatively infrequent. It’s hard to consider travel a true passion. Passions are what you obsess over, what you do every day. Travel is imaginary until the plane takes off; every trip sneaks up on me.

What I am passionate about is being the kind of person who shows up. It was delightful and convenient when our Boston friend moved to Seattle, but this trip was percolating ever since one of my nearest and dearest Michigan ladies was first stationed at Fort Lewis. Before we could afford to visit, she moved to San Antonio. And shortly after we moved to Boston, she was sent out to Germany.

But now she is back in the States, and back in Washington. We spent most of the week in Tacoma, catching up and sleeping in and watching Gru and otherwise enjoying each other’s company. I hadn’t seen her since 2009. I had never met her three-year-old son. I missed meeting Baby #2 by a few weeks, but maybe next time.

Visiting new places is fun but when you are far from your loved ones, a week of conversations and good company is priceless. Travel can be prohibitively expensive – it was for us for a long time – but now I have the time and means to make it work. I might not drool over the Travel Channel or max out my credit card on plane tickets, but if you’ll have me in your home or your city, no worries, I’ll do the legwork.

I’d love to go back to the Pacific Northwest, but I probably shouldn’t because then I might never come back. Seriously. It was beautiful and laid back. The libraries were gorgeous. The food was great. Everything was cheaper than it is in Boston. There was coffee EVERYWHERE.

A Jessica Wonderland.

Watch out, West Coast.

 

ned vizzini

I’ve wanted to post something about Ned Vizzini since he died, but I’ve been unsure of what I can say. What I should say.

Most of us who have passions have a story to tell about our passion. An origin story. The friend who lent you that book. You know, the book that changed your life. Or maybe it all started at school, when you picked up an oboe for the first time, took the class that flipped on a light switch in your brain, met the teacher who spoke directly to your soul.

My origin story includes Ned Vizzini. My mother handed me a thin yellow galley – maybe my first galley? – and told me I might like it. It was Teen Angst? Nahhh, Vizzini’s first book, a collection of essays he’d written while still in high school.

Ned’s essays floored me. They delighted me. They were stories about family, about feeling different, about feeling too nerdy to get by but getting by anyway. Ned was just a little bit older than I was. He was young. He was writing about being young. He was writing well. I’d read YA lit before – loved YA lit – but this was something entirely different. Something special.

I read and re-read this book many times as a teen, and when Be More Chill came out in 2004 I was excited. So was my sister. Ned was running his own book tour, insisting that he and his girlfriend loved road trips and would drive anywhere that would have him. My sister – my shy, introverted, nervous sister – called me at college and told me she’s talked to the principal and she’d emailed Ned and he was coming. To our high school. What on earth.

Something fell through on the school’s end, though, and Ned wasn’t to come. He felt bad. He emailed my sister and invited her to come to another school event, an hour away. I came down from school and we drove into the sticks together. We sat in a strange rural middle school cafeteria, the odd teens out – were we groupies? Fangirls? Sisters who couldn’t pass up a once in a lifetime chance?

We met Ned, briefly, afterwards. I remember that he knew my sister’s name, that he was much more excited to be hanging out in rural Michigan than I was, and that he seemed so much younger than me. He had a strange, guileless energy. Like he might say anything. Like he might respond to your emails if you asked him to visit your high school, even if you were a sixteen-year-old girl.

When It’s Kind of a Funny Story came out in 2006, I knew what a galley was and I was happy to get one. When I read that Ned based the book on his time in a mental health unit, I wasn’t surprised. When the book found a broad audience – many teens and young people who themselves struggled with mental illness – I wasn’t surprised.

But when I read that Ned had killed himself, I couldn’t believe it. I read in an interview somewhere that he thought he was still struggling. That he was always going to struggle. But he had coping mechanisms. He wasn’t having suicidal thoughts. Things wouldn’t ever be great but they could just be.

