What I’m Reading Lately

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Hello from the Finger Lakes! This cool and sunny sweater weather we’re enjoying these past few days is my favorite. The sun going down earlier means more time for books, which I always welcome! Right now, I have a great stack of books that I’m either reading through or about to start and I can’t wait to share them with you.

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Tom Asacker was interviewed in this episode of Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative Podcast last year when he talked about the stories we tell ourselves, how they can limit us, and what we can do about it. His book is I am Keats: Escape Your Mind and Free Your Self*. You know that voice in your head that says things like, “Who do you think you are to …” you fill in the blank. Well, that’s you telling yourself a story, a limiting story. Tom Asacker addresses this voice in your head.

Speaking of that voice in your head, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anne Lamott talks about that voice, the things that distract and how to focus on your writing, in addition to many hilarious, poignant, and very real stories from her own life with words. If you write at all, it’s good to read books that describe other writers’ experiences, paths that led to writing, and how they deal with distraction, loneliness, failure, and success. I picked up a copy at my local used bookstore and am nearly finished reading it. I recommend this if you take an interest in writing!

Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko  has been on my TBR list for such a long time! I finally placed a hold at the library and am looking forward to diving in. Isn’t that a gorgeous cover!?

I included poetry because I always have at least one collection going. David Whyte’s The Bell and the Blackbird was published earlier this year and I am slowly working my way through it. His way with words brings me to tears, in a good way. He writes with such depth and tenderness, clarity and boldness, delving into the difficult, the painful, as well as the joyful seasons of life. My particular favorites so far have been his poems to the late Irish poet John O’ Donahue as well as his poem to beloved poet Mary Oliver. If you haven’t read David Whyte’s poetry or essays yet, what are you waiting for?

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl was a random book purchase, simply because I was intrigued by the title. My life has been anything but leisurely, especially since I’ve started a business, but I still want to know how to waste a day right when I get a spare one!

Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life has also been on my TBR for several years. After going through so many transitions and finding my way forward, I need to hear the wisdom of someone older and wiser that myself. Maybe the truths within the pages will assist me as I seek to connect the pieces and make sense of the journey. Look for more about this when I finish reading it.

Lastly, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time is a book I placed on hold at the library after a recent bout with depression and extreme anxiety. This book sounded, well, up! And hopeful and like maybe there are actions that I can take, habits that I can form, ideas I haven’t thought of, that will help me reduce these symptoms and live with more positivity and calm. I’m about a third of the way through already; the writing is clear, the material easy-to-understand, and best of all, there are practical helps I can implement. I’m looking forward to reading the rest!

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Alright, that’s it for now! What have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

* This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase through one of the links here, it benefits me in a very small way at no extra cost to you!

This Day is Ready For You (Book Reviews)

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I recently read The Day Is Ready for You by Alison Malee. This delightful collection of poetry is fresh, sharp and fiery. Emotion sings from every page. Sometimes they are angry, at others singing a tender love song. Sometimes full of everyday life and then they soar into possibility. Sometimes all in the same poem.

Most of the poems’ subjects focus on relationships: all the highs and lows and newness and mundane. Others have to do with being a woman or how life seems from her perspective. She has a definite rhythm and voice that distills life in a perspicacious manner all her own.

Get this book, poetry people! Get it if you don’t think you’re a poetry person. I highly recommend it.

*I received an e-copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest and fair review.

Mystery and Poetry, Two Constant Companions

Since my seventh birthday, I have pretty much been addicted to mysteries. My mom’s friends, Pat and Judy, gave me a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries that year and my mind was opened to the scary, thrilling, who-done-it genre and I’ve never looked back. Sure, I’ve read some disappointing ones full of boring characters or convoluted plots that made me yawn, but, overall, I’ve found mysteries to be soothing and reassuring that no matter what is wrong in the world, by the end of the book, the odd little detective will have solved it and I can go to sleep confident that right triumphs.

I received Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, as a birthday gift this past year and I just finished it on Sunday. Her series is a little bit cozy, but only on the edges. It has all the depth of a novel, because she goes deep with her characters and most of them carry on from book to book. If you haven’t read her books yet, this is the year to give them a try. Three Pines is an imaginary village outside of Montreal, full of lovable, quirky people that you will want to read more about. No matter what evil they come up against, the townspeople live their unique lives and pull together when they’re needed. This story has to do with a hooded figure showing up in Three Pines, the drug trade in Montreal, and, of course, a murder. That’s all I’m saying. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

The other genre I’ve always kept close to me is poetry. I’ve got a poetry book or two going at all times…and so should you. Poetry is for everyone. If you don’t think so, maybe you need to keep looking. Mary Oliver, anyone? I just finished reading (again) Everything Is Waiting for You by David Whyte. Do you ever get days where life seems too much? Where emotions are overwhelming and tears break out for the smallest reason? Maybe it’s my Italian blood, or because I’m an HSP/ INFJ, or because I’ve been through lots of change in my life the past few years, but this happens often. On those days, I read poetry. Something elegant, simple and deep that speaks to the heart of sadness, the edge of elation, down to the bottom and all the way to the top of the emotional gamut. Thank you, David Whyte for breaking open your soul and writing down what spills out. I suggest you, dear reader, get one of his poetry collections and let it sink in. You need it, I’m telling you.

So, what are some of your favorite genres? What are you reading right now?

Educated, (Book Review)

When I started reading Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, I was expecting a story about a homeschooler–an unschooled, perhaps. Within a few pages I realized my error; this was no homeschooling family she belonged to.

Tara was born into and raised in a very dysfunctional and dangerous environment within a large family ruled by fear of their mentally ill father. As she described her experiences out in the wilderness of Utah, her and other family members’ scrapes with death, how her father treated them, and how she perceived these experiences, I just shook my head. This was her normal.

