A Quarterly Update on What I’ve Been Reading:

16. Janesville – Amy Goldstein (nonfiction; how the GM bankruptcy impacted a small Wisconsin town)

17. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar– Cheryl Strayed (nonfiction; I was a religious reader of the Dear Sugar column at The Rumpus for a long time; loved this)

18. Option B – Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant (nonfiction; I was at a lunch with Adam Grant and was given a free copy otherwise I wouldn’t have read this; glad I did)

19. Emotional Agility – Susan David (nonfiction; psychological look at getting “unstuck” – basically a longform version of a HBR article I enjoyed. Worth reading)

20. Moonglow – Michael Chabon (fiction; I loved this. Fictionalised memoir of “the author” and his Holocaust survivor grandparents – poignant, funny, and heartbreaking; this review in The Guardian sold me)

21. How to Be Here – Rob Bell (theology; Bell is an acquired taste for some Christians, and this book reads more Humanist than say, Velvet Elvis)

22. Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts – Regena Thomashauer (garbage; someone gave me this book as a gift when they heard I was getting divorced and I read it in an afternoon on a flight. It is horrifying, unless you are the type of person who refers to other women as “Sister Goddesses.”)

23. The Danish Way of Parenting – Jessica Joelle Alexander & Iben Dissing Sandahl (garbage; another gift; and honestly, I am pretty sure that the American author thinks that Americans are emotionally stunted idiots  and didn’t realise she had emotional problems of her own until she moved to Denmark and started seeing a therapist and this book resulted)

24. Nonsense – Jamie Holmes (nonfiction; a book about reducing cognitive dissonance and the ways we make sense of the world. Super interesting but not necessarily engaging)

25. Native Speaker – Chang-rae Lee (fiction; fascinating novel about hard grief, clashing cultures, and the secrets we keep. One of the best books I’ve read. If you read nothing else on this list – this is a good one)

26. Evicted  – Matthew Desmond (nonfiction; a sociological look at poverty in America through the lens of real estate. Fairly apolitical in nature. The author embeds himself in Milwaukee housing over a period of years and writes about it. I am fairly entrenched in some of my viewpoints on this, but Desmond was able to open my eyes to things I had never considered)

27. The Remains of the Day  – Kazuo Ishiguro (fiction; the story of a career in service. Brilliant rat-a-tat writing; crystal clear prose; in my view, Ishiguro’s best work)

28. My Promised Land – Ari Shavit (nonfiction; the story of the birth of the nation of Israel told through the lens of a left-leaning Haaretz journalist. Fascinating; repetitive; long. Worth reading if, say, you are going to Israel and know little about it)

29. The Heart – Maylis de Kerangal & Sam Taylor (fiction; a novel about the death of a young man and the story of the transplantation of his organs. Sounds grim, but some of the most beautiful, striking prose I have read – translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

Some more take aways: While I am still trying to read more writers of colour, I am mostly focused on challenging my own perceptions. I am reading things that come recommended by people from whom I wouldn’t necessarily take recs. I am reading things that sound terrible to me and finding I love them. I am trying things that work and don’t work (hence the reason you see stuff I label “garbage” in this list – I am willing to TRY something that I wouldn’t normally read, and I’m willing to SHARE it, even if I think it’s awful).

Also, I think it’s okay to think a book is “garbage.” You may disagree with me – and I think that is great, Sister Goddess. I think that’s just great.

I am and always have been a reader – and in 2016 I resolved to Read More. I wanted to continue that through 2017, so I will update you quarterly on my progress through my reading list. Between December and now, here’s where I am:

  1. Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed – ed. Meghan Daum (a book of short essays about being child-free)
  2. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (a brilliant, magical-realist interpretation of the Underground Railroad)
  3. The Light Between the Oceans – M.L. Stedman (a lighthousekeeper and his wife, after repeated miscarriages, rescue a child orphaned at sea and deal with the fallout of that choice)
  4. Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit (short, feminist essays)
  5. Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay (longer, feminist essays and critiques in a style and on topics that are not immediately apparent as being “feminist”)
  6. Runaway – Alice Munro (typical Alice Munro short stories)
  7. The Broken & the Whole (a rabbi talks about family tragedy and healing from grief)
  8. Commonwealth – Ann Pachett (a brilliant, complex story of a brilliant, complex blended & unhappy family)
  9. The History of Love – Nicole Krauss (a magical, intergenerational love story)
  10. Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance (a memoir about growing up in Appalachia – and moving on)
  11. Why I Am Not a Feminist – Jessa Crispin (a short book about the state of modern feminist theory)
  12. Shrill – Lindy West (essays on love, life, fat acceptance, internet trolling, and death)
  13. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (an intergenerational novel about Ghanaian families, slavery, and differences in the toll of time)
  14. Black Edge – Sheelah Kohlhatkar (a story about the rise and fall of SAC Capital)
  15. Hallelujah Anyway – Anne Lamott (a slim volume that seems to touch on the theology of mercy and happiness)

Some General Themes: I am reading more writers of colour; I am reading more about feminism; I am reading more essays. I am trying to challenge myself and my perceptions and get out of my Reading Comfort Zone.

