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October 3, 2014 / RA

Mr. October

Oriole bird and me

The O’s are in the playoffs! This is big for JG, and by extension, for me. I have no idea what’s going on when I watch baseball (by which I mean, read while it is on), but I make up for it in enthusiasm! My sister got me a freebie shirt from a Nationals/Orioles game that has Nick Markakis on it, and so whenever he’s up to bat, JG says, “Look, it’s your guy!” and I shout, “MARKAKIS!” and then return to my book immediately.

In honor of the playoffs, I present this story of staggering ignorance on my part, mostly because whenever I think about it, I LOL. Yes, at my own expense.

- – – – -

Over Memorial Day, all the siblings-in-law and spouses were at my in-laws’ house in the Poconos, and we happened to catch that cinematic masterpiece, Richie Rich, on TV. I had seen bits and pieces of it, and I knew the general premise, but I’d never seen the whole thing. We got to the part when Richie is playing baseball with guys I presumed were famous, but I decided to check anyway.

RA: Are these guys famous players?

Brother-in-law: That’s Reggie Jackson.

RA: So, yes?

BIL: You don’t know who Reggie Jackson is? Mr. October?!

RA: I don’t know anything about baseball!

BIL: He’s even wearing his uniform!

RA: It doesn’t have his name ON THE FRONT!

BIL: But it’s Mr. October!

RA: Why do you call him that? Was there a calendar or something?

Even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew that it was a monumentally stupid thing to ask. (Again.) Of course there wasn’t a calendar! Of course my BIL wouldn’t have referred to it if it did exist!

Too late. The whole room busted out laughing, and it still happens at the mere mention of “Mr. October.”

October 1, 2014 / RA

Book report: 2014, Q3

To be frank, when I started my job, my nighttime reading all but screeched to a dead halt for the first 2 weeks because I was so exhausted and my brain was so full. Then I became a kind of book gadfly this quarter: I kept running out of time on my library books, leaving them unfinished, re-borrowing them, skipping to another book in the meantime, borrowing books from friends, getting fatigued from think-y-er books, reading children’s books and fairy tales, all the while failing to log my “progress” in Goodreads. As someone who is very regimented about reading, I felt like a different person, and for a while, I was afraid that I’d really lost my reading groove. I feel more on top of it now, but I enjoyed my willy-nilly straying, once I got used to it. I felt like, so what if I want to read my old fairy tale books? So what if I take forever to read this collection of difficult journalism? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! Okay, not really, but I’m just saying: I was in this very weird reading mindset for a few months there, and I am only now emerging out of it.

All that to say: I finished 8 books (a new record low) plus 7 re-reads this quarter, but none of them bowled me over, other than my re-reads of old favorites that re-bowled me over. I’m not sure if it’s related to my flitting around. To be fair, there were no real duds, either, so I’m still at an even keel for my reading, but there are no books that cause me to shake someone by the shoulders and proclaim, “You MUST read this!” Instead, I’ve highlighted the books that I liked best, and maybe those books will compel you to press them in someone else’s hands.

In response to the question: “Would you recommend this book?” …

Favorite books, Q3 2014

Yes

  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams: I was a huge fan of the Redwall series when I was in middle school, and all of them had had a description on the cover that was something like, “In the grand tradition of Watership Down comes this adventure …” Yet, I never read Watership Down! So, I bought a used copy and brought it with me on our cruise this summer, and it was an excellent vacation read. Well, for the most part, until I realized that I do not enjoy rabbits, and some of the rabbit language was a little too much for me. Regardless, I was really swept away by the adventure story, and I could see and appreciate the foundations on which Redwall was built.
  • More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin: I really liked this collection of essays, but not quiiite as much as I loved Home Cooking. It was more of the same and still delightful. Here’s a favorite line: “The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: even the simplest food is a gift.”
  • The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass: It took me 2 tries to get through this (I ran out of time on my library copy), but I really liked this collection, which made me want to be a better writer. I didn’t love the David Foster Wallace piece (WHY with the footnotes?!) or the poker piece (it just seemed outdated), and this collection suffered from my #1 pet peeve of compilations: no citation of publication or date! Explain this to me, Ira Glass! Annnyway, my favorite pieces from the book were “Jonathan Lebed’s Extracurricular Activities,” by Michael Lewis; “The American Man, Age Ten,” by Susan Orlean; and “Losing the War,” by Lee Sandlin.
  • Landline, by Rainbow Rowell: I checked, and I’ve given all of Rowell’s books 3 stars: I’m 4/4 on that. I find her books perfectly enjoyable but not extraordinary, and Landline fell into that space neatly. Her dialogue is particularly good, and I think she did a great job of that here. I’m just not particularly struck by romance stories. I’ll continue to read her stuff because it’s enjoyable and interesting, but it’s not exactly for me.
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Danielle Zevin: I really enjoyed this book. I’d heard about it from a lot of people, and for good reason — it has a lot going for it. Some parts of it were predictable, but that was fine. At the time that I read it, I really needed a strong story, and this fit the bill. It’s a book for book lovers.

