June Reading

Well, June flew by. Mostly because a new semester started at the end of the month and I had to prepare for that more than usual since it’s a class I haven’t taught on a summer schedule before. Also, because I usually teach Spring instead of Summer term, June is when my summer break begins, not ends, so I was trying in vain to soak up my summer before it was gone. In vain because it still felt squandered and I’m in denial that I’m supposed to go to work and grade and stuff. Miss you already, June.

Books last month:

WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Code Girls, Liza Mundy: AB, REC, NF
    This was a pretty cool look into the roles of the many, many insanely intelligent women that worked as code breakers in WWII. It’s absolutely true that the war would have gone differently without them. This book was full of lots of interesting stories of the lives and tasks of a job that for most of the women was only around as long as the war (crazy) and was surrounded by the highest secrecy. The work they did was astounding (sooo not in my realm of skills) and you should hear how they recruited…so wild. Different times, man.

  2. Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull: AB, REC, NF
    Loved this. If you’re at all a creative person or want to be or are a person in business or management or a person who interacts with people and/or ideas you should absolutely read this. Not only was it cool to hear a lot of the behind-the-scenes info and stories about Pixar and their struggles and successes, but it was also super interesting to hear the reasoning and effects of how their cultivation of creativity is the paramount goal and how that turns into something amazing. It’s definitely a business model that I’ve never seen valued or even conceived. I’d work well in that environment–it would be so energizing.

  3. Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance: NF
    This was interesting, but I was a little less wowed than I think I thought I’d be. I’m not sure why. I guess because I don’t think being wowed was the point and I seem to have gotten the idea from other readers that it was a wow book. It was really interesting to hear about hillbilly culture since I have no access to it and to hear it explained and loved from the inside is valuable. It definitely is an elegy to that culture and the book showed and provided info on the immediate and lasting repercussions for them and for our larger American society because of its dwindling. I am generally one who prefers to preserve cultures than have them disappear, so in that aspect it was a little hard for me–especially since the culture that’s emerged from that vacuum is so harmful. I also felt the helplessness from and for them to emerge from the negative cycles that now seem to permeate their lives. I’ve heard a few people compare the plights examined in this book to plights of other families or cultures in differently hard situations presented in memoirs and usually one comes out more too-bad or more eye opening or more whatever than the other. That’s a good reminder that pain and struggle aren’t comparisons–there is definitely room within pain for all of us. That’s not the point. Maybe we all are being inundated again and again with so many plights that we’re losing sensitivity? Or we now only respond to sensational pain? And prefer it? By that I mean our cultural preoccupation with dysfunction, as discussed in my quick comments on Educated. Maybe that’s part of what this book is for American readers? I’m not sure. I just have conflicted feelings about dying cultures on lots of levels.

  4. Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers: AB, F
    Listened to this one because I’ve never actually read it and also like a nice dose of kid lit periodically. Of course, after Saving Mr. Banks opened a new perspective on the story that I’d only known from the Disney version, I was intrigued to hear the differences between the two. And there definitely are differences. I like both versions, but I can see why Travers would reject the Disney version. (Which I assume is generally true from the based-on-a-true-story Saving Mr. Banks. By the way, isn’t it wild how much we rely on fictionalized representations of facts/stories/perspectives to represent a reliable presentation of people? It’s always more complicated and probably more boring or more messy to stick with all the real life things, plus they don’t have a clear and neat story arc. Am I just being so snotty today? Possibly. But it doesn’t actually negate the content. Anyway.)

  5. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare: BC, F/Drama
    The only Shakespeare I’ve read before this was Romeo and Juliet in high school and a bit of Julius Caesar (I feel like I remember we didn’t read all of it), so my Shakespeare repertoire has been clearly lacking. I have seen Macbeth and Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew, so there’s that at least. Of course, lots of important themes and ideas, but I especially enjoyed Portia’s suitors and her badass forays into law.

  6. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill: RR, WJ, F
    Yes, I re-read this after reading it for the first time within the year, and yes, it was just as great the second go-round. James and I hadn’t had a book to read together in a while and I was not ready for another marathon so we chose kid lit and from my shelves he chose this one. And, of course, he loved it too. So there you go. Read it already.

  7. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez: AB, F
    Umm this was fine. I wasn’t that into it but I didn’t think it was terrible or anything. It was just kind of something I listened to. Y’know?

  8. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver: F
    I. Loved. This. Book. And what a perfect time to read it! This was my last book before my farewell to my full summer and I gulped it down without much breathing. It has been sitting on my shelf for two years, kind of tome-ish, but I was hooked by the first paragraph–which was of course heightened by my reading it on my back porch in the dark heat of a June night. (I stayed out reading until past midnight, which is like hours beyond my bedtime. #thirty) This was a decadent book. I positively feasted upon it. It’s lush, green, raw, solitary yet full of connection. I wanted to be each of the primary women and live lives like they do (at least in some ways). I was stunned by the luck I had in picking this book up at D.I. or Savers or something without having heard of it or knowing what it was about or anything. I firmly believe books are gifts.


And just like that, there goes my summer. Thankfully I still have summer afternoons. For reading and sunning and

June Reading

Mother May I…Read?

May is my favorite month because it’s anniversary month (it used to be February cuz birthday=self-absorbed). I already previewed our lousy anniversary cruise last book post, so I won’t re-hash that here, but it’s been a good three years with the anticipation of only getting even better. That is a nice thing.

More books this month:

WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Honolulu, Alan Brennert: REC, F
    Ha, already talking about our cruise: since our anniversary is May Day, it only makes sense that the book I read during our cruise is the first book of the month. Because reading about Hawaii sounded like a really sensible plan for a sunny cruise, amiright? I was expecting a little more of a light beach read, but this had more depth than I anticipated, which always earns points for me. It was interesting to learn about Korean culture in the early 1900’s–especially regarding the accepted life of a woman. The protagonist, Jin, becomes a picture bride and travels to meet her new husband in Hawaii. Again, really interesting to see how Hawaii culture was shaped and grown during that time. Turned out to be an enjoyable novel. It was a nice way to pass time while I was sick on the cruise. Well, until the seasick patch blurred my vision so that I had to try to read at arm’s distance (felt like a real old 30-year-old) and then even that failed. (Don’t worry, the strange blurry vision of anything close-ish to my face went away once I ditched the patch.)

