The World Is Burning Down. If You Need Me I’ll Be Here Reading

It feels like the world is on fire, again. In many ways, including literally (global warming), immigration, international politics, but in this instance I’m talking specifically about women’s reproductive rights.

Alabama I’m looking at YOU. Also, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio who’ve passed ‘fetal heartbeat bills’ outlawing abortion beyond 6 weeks of pregnancy, and every other state chipping away at laws that protect woman’s right to autonomy over our bodies. Here’s what I think of all you POS, MF’s, etc.

So besides venting my outrage to friends, sharing feminist articles on social media, canvassing for political candidates who don’t actively hate me or want to control my or my daughter’s bodies, I’ve been hiding in my bedroom.

Kidding. Sort of.

Want to know what has been possibly saving me from utter madness?

BOOKS. Lots and lots of books.

In my last post way back in (gasp) December, I discussed upping my book consumption and asked for any app recs in order to keep track of my reading. Well, I found one easily enough on iTunes, and I can’t explain how much I love it. Or maybe I can.

It’s called – get ready for your mind to be blown – Reading List.

Genius in its simplicity, there are no bells or whistles, it’s just an easy way to keep track of books you’ve read and want to read. You can create lists if you so desire, which I do, and for me those are Fiction and Memoir, but you can create lists for any genre, category, or even for other family members.

All you do is type in the book’s title or author, or, better yet, SCAN the bar code (SWOON!) and an image of the book cover (along with pub info and description) magically appears. Add it to your list and BOOM. You’re done. Except for the actual reading part.

Since January, I’ve read 25 (!) books and my to-read list is about 45 and counting. The only thing you can’t easily do is juggle the books around in a different order, as they’re arranged chronologically, but that is a first world problem so get over it.

As an act of public service, I’m going to share some of my recently read favorites, which you may or may not enjoy since book loving is completely subjective. I’ve split them into categories for fun, and they are listed in order in which they were consumed (please know there are many, MANY more which I’m happy to share with you, just ask).

5 TOP NOVELS

Milkman by Anna Burns
I fell into a hypnotic trance reading this book about the Irish troubles, get it NOW

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
If I can read a book with a dog as a main character and love it, well, that’s all I need to say

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
YA fantasy that sucked me in and spit me out and it’s the 1st in a trilogy YAY

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Chilling, lyrical, brilliant, you will not be able to stop reading or thinking about it once done

Yellow Star by Jennifer Rozines Roy
One of the most wrenching and beautiful Middle Grade Holocaust books I’ve ever read

 

5 TOP MEMOIRS

Deep Creek: Finding Hope in High Country by Pam Houston
Beautiful and painful and earnest, thank you for being a human being in this world, Pam

Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
Vignette master + word sculptor, also for anyone suffering from chronic illness

Joy Enough: A Memoir by Sarah McColl
Dead mother club members sign up here, lyrical masterpiece

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
Innovative shit happening in this book of essays that reads like a memoir

Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas
Please just read everything she has ever written, starting with Safekeeping

 

5 MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS-TO-READ

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Run-do-not-walk to get this book about a real life horror story retold by a master

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
A renown reporter digs deep into the Irish Troubles (see Milkman in Fiction)

Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard
Memoir via connected essays about race, family, and the body

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange
Middle grade book my daughter is reading bc we LOVED her debut so so much

Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault by Cathy Guisewite
Mostly because my mom loved her Cathy comic strip but also because she’s hilarious

 

READING NOW AND LOVING THE CRAP OUT OF

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Unsung hero of the short story genre who died before being fully recognized

Rag by Maryse Meijer
Short stories by a woman who is not afraid to get deep in the muck, FYI men do not fare well here


Whew.

Now it’s your turn. How are you making your way through the muck of life, and more importantly, what are you reading?

Next month I will delve into HOW I find my next books…

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Only Love Today

It’s been quiet here on the blog, as perhaps you’ve noticed. I’ve had a hard time writing since January’s presidential inauguration. While the Women’s March the following day was a balm, and a tremendously positive experience, my world felt unhinged with the onset of the new administration.

Writing, which has always been my anchor, suddenly felt frivolous. How could I focus on my memoir in the midst of my newfound activism? I also found it hard to read anything longer than an article or a Facebook post. By the time I turned off my phone at the end of the day, my brain was oversaturated, my heart overwhelmed.

Luckily, I received a book on January 23rd, and it’s been the only one I’ve been able to read.

only love arc

Only Love Today
Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love
by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been hooked on Rachel for years, ever since I stumbled on her blog, Hands Free Mama, which, by the way, you don’t need to be a mom to love, and then reviewed her second book, Hands Free Life.

I was honored to be selected as part of her launch team* for Only Love Today, her beautiful new book, which is organized by season and written in both short poignant essays and prose poems.