Eh

  • The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai: This book was only okay. I thought the narrator was charming (if a little misguided), and the author clearly loves books and libraries, so, hooray! There were plenty of sharp, funny lines sprinkled throughout. But the plot was unsustainable, which I perceived from reading just the jacket copy. My mom recommended the book, so I read it, but then the ending ruined it for me.
  • I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From, by Judy Greer: This was fine. It filled the “I need something light and entertaining” space where my brain was when I grabbed this off the New Nonfiction shelf at the library. Besides, I do love Judy Greer, even though I will primarily think of her as Brandy in that short-lived series, Love Monkey. Oh, and Professor Plimpton from The Big Bang Theory. And Royce from How I Met Your Mother. (For her sake, I’m glad that her series, Married, got picked up for a second season, but I don’t really like that show.)
  • Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl: I pulled this novel off the New Fiction shelf on a whim. I love Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, but I hadn’t read any of her fiction. This was fine and enjoyable and predictable and tidy. All of the food descriptions were great, by which I mean, I did a lot of snacking while I read this book.

Unfinished

  • Julian of Norwich, by Amy Frykholm: Another one where I ran out of time at the library, but I’ll pick this up again. Madeleine L’Engle draws a lot from Julian’s writings, so I was curious to read more about her. I was about to renew this book when time was running out, but what? Someone ELSE had put a hold on it? Who else in Chester County wants to read about Julian of Norwich, hmm?

Re-read

  • Quiet, by Susan Cain: This was my  4th favorite book in 2012, and I re-read it this year because I knew I would hear Susan Cain speak at an event in August.  It was so good to read this during my sabbatical, when I was thinking about how I would and could respond to all of the newness ahead of me. Her recommendation for introverts to “carve out restorative niches” really resonated with me this time.
  • Love Does, by Bob Goff: I re-read this one through the month of August, 1 chapter per day (more or less), and I didn’t like it quite as much as I did when I read it the first time. There were still plenty of fist-pumping moments, of course, but I wasn’t surprised by anything, which was part of why I loved it before. But in general, I think reading it gradually is a good move.
  • The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green: I re-read this novel in preparation for seeing the movie when it’s released on DVD, and even at the halfway point, I felt like my tear ducts were getting primed and ready for a good sob. Ugggh. I suspected that the movie was a rental-only for me, and reading the book again only confirmed it. I will be an embarrassing mess when I watch the movie, assuming it is done even halfway well. This mini-review sounds bad, doesn’t it? I just mean that I loved the book when I read it for the first time (6th favorite book in 2012!), and I loved it again, despite and because of its effectiveness in delivering a powerful punch to my stomach this time around.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster: Gah, I still love this book so much. I feel like adults who have a dim view of the merit of children’s literature have not read this book; if they have, they are too far gone ever to be convinced.
  • The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald: I stole/rescued this book from my parents’ house, almost primarily because my copy is a big hardcover copy with gorgeous color painting illustrations sprinkled throughout, and those images burned themselves into my young brain. I love the old-timey tone of it; for example, the first chapter is called “Why the Princess Has a Story About Her,” and another is called “The Princess and — We Shall See Who.” When I got to the end, I was a bit let down, and that feeling was oddly familiar, too.
  • Beauty, by Robin McKinley: This is another rescue from my parents, and then I read it in almost one fell swoop late at night. It’s not a book I remember re-reading on a loop when I was a child, but I remember loving it and loving specific moments in it. Those moments came back to me so vividly: the golden rose petal, the invisible maids, Beauty wanting her “proper big mug of tea.” It’s such a good rendition of the fairy tale, and I love that it’s not reinvented or retold. It’s the same story, but so much richer and nuanced.
  • Abel’s Island, by William Stieg: Another rescue! My copy was practically falling apart, but I gave it one more read before I sent it in a box of other rescues to Hillary and her boys. I have such love for this little book and its funny little illustrations. This time around, I noticed how sophisticated the vocabulary was, and I had forgotten that Abel learns his purpose in life. Deep stuff for material intended for new readers! I like to think that young minds can handle it.

