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?

My Book Stack

 

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I could talk about the books I’m reading every day, and I usually sneak it into the conversation somehow.  Happy November 1st! For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever, you may be wondering, “What on earth have I gotten myself into?” or perhaps you’re like me and scared but excited. Remember Seth Godin‘s question on the front of Poke the Box: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Well, when was it? This is a great opportunity. Let’s do this!

If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re probably more sane than I, but hopefully you still love books and the reading life. I attempt to keep my Goodreads profile up-to-date, but I add, discard and finish books so frequently that it sometimes lags behind. Right now, it’s fairly current, give or take a few.

Here is the list of books I’ve been reading for a few days, months or a year:

168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam. I mentioned this in Monday’s post. We do have time–all the time we need to work, sleep, spend time with loved ones, do chores and errands, exercise and do the things we dream of doing.

Untangled by Lisa Damour. I heard of this on ModernMrsDarcy. If you have a teen daughter, if you’re confused or hurt by her behavior, you should read this. Lisa explains why and will take you through the seven stages of adolescence.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. A high school English teacher is asked to go back to 1958 and save JFK and a few other people as well. As are all King’s books, this one is gigantic, but I believe it’s going to be worth it.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone  by Laini Taylor is YA fantasy, about a blue-haired girl with super-powers and a dark past, so I’ve strayed from my usual picks. It’s interesting so far, I just need to discipline myself to dig in deeper.


The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Recommended on Modern Mrs Darcy, I picked it up and two minutes in I was laughing.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova is very well written, but the story is slow and sad. Lots of unhappy domestic emotions. I’m hoping it ends up in a different place.

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg is a book for writers, filled with prompts. I need to faithfully do two or three a day, but I hate rushing through her books. I want them to last forever. Her voice and realness combined with a generous dose of humor comfort me and help me when I’m struggling to push through self-doubt or procrastination.

Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donahue. I’ve been savoring this book for a year. With two chapters to go, I’m telling myself it’s time to finish it. I can re-read it later.

What are you reading lately?

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Day 30: Find Your Gumption Button

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Did this Monday find you with its cold, windy, cloudy song? I got up later than I wanted to because it was darker than I expected. Then, the sound of the recycling truck whizzing by and honking made me bolt up from slumber, remembering that we forgot to take the recycling bins to the road last night. Sigh. I had such good intentions before I fell asleep last night, too. I planned to wake early, go to the gym, and be at my desk by 9. There’s a little thing called an alarm on my phone that I forgot to set though, so that’s the story.

What I do with the rest of my day will be where the real tale lies.

Last Friday, while eating lunch, Alan and I talked about motivation and how some of us have more than others. People like Seth Godin seem to never run low, but perhaps it’s because he practices daily; he is self-disciplined and drives himself to produce and ship. Whether he feels ready or not. That’s one of Seth’s messages.

There are high-profile people in the music, visual art and writing fields that we know or know of who continually produce and ship. They are on Instagram multiple times per day showing us their quality work. We admire them. We wonder what their secrets are.

As far as I can tell, though, it’s up to each person to find their gumption button, to pull up their boot straps and get to work. You can only talk and think about it for so long and then you need to just do the work.

We have all kinds of excuses–not good enough, lots of people do it better, I’m not creative enough, no one will read, see or hear it–and what you mean is, you’re afraid. That’s ok. We are all afraid. But we have to tell Fear where to sit, as Elizabeth Gilbert says. Fear can’t be in the front of the room or in the driver’s seat. Fear can take a back seat or sit in the corner. You can recognize it and acknowledge it, but you are in charge. You. And nothing is stopping you. Not really.

Here are three yellow books I am reading that are kicking me in the pants, feeding me knowledge, and showing me there is another way of seeing. If you need encouragement to get your priorities back where you want them,  to do work you’ll be proud of, read these books.

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time? by Seth Godin. I read this one before, but am reading it again. Short blurbs or passages with on-point messages are presented in Seth’s one-of-a-kind style. You can’t help but wake up and realize your goals are within reach and the time is now. Here’s an excerpt from pages 24-25,

“The relentless brainwashing of our fading industrial economy has created an expensive misunderstanding. Creative people or those with something to say believe that they have to wait to be chosen…’pick me, pick me’ acknowledges the power of the system and passes responsibility to someone else to initiate. Even better, ‘pick me, pick me’ moves the blame from you to them. If you don’t get picked it’s their fault not yours. If you do get picked, well, they said you were good, right? Not your fault anymore. Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself.”