I’m a person who is deeply, irrationally invested in believing the best things people say about themselves. Probably because I spend so much time crafting my own, hoping that someday I will be the person I imagine myself to be. Hoping that everyone believes me. I’m sorry you were in pain, Ned. I’m sorry you had to go so soon. Thank you for starting early and hanging on, for writing your books, for letting me be a weirdo in your middle school writing workshop, for being a tiny, tangential part of my own story. Thanks so much.

two hundred

 

200 Words

I have written at least 200 words of fiction every day in 2014. I’m digging it. It’s enough words to feel like I’ve done some creative work – some sentences, a paragraph or two, a small idea – but not so many that writing becomes a horror that I spend all day dreading, avoiding. I can half-ass 200 words if I’ve had a busy day or a stressful day. I can speed-write 200 words in 20 minutes if I’m on my way out for the night or if it’s almost bedtime. Most days I write more. 200 words are just enough for something interesting start to emerge, and if I have more time, I can keep going. I usually keep going. I usually don’t notice that I’ve finished. Yesterday, I hit 10k.

Life of the Mind

A small writing goal allows me ample time to do other things with my life. Yes, this includes working full time, cooking, keeping house, and being social, but what feels more important right now is that I still have time to think. I’ve come to realize lately all of the thinking I’m not doing. I’ve always considered myself to be a thinker. An interior person. But what usually goes on in my interior is just wheel-spinning, usually of the anxious nature. Bad brain stuff. Shutting down those particular neural pathways will probably be a lifelong effort, but while I’m working on writing I’m also working on thinking, because for me, they go hand in hand. More than hand in hand. They are just the same thing. If I’m freaked out about sitting down in front of a blank Word document because I’ve got to write XXX words before XXX and they better be good, then committing to deeper thinking and focus is going to be difficult. Right now, my Sit and Think/Write Whatever schedule feels roomy. I like it.

Quiet Down In There

I’m not much of a TV watcher anymore. I usually feel pretty high and mighty about this. But you know what’s kind of the same as living in a house where the television is always running? Keeping your headphones in for 7, 8, 9 hours a day, brain on a steady diet of podcasts and audiobooks and Other People Talking. Or, even better, the lure of the never-ending scroll of your Twitter feed, the constant Facebook surveillance even though you really insist that you hate Facebook and everyone on it. Two weeks ago, I put myself on a Media Fast. Very minimal television, few podcasts, no audiobooks. No videogames, Twitter, or Facebook. Just reading and writing.

And working. And housework. And exercising. And everything else I do in my life. But I’m doing those things with a slightly quieter brain for awhile. At least until I get back from my vacation.

Trajectory

I am not the first person to compare writing and running, and I am certainly not the most eloquent or experienced. I am hugely amateur at both endeavors, actually.

If I was to assign a narrative to my experience as a runner, I would do so as follows: for the first 18 years of my life, I was afraid of the act, found it difficult, physically uncomfortable, and painful. It was something I was never, ever good at and never, ever expected to get better at. I dabbled with running during college and after, but never more than a mile. When I moved to Boston, running was the only form of exercise I could afford, so I tried to take it more seriously. It started out crappy but got better. Four years later, I’m not a great runner, but I am a better runner. I am not so afraid. It doesn’t always hurt. I feel like I have the tools to run more, run faster, run longer, if I make the time.

My writing narrative feels much more negative. I’ve always written. Never not written. In college, I stumbled into a creative writing degree, and four years later stumbled into writing (bad) novels. After graduation, I still wrote, but something started to break and grad school kicked it all to pieces. Now, I feel less creative, less flexible, and much, much more afraid. I worry every day that writing is not for me, but I worry even more that writing is something I’ll never be able to stop doing even though it makes me feel awful, even if I am never able to write anything I am proud of.

I wish I could reverse those stories. My writing experience in college was a little more like the first story. I was learning. Getting better. Like I had the tools to get better. I don’t feel that way anymore, but maybe it’s just me writing mind-narratives and then living up to them. Maybe if I write 200 more words, if I change the way I tell myself stories, if I make the right hard choices, then I can feel the same way about writing that I feel about running – hopeful.