Also, books in progress:

Up next:

Previously: Q1, Q2

September 30, 2014 / RA

4 actions for 2014: Q3

4 actions for 2014I framed my new year’s resolutions as 4 actions for 2014, and here’s my third quarterly progress report. Can we take a minute for a freak-out about how the year is ALREADY 75% OVER, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!

Reach out: My subgoals under this action are to follow my instincts to communicate and ask for support when I feel overwhelmed.
My new job has been a huge exercise in all of my actions — funny how that worked out — but this one looms the largest. I’m constantly busting through mental hurdles to introduce myself to people and make lunch appointments. It’s exhausting, but I’m slowly making headway.

I recently realized that many of my timelines were in conflict with each other; that is, I would have to either work for all of my waking hours or clone myself in order to finish everything. So, I had an initially-terrifying conversation with my boss about what was feasible, and I’ve been able to set expectations more appropriately. My workload is still very, very full, but at least now I feel like I could possibly accomplish everything on my plate.

Make space: I want to make physical space, preserve my pauses, and read fewer books.

New jewelry set-up

This quarter, I weeded out and organized my jewelry:

  • Necklaces, rings, and bracelets (plus 1 hair accessory) hung on a cork board and pin hooks
  • Big earrings hung on the basket I already use to corral my products and brushes
  • Smaller earrings in an egg tray, arranged by style

This new set-up is doing double-duty by showing me what I already have — which helps me wear things more often — and preventing me from buying redundant, unnecessary pieces. Plus, it’s pretty.

I re-read Quiet, by Susan Cain, while on vacation in July, and the concept of the importance of “restorative niches” for introverts struck me anew. I have more thoughts on this, but this is basically what I was aiming for when I set out to “preserve my pauses.” It’s still not second-nature for me to intentionally read something for pleasure or just take a nap on the weekend, and it feels selfish and unproductive sometimes. But I know that it’s important, and I have to strike the right balance.

On the books side, well, I went for like 6 weeks without reading anything because I was so overwhelmed and exhausted from work. So, uh, I’m doing great on this one, yaaay.

Cultivate: I aim to cultivate my relationships (marriage and friendships) and a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise).
Okay, I am a failure at the diet and exercise. I’m pretty sure I ate and drank all the things on the cruise we took in July and didn’t exercise for the entire month. I am squishier than I have ever been. However! I am actually attending lunchtime yoga now (file that under Reach Out and Be Brave, too) and taking long walks whenever possible, so I am optimistic on this front. I’m not sure if I’ll make my goal of exercising 120 times for the year, but it’s still possible.

So far, I haven’t noticed any negative effects from JG and me working at the same company. If anything, we are more removed from each other now because we have zero spare time to IM each other about riveting topics like the meal plan.

Create: I want to write more and be brave with new things!
I am doing lots of new things and pretending to be brave while I do them! Like running a huge event for 200+ people while I improvise how to be a social media manager! And starting a women’s Bible study! Good enough for now, I think? Stay tuned for the “writing more” piece…

Previously: Q1, Q2

September 22, 2014 / RA

Three rushing rivers

I was re-reading my blog last week — what, don’t you do that, too? — and I read about how it felt to be at the pivot point in a few areas of my life. I wrote,

 Three uncertain things. Three rushing rivers. Three opportunities.

I feel unclear, unwieldy, undetermined.

I feel expectant, alert, wide open.

I thought, “Wow, life was a lot different 6 months ago.” And then I looked at the post, and holy cow — TEN MONTHS. So, I thought I would give an update on each of my rushing rivers.

