Recent Books + Do You Remember Plots or Feelings?

Instead of burying book reviews into a Casual Friday post, I thought I’d do a little lengthy summary of what I’ve been reading lately.

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman.

These books, in my opinion, just keep getting better. I think the witty banter is genius. Osman’s writing is a specific brand of dry humour and I absolutely love it. Will everyone love it? No. But 70,000+ people on Goodreads have given this book a 4.46/5 rating, so I know I’m not alone.

For those who aren’t familiar, The Bullet That Missed is the third* in a series of murder mysteries that center on a group of retired seniors solving cold (and hot!) cases. They may be old, but they’re hilarious and smart.

I almost never publically rate a book because I am so darn picky, but this was a 5/5 for me. (Yes there are swear words, yes I wish they weren’t there, but there aren’t many and this book is still delightful).

*I do think these books are best read in order. It’s not imperative, but they aren’t exclusively standalone and it helps to have additional context provided by the first and second books.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

Beautifully written and absolutely heartbreaking, this memoir chronicles the experience of Mark and Giulia Lukach – university sweethearts whose marriage was quickly rocked by an unexpected mental health crisis. The book is written by Mark as he cares for his wife who has repeated psychotic episodes requiring lengthy hospital stays. This reminded me of Between Two Kingdoms, with the notable difference that this book is told from the caregiver’s perspective.

I read this in one sitting en route to Rome and it brought tears to my eyes. Trigger warnings abound. This book is unrelenting and painful to read, but also full of hope and honesty.

She had gotten stuck between channels and all that was broadcasting in her mind was crackling white noise, which drove her mad and scared me to death. The medicine was like turning down the volume. The channels might still be stuck, but at least the set was no longer spewing the deafening static. The volume had to be lowered until the channels could work again.

I realized then why people call suicide hotlines. The person on the other end of the line wasn’t a therapist, wasn’t going to prescribe medicine, wasn’t going to convince the caller to feel differently, wasn’t going to love the caller the way a family member would. The person on the other end of the line was going to listen without judgment or fear, an invaluable gift…

When we sat down to discuss medication doses, or a timeline for getting pregnant, or the risks of taking lithium during pregnancy, we were essentially saying “I love you.” My exact words might have been “I think you’re rushing things,” but the subtext was “I want you to be healthy and fulfilled, and I want to spend my life with you. I want to hear how much you disagree with me, about something that is as personal as it gets, so that we can be together.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon.

This was a well-written book and provides a fresh perspective on discussions of body image, health, and discrimination. The author is morbidly obese and chronicles the truly horrifying situations she has had to endure; from being tailed on the street by people spouting verbal abuse, to having strangers remove items from her cart at the grocery store, to being refused medical support due to her size, to being sexually assaulted and a host of other traumatic experiences.

Gordon raises many important points about how our society views fat and obesity.

The oversimplicity of the BMI has also fed into a ruthless, black-and-white cultural conversation about health and weight loss. The logic goes like this: every thin person is healthier than every fat person, every fat person can become thin if they try hard enough, fat people simply eat too much, and our greed and gluttony have made us fat. As such, size becomes an indicator of character and willpower.

Regardless of the topic, shame doesn’t motivate change; it instead conveys that the shamed party is simply a bad person, and nothing can be done about that.

Ultimately, anti-fatness isn’t based in science or health, concern or choice. Anti-fatness is a way for thinner people to remind themselves of their perceived virtue. Seeing a fatter person allows them to remind themselves that at least I’m not that fat. They believe they have chosen their body, so seeing a fat person eat something they deem unhealthy reminds them of their stronger willpower, greater tenacity, and superior character. We don’t just look different, the thinking goes; we are different. Thinner people outwit their bodies. Fatter people succumb to them. Encounters with fatter people offer a welcome opportunity to retell that narrative and remind themselves of their superiority.

Over time, I have come to learn that these moments – the threats, the concern, the constant well-intentioned bullying – run even deeper than a simple assumption of superiority. It is a reminder so many thin people seem to desperately need. They don’t seem to be talking to me at all. They seem to be talking to themselves.

This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan

I went into this book mostly “blind” with the exception of knowing this has been a recent mini-sensation of sorts.

Heavy sigh.

At the end of the first chapter, I thought I was going to love the book! But after that, it felt forced and repetitive.

For a book that is NOT about Benedict Cumberbatch, the author discusses him a lot. (To be fair, my favourite part of the book was the appendix – which is, interestingly enough, a body part the actor no longer has – which is full of behind-the-scenes facts about Benedict Cumberbatch.

The basic premise is that an exhausted mother finds solace and a new lease on life by becoming obsessed with all things Benedict Cumberbatch. She watches all his movies and shows, her husband buys her merch for every holiday, and she displays his picture on her desk at work. Her argument is that it’s fun – healthy, even – to have these minor (or major) obsessions.

I agree to a point. But, again, I found this book cumbersome (I only realized the pun after I wrote this sentence; go me!) and a slog and kind of icky. That said, Chapter Five: This Is a Chapter About Guilt was a refreshing glimpse into motherhood!

…there was nothing in my life that wasn’t at least partially subsumed into motherhood…This makes me think of a vintage brooch I once saw in an antique jewelry store. It had gold cursive script spelling out Mother…I pictured the Mother who once owned it, smiling at herself in the dressing-table mirror as she pinned it on, this very beautiful label. I found it strange that she would want to announce herself in this way, because when you are a mother, being Mother is already so close to the surface of everything you do that adding extra decorative layers hardly seems necessary. But perhaps she deployed the brooch like a kind of taxi light. If the brooch is on, the Mother is available. And then, thrillingly, the brooch can come off! There she is, stretched on a chaise lounge, a novel in one hand, a martini in the other; when someone approaches her with questions regarding the whereabouts of their karate uniform, she points to her bare lapel, smiles and shakes her head. No, the Mother is not available. [I do this! I will actually tell the kids, I’m headed off duty, direct all questions to your father. When they come – inevitably – to ask me something, I will shake my head and repeat: Off Duty!]

The Perfectionist’s Guide To Losing Self Control by Katherine Morgan Schafler

I have feelings about this book. For the first half, I was convinced it would be a 5/5. By the end, I was thinking more along the lines of 3.5/5. There is so much great content, but it gets mired in too. many. words. As things progressed, the book felt very scattered and redundant and while Schafler wove lots of short stories of her experiences as a therapist, they weren’t as memorable/relatable for me as Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s a shame because this is a great book, the length just makes it tedious. Despite my mixed experience with the book, I wrote down a lot of quotes! I also really enjoyed reading about the types of perfectionism (I’m a 30/30/30 mix of Classic, Parisian, and Intense with a few other types in much smaller quantities)!