  2. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman: AB, F
    Clearly I’ve been on a Backman streak, so of course I had to read the most well-known one. Of course I loved it. Of course there were delightful characters with gripping histories and interesting ways that characters’ paths crossed. Of course you should read this. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation, but I’ve heard it’s also good.

  3. Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple: AB, F
    I really loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette and had high hopes for this one, which probably contributed to my “eh” response to this story. But then again, Goodreads reviewers warned me that it’s not as good, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised–I just wanted to prove them wrong in their literary tastes. Also, Semple is Jane the Virgin’s favorite author, so I mean, that’s a solid recommendation. Maybe I’ll give her other novel a try sometime to see how I’d rank it. But I’ll probably have to wait a bit to give it a go. This one takes place over a single day, which amped up the energy quite a bit. What other books/movies do that? I’m only thinking of One Fine Day right now, but I’m sure there are others. Anyone want to add to that very, very short list? I dunno why; it’s not at all important to me to build a list of one-dayers.

  4. Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown: NF
    Oh man. I wish I had written down more notes as I read this one in order to scratch the surface of doing it justice here and also to keep it fresh forever, but I was busy gulping it down. Plus, I’ll just read it again sometime. It’s very, very good. And if you’re into Brene, that will come as no surprise. She took a very thoughtful (of course) approach to events/attitudes that are not only evergreen issues, but also seemed to me to be more current than some of her other books. I appreciated the really concrete applications this book exemplified. Before I was done I was already talking about some of her ideas and examples with friends who weren’t familiar with either her or the concepts of this book. Also, if you’re an avid Brene Browner, you may have noticed that I am pretty late to read this one (it came out in September 2017…okay, so not super late). James gave it to me for Christmas and I felt I needed to save it for when I was emotionally ready to dive in. It is definitely the kind of book (as are all of hers) where you need to clear some emotional clutter and have the head space to appreciate it. I just saved it for the right time. And boy was it! I read it in a couple of days and just let it wash over me and zap me like lightning.

  5. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas: F
    What can I even say? A book everyone needs to read. Literally everyone. Even if it’s hard or you want to resist or give up or judge, just set those emotions aside and observe and think and question.

  6. Watership Down, Richard Adams: AB, F
    Okay, I’ve heard of this one forever, but hadn’t read it–probably because I somehow anticipated it to be about a water ship and something like U-571. Spoiler: it wasn’t. Bunnies!

  7. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: BC, F
    I was the book chooser for one of my book clubs this month and our discussion is next week and I’m worried no one will read it because it is a hard book for many. I didn’t have any problems with the hard aspects or themes or scenes. Maybe in part because I’ve read more challenging literature in college and grad school and for pleasure than some have. And I worry readers reject stories like this not only from examples like this (anticipated) book club experience or conversations with friends and acquaintances, but also because every semester when I teach creative writing I have at least one student who resists or wonders why or thinks I’m crazy or am purposefully trying to break them down or sabotage them or am evil or some variation of those options when I choose and we read challenging stories/essays/poems. (Granted, this upcoming book club may turn out differently than I’m worried about, and definitely not every student has this kind of response to the readings.) The students who resist this challenging literature do not want to read it and do not think it has value and think the discomfort they have is a self-evident reason to reject it. While discomfort is a valid response, I don’t think that’s the end-all determinant to the castle of books we surround ourselves with and build over a lifetime. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about my philosophy in reading and choosing challenging literature for myself and my students and the overall value to any/all of us. Haven’t yet. One other note: I do think everyone has their own thresholds regarding which kinds of challenging topics/scenes/etc. they can personally handle without pressing some personal button. So maybe a given person wouldn’t have too much trouble reading about race relations, but would need a trigger warning before a rape. But I do think it’s important to try to expand our own boundaries if they’re made out of fear or when it’s an easier way to insulate ourselves from hard things that are outside of our experience. You know? This isn’t an indictment of anyone who doesn’t want to read this or other books, but something I think about and value a lot. Ultimately, I think African American lit is super important and it’s also just generally important to witness and be a witness. I love how Morrison utilizes multiple perspectives in this novel to portray and help understand the characters, circumstances, cultural effects, and situations that occur.

  8. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate: BC, F
    Another book from the defunct kid lit group that I’m soldiering through on my own. (Okay, it’s not at all drudgery.) It’s a fast read (I read it one afternoon) about animals, which I love, so this was a good fit for me. Here’s a quote from an elephant, directed at the gorilla main character: “Your gorilla hearts are made of ice. Ours are made of fire.” And another insight from that elephant: “Zoos are what humans do to make amends.” So yeah, kind of a heart breaker. But a beautiful one. I don’t think I often cry reading kid lit, but I did in this one. Maybe because of the animal-loving I mentioned before that leads to a definite rending of my heart when any animal is in pain, and probably also in part because the last few years I’ve been the easiest crier (a very new phenomenon). For example, I always cry when Michael Scott’s tenure ends in The Office (which I just experienced again like last week). Maybe you do too and that’s not all that overly-weepy? I dunno. All I know is I’m crying and I can’t keep watching once he’s gone. giphy1

Another good month for books. And maybe the most books in one month read entirely by choice (not for a book club or from a recommendation)? Seemed like it, which was definitely fun.

Mother May I…Read?

Avert Thine Eyes

…If you don’t want to see some surgery sites. ‘Cuz we’re about to cover a lot of ground here! I haven’t done a health update since NOVEMBER and there’s plenty to talk about. Hmmm, bullet list might be the best way to tackle this thing.