- – – – -

I can’t go into detail, but my job is up in the air. I’m sorry for the blog vagueness, but I’m not hiding anything, really. I won’t know anything real until the end of the year at earliest, so there’s not much to tell. I might have a job in the future; I might not. It’s all due to corporate goings-on, unrelated to performance, and everything feels uncertain. For now, I’m trying to carry on as usual until I get more information.

So, yes, I’ve done a little updating on the job front (yep, got acquired, got laid off, worked like crazy to secure a new job), but I feel like this timing is momentous because as of Friday, I was at my job for as long as I was “on sabbatical.” Eight weeks off, eight weeks on. Is it time for my next eight weeks off? I kid, but only slightly. When I look at my job now with some semblance of objectivity, I can see that I’ve made progress: I have some clue of what kind of financial work my firm does, I know lots of names, I mostly know where I’ll end up if I take a certain staircase. But, oh, I am still treading water and getting very tired doing so. It’s a lot. I can barely process it because I’m so fried at the end of the day, but guys, it’s good. I’m working really hard with insanely smart people, and the days fly by. In a year, I’m confident that I will look back and chuckle at Newbie RA, and I’m trying not to evaluate myself until at least the end of December. For now, I just keep saying to myself, “You have to start somewhere.” And then I start.

- – – – -

JG and I have been discussing and praying about the future of our small group Bible study for a few months now. We love leading it and the people in it, but we are starting to question whether we need to make a transition. Maybe we will simply attend a group instead of leading one. Maybe we will continue to lead this one, but under a different label. Maybe we will split our group and deputize another couple to lead one half of it. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

We decided to dissolve our small group. It was time. I realized that I was not really growing in it because I was so steeped in the administrative aspects, and JG realized that he needed a break from being the leader, so the decision crystallized before our eyes. At the end of August, we had a final close-out cookout to conclude 2.5 years of Wednesday night small group at our house. It’s kind of funny because we’ll still see everyone from our group — JG and I aren’t going anywhere, and we all live near each other and go to the same church — but it’s not the same. It’s going to be really weird when we don’t have them all over for Friendsgiving this year.

Over the spring and summer, JG and I apprenticed another couple in our group and gave them opportunities to lead on their own while we met with them separately to talk about leadership and what their vision for their group could be. At our close-out, we all prayed for them specifically and the people they would eventually meet and build relationships with. Some folks from our group will join theirs, but it will be their group, not a passing of the torch from us to them. JG and I closed our group, and we sent this couple out, and that’s right and good.

This fall, JG and I decided to attend different Bible studies, and that’s completely new for us. Ever since we got married (and for most of college but not all), we have been in the same one. So, JG joined a men’s group that meets in the morning before work, which he’d never been able to do because of his school schedule, and I think it will be a good fit for him.

- – – – -

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m thinking seriously about women’s ministry at my church, and I feel this pull toward engaging in that way somehow. Considering that the concept hardly crossed my mind before August, I’m startled at the strength of this inclination. I’ve had to do a lot of reading, talking to others, and figuring out where I stand on some theological viewpoints, and my conclusions are pretty far-flung from how I was brought up. It is blowing my mind. I feel like I’m on the cusp of something new. I don’t know what it is, but something is coming.

I started a new women’s small group. Until this year, there had been no women’s groups that met in the early morning, but men had been following this model for years. And I just felt like, “What’s up with that?” I joke that I started my group out of selfish motives, but it’s true: I wanted a Bible study that I could attend before work, and since it didn’t exist, I had to form it and lead it. (Ideally, someone else would lead this mythical group, and I would just attend, but that wasn’t happening.) I proposed it to the women’s ministry leaders as a pilot for the fall, so they let me run with it. I called it an Early Bird Bible Study, and we would meet at the local coffee shop. In my imagination the group would be diverse in age, occupation, and life stage; committed to an early morning time slot; mature in faith; and capped at 10 people. But honestly, I would take whoever was interested and see what the heck happened. I was incredibly encouraged when my group reached capacity in just 2 weeks. (!!!) Our first meeting was last Tuesday, and I was even more affirmed by how well it went. I am so hopeful for this group! I have many more thoughts on this development, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

- – – – -

P.S. As for the friend whom I started meeting with: we are still having breakfast every other week. She is joining the new group that our friends are starting this fall. Right now, she and I are halfway through reading a book together, and we discuss it over breakfast. I think we’ll continue to do that until December, and then we’ll re-evaluate.