After enjoying the lovely introduction, I started Part One: Spring. But something felt off. I quickly realized it had nothing to do with Rachel’s wise words or keenly wrought sentiments – I was simply in the wrong season. I flipped ahead to Winter and fell headlong into passages like this one:

only love hope

 

Most mornings I’d try to steal a few pages before the kids stampeded into the kitchen, or at night after they were in bed. A few minutes, a few pages, is sometimes all I had time for, but often, it was all I needed.

In the midst of a particularly challenging news cycle, when I felt swallowed up by despair, wondering if anything I was doing could possibly make a difference, these words appeared, rising up off the page and pressing into me with a tenderness I could almost feel:

“Maybe the bravest thing you could do right now is just decide this will not defeat you.”

Yes. Oh, yes.

Then a week later, I read this passage while calmly sipping my morning coffee, not knowing that later in the day, these words would serve as a lifeline:

only love fighter

The thing I always receive from Rachel, whether online or in her books, is love. Sounds kind of cheesy, right? But I mean it in all sincerity. Because Rachel is sincere. She genuinely wants to help people, and she does, through her writing and her actions.

She lives out her mantra, only love today, or at least she tries to. What makes Rachel and her books so approachable is that she does not profess to be perfect. She hasn’t figured it all out. Every day, every hour, is a choice. To choose love – not just for others, but for ourselves.

Sometimes I forget this. I put on my Only Love Today bracelet, and think, today I’m going to be better. I’m going to be more patient, more kind. I won’t yell at my kids.

only love bracelet

And then, I lose it. Maybe not even an hour later. My go-to reaction is disgust and self-loathing. I might even take off the bracelet, as if I’m not worthy of wearing it.

only love purple minion

This is what I feel like on bad days.

Then I remember – I’m the one who actually needs it.

The more love I offer to myself, the more generous I can be with others.

*Give-away update! The winner has been selected and informed. Thank you all for your comments here and on Facebook. I wish I had more copies to give away, but it’s worth checking out for yourself if you are so inspired. I hear Target is selling it in droves! xo

only love and pix

Cat not included.

*I was given complimentary copies of the ARC and hardcover as part of the Only Love Today launch team, but the opinions here are entirely my own. 

 

A Writer’s Dream

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. Maybe it started when I learned how to read, or before that, when I received my first journal at age five. It was a beautiful little red velvet book with the words, My Diary, spun in gold thread across the center.

With painstaking effort, I wrote one and two sentence entries, filling about half the book. Journaling would become a lifelong habit, but my deepest love was for fiction.

A small sampling of a vast journal collection.

A small sampling of a vast journal collection.

Books became my escape, my most loyal companion. I loved losing myself in someone else’s words, falling into another world. At mealtime, I almost always had a book poised in front of my face. Somehow my parents allowed this. Perhaps my devotion to reading amused them, but I know most of all it made them proud.

Me, age 4, getting a head start on my dream.

Me age 4, reading in bed, circa March 1979

Now here I am living the first part of my dream. I’m a writer. I write. Even during those hibernation years after having my first child, I wrote blog posts and kept journals. Writing is how I process life; writing is the mirror I use to see the world.

But there is another part of my dream. One that I’ve held onto since I was a young girl devouring Young Adult books in my room, collecting them on my shelves.

I want my book there, too.

When I was about ten years old, I knew this. On the inside of my dresser, which I had transformed into a bookcase, I wrote the following affirmation on an index card:

“I will publish a book by the time I am eleven years old.”

As you can imagine, this story did not end well. The next year I crossed out “eleven” and wrote twelve,” and so on, until I finally ripped the card off and threw it away.

Looking back, I feel such empathy for my younger self, so full of big dreams. Isn’t that one of the beautiful things about childhood? How we believe anything is possible?

My little reader and budding artist.

My girl, reader, dreamer, and artist.

After graduating from college as an English major, naturally, I applied for and was offered a job at the local Barnes & Noble. I loved this job, and it was with regret that I gave my notice several months later when I got a publishing job in New York City. But working there, surrounded by books, I superimposed my name on the spines I arranged. My index card dream was still alive.

Here I am, nearly two decades later, writing with more confidence and joy than ever. I’ve had stories published in journals, which is thrilling, but I haven’t made it inside a bookstore – yet. That dream remains to be seen.

The truth is I have little control over this part. It’s based on the whims of others, on the now shaky venue of traditional publishing.

It may not happen.

All I can do is reach for it with my words. All I can do is keep writing.

What are your dreams? If you’re a writer, is traditional publishing your goal, or is self-publishing a viable option?

 

the prompt

 

I’m sharing this post on Mum Turned Mom’s The Prompt, whose word this week is Dream. Click here to see what other writers have to say…