Perfectionists are not balanced people, and that’s okay. Subscribing to prepackaged notions of balance and generic wellness when they don’t fit who you are isn’t being healthy, it’s being obedient.

Perfectionists are intelligent people who understand that everything can’t work out perfectly all the time. What they sometimes have trouble with is understanding why they still feel so disappointed by imperfection in the face of that intellectual concession…[Yes to this!!]

Perfectionism is the invisible language your mind thinks in, the type of perfectionism that shows up in your everyday life based on your personality is just the accent. [Loved this.]

I don’t know one balanced woman. I know a lot of women who are two extra days in a week away from feeling balanced, or one professional housecleaning service away from feeling balanced, or one generous extension on the deadline away from feeling balanced, or three entire days of their children in someone else’s loving and competent care away from feeling balanced…It’s very easy to get hooked on the feeling that you’re really close to achieving balance, like a gambler at a blackjack table playing just one more time for the fifty-fourth time – but alas, the house always wins. Balance remains one step ahead, the ever-elusive prize of female modernity. [Again, YES!]

We buy into the admittedly alluring goal of balance because we believe two false promises. The first promise is that life is generally static…The rule is that if your life isn’t automated and flowing seamlessly from one day to the next, you’re doing something wrong. The second promise is that all your most basic and complex needs, longings, desires…could be met in the first place, and that they could be met simultaneously, and still that they could all be met simultaneously while you’re also reasonably meeting the innumerable social, professional, and familial obligations that result from being a basic contributing member of society.

Our contemporary view of balance is based on the notion that your life could ever fit on a to-do list in the first place, and that once you finish the to-do list and match your problems to their adjacent solutions, you can expect to feel a satisfying click…If you haven’t experienced the clicking yet, it’s because you’re not balanced enough. You’re not doing it right. Being “balanced” has become synonymous with being “healthy.” If you’re not a balanced woman, you’re not a healthy woman.

…making partner at a law firm is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. Balance is a lot like that. The more tasks you’re able to successfully balance, the more bandwidth you create to, drumroll…balance more tasks. [This reminds me a lot of some of Oliver Burkeman’s central theses in Four Thousand Weeks.]

“How do you balance work and motherhood?” It’s a question every professional woman with kids is regularly asked. Professional men who are also parents are not asked the paternal version of this question because fathers are not expected to be primary caregivers. Hence, women who work outside the home call themselves “working moms,” but men who work outside the home don’t call themselves “working dads.” This is also why fathers don’t experience the same level of guilt over competing demands in their work life and home life, because they don’t share the same level of competing demands (excel professionally while also managing the children’s care, school schedules, playdates and doctor’s appointments; the couple’s social life; the housecleaning; etc.). [Yes. I work part-time and almost exclusively from home and I still feel this way 100%.]

“Hot mess” is an external descriptor because the external is what counts; women’s internal experience is secondary to the way they look. This mirrors the assumption that if women are thin, they’re also healthy, regardless of what’s happening behind the scenes. What’s culturally incentivized is not being healthy for yourself, it’s seeming healthy for others. [Reminded me a lot of similar points in the Audrey Gordon book.]

We all feel tension at times. We notice the space between the ideal we envision and the reality plunked down in our laps. The noticing creates a tightening, which then seeks an outlet for release. Feeling the tightening and seeking release is an everyday experience for perfectionists. Perfectionists live with a tension inside them that never goes away. Like a light that makes a sound when it’s on, you get used to the hum.

Instead of attention-seeking behaviours, try looking at them as connection-seeking behaviours. [I need to do this in parenting, especially.]

Instead of looking at a schedule and saying “do I have time” look at it and say “will I have the energy.” [Such a helpful distinction.]

  • Decompression = passive relaxation = emptying yourself out
  • Playing = active relaxation = filling yourself up
  • Restoration = passive relaxation + active relaxation

You are not on earth to complete tasks and then die. You are not a bar graph of output. You are a human being.

You can’t control grief by subtracting joy from your life. You can’t control grief, period. [I think you could substitute grief here for a lot of other hard emotions.]

Don’t save anything for a special occasion; being alive is the special occasion.

Think of who you were five years ago and how much you’ve grown since then. If you could go back in time and transplant your brain and all that you’ve learned into the five-years-ago version of you, it would blow your five-years-ago mind. What used to be your ceiling is now your floor. You float across waters that you used to flail and thrash in. [I love this perspective and it’s so true.]

Kurashi at Home: How to Organize your Space by Marie Kondo

I love me a good home organization book and I really enjoyed Marie Kondo’s earlier books. But this was a big fail for me.

  • She repeatedly tells rather involved stories about artwork she especially loves and provides specific details on organizational systems in her home – but despite the book being filled with almost 200 pictures, NONE of the things she mentions are shown. I found this disproportionately disappointing.
  • The rituals described seemed utterly unattainable. For example, Kondo recommends HAND-WASHING the floor in your entranceway every single day. There are dozens more things like this that I read and thought: in what universe could I manage to do X, Y, Z? Like removing the shampoo and soap/body wash from the shower every time so the shower looks more aesthetically pleasing, or having only a single set of shoes for each family member out in the entryway.
  • On the topic of shoes, she also suggests washing the soles! “We should really give them the respect they deserve. That’s why I adopted the habit of wiping the soles of my shoes before bed or first thing in the morning when I wipe down my entryway. And as I do, I thank my shoes for supporting me all day.” *Crickets*
  • Back to the pictures. They are all meaningless. They are uber-minimalistic shots of things that have almost no relevance to what she’s talking about. I found the whole thing utterly confusing and not at all motivational.

I know others have loved this book – and I do wonder how I would feel if the pictures hadn’t been such a major disappointment – but this didn’t strike the right chord with me.

plots vs. feelings

Without a doubt, the most frustrating part of my reading experience is how quickly I forget plots. Within a day of finishing a novel, I will struggle to remember key twists. Within a month, I am almost guaranteed to not be able to tell you how it ends (I’m the same with movies; people who can quote at length from movies they saw 20 years ago BLOW MY MIND). This is especially frustrating because I am known for retaining tiny bits of personal information about people. A cashier could tell me the name of her cat and chances are good I’ll remember it the next time I see her (even if that “next time” is five years later). I’ve tried reading books more slowly. I’ve taken notes. But it doesn’t work and it takes some of the magic out of the experience. Still, it can feel like a waste to spend so much time reading a book only to promptly forget it. (In general, I retain a lot more from non-fiction reading.)

