Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Gratitude #1: A Memoir by an American Champion

Some of my friends are writing about gratitude this month. I'm also grateful, and I'd like to write about it.

Right this moment, I'm grateful for a book I recently read entitled, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking Your Way to Victory by Deena Kastor. Kastor is the American Record holder in the marathon, so that's pretty cool right off the bat.

But, the thing I'm grateful for right this moment is this little approach she describes in the book about optimism and positive thinking. Here's a summary:

Everyone has negative thoughts sometimes. It doesn't do much good to fight against these. They're going to occur to you. The important thing is to hurry them along. Deena says, "Find a thought that serves you better."

Here's what she means: When you have a negative thought about something that you dread or that isn't going super well, acknowledge that thought, but then replace it with something that's going to help you move forward.

Here's an example negative thought that might occur to me when I'm running: "This pace is too fast. I don't know if I can hold it."
Here's the thought that might serve me better: "Take it one step at a time."

And here's a negative thought that might occur to me while I'm writing: "Wow, this chapter really sucks and makes zero sense."
And here's the thought that might serve me better: "Just write the bad stuff. It'll be so much easier to fix it later."

The bottom line here is, try to transform your thinking with gratitude and optimism. I in. Why not?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Favorite Fiction 2019




Here it is! My final list of 2019! Most of my reading has been in the fiction category. I read 35 adult novels and 11 written for kids and teens. A reminder: I only finish books I like and admire, so all of those 46 were good! You can see all the books I read this year on Goodreads (and while you're there, you can mark MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES, out 2/4/20, as "Want to Read." That helps me.) 

And, here are my favorite five novels in alphabetical order by author.



A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
Annabelle is a high school senior dealing with trauma. We don't know what exactly happened to her, but it has to be bad because one minute, she's out to dinner with her family, and the next, she just starts running. She's a long-distance runner, so she knows how to do it; but this is different. She decides to run across the country from Seattle to D.C. It's crazy and foolhardy and unbelievably difficult, but she just. has. to. do. it.
And as she logs the miles and faces her guilt and fear and heartache, slowly things start to change for her. I listened to the end of this one while running, and while it was challenging to put one foot in front of the other while simultaneously sobbing, my heart was so, so full. This went straight to my all-time favorites list along with other 2019 reads Good Talk by Mira Jacob, and All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung from the nonfiction list




My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
The narrator is a tennis pro in a fancy gated community. His wife is a real estate broker. They've got two kids and bills and regular married-people problems, like what to do to keep the spark alive. What sets them apart is their solution to the spark problem: they kill people. They're a murdering duo. The bodies--and the secrets between them--keep piling up. I recommend starting this in the broad daylight for the creepiness factor. Then, don't imagine you'll do much of anything else until you're finished. And, I can't resist adding that the ending to this one is just so perfect. I'm still shivering thinking about it.

Circe by Madeline Miller
I loved this remarkable novel of Circe, the witch whose story famously intersects with Odysseus' on his ten-year journey home from Troy. I find Miller's prose to be beautiful and hypnotic, the phrasing echoing both Circe's eternity and her expanding desire for the finite. I probably found special pleasure in this novel because I read the Odyssey with sophomores for five years straight, but I do think this beautiful and satisfying literary novel has broad appeal.


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 
I included this one in my audiobook list, too, so I'll keep this short: I just really love it when a book is both completely readable and enjoyable, and at the same time packs a big emotional, ethical, or existential punch. This book is exactly like that. Read it and tell me what you think!



Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
a 70s rock band (a la Fleetwood Mac) abruptly breaks up and quits their tour at the very pinnacle of their success. No one knows why...until now.
I had this novel on my shelf for a couple of months before I got to it. Once I started, I fell for it hard, finishing in a day or two. (This is a hazard with Reid's works, I've found. The plots are so immersive and the characters so compelling that I sometimes find myself reading more and more quickly just to make sure everything turns out okay.) In Daisy, Reid blows up traditional novel form. The whole story is told in transcript, as if it's a VH1 Behind-the-Music style documentary. Somehow, she gives us a full, throbbing story in monologue only--no descriptions of setting or inner thinking beyond how seven band members and their significant others, producers, photographers, and managers describe seminal (sometimes catastrophic) events. I loved it. It's light, and it's brilliant, and I couldn't put it down.
And that's it! What a great year of reading. 2020 is going to be an exciting one for reading! Do you have my debut, MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES on your list?! I'm so excited to share it with readers, and at the same time, I promise to keep talking about the many other books I read and love! There are so many.



Monday, December 23, 2019

Favorite Nonfiction 2019


I've already recapped my favorite audiobooks of the year, and today I'm telling you about my favorite nonfiction. It was a great year for memoir reading, and all five of my picks fall in that genre. I'm also including two repeats from the audiobook list because I can't help it. I thought about just listing three here because I only read eleven works of nonfiction this year; but all five of these are utterly stellar, so I feel justified.