  1. The scalp basal cell carcinoma did come back with clear margins, so the un-numbed one was the last digging necessary (whew).

  2. This is non-cancer but in March I went to my first OB-GYN appointment (since we’ve somewhat loosely been trying to make offspring for a year now) and among the things we talked about, he confirmed the suspicions I’ve had since 2009: I should have a C-section to avoid all the scar tissue and compromised areas that have weakened from all my fistulae over the years. (I’ve always thought so–it just seems kinda like perforated paper with all the places I could tear. And there are a lot, a lot of places. So I would really prefer to NOT just come out of birthing and lose the entire base of my body that holds all the guts in.) Anyway, it was a weird appointment too because he recommended I launch into all these tests plus start on Clomid. I walked out of that appointment feeling like I’d gone from 0 to 60 in a 20-minute appointment. Okay, not 0, since we’ve actually been trying more than a 0 would indicate, but with the immediate addition of like 5 tests and baby-making Clomid all of a sudden…it felt like a whirlwind. I mean, I’m all about making sure I’m mechanically sound, but jumping to Clomid so immediately felt a little like I had more control in the whole scenario, which felt a little weird to me. So clearly from that reaction it’s not the time for me to jump on in. Anyway.

  3. In March I got my annual colonoscopy! What a fun time. Prep still sucks. Propofol still rocks. In fact, I had a rather smart conversation with James and Dr. Maxwell afterward. And by that I mean: I didn’t fall asleep in the middle, didn’t say anything embarrassing without realizing it, didn’t lose track of the conversation, and contributed some useful comments. Re: Dr. Maxwell was super stoked about March Madness and this was just after the huge UMBC-Virginia upset. “I was like, yeah, that was wild” (hadn’t seen it, or any March Madness). “I thought it was cool that they acknowledged they weren’t the first to do it; they paid homage to the Harvard women’s team who did the same thing against Stanford.” So I was coherent. Not too shabby after just waking up from a colonoscopy. Thanks, Propofol, for not only the cozy nap, but the nice waking-up as well.

  4. April brought another skin cancer surgery. Except this time, it was pre-pre-cancer. So just a cluster of abnormal cells. But since nobody’s comfy with letting any abnormal cells keep growing in me, we took ’em out. This site was on the inside of my right calf, on the muscular (okay, flabby) part. It’s actually much longer than I anticipated. Before the knifing, Dr. Parkinson was telling me it will leave a scar but they’ll try to minimize it. I said, “Yeah, I don’t care about that.” And he replied, “Yes you do. We’ll do what we can.” And I was really like, shrug, but afterward I realized what I actually mean when I say I don’t care if I get a scar: I recognize I will scar. But I would much rather have a scar than leave abnormal or cancerous cells in there to fester and reproduce. And I trust you guys to not do a hack job. And also I’m actually okay with scars–was not expecting to come out of here/life with a flawless bod. Anyway, this pic kind of gives you an idea of how long the stitches are on my leg. Sorry if you get queasy over this kind of thing–but I’m super intrigued by this stuff and that’s why I warned you about averting your eyes…IMG_2800
    Spoiler alert: They got all of the abnormal cells with clear margins, so we’re good to go on this site!

  5. The day after leg surgery I went to get an ultrasound with the possibility of a mammogram. I found a sizeable lump (actually right above Frankenboob) and have had it for quite some time. I wasn’t too worried about it since I have fibrocystic breast disease, but this one was way bigger than the others. And I had my sisters feel it to tell me if it’s a big deal and they were like, dang girl, not normal. Also I found out my grandma died of breast cancer (I thought it had been a different type of cancer). So I thought I should get this checked out sooner rather than later. Didn’t have to do the mammogram (thank goodness); just an ultrasound. And it wasn’t even painful! I remember my first breast ultrasound in high school when I first had lumpy pain and I remember the tech really digging in and around all the clusters of cysts and I do mean really digging in. I remember crying in pain. I told this tech about it and she was like uh…that shouldn’t happen. So maybe I’m remembering a different test. Or maybe the other tech was a meanie-head. Anyway. She had the doc check the images and quickly came back to tell me it’s just a larger cyst; NBD. I asked her how much she can tell by looking at it before the doctor does and she told me the difference between a lump that’s cancerous and one that’s just a cyst–if I remember correctly she said a cyst is a fairly round black spot on the image and cancer would be less defined and have little tendrils coming out of it. She showed me what mine looked like and how it looks very similar to all the other cysts I have in there, just like three times bigger. So, hooray! Nothing to worry about there.


  7. Next, I went to see Dr. Maxwell about my colonoscopy results. Again, two years in a row, people: a healthy, pink, normal colon!! I don’t know why other gastroenterologists didn’t try dual therapy on me years ago, but it’s clearly working. Another Dr. Maxwell FTW. Of course we chatted for an hour about lots of things…books; how to pluralize words; trying for pregnancy; if diverticulitis is just fecal monoliths, aka hard poop blobs, as the poster in his office declares (the answer is not necessarily). (Is it weird that I feel like we’re friends? Like, James and I could hang out with him and his wife on weekends or something? And I don’t feel like it’s terribly one-sided? Although I’m preeetty sure he’d be at least a little less stoked about that than we would. We need more friends.)

  8. Next: Anniversary trip to Harry Potter world (rocked) and a cruise to the Bahamas (sucked so, so badly). Expectations-wise, mood-wise, sickness-wise.