But I’ve been reminding myself of something I heard on an old episode of the No Stupid Questions Podcast specifically about this topic. One of the hosts commented how this is relatively common, but most people remember how a book makes them feel. And this? This is so true for me. I can forget 95% of the storyline, but I will remember if a story made me laugh or cry. I’ll remember if I felt sad to turn the last page – dreading saying goodbye to characters I had loved – or relieved to have reached the end of a slog.


One of my favourite features of having an e-reader? A built-in dictionary. Hover over a word and then, magically, a definition will appear. My problem? I never seem to remember these new words/definitions. The one exception is copse, which I read in a YA book several years ago and now seem to see everywhere. (FYI: A copse is a small group of trees.)

Your turn. If you read the Thursday Murder Club Mystery books, who is your favourite character (I think mine is Elizabeth, mostly because I love how Osman depicts her marriage to Stephen)? Are you good at remembering plot points from books; if so, what’s your secret? Do you look up unfamiliar words? Do you remember the definitions? Do you wash the soles of your shoes every night?

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

What I’m Reading + Acknowledgements Wow Me Again

Hey, hey, hey. It’s time to recap another month of reading adventures. There were some hits, some misses, and even one surprising DNF. Who’s ready to talk books?

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor. This one was tough to rate. It felt like a close cousin of the James Herriot books. Problem is – to me – these books weren’t as well written. It was an odd experience since I really like James Herriot, but these just felt too similar. I almost stopped reading at the halfway mark, but I’m glad I persevered because I enjoyed the latter half better. I can envision people loving this series, and I’ll probably get the Christmas one for some light festive reading I am currently reading the Christmas book in the series, but it wasn’t a runaway fav for me. (Also, there was a surprising amount of swearing in these books; to be fair, the same can be said about James Herriot. My Dad would always cross out the swear words with pen, which would just make me stop at these words and move the book all around to get the light to hit the ink just so, until I was able to read the swear word underneath. In other words, by crossing them out, he managed to make them more obvious/appealing to little eyes.)

You Are Not A Before Picture by Alex Light. I really enjoyed this book. I’ve alluded several times to a shift I’ve made in eating. Calling it a “shift” does not capture how I have changed my approach to food almost entirely in the last 6 months. Food occupies 1/20th of the space in my head it used to. I haven’t weighed myself in 6 months. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this book as much if I hadn’t already read some thicker tomes on the topic (namely: The Anti-Diet, The F*ck It Diet, and Project Body Love), but if you’re interested in intuitive eating and embracing your body where it’s at right now, I’d recommend this book as a great introduction to both topics.

Here are a few quotes:

  • Put simply, diet culture is a set of beliefs that puts thinness, shape and size above all else and equates it with health, success, happiness and moral virtue.
  • [On mass production of clothing starting around the 1950’s]: Now, rather than clothes being made to fit your unique body, your body was expected to fit the clothes. [I “knew” this, I suppose, but I hadn’t spent much time reflecting on the fact that clothes used to be made-to-order. No wonder the default size of jeans doesn’t fit my unique body perfectly!]
  • [On the impact of diet culture to women specifically, and their “voice”]: It’s hard to smash the patriarchy on an empty stomach, or with a head full of food and body concernsChristy Harrison [author of Anti-Diet]; “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Naomi Wolf
  • Moving from thinking about food in terms of how to control my weight to using food to nourish my body and make me feel good was a very powerful mindset shift. Because food is so much more than whether it makes us thinner, fatter or maintains our weight – but at the same time, for most of us, the saying ‘food is fuel’ is very reductive. Food is enjoyment, self-care, tradition, culture, privilege and social connection. [Yes, yes, yes! Emphasis mine.]
  • Your body is not an object to be looked at, so healing your body image – your perception and feelings about your body – is not about changing how you view your body; it’s about changing how you value your body. [Isn’t that subtle distinction incredibly powerful?]

The Measure by Nikki Erlick. This is a popular book and I understand the appeal. Overnight – literally – everyone over 22 years of age receives a small box with a string inside. People quickly discover the length of the string corresponds to the length of their life. Is it long? Is it short? Will you even open your box to look? How will it impact a relationship if one partner has a long string and another a short? The premise was sound and the character development was good – but I…didn’t love it. The ending was satisfying and tied up some loose ends, but there was no robust attempt to get to the bottom of how the strings came to appear (and continued to appear; as soon as someone turned 22, they would receive a box). I guess the thing that struck me most was the similarities to the one and only storyline I’ve conjured up for if I ever attempted to write fiction. For years I’ve had this quasi-formed idea for a book and there were some clear overlaps with The Measure. Bizarre!

Think Again by Adam Grant. This is a non-fiction read all about the “power of knowing what you don’t know,” by laying out the perks of being a lifelong learner. It discusses the benefits of being willing to consider other points of view, how to be open to change, and offers some concrete steps for best practices. I found it a bit dry in places and would have liked a few more engaging anecdotes (I live for anecdotes in non-fiction). It was pleasant enough to read, but not memorable (i.e. there isn’t a piece of advice that felt revolutionary).

I snapped a picture of this:

Some quotes…

  • When people reflect on what it takes to be mentally fit, the first idea that comes to mind is usually intelligence. The smarter you are, the more complex the problems you can solve – and the faster you can solve them. Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.
  • Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn. Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso
  • Great thinkers don’t harbor doubts because they’re imposters. They maintain doubts because they know we’re all partially blind and they’re committed to improving their sight. They don’t boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand. They’re aware that each answer raises new questions, and the quest for knowledge is never finished. A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.

And then maybe my favourite part of the book – which I HAVE thought about several times – came from the acknowledgments. I know I’ve discussed acknowledgments before, but let’s do it again because I love reading this section (though I just realized I don’t if it’s a DNF; not enough skin in the game, perhaps?).

  • [Directed to his wife]: As always, she helped me rethink many of my assumptions and put up with countless trivial questions, random requests, and unnecessary debates. I still pronounce it man-aze, not may-o-naze, but she makes a compelling point that no one says “Please pass the man”; it’s “Please pass the mayo.” For the record, I don’t even like mayonnaise. [I love how this little story encapsulates an intimate aspect of their relationship; I also love mayonnaise, and I’m a sucker for heartfelt thanks directed at a spouse*.]

*My all-time favourite partner acknowledgment is from Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) which I read years ago and think of regularly: Last, but certainly not least, is my darling wife, Usha, who read every single word of my manuscript literally dozens of times, offered needed feedback (even when I didn’t want it), supported me when I felt like quitting, and celebrated with me during times of progress. So much of the credit for both this book and the happy life I lead belongs to her. Though it is one of the great regrets of my life that Mamaw and Papaw never met her, it is the source of my greatest joy that I did. [That last line? Could it be more perfect?]