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I heard about this author and this book on Modern Mrs Darcy. Since I was actually at the library in Ithaca yesterday, I grabbed this and one of her other books. In the introduction and first two chapters, she destroys the common belief that the modern person tells themselves: we don’t have enough time. We do, she insists, and she has science and our own schedules to prove us wrong. What an uplifting and life-giving idea. We can do what we want to do, what we dream of doing. We have all the time we need.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. I’m only in the third chapter of this one, but can tell it’s going to rock me. This was one of Todd Henry’s recommended reads at the beginning of 2017. They bring up the concept of scarcity-thinking and talk about how it’s shaped our culture to think in terms of limited resources, shrinking reserves and other people as competitors. And how the world of measurement has framed our thinking. Then they use the terms “generative” and “the universe of possibility” and ask us to step outside of those frameworks and consider that anything is possible.

 

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Day 26: The Hurrier I Go

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I’m sure you’ve heard this Lewis Carroll quote,

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

There’s a certain point at which that becomes true. Not that I am encouraging dawdling or procrastination, but hurrying hurts and usually winds up hindering our progress. Oops! I spilled something in my haste. Or, now I need to apologize for snapping at my loved one because I’ve made myself miserable trying to live at this breakneck pace.

We weren’t meant to flit and speed from one place and activity to another with no rest, no time for reflection. Here is a definition of the phrase “hurry sickness” coined by doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman:

“a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

This article on how to overcome hurry sickness takes a good look at the problem. We need help! As a culture, many of us don’t know how to relax or slow down, even if we only have a few pockets of time every day.

We have forgotten how to love stillness and silence, how to sit with ourselves alone and just be, how to fully enjoy a walk, appreciate the preciousness of a loved one’s smile, drink in the exquisiteness of a sunset, how to be silly and laugh long and hard, and how to look for joy in the ordinary. But we can slow down and become full of wonder again.

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This time of year, you’re probably looking ahead at the next two months wondering how you’ll get through all the activities associated with the holidays. I used to just square my shoulders and tell myself to hustle more.

And I would go through it all feeling panicky, breaking down into crying jags, yelling and being sharp with my words. And then apologizing for my unacceptable behavior. I just couldn’t handle the constant go-go-go, combined with baking like mad, lots of entertaining, the purchasing and wrapping of gifts and trying to make it all magical and perfect for my kids and anyone who came to our home.

I wanted the peace I attempted to give everyone else. I craved space, simplicity, and the beauty of delighting in small things.

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After a bunch of years doing it the hard way, with the help of books or articles I read and voices on slowing down, like Ann Voskamp’s, I am learning to change my holiday style.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself before plunging into the season:

If I could arrange my holiday season any way I chose, what would it look like?

If I wasn’t concerned about anyone’s judgement about how I did the holidays, what would I say yes to and what would I say no to?

Who is most important to me and how can I focus on showing them love this season?

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Here is an old book that I love called Unplug the Christmas machine: How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted. It touches on typical roles that women and men take on during the holiday, four things children really want for Christmas, a simple Christmas, Christmas revival, the gift of joy, and it includes a handy resource section with recipes and alternative gift ideas. Of course, it feels dated, but it also feels wise and warm and cozy. Some of the resources may be outdated, but use the internet to find something comparable. This version is out-of-print, but amazon Marketplace has copies available.

And if you’d rather have the in-print version, that’s Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season:

The other book I’ve read over and over is: To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. Although I’m not a Catholic, I incorporated several of the traditions listed in this book to enrich my own and my kids’ holiday season. This book actually takes the reader through the entire church calendar, but I’ve used it for Advent and Christmas, primarily.

And finally, a sweet out-of-print old-fashioned book called The Child’s Christmas. I’m not sure how I stumbled across this one, but it follows a fictional Victorian family from Advent through Epiphany. It tells of all their traditions, what they ate and played and did, what gifts they gave and received, how they celebrated. I read it to my kids when they were seven and three.

I hope we can all find comfort and joy this year!

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Day 15: Hillbilly Elegy, a Book Review

I heard about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance over and over in the past year. Since I saw it listed on the recommended reading lists of people of faith, I decided it must be a religiously slanted book and put it further down my to-be-read list.

Oh my goodness, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I obviously wasn’t paying attention to the reviews. Then when I noticed one of the local libraries had it as a choice for their monthly book club, I decided to order a copy. Although, sadly, I did not make it to the book club meeting due to family obligations, I did read it.