Book Club: I had to quit my book club. Not because I didn’t like them – I did like them, a lot! – but the books they picked were universally So Horrendous that I couldn’t continue to read what they wanted to read. I liked their company. I hated their taste in books.

What’s Next: Poetry; some hefty non-fiction; and one or two really classic novels.

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Resolutions // We don’t all make new year’s resolutions.  If you are making them, what is your biggest priority?  If you aren’t, tell us why – what is your experience or opinion on resolutions?

I am nothing if not goal-oriented. Last year, I made seven resolutions: to read more; to train smarter; to cook more; to practice patience; to work on dog training; to add things to my life and not take them away; and to buy running shoes for my new biomechanics.

I hired a running coach, and promptly went down the rabbit hole of a serious genetic disorder that derailed my running career for good. I have been resolving since 2013 to cook more and I definitely didn’t do that, since I spent more than 60 days out of the country this year.

I did practice patience – I started meditating more. I strongly recommend the Insight Timer app, and Positivity with Andrew Johnson as two great starting places. (Andrew Johnson’s whole series of meditation apps are excellent and I have a couple of them). I also bought an Apple Watch, and I find the periodic reminders to BREATHE really comforting. I finally admitted that even though I am a New Yorker, I’m deeply bothered by noise and I can lose it much more quickly in a sea of sound – so I bought good noise cancelling headphones and I carry ear plugs (including in spin class and anywhere I might be bothered by loudness).

I don’t know why it took me so long to do something about that – my family used to antagonise me as a kid because I’d ask them not to pound on my door or turn the TV up loud or yell and scream. They thought I was kidding around or being a princess. In reality, I just have really sensitive ears.

I also did a lot of training with Roo – we watched many YouTube videos and he took multiple cross-country flights; worked on his canine good citizen certification; worked on therapy dog basics; worked on verbal directionality commands. He’s still not the world’s best leash-walker – but he’s lightyears better than he used to be!

I wanted to add, not subtract from my life, and generally I did that, too.

But the main thing was reading more.  In 2015, I think I read maybe five books. As a lawyer, (especially with the type of work I do), I have to read A LOT, and pleasure reading isn’t always something that comes easily anymore. I have to TRY. So, by committing to TRY, in 2016, I read 30 books. Here’s what I read last year (which admittedly was a mixed bag of fiction, non-fiction, classics, contemporary lit, interesting stuff, and total garbage).

  1. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2. Grace – Grace Coddington
  3. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
  4. H is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald
  5. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  6. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling (Again, I am admitting to reading this with the disclaimer that I read this for my book club, and it is a horrible, racist piece of trash. I walked away from this book with the impression that Mindy Kaling is a terrible person)
  7. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  8. After You – Jojo Moyes
  9. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  10. The Monster Within – Barbara Almond
  11. The Vitamin Complex – Catherine Price
  12. The Nightingale – Kristen Hannah
  13. How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp
  14. Kane and Abel – Jeffrey Archer (another book club pick; another piece of trash)
  15. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  16. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
  17. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  18. Maus – Art Spiegelman
  19. 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
  20. Expecting Better – Emily Oster
  21. Skyfaring – Mark Vanhoenacker
  22. The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson
  23. Scandalmonger – William Safire
  24. Rust – Jonathan Waldman
  25. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  26. Girls Like Us – Sheila Weller
  27. Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds
  28. The Five Love Languages – Gary Chapman
  29. The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
  30. Cancer Ward – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Of what I read, The NightingaleH is for Hawk, The Orphan Master’s Son, Cancer Ward, Beloved, and Skyfaring were my faves. The Orphan Master’s Son was the only book that my entire family has ever read that each one of us loved, and none of us has the same taste in books. I have also recently read a few of Helen MacDonald’s (the author of H is for Hawk) pieces in the NY Times, and her recent Magazine feature was particularly timely, poignant and…excellent.

For next year? I’ve got nothing particularly ambitious in store. I want to keep reading. I want to write more. I was in 16 countries in 12 months, and I may be the only woman in America who wants to travel less.

Here is a list of things that people say that make me crazy:

1) I’m writing a book

2) I think I have a book in me

3) I really think I could write a book if I just had the discipline

4) NaNoWriMo is just my favourite holiday

5) I am shopping my NaNoWriMo Novel but I’m not getting any bites so far

6) You can buy my (self-published) novel on Amazon.

7) Why haven’t you downloaded my book, it’s only $0.99 on the Kindle store this week

8) Will you read my book?

9) You used to be so much more prolific – what happened?

10) You should write a book.

The world has been fairly awful over the past few weeks, and I have no real desire to comment on it at this point. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be actively engaged in current events, but as a privileged, white Western woman, I think I have a lot of listening to do before I start making proclamations about The State of The World.

As recent events have unfolded, I have watched about half my friends take serious political and moral positions and share them on social media. I have watched the other half post photos of something called the Spouse Challenge, wherein they post a bunch of photos of themselves and their spouses to show the rest of us how much they love each other. I have gotten a little bit of crap (some good natured, some not) for not having a Hot Take in either direction.