August 25, 2014 / RA

At my new job…

… the days go by very fast because I have so much to do, but I also have so many meetings to attend that the time remaining to do all the things is scarce.

… I got to sit in on a senior-level review of the financials, and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so dumb.

… I’m trying to get rid of all of the abbreviations I accumulated from the pharmaceutical world and replace them with financial ones. I keep writing things down, looking them up, and adding them to my glossary.

… I’m not on a traditional team, so I don’t have any natural lunch buddies.

… I decided use my newness as a reason to schedule lunches with people and get acquainted with the company. So far, that strategy is working out swimmingly, and everyone has been friendly and receptive to my invitations.

… it’s strange being one of the newest people but not the youngest.

… there are over 200 people at my site, and I’m making it a point to stop someone at least once a day and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m RA!” Before I do it, fear spikes in me anew, but it’s for my own good.

… I still haven’t figured out how to use my fancy headset phone.

… I’m taking training courses that all new hires take, even though I’m not doing finance work, and holy cow, I could not hang on the deal floor.

… I joined the Special Events Committee, the book club, and lunchtime yoga. There are a lot of other company teams (like flag football, basketball, softball), but joining those would have been contrived for me and horrible for everyone involved.

… JG and I hardly ever see each other. We’re in different buildings, sure, but as I explain it to others, we move in completely different traffic patterns.

… I feel like I am so far away from delivering something real and useful, but I released a new version of a website this morning and am consulting on a presentation to a graduate school of diplomacy. I’m slowly wrapping my arms around things.

… my 6-minute commute is awesome, but I miss the decompression time on the way home.

… my mantra is, “You have to start somewhere.”

July 27, 2014 / RA

40 business days of leisure

Tomorrow is my first day at my new job, and I’m excited to get started. It’s definitely time to get back into a groove, but … ah. It has been so nice to be a lady of leisure for the last 8 weeks. As is my custom, I had an unreasonably long list of projects on my to-do list, and per the usual, I didn’t come close to crossing everything off. So, even though I’m on the cusp of something great and challenging, I can’t help but think of everything I didn’t do while I had the chance.

But, really, I did a lot of stuff, even if it wasn’t all on my list.

40 days of leisure

I spent time with friends. Lots of breakfasts and lunches. A day in New York City. NPW’s backyard wedding. Met four friends’ babies. Toasted marshmallows on a bonfire fueled by my college friend’s actuarial study materials. Visited a friend from high school at her legitimate farm (!).

I had adventures. Took a Segway tour in Bermuda. Climbed up to a 30-foot zipline platform and talked kids into jumping off (after I harnessed them in, of course). Walked all over midtown Manhattan.

I got fresh air. Read books on our (still unfinished, argh) deck. Hit the trails at the new Meadow Garden at Longwood. Walked downtown so many times and, once, all the way to the park. Finally went to the farmers market for the first time. Covered 6 miles during Relay for Life.

I ate a lot of food. A creme brulee doughnut. Fried whole-belly clams. A lobster roll. Cotton candy. A doughnut on the beach. A mini caramel milkshake. Homemade pickles from CSA cucumbers. Cheese from Talula’s. Oh, plus a local food tour.

I spent time with JG. Traditional trip to Hershey Park and Troegs. Breakfast at a new-to-us, awesomely dive-y, local standby diner. Anniversary dinner and live music at Longwood Gardens. A fancy dinner on our cruise ship with a life-changing cheese plate.

Meadow Garden

Even though I naturally focus on what I didn’t do, I am still so, so thankful that I had 8 whole weeks — 40 business days of leisure — to have so much space. I literally had the house to myself for 2 weeks. I could hear myself think. I read all the books I wanted. I took super deep breaths outdoors. And as much as it would be lovely to go on that way indefinitely, I’m ready to get back to work, and I feel like my head is in the right place to do it.

So, let’s do this thing.