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This is the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series – about a group of aging seniors in a retirement/nursing home complex solving crimes – and I LOVED this book. I definitely preferred this to the first book (and you could read the second without the first). It’s hilarious. It’s entertaining. It has fun twists and turns. Also, I just love the premise of seniors solving crimes.

A few of my favourite scenes/sets of dialogue.

"Does it hurt where they kicked you?" asks Kendrick...

I tell the others it doesn't," says Ibrahim. "But it does, very much."

"They probably know," says Kendrick.

"They probably do," says Ibrahim. "But you're the only person I'm telling for sure.
"You know that time is not coming back, don't you? The friends, the freedom, the possibilities?"

"You're supposed to be cheering me up," says Donna.

Ibrahim nods. "Let it go. Remember it as a happy time. You were at the top of the mountain, and now you're in the valley. It will happen to you a number of times."

"So what do I do now?"

"You climb the next mountain, of course."

"Oh, yeah, of course," says Donna. Simple. "And what's up the next mountain?"

"Well, we don't know, do we? It's your mountain. No one's ever climbed it before."

"And what if I don't want to? What if I just want to go home and cry every night and pretend to everyone that everything's okay?"

"Then do that. Keep being scared. Keep being lonely. And spend the next twenty years coming to see me, and I will keep telling you the same thing. Put your boots on and climb the next mountain. See what's up there. Friends, promotions, babies. It's your mountain."

"Will there be other mountains after that one?"

"There will."

This one made me laugh…

"Are you getting a dog, by the way? Stephen wanted to know."

"None of your business," says Joyce. She is beginning to think she might not offer Elizabeth a flapjack, but she has made them with coconut oil and is desperate for someone to try them. So she is in a bind.

This one made me cry. It’s from a scene that involves one of the main characters, Elizabeth. Her husband, Stephen – who has dementia – is upset about a book review he received years and years ago; due to his mental deterioration, he recalls the negative review as being a recent event. He wants to head out the confront the person (Julian Lambert) who spoke poorly of his work. There is a very touching passage as Elizabeth helps him settle down, and he forgets his outrage. Then later in bed:

"Darling," says Stephen. "Do you remember Julian Lambert, he just popped into my head?"

"Never heard of him," says Elizabeth. 

"I might put in a lunch with him. He's just had the most awful divorce. Be nice to check he's all right.

Oh stay with me, Stephen, thinks Elizabeth. Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me.*

*I’ve had/have several family members suffering from dementia and that last line makes me want to sob. I’ve thought about that phrasing at least a dozen times since closing this book. And, in a different context, it feels relatable as a parent when you watch your child grow up. The latter is wonderful but also, sometimes, you just want to whisper: Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me…

Any book that manages to get a word like “mollycoddled” is sure to be a success…

[One of the seniors is tasked with reviewing CCTV footage to get to the bottom of a crime; he also happens to be babysitting the grandson of a friend.]

The facility opens at seven a.m. and shuts at seven p.m., so it will take him ninety minutes to get through the day. With Kendrick he can cover two days in that time. Perhaps it's not the perfect job for an eight-year-old, but children were far too mollycoddled these days.

And then in the acknowledgments Osman writes:

I thanked my wonderful grandparents, Fred and Jessie, last time, and I shall do so again. And will keep on doing so for as long as I write.

Again, so sweet!

I say do yourself a favour and always read the acknowledgments!

Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas. This was a short book full of micro-memoirs (think: Heating and Cooling). This book was okay; it was a bit raw/gritty for me, but it was quick and engaging, and I think it would appeal to a lot of people.

The most memorable part of the book? At one point in her life, the author thinks she may be losing a pregnancy; her husband speaks with his mother-in law on the phone:

Shyly she asked him, “Do you think I should come?”

“My wife needs her mother,” said her son-in-law, and in that second she understood all at once and forever everything she needed to know. And she got on the bus directly and went out to their house and she sat by her daughter’s bed and held her hand. She stayed in that room until her daughter fell asleep and she was there when her daughter woke. She is grateful forever to him for saying the right thing at the right moment because her life changed right there on that dime. And the baby is fourteen years old. Hallelujah.

This made me immediately think of our recent discussion of saying the “right thing at the right time“.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. This was a DNF. About halfway through I burned out on Mary Oliver. I felt obligated to push through and finish but then thought: I love her poetry, I’m oversaturated for now – I CAN GET THIS BOOK OUT OF THE LIBRARY AGAIN OR BUY IT. So it went back in my returns bag the next day.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. How do I rate this book? I thought it was very well written; a great story with predictable (?) but enjoyable twists. It features another senior, this time a widowed woman mourning the mysterious death of her son while working as a cleaner at a small aquarium. She befriends an octopus. There are several side stories that feed into this main arc. I didn’t love it. I’m not sure why? Maybe it’s the much higher-than-normal level of fiction I’ve been reading. I wonder if I had read this book after a month of non-fiction if I would have blown me away. It was good and I can see why it is burning up the bestseller charts.

Not pictured:

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. This is the second book in the Lucy Barton “series.” While I can see it being a polarizing book – and it tackled heavy subject matters – I thought My Name Is Lucy Barton was a tremendously well-written book. I found Anything Is Possible to be…disjointed. Each chapter focuses on a different character and while everything ties in together, I found it challenging to follow the story arc. I also read this over the course of two weeks, and I think it’s best suited to a one-sitting read so you can keep all the nuances and family trees separate. It also felt even more traumatic than the first book. There is one scene where one of the characters – who grew up tremendously poor in an emotionally abusive home – discusses how her mother cut up all her clothes with scissors one day in a fit of rage. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read and I almost stopped reading at that point. So…very mixed feelings about this one.

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. This was also a DNF. It felt too much like a motivational speech and I didn’t like the way he structured his anecdotes. I think Atomic Habits by James Clear is a similar – but superior – book. But also, I feel like maybe I should try it again at another time. It seemed like it had potential. Thoughts if you’ve read and finished this one?

And that’s it!

Your turn. Do you always read the acknowledgments section? What’s your favourite book from November? Do you have a plot idea for a fictional book that you’ve been mulling over for years?

Header photo by Asal Lotfi on Unsplash

Some Mary Oliver Poems

I was introduced to the work of Mary Oliver through a snippet from her poem The Summer Day, which closes with the line: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Years later, when I was ruminating on a conversation about the power of asking Why Not?, I read the following:

Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was absolutely drenched in enthusiasm.

I don’t know why. And yet, why not.

Her tiny passage about a wren was the last nudge I needed to start slowly picking away at various collections by this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Without any more preamble, here are some of my recent favourites – a few poems in their entirety and, from others, little snippets that made me stop, think and/or say: Wow.

From Freshen the Flowers, She Said:

a bounce upward at the end to let them take
their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs,
the little sheds of the buds.  It took, to do this,
perhaps fifteen minutes,
Fifteen minutes of music
with nothing playing.