Because Paul does not use/understand social media, he finds things like the Spouse Challenge deeply intrusive and upsetting. I find them unnecessary. We are the sort of people who don’t sit next to each other on planes because we both like the window seat, so the thought of us posting photos on social media celebrating Our Love in order to prove it to the world is…ridiculous.

We both came to this point in our lives, and this relationship, Gently Used. It would be weird to pretend that I’d never loved anyone before Paul, or that my entire life Up Until This Point had had no meaning, or bearing, on Anything I’m Doing or Experiencing Now.

With all of that said, here is a brief playlist for your enjoyment detailing the past decade of my romantic history, and how I got to where I am now. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, police brutality, gun control, race relations, or how much I love my spouse.

Okay, maybe a little bit with why I love my spouse.

Bonus points if you can guess which of these songs corresponds to which era.

Your last challenge for Reverb15 is to write your manifesto for 2016.

 

Here are my resolutions/goals for last year: 2015. I am a big fan of making resolutions. I am so-so about keeping them, though I will say that I did a pretty good job of working towards or achieving nearly everything on my 2015 list (though the PR in question was on my 10k time; was not by any stretch of the imagination impressive to begin with so anything was going to be an improvement; and was a PR by less than a second. Still counts!)

Here’s what I want to do this year (This is really boring stuff, guys):

1) Read More: I read a lot. But pleasure reading has not been on the agenda for years. As the year came to a close, a few one-time quirks put a lot of my usual year-end work in Q3 rather than Q4, and I was able to do some fun reading between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I forgot how much I like to read for enjoyment. It is weird to live a life where you forget the pleasure of a thing that you enjoy so much that it used to define your very existence. I need to make time for this again.

2) Train Smarter: I want to continue to run, and I have had two joint reconstructions in two years. I am medically cleared to run, but in order to avoid further injury, I need to accept that whatever I am doing on my own isn’t going to cut it as I get older and come back after these kinds of setbacks, and I need to hire a coach.

3) Cook More: Paul and I keep having this discussion wherein we say that we want to cook at home; take a cooking course; etc. We are both very competent cooks. I have even purchased a set of dishes and cutlery for Paul’s house.  Cooking sounds like a really fantastic idea, if you don’t think about the fact that I will likely have been in seven or eight different countries by the start of March.

4) Practice Patience: I find myself getting annoyed easily these days. I don’t have a lot of free time. My husband and I live in different countries. I travel a lot. I have a lot of personal and professional obligations. I have found myself taking it personally when people behave the way people will (which is to say, in self-interested, or careless ways). 95-99% of the time, it is not about me. But sometimes, I lose my shit about this nonetheless. I need to learn to be patient; I need to discipline myself into not taking things personally. This includes having patience with myself when I forget to be patient.

5) Dog Training: Roo has been working on some training to achieve a therapy dog certification. He has mastered the basics, and is generally an awesome dog anyway. However, he cannot for the life of him master lay down, and he is still terrible on a leash about 50% of the time. I know that the leash terribleness is due in part to the fact that during a crucial stage in his training when he was a pup, I was hit by a car, and with my arm in a sling, I was sort-of lax about leash discipline. But I am baffled as to why lay down! is not in his repertoire.

6) Addition Not Subtraction: I think the thing is, at this stage of my life, I want to focus on adding things to it, not taking away. I am also trying to enhance my own life by blocking out the noise brought in by other people. I love interacting with people; I love having close relationships; I love entertaining and seeing people and visiting. I genuinely loathe the everyday detritus that comes from our 24 hour-social media-outrage culture. I am trying to learn to add to my life without that kind of stuff taking away from it.

7) Buy Shoes: This is dumb; this is obvious. I just need to buy a proper pair of running shoes to accommodate my changed biomechanics so I don’t get injured again. I’ve grown really frustrated with demos; I’ve narrowed it down to a handful of pairs and brands. I have worn Sauconys for the better part of 20 years, and am finding little in their range to handle my changed body, post-surgeries. (Do not recommend the Kinvara. I have never found a shoe as awkward and uncomfortable as the Kinvaras.)

In sum, I have grown up to be the most boring person in the entire world. But I am living a bold and exciting day-to-day, and I suppose the only thing that makes this kind of life sustainable is a strong foundation. I don’t need to manufacture any drama to make things interesting. I suppose my intention is just to keep working on the basics.

Issue 5 of the beautiful magazine Bella Grace carries a gorgeous illustrated quote from a chap called H. Jackson Brown Jr as follows:  “Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”

What small pleasures gave you moments of intense joy in 2015?  What more could you cultivate in 2016?

Small Pleasures

  1. Seeing the sunrise over the East River from my bedroom window
  2. Really good noise-cancelling headphones
  3. Descending a long staircase and bumping into a friend, unexpectedly, at the bottom
  4. Late drinks in the bar at Claridge’s till the very polite waiter refuses to keep serving
  5. Birkenstocks
  6. Pulling out the annoying bobby pin in a chignon
  7. Puppy breath
  8. Watching your friends achieve the things they’d waited so long for
  9. Observing a child reading on her own for the first time
  10. Getting over it