  9. We got home late, late Friday night–and right before we took off for our last flight Dr. Parkinson’s office called to say the biopsy they took of my temple came back as another basal cell carcinoma so they wanted to schedule a surgery and how about tomorrow? So on Saturday morning we went back to Dr. Parkinson’s and he surgerized my right temple. (I just realized that all of my cancers have been on my right side, except the scalp one which was pretty much dead-center. Strange.) I’ve always thought dental pain is the worst pain because not only is it painful but the cavity-filling is the worst because you can hear it, feel it, AND smell it. This temple surgery was a lot like that. Since it was on a kind of challenging spot to operate on, I had to keep my head at a certain angle. And since I didn’t want any accidental slips to show up on my face, I had to stay really still. And since the surgery was right by my ear, I could hear it inside my head which made it extremely real and weird. And since I had to be numb in that super sensitive area, and since I’m a redhead (we have more pain receptors and therefore need more numbing agents to numb–which also means that since we’re generally feeling more pain than others, we’re also more pain-tolerant, which is just kinda wow) we did the maximum numbing which meant the inside of my eye was getting cold/numb. And since sewing a straight line over a round area requires a longer cut, I could feel the tightening/face-lift feeling. And since they had to do that oblong cut in order to sew, I have quite a long scar. And since they cauterized it, I could also smell it. Wanna see?
    temple surgeryIt seems pretty big and pretty lame that it’s on my face, but actually it’s pretty hard to see. The scar is close to the same color as my hair now and it’s nearly invisible when I put on my glasses because it just looks like more hair. Another spoiler: This one is also now cancer-free. All margins are clear =)

  10. Drum roll, please: The final update! I didn’t realize I had a full ten. After trying to convince my neurologist for two years that I hate Keppra and do not tolerate it well at all, he finally agreed to change my seizure meds. Keppra made me super tired (like, go to bed at 9 or 10 and easily sleep until 9 the next morning), gave me frequent headaches, increased irritability, (I feel like I’m forgetting some here), and I COULD NOT take the dose he actually prescribed me because all the symptoms worsened. So I’d been taking 500 mg once a day instead of I think 500 twice a day. I was open to switching not only because Keppra sucked so much, but Lamotrigine is commonly used to control seizures in kids. Seemed safer. Anyway, in order to change this med, you have to gradually lessen the dose as you gradually amp up the dosage on the new med. (I just found out that with Lamotrigine you can actually get a terrible reaction that could turn into Stevens-Johnson syndrome–do not look it up. If I warned you not to look at clean and stitched-up surgery sites, I definitely am warning you away from pics of SJ. In fact, I’m super glad I didn’t see those pics before starting this med…) I started taking Lamotrigine and during the hand-off I did feel a little seizurey. No auras, just a little less stable, a little more aware of that instability, more frequent ringing in my ears or one ear losing hearing. So I probably do have epilepsy after all. I never really believed it–hoped it was a stress response. And since I had that bit of increased seizuriousness, Dr. Watkins amped my dose a bit–I have to take 200 mg twice a day (must be twice a day or I won’t have consistent coverage) but I’m tolerating it so much better! Exhaustion: gone. Headaches: fewer, and probably not med-related. Tolerance for med: high. Irritability: normal levels. !!! This is big, people. In fact, after a while of less Keppra and more Lamotrigine, I started feeling more like myself. And it was such a big change that I realized in a single moment that since I was feeling like myself, I hadn’t been feeling like myself for two years on Keppra! Sad thing is that that also means that 2/3 of my marriage I had been not fully myself. That’s relieving and sad. It still has some risks of harm during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which sucks, but I don’t think I have much choice–a lot of my meds have some amount of teratogens.

  11. I guess there’s an eleventh update, and I feel quite lame about it. On the first day of filling my prescription for 200-mg Lamotrigine pills, I accidentally took two because I was used to taking two 100-mg. I didn’t think anything too bad would happen, but after a couple of hours it hit. I was watching a show and was really falling asleep. I remember thinking, oh yeah, that extra dose of Lamotrigine is probably making this happen. And then I got scared of falling asleep–I started getting scared that somehow I’d stop breathing or something serious like that would happen and I’d just never wake up. And since James sleeps like a rock, I’d just die. So I walked upstairs to tell him how weird I was feeling and on the way upstairs my limbs started getting really really weird–like I couldn’t control them very much. I’d make a movement and then the limb would do whatever it wanted–mostly like trying to lift a hand resulted in the arm flopping and waving way more than I told it to. Scary. James helped walk my Gumby body to bed and called poison control. They said nothing too bad was likely to happen, but I could be monitored at the hospital if I was super worried about it. I was getting super weepy and super scared and pretty much demanded James take me to the ER. My body was not under my control and I was scared. My hands and feet started to feel cold and a little numb. James thought I’d be fine since poison control said I’d be fine, and I’d actually done a pretty similar thing by taking my normal 3 pills of azathioprine–only it was Atavan and I normally only take a half of those very infrequently if I feel extra seizurey. Anyway, similar things happened–super super super unable to control my body (like my torso swaying in a chair) and feeling like I’m floating and a combo of super weepy and kinda laughy at the same time. Extremely sleepy. We were close to home so he took me home and I immediately fell asleep on the couch for like four hours. With Lamotrigine I was getting similar feelings, but since this was a new drug and could have slightly different effects, I wasn’t at all confident I’d be fine if I slept it off. I was cranky beyond cranky, worried, impatient. James thought it would be just the same and told me again and again I’d be fine and just needed to sleep, but I was worried about the not-breathing thing. On the way to the hospital my throat was also hard to relax–it was like I couldn’t stop flexing those muscles. My jaw was tight and my teeth were chattering even though I didn’t feel cold. It was pretty awful. And it was very similar to the last time I took too much of a seizure med, but the big difference between that one and this one was that I didn’t let myself fall asleep so I was aware of the scary things for way longer and felt the fear and stayed in that scary place until I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t stay there. Hence, the ER trip. Side note–ERs are pretty much nothing like ERs depicted on TV. Nobody seemed to care that I couldn’t hold myself up. Anyway, eventually they got me to a bed, tried hooking up an IV (I say tried because the guy tried twice on my right arm and finally got it in on my left but they all hurt like a mofo and none of my IVs have ever been that hard to get in nor as painful. I had bruises in both arms for almost two weeks. And the bruises weren’t just discoloration–they hurt the whole time. Eye roll. So the problem wasn’t my veins; the problem was the IV-er.) Anyway, they did a blood test and an EKG, and the doctor came in and said it could be something other than the extra drugs–did I eat anything different or do anything different today? No. It could be some sort of allergic reaction, which would explain the throat tightening. How did my lungs feel? Okay, maybe slightly heavy. He said it could also be an infection somewhere in my body that hadn’t been treated. But anyway, we stayed there for hours and hours until 3 a.m. actually, and then the doc came back in and said it was just a reaction to the drug and everything was normal and how was I feeling? Not normal, but way better than when I came in–way more alert and less woozy in mind and limbs. He said the worst effects of Lamotrigine usually pass after five hours, which was about that time. He told us that the half-life for this is like super long, so I shouldn’t take my morning dose. Also, this drug, even though it’s used to treat seizures, can actually result in a seizure if you take too much. So I was glad I had gone to the hospital, even though there’s nothing anyone can do about a seizure except make sure you’re safe while having one. Anyway, we went home and I felt super lame for making James take me to the hospital since it wasn’t actually as big of a deal as I thought it was and James was totally right about that. Also I feel really lame about this one because there a plenty of things that happen with my body that are out of my control, but my carelessness this time was entirely under control–I easily could have avoided this debacle. Double-check your labels, people.