She was indoctrinated to think anything else was “of the devil” or “worldly”, due to her father’s mix of Mormonism and mental illness. I kept wanting her mother to stand up to him, but she rarely did. I cheered when Tara finally escaped in her late teens to attend college, and couldn’t believe it each time she returned to her family home over and over again. Her education outside of her home life, over time, had enough of an effect that she came to view life, religion and the meaning of family differently, but I don’t know if any education could ever erase the effect of those deep roots of shame, guilt, neglect, abuse that she suffered.

I am thankful Tara was able to share her story with the world, that she could find enough courage within herself to walk away from everything she knew and start again. If you haven’t already, you will hear a lot about Educated this year. I suggest you pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

* I was given a free e-copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are completely my own.

Song of a Captive Bird (Book Review)

When I requested this book, Song of a Captive Bird, by Jasmin Darznik, from NetGalley, I knew I’d be in for a reading adventure. I know nothing about Iranian poets, past or present, and not much about Iranian history or culture. Because this was about a poet from Iran, Forugh Farrokhzad, who was also a woman drew me to it–that and the title. The book read a bit like a movie, opening with a mysterious and violent scene that became clear as the story continued and the cultural traditions and expectations were explained.

As it takes place in the fifties and sixties, in a land very far away and different from my own, there was much to be discovered about the way people lived and thought about life in general, and about women, in particular. Forugh suffered at the hands of men–her father, her husband, her lovers, and a male-dominated publishing industry. Her suffering marked her, but her resilience and independent spirit shaped her into who she became. Again and again she defies cultural expectations and pioneers a path for herself and women after her with the words she writes, her work in film, and the way she lives. The poetry that is woven into the chapters is exquisite; I savored the lines and felt closer to the woman whose story was being told.

In addition to learning a bit about Iranian women struggling to become respected and independent during that time period, I learned something of the struggle for Iranians to own their oil and of the violent political turmoil of those days. To me, Forugh is a symbol of progress, of the artistic voice that speaks in every culture and time period, and of every woman working toward being respected and heard with equality.

Reading this book stirred up a desire to read Iranian poetry, of which I am unfamiliar. If you’re like me and know little to nothing about Iranian history and culture, and particularly, Iranian poetry, then I recommend you read this story and start your own journey of discovery.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Shortie Book Review

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I went out on a limb and read a book outside my comfort zone: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The reason it’s not the type of fiction I would usually pick up is that the story starts with a child’s death. Although I haven’t yet taken Anne Bogel’s reader personality quiz, I have a feeling I read fiction to escape. And hopefully to escape into a world that differs from my own–adventure, danger, foreign countries, suspense, bravery, etc.

This book began with the worst thing any parent could imagine: experiencing the death of a child, so I expected if it started from an extremely low point, it had to get better. To her credit, Ng writes in a graceful, fluid style that is easy to read and soothing to a lover of words. The story is basically about one family’s dysfunction and the heart-heavy path each one takes as they find a way to keep on living after their daughter and sister’s death. I didn’t really relish being the observer of their grief process. I never enjoy sad books, especially if they’re fiction, because I become too emotionally involved in their fictional lives. It takes a toll on me and I feel like everyday life does that already.

Anyway, if you like sad stories with a glimmer of hope at the end, this one might be for you. If you aren’t great at handling dark and oppressive family dramas, then skip this one.

One Book I Hate

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Oh, I’m not one to shy away from saying I hate a book if I do. It’s true that some of the people interviewed on Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next say they don’t like to actually admit that they “hate” a book. Whatever.

I tend to have strong reactions to books, especially if I’ve invested many nights reading diligently through them, trying to be patient as I wait for a part worth reading. The chapters plod on, but no dice. I get to the middle and nothing improves, I realize it’s a lost cause. Most of the time, in recent years, I’ve abandoned the book, like a pair of jeans or shoes that just never fit right. Just not for me or at least not right now.

In the case of 11/22/63, however, I kept going. Why? Because it’s Stephen King we’re talking about. He is a master of writing, or at least so I’ve heard. Before this book, I’d only heard others discussing his work, but never had read anything of his for myself. What made me start now? I’m definitely not a horror fan, but know plenty of people who are. This book, as it turns out, is not in the horror genre, but is touted as a time-travel mystery/thriller. I am a reader of mysteries, plus I’d heard plenty of positive reviews and comments about this book, so I had to read it. This past spring, when Alan and I were at a used bookstore, I purchased a copy, and it sat all summer waiting to be read. Alan is in the middle of King’s Dark Tower series, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and read one of his books too. What a mistake!

The book is told from the perspective of a thirty-something high school English teacher who is divorced and doesn’t have anything interesting happening in his life. He gets tangled in a time-travel adventure which involves going back to the late 1950s and attempting to save JFK from assassination. It starts off in Derry, Maine, where “It” lurks, apparently. Since the assassination takes place in Dallas, the protagonist has to relocate there and live until ’63.

All I can say is it drags on and on. Lee Harvey Oswald and his family live in a poor neighborhood. He is abusive, fanatical and downright boring. Day after boring day we get play-by-plays of what he and his wife say or do, who comes to his house, etc. I can’t tell you how I kept looking for something interesting to happen. Yes, there is a romance that brews and a couple of violent and action-filled scenes to shake things up. So I hoped things would improve.

After 850-plus pages, though, the book ends in sadness and futility. Oh my goodness. I felt so angry! What a waste of all those nights reading when I could’ve been reading something else. Although I will give King another chance and read his book entitled On Writing.  And I won’t recommend 11/22/63 to anyone.


Have you read 11/22/63? What did you think?