It opened my eyes to the real lives of modern-day hillbillies as told through J. D. Vance’s personal narrative. Funny, heartbreaking, interesting and revealing, his life story weaves in with his grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. You won’t want to put it down: from his mother’s rocky relationships with men and her drug abuse, to his beautiful sister rising above her circumstances and growing up to live a healthy, happy life, to J.D.’s own story of his early years growing up in poverty, ignorance and disfunction to becoming a successful Yale Law School graduate.

Be prepared for plenty of swearing, because I wasn’t. Like I said, I was under the misapprehension that it was a religious book. Ha ha! But there is a reason it has nearly 10,000 positive reviews on amazon.com. And it’s up to you to read it for yourself and find out why.

Let me know what you think and what you’re reading lately!

Day 9: Tulip Bulbs, Dean Koontz and Carrot Cake

After a busy weekend when we play out, Mondays always seem like I’m trying to find all the pieces of me and reassemble myself.

I woke late, went to the gym late and then planted sixty-one tulip bulbs around the gazebo. Yes, that’s a lot and my back can testify.

My sister-in-law sent me a very generous birthday gift of one hundred tulips and fifty daffodils. They arrived Friday.

I’m thrilled when I think of the beauty coming up next Spring, but now is the time to plant them while the ground is wet and the temperature mild. So I planted a little more than a third of them today and will work on planting them the rest of this week.

After I came in and showered, I put a gluten free vegan pizza in the oven for lunch and sat down to finish The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspensethe Dean Koontz book Alan gave me for my birthday.

It wrapped up nicely, but clearly a sequel was on the way. And indeed, The Whispering Room: A Jane Hawk Novel is now available.

Jane Hawk, the protagonist, is definitely a badass, but one with a heart of gold. Everything she does is to protect her son, avenge her murdered husband and save the world. No big deal. If you like suspense novels, add this one to your list.

Next up on my fiction list is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: Author’s Preferred Text.

My afternoon was spent sewing felt dolls and birds while watching The Tunnel on Amazon Prime.

And then it was time for carrot cake. Sarah Bakes Gluten Free is a blog filled with delicious gluten free and mostly vegan treats.

I have a friend coming over for lunch tomorrow and wanted a classic dessert to serve her. This recipe will produce a carrot cake you won’t forget. I subbed carrot for the zucchini and added 1/4 almond flour. With vegan buttercream frosting, it’s scrumptious.

What was your Monday like?

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What I Read This Summer

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My summer reading list was longer than I was able to get through, which is a common bookworm problem, but here is what I was able to read in the past couple of months and a few thoughts on each book.

Louder Than Words by Todd Henry inspired and encouraged by asking to the point questions and getting his readers to take a look at their message, their voice and their audience and focus on developing a specific vision and clear message to convey. I admit to skimming the last third and if I wanted to really glean all I possibly could from it, I would need to take the time to answer, in writing, all of his questions. This may be a book I return to, although compared to The Accidental Creative, it wasn’t as enjoyable.

The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows was a slow, Southern read that drew me in gently but firmly until I needed to know what happened to these people. What an interesting, entertaining and feel-good yet not-shallow read. After finishing it, I purchased a used copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows and set it on my nightstand. I’ve heard good things about this book for so long, it was definitely time to read it. Right away I recognized the similar delightful style and cast of quirky and fascinating characters. They sparkle. They made me laugh. They were thoroughly believable and now I’ve added Guernsey to my travel bucket list. So I recommend both books.


I See You by Clare Mackintosh was creepy, but not as much as I’d hoped for. Except for the very end, which makes me think there must be a sequel in the works.

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper was much discussed, but I guessed who the murderer was early on. I hardly ever manage this, so I would say it was a bit of a let down. Also, the writing style was dry and dull, like the setting, so I wouldn’t read other books by this author.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware scared me so much in the beginning that I almost put it down for good. Not wanting to wimp out, I pulled myself together and kept reading. It was worth it. She was a bit like a more modern Agatha Christie, and I had an idea who might be the murderer, but was Red Herringed until the end. I liked the main character, her boyfriend Judah, which is my son’s name, and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the small cruise ship where the murder took place. I will read more books by this author.

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Naht Hanh was my first Bhuddist book and first book I’ve read by this author. Picked up at my favorite local used bookstore, Autumn Leaves, I liked the short chapters and his very practical and straightforward style. Really, I didn’t feel preached to or like he was trying to convert one to Bhuddism. Simply, he shared what helped him or possible scenarios of how one might incorporate breathing, being present, kindness, gratitude, etc., into one’s every day. I will read more by this author, and, in fact, I already have.