And that’s a wrap! Quite a few adventures in the past few months, but pretty much in the all-clear now. It’ll be nice to settle down for a while.

Avert Thine Eyes

April Showers Bring Book Hours

Wasn’t it rainy in April? Since I’m behind in my book posting, I can’t remember very clearly. I think it was rainy. I remember some bummer-ness about the promise of great weather being pulled from under my feet…

Anyway, I did the reading thing quite a bit. Here’s evidence:

WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach: AB, REC, NF
    If you know me at all, you can probably guess my feelings about this. I LOVED IT. I’m already fascinated with sciencey things, but of course I’m going to be extra extra interested in all things digestive. (Thanks, Crohn’s) I wished I was Mary Roach the whole time I was on the edge of my seat for this one. I mean, how cool is it to just study and research and interview people about spit, smell versus taste, flatulence, Elvis’s megacolon, and so much more. Dream come true, I say. And for those of you who read my body updates, you may find this book interesting as well because I feel we may share a fascination with bodies and things. Anyway, I’ve heard people say this book is kinda gross and don’t read it while you’re eating, but I was just charmed the whole way through.

  2. The Persian Pickle Club, Sandra Dallas: BC, F
    This was kind of a fun Depression-era women’s quilting club book. I thought it captured the feel of the time–but less focus on the desperation and more on the relationships between a quirky group of friends. I did have a problem with the unreliable narrator that, from a writer’s perspective, was…underhanded. I won’t go into it here in case you ever read it, but if you’re looking for a light, quick read, you might enjoy this one.

  3. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen: BC, F
    I actually hadn’t read any Austen until after college, but now I’ve got P&P, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey under my English-major belt. This one is less popular than the others, but it was a lot of fun! The characters were ridiculous in all the right ways–the book is a satirical response to Gothic novels of the time and therefore the pleasure is in that satire and the ridiculosity of the characters. I was actually surprised at how much I liked this one.

  4. The Mighty Miss Malone, Christopher Paul Curtis: BC, F
    A quick children’s book about a girl and her family during the Depression. I wasn’t at all planning on having a Depression theme, but here we are. It was actually quite interesting to read both of these during the same month–both were a bit lighter takes on the Depression, but the threat of it was there. This book dealt with some major issues during that time much more head-on through the eyes of the 12-year-old narrator and how the lack of work really affected her family. Definitely cried. I enjoyed it, but I will say it wasn’t my favorite kid’s book.

  5. Heart Berries: A Memoir, Terese Marie Mailhot: BC, NF
    I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I appreciated Mailhot’s struggles with family, culture, love, poverty, addiction, mental health, abuse–they were hard and real and important. I empathized for sure and felt with her her powerlessness, confusion, bitterness, desperation, reeling. I really cringe at the current and historical situations of indigenous peoples, and this was no exception. It was interesting to see those traditions pulling her as she pulled herself into American life–both worlds’ pulling became very taut and disorienting. She addresses the book to an ex-love and perhaps those are the moments I disconnected with the most. Perhaps also the somewhat disjointed style of writing, although I understand and can appreciate the effect of that artistic choice. This is an important book for the voice of an indigenous woman and the voice of mental illness and I definitely don’t regret reading it.

  6. The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse: WJ, F
    Another Wodehouse for the win! James and I really love Wooster and Jeeves. We definitely liked this one more than the last one we read, which was really nice. We had taken quite a long break and it was a delightful return. If you haven’t read a Wooster and Jeeves you really, really need to. James and I just found out that there is a particular order you’re supposed to read them in…which means we’ve been reading them completely out of order. C’est la vie. I did feel like I had heard about a lot of the main conflicts in this one from a previous one we’d read, although I’m positive I hadn’t read this one before. That’s kind of how they work–the wild and hilarious situations build off each other from book to book. Read them now! We love them for their hilarious Britishisms, Woosterisms, language, and zany situations. Wooster and Jeeves! Wooster and Jeeves! Wooster and Jeeves!

  7. Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science, and Love, Hope Jahren: AB, REC, NF
    Loved this loved this loved this. It’s an incredibly beautiful memoir by a female biologist from a time when those two words didn’t go together (which was not that long ago). I found the science fascinating–which is no surprise, but it wasn’t just the fact of the science. I loved this particular science: trees and plants are among my best loves. I loved her journey, the voice of this memoir, the friendship, the story itself. I really loved the poetry of this book paired with the science. Jahren makes that pairing not only natural, but an incredible avenue toward some seriously amazing insights. Please, please read this. (The audio book version is also very beautifully and thoughtfully done.)