I loved – and instantly recognized what she meant – by that last line: fifteen minutes of music with nothing playing.

From Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

This World

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold

My favourite, again, was her closing; imagery of stones on the beach, blissfully content in the absence of gold. Gold glitters, but it can also trap…

From Snow Geese:

I held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

How does she manage to always finish her poems in such a magical way? I guess this is why she was a Pulitzer Prize winner…and I am not?!

The Wren from Carolina

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed
through the neighbor’s hedge
a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down
much less sing.

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat
and delivers such a cantering praise—
for what?
For the early morning, the taste of the spider,

for his small cup of life
that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.
All things are inventions of holiness.
Some more rascally than others.

I’m on that list too,
though I don’t know exactly where.
But every morning, there’s my own cup of gladness,
and there’s that wren in the hedge, above me, with his

blazing song.

Other favourites:

  • From Luna: I live in the open mindedness of not knowing enough about anything.
  • From The Old Poets of China: Wherever I am, the world comes after me. If offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it.
  • From Mindful: Every day I see or I hear something that more or less kills me with delight; [I] instruct myself over and over in joy…of the ordinary, the common, the very drab.

Your turn. Are you a fan of Mary Oliver? If so, do you have a favourite poem?

Header photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Recent Books, Swearing & More Questions for Readers

I continue on with my reinvigorated reading schedule! It has been mostly fiction reads – unusual for me.

Here is what has been on the docket lately:

My Name Is Lucy Barton. This is the first book I’ve read by (Pulitzer Prize-winning) Elizabeth Strout. I think this is a book you’ll either love or hate. Over the first few chapters I thought I might wind up in the hate camp. That feeling didn’t last – this book was brilliant. It’s heartbreaking and, yet, oddly triumphant. It’s a quick read, but I have thought about “Lucy” a lot since I turned the last page. (I do want to note that, while not graphic, this book touches on a number of very hard topics like domestic/child abuse, negligent parents, war crimes, and PTSD.)

Felicity. Mary Oliver is top of class…literally, she also won a Pulitzer Prize!

Once Upon a Chef. I don’t track/rate things like cookbooks in Goodreads, but I did skim this cover-to-cover…and it is technically a book. I have made several recipes by Jennifer Segal and reference her recipe site occasionally (Once Upon a Chef). The food all looked delicious, but I am just not a cookbook person and, quite frankly, they leave me feeling overwhelmed. I don’t want to make a perfect pie crust. I want to BUY MY PIES. Every single pie from now until eternity. I don’t want to brine chicken thighs or make a new spice rub. I’d rather search for a recipe online rather than happening upon ideas in a cookbook. So, this was a very nice cookbook, but I need to stop reading them.

Love Your Home Again. I am a sucker for home organization books and find them strangely relaxing. Unfortunately, for me, this book missed the mark. The authors (a mother-daughter team) would use slightly different angles of the same photo repeatedly which felt like cheating. I also felt like their approach could be quite mean sometimes. Referencing people holding on to wedding pumps, they wrote: Must we really hang on to a pair of shoes we wore for seven hours, fifty years ago? Well…maybe someone really DOES want to hang on to those shoes for sentimental reasons. Can’t that be okay? They also pigeonholed/typecast the reader, which I didn’t appreciate. Still on the topic of shoes (in regard to “how many is too many pairs”), they wrote: You’re reading our book so we can bet you have too many shoes! Bet again. At another point, they wrote something snarky about how many sweaters people have and said “…one or maybe two of you [are] saying: ‘Wait. I only have eight sweaters in total.’ You can put this book down and pat yourself on the back. You are an organizational expert and you should probably send your resume to us…”

The joke is on them – I have exactly 8 long-sleeved shirts (including “sweaters”) in my closet.

At another point they had a picture with ~100 toilet paper rolls lined up perfectly in an exposed storage cupboard in a laundry room. First, who takes that much toilet paper out of the package (maybe you do – if so, what a wonderful idea! You’re clearly a genius and I’m missing something that will change my life)? All I could think (after wondering who has this much TP in their house at any given time) was: as soon as you remove a single roll the whole thing will look completely off-kilter.

The book itself was nicely designed, but the tone didn’t sit right with me. The one takeaway that I did appreciate was their suggestion of bagging up extra (new) hotel/mini toiletries and donating them to shelters. I thought this was brilliant. I try to not bring things home from hotels, but we still wind up having a small tote of little lotions and shampoos and I never know what to do with them – and having individual-sized toiletries to hand out to clients at a women’s shelter, for example, seems like it would be ideal (rather than donating single large-sized items).

The Fortnight in September. This was a book I thought I would love. It’s a two-week snapshot of the life of an ordinary family going on their annual vacation. There were some very sweet moments and the writing was good…but I never got emotionally invested with any of the characters. I need to like/dislike someone to feel a connection with a fictional book, but I mostly felt apathetic. I also missed any sense of closure at the end of the book. But I did write down some wonderful quotes/thoughts.

Mr. Stevens was thinking what a very happy place the world would be if people could lead each other quietly aside, and gently but firmly tell each other the little things they unconsciously do that irritate and annoy their fellows. [This quote was part of a brilliantly crafted scene in the book – where one character feels obliged to make small talk with another character even though they both would rather skip the pleasantries entirely – and I found it so relatable.]

Unpacking is an irritating business at the best of times – but to wander about with rolled socks and underclothes, to hang coats in stuffy cupboards and lay things out in drawers before you have even smelt the sea is a stupid punishment to inflict upon yourself…The best plan of all was to go down to the sea – stay there just long enough to roll it round the tongue – then come back and dive into the trunk with the tingle of salt in the nostrils, and the promise of a long unhurried stroll in the evening. Unpacking can be made a pleasure, done in Mr. Steven’s way. [I loved this; again, so relatable and I appreciated the idea that something like unpacking – which the author highlights is objectively irritating on most levels – can still be transformed into a pleasurable experience.]

The family is trying to decide whether to spend extra money to rent a beach “hut” or opt for a less expensive option (leaving more resources for other activities while on vacation). After weighing pro’s and con’s:

It was Dick who decided them at last. He had been standing still, gazing out to sea, and suddenly he turned – Why not? – It’s only once a year. [I’ve been thinking so much about my Why not conversation, so seeing this question in print gave me a thrill. Just last night, when I was dithering about whether I should upgrade something as part of a Christmas gift I thought: Why not spend the extra $2.40 for nicer paper – it’s only once a year!]