July 3, 2014 / RA

Book report: 2014, Q2

This quarter, I finished 17 books, plus 7 re-reads. I went on a slight marathon of sad books, but most of them were so GOOD that I couldn’t help myself. Cue weeping at night by the beam of my book light. Ah, well. I didn’t finish 3 books because they were all so irritating, and I do not regret giving up. Anyway, the books of the last 3 months are listed below, grouped by how enthusiastically I’d recommend them, and then alphabetical by author with asterisks denoting audio books (7). I should note that last month marked the end of my era of listening to audio books during commutes, and I will have to figure out whether audio books fit in to my new routine.

In response to the question: “Would you recommend this book?” …

Favorite books: Q2

YES

  • Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin: Molly Wizenberg cites Laurie Colwin as one of her favorite authors, and I totally see why. I love her, too! Her tone is funny and frank, and I love her straight-forward approach to food. I could not stop laughing or copying down lines. Here are a few of my favorites:

“When people enter the kitchen, they often drag their childhood in with them.”

“Host- and hostessing, as we know, is often a heroic endeavor, requiring daring, ingenuity, a desire to take chances, and a concern for others. these traits are called for in saints and Nobel Prize winners. And always keep this motto in mind: some are born fussy, and some have fussiness thrust upon them.”

“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.”

“I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief.”

“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”

  • Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg: Almost 2 years ago, JG and I went on vacation to Seattle, and we made a special pilgrimage to have pizza at Delancey, which was amazing, as I expected. It only took me about 3 hours to devour Molly Wizenberg’s memoir about starting that restaurant and what it meant for her marriage, and I loved it, as I expected. I’ve read that others wished there were recipes from the restaurant, and I admit that it is kind of weird that it’s a book about a pizza place, and all they talk about is pizza, and then you get recipes for stuff like prawns and sautéed dates. But I can overlook that; I already know how to make pizza.

(I realized just now that the authors of my favorite books this quarter are all women. Not intentional, but I like it!)

Yes

  • Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh: I think Allie Brosh does a really good job communicating in what might be seen as a rudimentary vehicle. Her drawings are surprisingly nuanced, and I think she conveys common feelings and experiences. For as much as I LOLed, I also thought, “Me, too!”
  • Wonder Women, by Kate Harris and Barna Group: I feel like all of my reviews of the Barna Frames are going to be the same: I loved the data! It’s really thought-provoking! So, let’s take that as a given. In this one, I was struck by the disconnect between women’s reported priorities and where they spend their time. It made me think about whether mine line up, too. I’m also mulling over the idea of coherence, that is, that my life and all its different parts should add up to a whole that makes sense.
  • Burn, by Monica Hesse: I think this sequel to Stray was a reasonable follow-up, although the pacing was a bit off. The first 2/3 strolled along, and then it was a sprint to the end. Still, the book’s dystopian premise is interesting and original, the story was pretty well done.
  • Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes: I liked this book, but I don’t really get the rave reviews of it. This is a “yes” recommendation tempered by a shrug. I really only saw one possible ending to this book (well, I could imagine another one, but it would have made me hurl my library copy at the wall, so I wasn’t rooting for that one), so when that’s what happened, I was like, “Well, then.” That said, I couldn’t stop reading it, and I felt like Lou’s back story was very well-rounded.
  • The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion: This book was entertaining and a welcome antidote to the 3 sad books I read in a row unintentionally. I’m logging it away for when someone asks me for a “fun” book, and that person’s idea of fun is not, say, the history of chemistry.
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke and Bone is still my favorite, but this last installment was pretty good. Overall, I think the trilogy is very strong, unlike other series where I loved the first book and then things trailed off afterward. There were some plot things that I didn’t love in this book, but it’s good! Very well-written and consistent with the series, and I couldn’t put it down. Read it! It’s super fun.
  • Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein: Oof, this one is rough. It’s very much in the spirit of Code Name Verity, and I was happy to see our buddy Maddie again, but this book is more about hardship than suspense. I did a lot of fist-clenching while reading about the atrocities at Ravensbrück. Again, I did not love the journal-entry form with its long strings of dialog and POETRY. The conceit of writing it down skids into the realm of unbelievable for me. But! I still really liked it, as much as one can like a book about tragedy. You should definitely read it.