  8. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead: WJ, REC, F
    This one was fun. I was delighted by what happened when I suspended disbelief and didn’t try to guess how it would turn out. Granted, I did guess a little early, but that’s often the case in YA; I feel like sometimes they tend toward over-explanation to make sure younger readers put all the clues together even though they pretty clearly led to one destination. James didn’t like it as much as I did, and we lost him a little in the middle when the story lagged a bit. But overall I thought it was delightful and loved how it turned out.

  9. The Wonder, Emma Donoghue: AB, F
    Listened to this one because she wrote Room, which was a hard and amazing film (and a novel, but I haven’t read that). So this was chosen based on name recognition and I actually thought I wouldn’t really love it based on the description, but I pleasantly found myself drawn in. It’s about a nurse who is hired to observe an Irish girl who is rumored to subsist on nothing–no food, hardly any water, and eventually she says manna from heaven. The relationships between characters drew me in and frankly how things turned out really surprised me.

  10. Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover: REC, NF
    Maybe this one was over-hyped, or maybe it was too similar to the other extremist Mormon memoir I read recently, but I wasn’t as bowled over with this one as most people I’ve heard from seem to be. Don’t get me wrong–it was a wild book (a girl is raised in rural Idaho in a survivalist Mormon family with a cult-like power clench that runs on shame paired with lack of education or outside influence), but not as illuminating as I’d anticipated. It was actually exactly what I anticipated. Because of that, it mostly felt like this book is so popular because readers have a fascination for dysfunction. Maybe that’s cynical of me, but I guess I was just a bit underwhelmed; it wasn’t revelatory to me the way it seems to be for so many other people. Was it interesting? Yes. Was it a wild situation and a crazy escape? Yes. Was it difficult to witness her struggles between knowledge/independence and family relationships? Absolutely. The circumstances in which she was raised and in which this family still functions and embraces were intriguing. You’ll probably enjoy it more than I did, since this is an unpopular opinion.

So there’s April! Why am I late in posting, you ask? Well, James and I celebrated our third anniversary (hooray!! love!!) by going to Orlando for Universal Studios for Harry Potter and then a cruise to the Bahamas. Spoiler: we’re extremely unlikely to ever cruise again. Maybe a story for another time. But happy anniversary to us and happy reading to you!

April Showers Bring Book Hours

March of Books

Happy Easter! I’m so happy to finally be seeing and feeling spring…but pretty much all I want to do now is this:


The only thing missing from this singing-to-flowers-while-gazing-at-the-open-blue-sky gig is a book! In March, my reading was done on my chaise lounge or in my car…so I’m definitely looking forward to switching it up in summertime.

WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks: AB, F
    When I peruse audio books through Overdrive, I look for a few things: titles I’ve heard are good; authors I know or have heard of; pretty covers. If any of those three prerequisites are met, I’ll read the description, look it up on Goodreads, and go from there. This one caught my eye for two reasons: I’d read another Geraldine Brooks last year (and I think my mom has one of her books on her shelves at home?), and the cover was pretty =) I was intrigued by the description and downloaded it. People of the Book is about the people whose lives significantly crossed paths with a specific Haggadah that a book preservationist was preserving in a high-profile event to promote international unity. I’m into books, especially beautiful books, especially significant books, and I think preservation work is cool, and of course I love stories of people, especially throughout history and different cultures, so this was an interesting one for me. Of course, as fiction, the stories of the people who held onto this book weren’t real, but they were very distinct and very interesting. And the preservationist’s story got pretty involved as well! I was surprised by how much I simply enjoyed this book.

  2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge: BC, NF
    Read this with Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s online feminist book group. It’s clearly about race relations, often particularly looking at intersectional feminism. I really had a lot of blind spots in this regard–and even just the history and present state of racism in the UK. I naively thought race relations were better over there than America…and I’m not really sure where I got that idea. So yes, it was eye-opening and important and incredibly worthwhile. I think it is important to seek out perspectives and experiences that are different from our own, which not only leads to being a better-informed human, but a more empathetic and self-aware one as well. People matter. And their experiences matter. And making improvements for the benefit of others matters vastly. I can do better.

  3. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett: AB, F
    Again, this passed the audio book litmus test on two accounts: I’d heard of the book and the author, and had heard positive things. It was interesting enough, but not a mind-blowing or revelatory story for me. I do generally like generation-spanning stories because I find the growth of individuals and their relationships within a family very interesting, so that was satisfying for me (maybe especially because it was a blended family?). Although when the kids were supposed to be in their like 50’s they still sounded the way they did at 30ish, so that was a bit of a bummer for me. So many times when I read books, I just want to tell the characters that all their problems would be immensely improved if they’d just communicate with each other. But then, I remember, there’d hardly be any stories left. And then art couldn’t imitate life since so many of our own problems stem from not talking to each other, or not talking to each other authentically.

  4. Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin: AB, NF
    Okay, I’ve talked a lot about Gretchen Rubin and my previous love affair after reading The Happiness Project then my falling-out when I read Better Than Before (read why here) and then my cautious rekindling of that love with The Four Tendencies (revisit that mini review here). So I decided to give this older book a chance since it promised to be another happiness project. And I’m glad I did! I love the concept of the book, Samuel Johnson’s assertion that, “To be happier at home is the ultimate result of all ambition.” I ended up buying a paperback copy so I can maybe use it as more of a handbook. I’ll give some of the applicable strategies a try, and of course alter it all to fit my own needs and personality and life. I’m into this kind of thing. So yeah, you could say Gretchen and I are definitely back on good terms (although I’m not gonna be reckless about it).

  5. Oathbringer, Brandon Sanderson: WJ, some AB, F
    Well, this is what we’ve been reading toward for the past several months (except that there will be thousands and thousands more pages of this series for the foreseeable future, so this journey is not complete). It was pretty good! A bit of a slow start, which seems to be just part of the whole 10-book-series-with-years-between-release-dates thing. And also it’s a really complex story with plenty that readers need to be reminded of. Regardless, the set-up consistently feels like we should have carb-loaded and had energy gels on hand in preparation for this marathon. But once it picked up it was interesting. Edgedancer played more of a role than I thought it would, and now James wants to probably read Warbreaker together since that also comes into play. Anyway, the characters made some…interesting choices and the world got pretty cool. I like that he’s telling multiple sides of the main conflict.