All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
I loved this so much that when I finished it, I actually went to the author's website and typed out a fan letter. Usually, I just write a tweet and call it a day, but my admiration for this book overwhelmed me. Chung writes such beautiful sentences and layers such depth of emotion, the effect is sort of translucent. You see straight through to the hard truths and the big themes, and still, each line is lovely in itself. This is a memoir about adoption, reunion, race, identity, and sisters. 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
This work is frankly magical. Jacob writes and draws and collages the conversations that force her to question and clarify her identities. She begins and returns to exchanges with her six-year-old, based on his hilarious and also heart-wrenching queries: "Was Michael Jackson brown or white?" "Are white people afraid of brown people?" "Is Daddy afraid of us?" As a reader, you also question and clarify your identities. AND I thought about culture, race, complicity, family, honesty, and love. I also cried a little while I remembered the nights when Obama and Trump were elected. 

Heavy by Kiese Laymon
I picked this as a favorite audiobook this year. I'll just add today that this book is like a long poem, which Laymon addresses to his mother. Threads and refrains run through the whole painful and redemptive work. I'll also repeat that I think you should read this book, especially if you're white and you care about dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism.


Becoming by Michelle Obama
I wrote about Obama's book in the audiobooks post. I'll just add here that I especially loved the segments about this book about being a working mother. And then, I loved the stories Obama told to augment the book during her live interview in St. Paul, which I attended last spring. Among my favorites: Barack asking Malia, then 8 years old, whether it was okay with her that he run for president and subsequently using her permission as justification for their crazy life, and the story about Joe Biden being an aggressive youth basketball fan when his granddaughter and Sasha played on the same team that Barack coached.


I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
This is an utterly delightful essay collection about everyday mid-life -- the horrendous drop-off/pick-up circuit, the awkward interactions with the neighbors, the accidental overinvestment in the PTA, and also the feelings of loneliness, purposelessness, and guilt. Philpott perfectly describes the all-too-familiar panic attached to the pace at which I do or do not acquire gold stars. Gold star to HER, though, for this charming and honest memoir.



x

Friday, December 20, 2019

Favorite Audiobooks 21019


It's that time of year again when I recap my reading. At press time, I've finished 56 books in 2019. I'm going to offer three lists this year: Favorite Audio, Favorite Nonfiction, and Favorite Fiction. The final category will include children's and adult literature. I used to read a ton more middle grade and YA because of my job. Since I'm not teaching and haven't finished as many in those categories this year, I'm just going to fuse the fiction. You can see all of the books I've read in 2019 here. If I finished the book, I really liked it! You might notice that I assign everything 5 Stars on Goodreads these days. That's because of professional author etiquette reasons. But if I didn't like a book, I just didn't finish it. You won't find it on my Goodreads list. I'm always happy to give personalized recommendations, so hit me up on Twitter or Instagram or email me, and I'll break down my 5 stars with your personal interests in mind.

Ok, so here are my five favorite audiobooks in alphabetical order by author!


Heavy by Kiese Laymon, narrated by the author
The New York Times named this one of the best books of 2018, so I'm late to the party and hardly the only person who thinks it's genius. Laymon has written a poetic, raw, and demanding memoir. It's about his blackness, his body, and his mother. I think everyone should read it. Laymon reads the audio version himself with emotion and gravity. It's hard for me, as a white woman, to stay engaged in books like this sometimes because they remind me of my complicity in white supremacy. But that's my job: to stay at the table. Laymon does his jobs--the writing and the performing--gorgeously and brilliantly, and I admire this work immensely.


The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, narrated by Nancy Wu
Murata's is an odd little novel (the recording is only three hours long) about a woman, Keiko Furukura, who cannot relate to "society" or "humanity," but who finds meaning in her life through her job at a convenience store. Murata hits all of the major themes -- what does it mean to be human? To contribute? To have a meaningful life? And she does this within spare and often funny prose. Keiko speaks in first person, measuring and calculating her daily interactions. Nancy Wu narrates the text, and she's excellent. Every so often, I seem to have a "like nothing I've read before" pick, and this year, it's this one. (Previous honorees have been Dept. of Speculation, A Tale for the Time Being, and Grief is a Thing with Feathers.)



Becoming by Michelle Obama, read by the author
This pick seems so obvious it feels like cheating. Still, I can't help it. I loved hearing Obama's story -- from her family's part in the Great Migration to her own rather reluctant (and humble and grateful and responsible) ascendancy as First Lady -- in her own voice. Who doesn't love Michelle? And also, she can really write.


Limelight by Amy Poeppel, narrated by Carly Robins.
I loved this fun and touching novel about the unwitting personal assistant to a Justin Bieber-esque pop singer who's about to star (kicking and screaming) in a Broadway musical called Limelight. Allison, the PA, is a career English teacher suddenly out of work as her family has relocated to NYC to accommodate her husband's job. Her kids are floundering in their new schools, and though she advocated for the move to Manhattan, Allison isn't at all sure she's cut out for the city. She sideswipes one little BMW while distracted driving, and suddenly she becomes entangled in the wild life of notorious Carter Reid. Robins' narration is funny, fast-paced, and empathetic.