She was too tired to worry about the lumps [in the bed] tonight, but tomorrow when she got into bed, she would work the lumps carefully about with her hands and feet, and get them into the right positions. For luckily the lumps in the bed at Seaview were the kind that could be moved about and kneaded into different shapes, and if properly disposed could be made into an additional comfort. [Again I love the idea of something that seems negative, being flipped to a positive.]

People who like arranging things in advance can make themselves a dreadful nuisance on a holiday – but it largely depends on the way they go about it. [This made me laugh. I sure do like to arrange things in advance and suspect my family might sometimes consider me a dreadful nuisance?!]

Then he put on lighter socks and his canvas shoes, and came down feeling as fresh as paint. [I don’t think I’ve ever heard this turn of phrase – “fresh as paint” – but it sounds like something my grandmother would have said, and it made me feel warm and fuzzy.]

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I have a lot of feelings about this book and they’re all complicated. On the one hand, I really did like the main characters (Strike and Robin). Overall I thought the writing was good and I didn’t want to put it down. But, also, reading it felt…icky and I just couldn’t get over the grittiness (see below). Perhaps some of my uneasiness comes from the fact that Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling?

This is not another Harry Potter book. I found the level of swearing very distracting and it felt forced and that ended up being my main takeaway from this book (also, no spoilers, but I did predict a big chunk of the ending!). I can see why people love this series, but I think I’ll start and end with the first book.

In terms of picture books…wow, it has been slim pickings. Between not carving out much time to read with the kids and a dearth of great books, I can only think of two to highlight:

I’m Sticking With You is a repeat book that I’ve mentioned before on the blog – one of the kids must have picked it off the shelf at the library, and I’m glad they did – it’s just so, so cute. It’s Duffy Time! is a delightful story about a dog who loves to nap. It was sweet and reading it together felt like a warm hug (and we don’t even own a dog).

And that’s a wrap on what I’ve been reading over the last few weeks…

swearing in books

My reaction to the language in The Cuckoo’s Calling gave me a lot to ponder…so let’s talk swearing.

First and foremost, I am very sensitive to any language that flippantly or irreverently invokes the name of God/Jesus. I was thinking about this the other day and wondering how to make it seem relatable to others. Imagine a beloved person in your life – a parent or spouse or sibling or friend or child – and then imagine someone who doesn’t know them using their name/character in a derogatory manner. How would that make you feel? You’d want to protest: But you don’t even know this person – if you did, you wouldn’t speak about them this way!! I realize that I function in a society where many people do not share the same spiritual beliefs and this sort of language is unavoidable; that said, it always, always makes me wince when I hear/read it.

Other salty language, I can handle at a whole different level. For some context, in my household growing up we avoided all “swearing” with a 10-foot poll. We didn’t even say “pee” (it was tinkle; I mean – can you even?). I have no idea what we used in place of “fart” – break wind? Pass gas? I remember seeing the F-word (and I don’t mean fart) written in dust on the back of a school bus one day. I can distinctly remember the town/intersection where our car pulled up behind said bus. I also remember taking great satisfaction when, out of earshot of my parents, I said Darn it one-day playing basketball with a friend. Or when an international student who moved to town taught everyone swear words on the bus…in German.

Lest you think I have towed the family line, let’s just say the dermatologist who injected bleomycin into my foot years ago would have earned the right to wash my mouth out with soap. After the first few injections (he did about 20), I couldn’t help myself. After my involuntary – and not quiet – tirade, I apologized. He didn’t even look up from his job of inflicting trauma to my foot, he just said very matter-of-factly: Oh, this is the most painful procedure I do; I only do it a few times a year…and everyone swears.

But gratuitous swearing is a major ick factor for me in many books/movies. If I’m watching Saving Private Ryan, I expect language. It fits and serves a real purpose. In a rom-com (or, in the case of a murder mystery book), it can feel very forced – like the writer is checking off some “gritty/edgy” box – unnecessary and, for me at least, a big distraction. If 3/4 of the language had been filtered out of The Cuckoo’s Calling, I think I would have loved it.

is reading always “good” for you?

Switching gears.

This might seem like an odd question, but I’ve been thinking about my natural inclination to always have a book on the go and I thought: I wonder if reading is always “good” for me? I know sometimes I’ve gotten fixated on finishing a certain number of books (stressful) or I’ve been stuck on a particular genre (a string of rather horrifying, but excellently written, memoirs – Educated, The Glass Castle, The Witness Wore Red, The Sound of Gravel, Troublemaker…) and thought: maybe I need to switch things up a bit.

So, is reading always a positive addition to your life? Have you ever made a decision to pivot away from a certain type of book or a level of consumption to make way for other priorities?

race to the end – or A slow, steady savour?

Are you a race-to-the-end sort of reader or, if you’re really enjoying a book, do you purposefully try to prolong the experience?

I’m definitely a racer – but mostly because I have a hard time turning my brain off. So, if a book is truly engaging, it’s easier to just finish it than to ruminate on what’s going to happen.

what do you think about fictional names?

I’m always so interested to see what names get used in fiction writing. (Abby shows up frequently, I’ve realized since birthing an Abby of my own). I’m also surprised by how unusual some of the names/spellings are and I have this weird (lazy?) habit of not trying to think through how to pronounce things properly. I mostly notice this when I start to read out loud. Just last week I was reading Abby a chapter from whatever Harry Potter book she’s on now (I’ve lost count and this is her 2nd? 3rd? read-through of the set). I was stumbling over Pigwidgeon and Grimmauld Place, not because I didn’t recognize the names but because when I read the books to myself I could just skim over the names and, without solidifying the pronunciation, still recognize them and assign ownership. As in: Pigwidgeon = Ron’s owl and Grimmauld Place = house where the Order of the Phoenix meets – so I could read the books and understand the context without working out how to pronounce the word.

Your turn. What’s your favourite book from the last month of reading. Do you find gratuitous swearing an unwelcome distraction in books? Do you take the time to figure out the pronunciation of uncommon names in books you’re reading? Do you like to read a good book quickly, or do you prefer to savour it?

Header photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Recent Books, Writing Quirks, 2022 Favs + More Questions for Readers

I think my reading drought is officially over! I expect my book consumption to drop precipitously over the summer, but this year I was starting to feel unsettled when the hiatus extended into October. Cutting back on reading was necessary as our family moved through some major transitions, but I’m slowly easing into a new routine and that feels comforting. How I love books!

Last week I read:

Bright Lights, Prairie Dust

Karen Grassle’s book was…okay. I never know how to feel when the veil gets pulled back on a beloved character*. Grassle epitomized “Ma” in the Little House on the Prairie television series, and her off-screen persona was dramatically different from what she portrayed on the show (rampant addiction and severe depression). The level of detail provided felt tedious at times and the ending was abrupt, but I am always a sucker for behind-the-scenes memoirs. 3 stars.