  6. The Polygamist’s Daughter, Anna LeBaron: AB, F
    Really rough writing (possibly made more apparent through the over-done inflections on the audio book). Lots of cliches. But interesting story. Man, religion can really twist people’s perceptions and actions. This is an extreme example (since not only polygamy is illegal but also, y’know, murder), and it was sad to hear about her awful childhood because of this polygamist sect’s culture/expectations/norm. At the bottom of all of it was power–the power (and necessity) of not letting people leave the cult of polygamy. Yiiiiikeso.

  7. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr: NF
    Picked this one up at a $1 book sale since I’ve always heard of it and how it influenced memoir writing. I liked the raw language of her particular childhood, and I appreciated when she’d acknowledge that her memories are different than her sister’s, or when a particular memory ends, even though she knows there must have been some response/repercussions of particular events that she doesn’t remember–she supposes on the page what likely could or should have happened afterward, acknowledging that she doesn’t remember. I have trouble believing her memories are that crystal-clear, though. There is so much detail in here that’s often presented as straight fact, straight image-captured memory, direct thoughts from her seven-year-old mind, that I resist it a bit. However, I haven’t written a memoir, so I’m not sure if a long-term project about childhood would reveal more detailed memories since you’re mining them so deeply and your focus is so sustained and the process is so long. I think about these things as a nonfiction writer. On the story level, this was pretty engaging since her family was so wild. I hoped it was real and not padded for extra shock value.

  8. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, Fredrik Backman: AB, NF (novella)
    Love Backman, loved this short little homage to dementia. Loved the grandpa-grandson relationship and its impact on the father-son relationships. Short and sweet, both.


March of Books

Thirty, Treasures

As you may know, I recently turned thirty. Exactly one month ago, actually. Maybe this is strange, or maybe not, but I was pretty excited about Thirty. Am still. If you consistently read these little updates, maybe you’ve noticed that I’m super into fresh starts, goals, and celebrations/milestones. That factored into my excitement to turn thirty–I love birthdays for the fresh start of them, the possibility of them. And turning thirty means a whole new DECADE, clearly compounding the fresh start/possibility combo. And turning thirty can be kind of a big life shift, maybe depending on what your twenties were like.

It feels like kind of a pretty big life shift for me. As in, most of my twenties were single years, lived in rented apartments with roommates while working or in school or both. James and I are celebrating our third anniversary in May, so the end(ish) of my twenties brought marriage, Maeby, a Master’s degree and working, and home ownership. Those are some pretty substantial shifts going into my thirties. And I anticipate my thirties will see many more shifts, like parenthood, more creative and professional pursuits, becoming a truer version of myself, and so many more things I don’t even know of yet. I walked into thirty feeling like this was Adult Time.

Bit of a tangent: I don’t say that with any pre-packaged cultural emotional connotation. I know a lot of people shudder at “adult” or would argue that I’ve been more adult than plenty of peers since I was born an old soul…regardless. I just feel like “adult” has had some shifting definitions and definitely shifting emotional associations in the past maybe decade and I’m just saying I’m not really playing into those. I mean, I think.

Adult Time didn’t mean I thought or felt like I’d given up my youthful, carefree, irresponsible days. Adult Time didn’t mean I was dreading it. Or that I was Officially Old and Lame and it’s time to start lying about my age (what IS that, anyway? Age is just a thing that happens. It means you’ve had this many years of life. Why lie or deny that? Age is a thing that just IS.) And I didn’t think “Adult Time” and romanticize it or exult that I’d finally “arrived.” It just meant “here’s a new phase of life, and I am welcoming it and excited about it.” So I welcomed thirty because I knew it would be the start of a new and different chapter of life for me. And that is exciting stuff.

Anyway, enough philosophizing. I didn’t plan a party or a trip or a big deal–all I really wanted to mark the occasion of my thirtieth birthday was to collect thirty letters or notes from people in my life. So I simply posted on Facebook:


At first, I debated posting this request. Does it come across as selfish? What if people think I’m weird to want something like this, let alone ask for something like this? Or think I want a novel from them, a Big Deal, Perfect Letter? I worried I was imposing, asking too much.

But then I thought, well, no one’s forced into reading this post, let alone responding to it. And then I also thought, nope. Not selfish. I think asking for what you want is an option often overlooked or somehow judged as selfish all too commonly. I knew letters from people who have featured in my life would make me vastly happy, and I also know that people like to make other people happy when they can, and the easiest way to accomplish that is by telling them exactly how they can make you happy.

So I posted.

And I got some mail! I received letters and notes of all shapes and sizes, in a beautiful assortment of deliveries: hand-written notes in the mail or in my office, FB posts, FB messages, emails, and texts. Twenty-one people took time to send me my requested birthday gift–a note about what or how me or my life has mattered in theirs.

And every one of them made me IMMENSELY happy. (I got a lot of “happy birthday” posts, which of course are also great!) To all of you who took the time to give me this gift: THANK YOU. I treasure these notes, and I will always.

In fact, I made them into a book. This is my Book of Thirty Years:


I loved receiving the letters, I so loved reading them and re-living memories and laughing at old and new jokes and feeling my heart swell at the kind thoughts and words. I loved collecting them into a cute binder, I love seeing the binder on my desk every day, and I especially love re-reading them whenever I want to feel this way again.

My 29th year was really focused on mindfully crafting my life, and my experience of my life. What does that mean, you ask? Well, lots of setting and understanding boundaries, lots of taking time to figure out how I want to be, lots of trying, and failing, and trying again to be the way I want to be. It’s also meant letting go of things in my life that aren’t serving me anymore (and safe-guarding against their return–things like busyness, etc.) and it’s looked like a lot of inviting things into my life that I know or anticipate will make me better or happier.