My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, narrated by the author
Julia Whelan is my favorite audiobook narrator of all time. When I found out she was recording my book, I literally jumped from my bed and danced. (You can pre-order the audio of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes right now from Libro.FM). Anyway, My Oxford Year is Whelan's own debut novel, and of course, she reads it herself. Ella is an American with brilliant political prospects who arrives in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She falls in love with a sarcastic professor with a big secret. I was invested and swept away, and I cried some. So, have a hanky handy, and get ready for a sweet and moving romance.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Book 2 Deadline Status Report

Actual Deadline: I had to get the teeniest of extensions. Don't worry. It's totally fine. I only need two more weeks. For sure just two weeks. I'm confident.

Outfits: I basically wear the same clothes every day until the smell is unbearable. Just kidding. Sort of.

Process: Lots of crossing out. Lots of re-typing. Lots of looking at the scribbles I've written on the paper where I've done the crossing out and wondering what the heck I wrote there.

Timeline: None of the days in the story currently go in order. Chapters that have to be on the weekend fall in the middle of the week and vice versa. The dad leaves town, and then he's there in the next two scenes. A kid sends a text message after he's received the reply. Don't worry. It's totally fine.

Anxiety: I mean, that's pretty obvious, right? Despite pharmacological intervention, I'm dying inside. But less than I was before, actually. Don't worry. It's totally fine.

Crying: I've considered crying, but honestly, those tears aren't going to write or revise any words.

Running: I do go running. Because endorphins. And scientifically-proven benefits of exercise. The footing is uneven because of the snow, but it's fine. Don't worry.

Bottom Line: We're going to finish this. We've reached a lot of finish lines in the past, and this will be no different. I can't actually think of a finish line we have failed to reach. Afterward, we'll be glad and relieved and triumphant. I'm not sure who "we" is in this section, but I'm sure it's totally fine.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

That Deadline Life

I've mentioned before that I'm condensing the process of writing a novel from 3.5 years to 1 year. That's one year with breaks to revise the first book a couple of times, to read through and address the copy edits, to travel to promote that first book, and to have periodic panic attacks.

Still, I'm going to make the deadline.

It'll be to the wire and there will be more revisions than last time when I spread the process over 3.5 years, but I'll make it. I'm a deadline person, you know? If you tell me when it's due, I'll do it by that time.

I wasn't always this way. For instance, I distinctly remember NOT doing my seventh-grade English homework by the deadline. There was a workbook called Plain English. You had to put the commas into sentences and fix the capitalization. You had to label the helping verbs. As I recall, I didn't particularly enjoy or understand this homework and sometimes "forgot the book at home" rather than complete the assigned pages.

I did this kind of thing pretty regularly. I got a lot of Bs in high school, and it was totally fine. It seems like it's less fine now to get a lot of Bs in high school. I tried to take the pressure off of my high school sophomore recently by telling him that, "There will be a college that accepts you."

He took this the wrong way and thought I was saying that he wouldn't get into a "good" college if he got a B+ on something or other. But that's not what I meant at all. I meant, just chill. There are lots of different paths forward. You don't have to go to the one tippy-top pinnacle school that everyone thinks is "the best." I explained this, and he felt better, but we now have a running joke about "there will be a college that accepts you." I say it when Shef tells us he's going to play Grand Theft Auto rather than studying for AP US History.

There are therapists for that, and I'll be happy to pay.

In conclusion, I don't even know what I'm talking about, except to say: it's okay to not be the best, but also I'm going to try to be the best and make my deadline. That's great blogging. Right? Tippy-top.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The School Pictures

When you're a teacher, you get a school picture packet like the kids do. You don't have to pay. The picture company just sends you an envelope with a 5x7 and several wallets.

Sometimes if the picture was good, I'd send a photo of myself to my mother. Because what else are you supposed to do with multiple school-style headshots when you're a full-fledged grown-up?

Also, most years, regardless of the quality of the photo and sometimes especially if it was bad, I would cut up the wallets, sign the backs ("Stay Super Sweet!" or "BFF!") and give them out to my friends. I did this in an ironic sort of way. Like, I knew it was funny to give out school photos when I was actually 27 or 33 or 41. People laughed. My school friends would cut up their own photos, give me 2x3s, and I'd put them on the bulletin board behind my desk.

I bring this up because it occurred to me the other night that handing people copies of my novel feels sort of like handing out school photos. Except unironically, but also uncomfortably. You hand a friend a book, and you're asking, Would you like a copy of something I did? Would you like to stare at it indefinitely? Would you like to spend eight hours with it and then have to pretend that you liked it? And, should I sign my name in the front? #BFF?

I'm looking forward to feeling less awkward about this. How long do you think it will take?