*I felt this way about the original Laura Ingalls Wilder books after I read Prairie Fires last year, and I’ll never be able to look at the Anne of Green Gables series with quite the same rose-coloured glasses after learning the sad, hard reality of L.M. Montgomery’s life.

The Thursday Murder Club

I really enjoyed the character development in this book, but found the ending…unsatisfying. I can’t decide if I think it was too messy or too neatly wrapped up? I read 70% of this book in the ER while tending to my temporary (hopefully!) hearing loss and finished it in bed later that night, so it was definitely engaging and I enjoyed it enough to order the next book in this series. 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 on Goodreads).

Some random questions on my mind lately:

noticing writing patterns/quirks

Do you ever notice a pattern in an author’s writing style and then struggle to “unsee” it? This happened to me with Shauna Niequist’s latest book I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet.

For some context, I thought Bread and Wine was a delight. Present over Perfect was meh. In her latest book, the topics covered and her tone very much grated on my nerves. (This is obviously subjective – I know others who loved this book). Ironically enough, I walked away with a lot of thought-provoking quotes, but the main reason I finished reading this book was to document her frequent use of numerical exaggeration.

Here are some examples:

  • It felt like we knocked on a thousand doors that didn’t open…(17)
  • I thought I needed a great army of friends, eleven sets of dishes, six pairs of boots, and two thousand books. (39)
  • She answered a thousand of my questions…(68)
  • I can’t tell you the thousands of times we’ve pushed our boys out the door…(78)
  • Everyone I know has felt the complexity of our world in a thousand different ways…(81)
  • …a thousand days when a walk in the blinding sun and cold air…(84)
  • We walked out a thousand frustrations and worries. (87)
  • ..this actual apartment would save my life – and it has, one thousand times. (92)
  • …useful in my work in a thousand ways since. (95)
  • …and choose weakness about a thousand times, conservatively. (101)
  • Empathy stiches us together when a thousand things act as seam rippers. (104)
  • Can’t wait till life intervenes a thousand times (156)
  • Life will break your heart in a thousand ways. (185)
  • There are a thousand places on this earth my eyes have never seen (189)
  • I’ve thought about Donna…a thousand times since that phone call. (199)
  • …[people in her acknowledgements] talked me off a thousand ledges. (219)

Let’s move on to $1,000,000…

  • …we had a million mutual friends. (15)
  • …moving to New York taught me a million things about living more lightly…(36)
  • There are about a million…cliches…(84)
  • There are a million ways to be a responsible parent. (92)
  • I’d been struggling for about a million years and then I got it. (184)
  • …for being our home team in one million little and big ways. (219)

And there were more! I flagged every single example I found because I couldn’t look away. And then I felt extremely guilty for being such a nitpick; after all, I’m not the person with a NYT Bestseller label on my books.

More on this topic:

  • I overuse parentheses. I know this and have accepted this quirk, so I felt triumphant when I read Stanley Tucci’s memoir Taste which includes many sets of parentheses.
  • Months ago, NGS mentioned how the author of Hamnet used the “rule of threes” on repeat. Since this book was a DNF for me (depressing + involved domestic violence), I’m using the same quote NGS mentioned:

She brings a honeycomb out of the skep and squats to examine it. Its surface is covered, teeming, with something that appears to be one moving entity: (1) brown, (2) banded with gold, (3) wings shaped like tiny hearts. It is hundreds of bees, crowded together, clinging to (1) their comb, (2) their prize, (3) their work. [I added the numbers for emphasis.]

Now I see examples of the rule of threes in almost every book I read.

  • When Abby was in primary, she learned about circular endings (think: If You Give A Mouse a Cookie). I’d never noticed this literary technique before Abby came home armed with that knowledge…and now I see it regularly, mostly in picture books.

where do you keep your TBR Books?

Switching gears. If you, like me, still prefer the tactile experience of paper copies of your books…where do you store your current library stack?

A stash of books just waiting to be read! The little storage basket holds: pens, highlighters, bookmarks, a clip-on book lamp for middle-of-the-night reading, and the black case is a thrift store find that contains 100s of sticky tabs for marking quotes I want to copy down.

I usually have 2-3 books on the go simultaneously. These tend to stay on top of my bedside table but, if the clutter is getting to me, I’ll go ahead and add them to the top drawer of my bedside table which is where I store all the rest of my TBR books.

favourite READS IN 2022?

I really enjoyed Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet, Amor Towles The Lincoln Highway (despite an ambiguous ending), and Maggie Smith’s Keep Moving.

I also liked: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, I Miss You When I Blink + Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott, Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam, When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann (an incredible historical memoir about the Holocaust) and New Minimalism by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. 

Do You ever Blow past your bedtime to read?

I’ve tried to be more disciplined about bedtime lately, but there are definitely nights I stay up too late to finish a book. The Less People Know About Us and The Sound of Gravel are the last two books I remember keeping me up until the wee (like 3 am!) hours of the morning because I just. couldn’t. stop. reading.

As a kid, did you read under the covers?

I remember trying this when I was younger because it seemed like a rite of passage. I hated it! I’m not usually claustrophobic but I loathed the sensation of having my head under the covers (still do; it’s so hot/stuffy – ugh!) and reading by flashlight always felt like a proper nuisance.

do you cry when you read books?

I’ll get sad when I finish a long, beloved series – like Harry Potter or Anne of Green Gables – or feel grief for the tragedy befalling others (hello every FLDS memoir I’ve read) but I don’t cry very often. I did cry when I read a few passages from I Miss You When I Blink because I was a hormonal wreck and felt like Mary Laura Philpott was writing about me, but that was cathartic crying.

I’m more likely to cry watching a movie, but even that is pretty rare aside from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which left me sobbing.

what books have influenced you the most?

  • The Bible has changed/continues to change my life in so many ways.
  • Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project has had major impacts on my outlook. I think about something from her books/research nearly every day.
  • This year, The Anti Diet by Christy Harrison and The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner have dramatically impacted how I approach food and eating.

has a book ever precipitated vacation plans?

I’ve seen the travel hack of reading fictionalized books about your vacation destination – I didn’t end up doing it in time, but a friend recommended I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before I visited Savannah this summer – but I’ve never gone to a location specifically because it was the setting for a book. But I’ve heard of people visiting Nantucket after reading Elin Hilderbrand books. This does sound very fun and whimsical; a bucket-list item, perhaps?

What are you reading right now?

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

If you’ve read I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, did you notice the author’s use of numerical generalization/exaggeration? What about vacation planning, blowing through bedtimes, crying, and favourite books from 2022? What are you reading this week?