This Book of Thirty Years is a true treasure to me, and so I invited it into my life by simply asking. (Of course, had my responders not responded, it wouldn’t have happened, so a big thank you again!)

Anyway, I just love this little book and I love all of you and I think we should all ask for what would make us happy and then respond to others’ asking for what makes them happy. Then=world peace. (too lofty?)

Oh also–James and I joked that I’m still only 21 because I got 21 responses–and I’m constantly told I look extremely younger than I am (the weekend before my birthday a lady on the plane thought I was “18 or 20, or even 16” !!?!??!!), so this clinched it. I’ll never be 30. Ha.

HOWEVER! If you want to help remedy this, you are OF COURSE welcome to send me belated letters! I’ll be thirty for 11 more months 😉

Here’s to Thirty. Here’s to surrounding yourself with treasures. giphy

Thirty, Treasures

February Reads

Well, I read quite a bit this month. Which is actually quite insane because I was busy–graded a ton of papers, went on a trip with my sisters, celebrated my 30th birthday, and all the regular life-stuff, too. PLUS February is even the shortest month! Wild. I should maybe go outside more or something.

WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrik Backman: AB, F
    I know Backman is all the rage these days, and I normally resist that kind of thing, but this was lovely, lovely, lovely. I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry last year and really enjoyed it, and Britt-Marie is a character from that book. I possibly maybe even liked this one better? Yes. I’m getting definitive. Britt-Marie was characterized really well and I loved her story. There are important insights here. Also, this book and its characters and situations and Britt-Marie are all downright hilarious in a perfectly understated way. I listened to this one and the narrator ROCKS it. I laughed and cried and laughed a lot. The type of audiobook where you find yourself doing four batches of laundry in a row just so you can keep listening.

  2. Edgedancer, Brandon Sanderson: WJ, F
    A novella within The Way of Kings. I think I enjoyed this one more than James did, but I definitely like the main books better. This was an interesting side story and character, and knowing the little bits from this book make some of the moments in the main books a little funnier, but you’re not terribly missing out if you skip this one. I kind of like the off-shoot novella idea because I like seeing how this magic system works on people outside of the main characters. However, my biggest beef is that I think Sanderson is not my favorite at writing from adolescent perspectives. (Tried reading Evil Librarians and got way too annoyed at the young narrator to stick it out for more than a chapter. Edgedancer is also a younger narrator and sometimes fell into the same annoyingness. I get that that’s just the way of a lot of adolescents (ha), but…not all YA repels me as strongly.) The protagonist here, Lift, at least was strange enough and eventually developed enough to make it worth it, though.

  3. Snow & Rose, Emily Winfield Martin: REC, F
    Beautiful. Beautiful story, beautiful illustrations, beautiful book. This is a fun fairy tale re-telling about two sisters in an enchanted forest. There’s a library in this story that I wish were a real place. Anyway, glad I bought this one because I will enjoy reading it with my future offspring. And in the meantime I get a rush of contentment just seeing its pretty little face on my shelf.

  4. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood: BC, F
    This was a ride. A book within a book within a book type deal. Really interesting storytelling about a Canadian family that spans decades, lifetimes. Lots of really interesting social issues of the era addressed. It’s a hefty book and could probably have been trimmed a little more judiciously, but I was intrigued by the characters and their problems and pain and secrets and lives and era. And the how of telling of this story.

  5. Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys: BC, F
    I read her Between Shades of Gray a little over a year ago and really loved it, so I was excited to read this one. There are a few things I really appreciate about Sepetys’s historical fiction: her dedication to research; her personal investment in the characters and era which really comes through in her writing (she is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee); her focus on the lesser-written-about Baltic region struggles during WWII; her philosophies on the purpose of witnessing and the beauty found even in pain. I love reading her Afterwords. I generally love WWII books when they’re done well and not just jumping on the bandwagon of being a WWII book. I was slightly worried about that for a minute in this book because one of the characters is involved with the Nazi art stealing which has been an almost trendy story to tell recently, but overall it didn’t feel like it was trying to be trendy. Probably in part because it has four narrators with very different stories and moved very quickly between them (which was a little difficult to get into at the beginning, but it worked out). This one also felt a little more YA than Between Shades of Gray and made some interesting choices because of those four narrators. Overall a good, important story to preserve in our collective consciousness.

  6. Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, Liesl Shurtliff: BC, F
    Read this one for a now-defunct kid lit book club because we made all the book selections for a year so I’ve got a list of books and I am incapable of resisting lists of books. It was a fun take on the Rumpelstiltskin story. I liked the musings on destiny and the power of names.

  7. The Invention of the Kaleidoscope, Paisley Rekdal: Poetry
    Rekdal is the current Poet Laureate of Utah and led a workshop at the Utah Original Writing Contest award ceremony and I loved it. I was interested in reading her poetry and was captivated by her images and hard look at her subjects here. The opening poem, “Strawberry” was my favorite.

  8. Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher: AB, NF
    Carrie Fisher is delightful. I guess I should say “was” but I don’t want to. I haven’t read (or listened to, in this case) any of her others, but this memoir talked about her family and Leia and scandals and her substance abuse and she was wonderful throughout it all (the telling of it; dunno that she was “wonderful” IN it all). This memoir is within the frame of post-ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) re-acquainting herself with herself and her memories, which I think is a powerful way to look at oneself (regardless of ECT or other therapies’s influence). Looking at yourself, your life and the things that have shaped it, your choices and memories, with a little distance and love and wonder and humor are all things I think we’d do well to practice ourselves. I loved listening to her. Loved it. Also her impression of her mom, Debbie Reynolds, is just so great.

Don’t forget: I’m still taking book recommendations! What books would you recommend for me? (This can be ones you think I’d enjoy/appreciate, books you think everyone should read, books you especially love, etc. All book recommendations welcome! Give me another list of books that I can’t resist!)


February Reads