Eh

  • Catch Me If You Can, by Frank Abagnale, Jr.*:  I liked this well enough, but it wasn’t very well-written. The story is incredible, of course, and not just because of the lack of regulation in banking and air travel. Frank Abagnale was ridiculously resourceful and clever. I was disappointed to realize how much the movie adaptation muddled things around for the sake of dramatization, but that’s the way the world.
  • Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin: I read this book because I thought it was my friend’s favorite book of all time, only to realize that this was not true. By that point, I was 2/3 through it, and there was no turning back. There are some moments of sheer beauty in this book, but you have to mine through tons of hefty description.  There were times when I thought, aggravated, “Will somebody please DO something? Or SAY something? Or GO somewhere?!” Even now, I’m not sure what the main conflict was.
  • Freefall to Fly, by Rebekah Lyons: I think there are some good points in this book: it’s good practice to name/identify the gifts I see in others, and women (and everyone!) should be in community where gifts can be explored and manifest. But the style is really emotional and stream-of-consciousness, and it’s not for me.
  • 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup*: For the most part, I found this book to pretty dry, which I felt guilty about, of course. I think there’s a lot of value in primary accounts, but there’s a big gulf between writing style of the 1800s and now. However, there were some really brutal and poignant moments in this account, and I think it was for my good to read it. I also tried to keep a perspective of parallels to modern slavery to remind myself that the days of slavery are not over.
  • Ajax Penumbra, 1969, by Robin Sloan*: This mini book is just that: a mere shadow of the wonder that is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It was amusing, but it was just that. I’m glad I got it for free and only spent 90 minutes listening to it.

No

  • Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue*:  I really did not like this. The timeline was all over the place in a very confusing way, and I had guessed the solution to the mystery, so the ending was anticlimactic. I’m guessing that audio was not the optimal mode for this book; it’s full of French language and songs, but the pace was so off that I’m not sure reading it in print would have helped. I was sick of all of the characters, and much of the content was too vulgar for me. I did a lot of grimacing. Skip this one.

Unfinished

  • The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan: I gave up on this one because at 1/3 of the way through, the girls were still ARRIVING at Atomic City. That was not a good sign for whatever story was left over. I expected espionage, science, or at least history, but what I read was tedious suspense-building. No.
  • The Swan Gondola, by Timothy Schaffert: I was so intrigued by this book! Pretty cover! Magic! A world’s fair! YESSS. And then it was so BORING. I am not apt to be compelled by a book where people fall in love simply by looking at each other. I read 25% of it and hardly a darn thing happened, so I gave up on it.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein*: I really REALLY disliked this book. I didn’t find anyone sympathetic, and I could not buy the dog as a narrator. Dogs have no episodic memory! At least have the dog narrate in the present tense. Also, I do not care at all about car racing. I was straight-up relieved when my other audio books came in from the library so I could have an excuse to let this one go.

Re-read

  • The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell*: I read this for the first time 6 years ago, and apparently, I didn’t like it very much. AND YET. I have been recommending it to everyone on the planet and referring to its concepts of key messengers (Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen) ever since. I liked and got way more out of the book than my initial reaction implied. I was really startled to see a mere 2-star rating on my old review. I have no idea what I was thinking. I’m so glad I re-read this, and now the ideas are buzzing through my brain anew. READ THIS.
  • Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle: I read this for the first time … a long time ago, and I liked it then. But I REALLY liked it upon re-read. Sure, sure, Madeleine is a little wacky, but I love her. This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for people who contemplate art and meaning and creation and faith, so if you are one of those people, you should read it. I wrote down tons of lines during this read, but for the sake of brevity, here’s one that’s still resonating in me:

“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”

  • A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle: Ohh, I still love these books SO much. This time, I viewed Wrinkle as Meg Murry’s origin story, and a bunch of other things jumped out of at me that hadn’t before. Like in Wind, Mr. Jenkins says that he doesn’t have much intuition, and the Teacher says that he has to understand with his whole heart. I say I don’t have much intuition! I need to understand with my whole heart! When I read Waters, I thought a lot about how the words of God can be clear but confusing. In Planet, I saw anew the tragedy of the transformation of Beezie, the golden child who smelled yellow like buttercups, to Mrs. O’Keefe, bitter and taciturn. Oh, my heart.
  • Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor*: This was an audio e-read/listen in preparation for the third book! I’m so glad I did this because I wouldn’t have retained anything. There’s no slump in this second installment, and I felt like I noticed new things this time around.

Previously: Q1

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