Header photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Why the Picture Book Thing Is Making Me Sad

A few weeks ago, when I was turning out all the lights before bedtime, I took a wistful look at our little picture book basket. It’s had a place by our living room armchair for years now, and I’ve been feeling an aching dread over how quickly we’re reaching the end of an era in terms of family reading habits.

I thought the sadness was because I love picture books so much. I do love picture books and have loved sharing the experience with my kids. We’ve laughed at silly rhymes, we’ve marveled at illustrations, we’ve explored hard topics in wonderful ways, we’ve discovered favourite authors, we’ve handpicked 1000s of books off the shelves at local library branches.

But that night I realized the biggest reason the end of this era is making me so sad: this was the one parenting skill in which I felt fully confident.

Every day I feel like I’m screwing up in countless ways. But reading out loud to the kids was my thing. I knew I did it well. And this aspect of parenting is slowly – but undeniably – coming to an end.

I don’t have a great way to wrap up this post. Just the observation that reaching the end of an era of picture books in our household signals the end of a major source of parenting confidence. And that bums me out!

Onward and upward, I suppose, but with unmistakable sadness…

Can you relate – if not with picture books specifically, then in some other aspect of your life where you felt great confidence in a behaviour which naturally timed out?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

P.S. We also read chapter books (not quite as near and dear to my heart as picture books); here’s a post I wrote about our long phase of reading books that have accompanying movies!

A Gold Star To Library Bags

With several voracious readers in the house, we cycle through a lot of library books. I have a stack in my bedside dresser, there’s a stack in the living room, and each child has a stack by their bed.

When we finish books, I store the ready-to-return items in a reusable bag in my closet. When the bag is full, I make a trek to the library.

I trek a lot.

A few weeks ago I went to return a relatively small stash of completed reading material and was greeted by an enormous pile of holds. This is typical, but I usually think to bring several additional bags with me to collect holds.

This time I had forgotten and the math of the situation was simple: there were too many books to fit into my single reusable bag.

For reference, and because it’s so adorable, it was this one. Thanks, Joy!

Cue mild panic – I could picture myself trying to balance a teetering stack of books across the parking lot to my car and ending up facefirst on the asphalt, books splayed on pavement hither and yon. In the middle of such internal catastrophizing, one of the librarians asked “Do you want to check out one of our reusable bags?

You bet I would…

During pandemic lockdowns, when people could only access holds via distance, they set out books for pickup in branded reusable library bags. It had never crossed my mind those bags were still available with libraries reopened.

So it was with special satisfaction I walked across the parking lot, easily managing all of my holds in two large bags.

Your turn. Have you ever had to channel your inner circus performer to balance a giant stack of library books across a parking lot? What feature about your library system do you most enjoy?

Header photo by Angelina Yan on Unsplash

Reading Slumps, Favourite Authors & Other Reading Questions

Every time I write another post about reading habits, I feel certain I’ve tapped the end of interesting questions related to said topic. But then another assortment of questions crosses my radar. This just goes to show there are many unique ways to enjoy the reading process!

How do you handle reading slumps? And a note on seasonal fluctuations

Last week Suzanne asked how I handle reading slumps. I had to mull over this for a bit. April and May were hit-and-miss in the book department. I abandoned multiple books and finished others that could be best described as mediocre. Sometimes a consecutive run of uninspiring books turns me off from reading anything – even old favourites – for a while, but this is mostly buffered by the fact I have a natural break factored into my reading routine: summer.

June through August is peak reading season for many bibliophiles; books are the perfect complement to a day at the beach or a long airplane journey. But I have always prioritized reading during colder months when, at least in rural Canada, there isn’t much else to do with leisure time.

I don’t consider this summer break a “slump” – I genuinely look forward to time away from books. Some of this is the longer days and nice weather. Get outside and look up at all the beautiful wonder around you – my mind subconsciously screams. The kids are off school and bedtimes creep later, so there is also functionally less time in my day for reading. And, since I get most books from my local library in hardcopy, it is more of a hassle to juggle returns when we’re away on vacation.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 47 books so far in 2022 and there’s a good chance I’ll read 47 more, but those will be concentrated between September to December. The last few weeks have been a nice reading reprieve, but I already have a list of holds deferred for the end of August and I’m excited to resume regular book consumption at that point.

*I do read some over the summer, but I’ll average 1-2 books/month instead of 8-10.

do you prefer to finish – or start – a great book?

Hmmm. So tough. I think I prefer to finish a great book. It leaves me sad when something wonderful is over, but there is a unique satisfaction that comes from completing a great book.

do you REcommend books to others?

I don’t recommend books very often and, if I do, it’s almost only to close friends. I’ve read too many books that others have raved about only to be disappointed, so I tend to mention what I’m reading relatively casually and let others take the lead if they want to know more. In short: I don’t want to be the one who recommended a book someone else hates.

Do you belong to a book club?

I have never formally joined a book club and don’t have much interest in doing so. I also don’t go out of my way to discuss books with people – generalizations will usually suffice.

If I’m reading a non-fiction book on a topic that feels applicable to a conversation (say a discussion about parenting when I’m in the middle of reading Hunt, Gather, Parent), I might mention something relevant.

Reading books with the main purpose of discussing them in a group sounds…tedious. Especially if I didn’t like the book in question. I’ve gotten better about abandoning books and think the sense of obligation I would feel to persevere for the sake of a book club would frustrate me. But what do I know – maybe I’d actually love the experience?

Do you have a favourite author?

I don’t. I’ve loved many books by many authors, but I can’t easily identify a front-running favourite.

do you seek out movie versions of books (or vice versa)?

I don’t. I’ve watched lots of movies that have been based on books. I think Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was spectacular, and Meghan Follows hits it out of the park as Anne of Green Gables. I actually like The Hobbit movies more than the book. But, in general, movies based on books tend to be a letdown.

I’m trying to remember a single movie I’ve watched that has spurred me on to check out the book. I did watch Unbroken first, but didn’t actively seek out the book because of the movie (that said, Unbroken is one of my all-time favourite books).

*I’ve posted a list of YA books that have accompanying movies – this made for a fun reading adventure with the kids.

fiction or nonfiction?

If you were tasked with writing a specific genre of book (let’s assume – for the purposes of this exercise – it would be bestselling either way), would you rather have your name on a work of fiction or nonfiction?

While I gravitate toward nonfiction, with a special spot reserved for memoirs, I’m not sure about this one. I feel like my natural inclinations lend themselves far more to nonfiction, but for this particular hypothetical – guaranteed to be a bestseller – I think I’d opt for fiction?

Your turn. How do you handle reading slumps? Do you maintain a full reading schedule over the summer? Do you prefer to start – or finish – a great book?

Header photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash