I’m continuing my Mid-Year Check-In with a short-attention-span set of updates. If there are any unifying themes here, it’s not necessarily by design.
I was winding down a week off from work when I drafted this. We had planned a few days away but called off the trip earlier this month so we could focus on arranging for Paul’s mom’s upcoming move into assisted living. On my third day off, I got news from across the country that my uncle had passed away.(This link is to my sister’s sporadically active and virtually unknown blog.) Uncle Peter was diagnosed with leukemia late last year and had gone into hospice at home less than a week before he died. Overall, I can’t say it was one of the better vacation weeks I’ve had.
Related: Sometimes a staycation is just not quite enough.
It was enough for a nice mani/pedi, though. I usually get gel manicures since I tend to be hard on nail polish, but I forgot to specify that this time. It’s not holding up too badly so far, though.
I’m thinking I should think about doing that more often.
Earlier this year my stepson introduced us to Jackbox Party Pack, a collection of group-participation video games. We play them on the TV using our iPhones as controllers. There are four editions (so far), and all the games require little to no “gamer” skills, which meets my basic video-game requirements. My favorite is Fibbage (trivia + bluffing), but we play Bidiots (Pictionary meets art auction) a lot too.
Back when I was a more consistent blogger, I usually prepared my week’s worth of blog posts on the weekend. Last year, more often than not, that weekend time was allotted to work; numbers took over from writing. I’m not working much on weekends now, but I haven’t been blogging either–you may have noticed. I haven’t been too bothered by the break, in all honesty–I’ve been reading, seeing movies, hanging out and goofing off–but I’m ready to figure out where blogging time fits in again.
Three Reasons To Make Time to Blog
Many of my favorite people and dearest friends live in the computer, and I miss them you!
Blogging doesn’t prove it happened., but it sure helps you remember whether it did. Especially when it wasn’t something you could photograph. (If it was, Instagram is a good substitute.)
I started this blog as a way to track and remember the books I read. I feel like I’ve been having a decent reading year, but I don’t have the record to back it up. Most of my 2017 reading is a blur now, and I don’t want 2018 to go down that same path.
I think I’ve finally found a book-related podcast I’ll stick with! For Real is a Book Riot podcast focused on nonfiction, which is where the books that most excite me these days seem to come from. It’s fun, smart, and co-hosted by my book-blogging BFF and three-time Book Expo roommate Kim Ukura, so I’m excited to support it.
Bookkeeping: The Reading Year in Review (Without Reviews)
Contributing to Shelf Awareness taught me how to craft a concise, structured book review. I’ve never really mastered the “bite-size” capsule book discussion, though–not on LibraryThing or Goodreads, not on Instagram or Litsy, and definitely not here. My book posts here tend to skew high on the word-count side.
I’d like to think I write long reviews because I read books that give me lots to think and talk about Sometimes that’s actually true. And sometimes I scrounge for things to say just to have made the time spent writing feel worth it.
I started this blog to have a record of my reading, with the intent of discussing every book I read. The intention is still there, but the fulfillment of it has been extremely lacking for at least 18 months. That hasn’t meant the end of the world, but it has meant that there’s no record of most of what I’ve read in the last year and a half.
2017 has disappeared, but I don’t really want 2018 to follow it. Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far this year. If time and energy allow, I will come back to some of them in other posts and say more about them, but I don’t plan to “review” any of them at this point. The lists are in roughly chronological order, although they don’t account for movement between fiction and nonfiction.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (purchased audiobook, narrated by Jennifer Lim) [I will probably buy a paperback keeper copy of this one; I liked it more than Everything I Never Told You.]
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (paperback) [I read this one because I didn’t plan to watch the miniseries. After I read it, I couldn’t wait to watch the miniseries.]
Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems, all by Kevin Kwan (paperback and hardcover) [Recommended binge-reading!]
The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin (ebook from the library)
This Could Hurt, by Jillian Medoff (ebook from the library)
In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox, by Carol Burnett: memoir (purchased audiobook, read by the author) [I actually did post a capsule review of this one!]
The Monster of Florence, by Mario Spezi and Douglas Preston: true crime (purchased audiobook, narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris)
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, by Frances FitzGerald: history, religion, politics (audiobook from the library, read by Jacques Roy) [A 2017 National Book Award finalist, this is probably the most important book I’ve read so far this year. It’s instructive, aggravating, and very enlightening about America’s present political and cultural climate. It’s on the heavy side, but not dry reading, and I highly recommend it.]
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, by Leslie Jamison: memoir, social history (audiobook from the library, read by the author) [Jamison weaves the experiences of other writers who struggled with addiction into her own story. I thought it was well-built and well-written, and I was impressed by her narration of the audiobook.]
Educated, by Tara Westover; memoir (audiobook from the library, read by Julia Whelan) [This deserves more than a capsule and I intend to give it that. Meanwhile, you should read it!]
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara: true crime (audiobook from the library, read by Gabra Zackman with Gillian Flynn and Patton Oswalt) [The story around this book is almost as interesting as the book itself.]
The Book of Separation, by Tova Mirvis: memoir (ebook, from the library) [I’ve read a few of this author’s novels, but this memoir came to my attention via Beth Kephart.]
I have noticed some themes and trends here, but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Meanwhile, a couple of questions for you:
Have you read any of the books I mentioned here? Which one(s), and what did you think?
What book are you recommending most frequently these days?
Forgive me, Readers, for I have deserted my post (no pun intended!).
My last post here was in February–I missed an entire season of blogging (and this site’s 11th birthday on March 16).
Despite my frequent and prolonged absences from this space, I still identify as a blogger. I’ve been struggling with frequent feelings of disconnection and unsettledness. I’m pretty sure one of the causes is that my actions and identity haven’t exactly been in sync.
Identifying the problem is a necessary first step toward solving it. And hey–this is actually a problem I can solve, all by myself!
There are, of course, other factors involved here. I think we can identify disconnection, disillusionment, frustration and exhaustion as common symptoms of American life in 2018. It’s more important than ever to know what’s going on in the world. And it’s more tempting than ever to burrow under the covers.
Are you struggling to calibrate what you need to know about the Big Things with what you need to know to deal with your own life every day? I know I am.
Big Little Things
I’m not here to talk about Big Things today, though. I just want to recap some of the not-so-big things that have been claiming my attention since I was last here.
Family Life: Technically speaking, we have no “children” anymore–the youngest turned 18 in December. He’s now a high-school graduate (with honors :-)) and will be starting university at Cal State Northridge in the fall.
And so now it seems the parents are taking center stage–our parents, I mean. My father is now 89 and has had several falls–fortunately, without major damages–during the last couple of years. He continues to live on his own but requires a lot of careful watching. Fortunately, he lives in the same town as my sister and me, so that’s doable. Meanwhile, we’re preparing to move Paul’s mother into a nearby assisted-living community nearby. It’s a big shift–a much smaller space more than 100 miles from the community she’s lived in for over 25 years–and it’s been a process preparing her to make it.
And for you Winchester fans–the dog is fine.
Work Life: My current role at work is an amplified version of my former role as Controller, incorporating some of the responsibilities I had last year as (acting) CFO. That’s partly because we still haven’t hired a full-time CFO, six months after I stepped down and out part-time-interim CFO came on board. I don’t know if I’m feeling less work stress than I did at this time last year, but it feels differently stressful, if that makes sense. (And having given up the acting-CFO pay when I stepped down, there’s literally less compensation for the stress.)
And after 15 years with this agency, the 80-mile daily round-trip communt is growing increasingly tiresome. At least it still offers prime audiobook and podcast time!
“Life” Life: There’s not so much to report on other fronts, and I’ll get to what there is in another post (or maybe even two!). I have been reading, seeing movies, and watching some good TV. This isn’t looking like much of a travel year.
…because we all know what it means when you keep doing the same thing expecting different results.
Many of us have been through a reading slump or two (or 25), but the last year or so has felt different. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find books that interested me. It was more a matter of time and energy–that is, not having either--that made it hard to invest in any books I couldn’t read by ear. (Related: one of the great perks of audiobooks is that almost anyone can read them in the car…even the driver.) My most regular reading-by-eye time was bedtime, and then I was lucky if I could keep my eyes open for more than a few pages (which I might re-read the next night after forgetting them).
Also, for the first time in years, I had no real deadlines to read anything–no review deadlines! no blog tours! no pitches! Without that external motivation, it became surprisingly (and sadly) easy to use time I could have spent reading on other things. I’d spend that before-sleep catching up on email newsletters that had piled up during the workday, and reading links from those emails. Then I’d open my feed reader, weed out the posts I knew I wouldn’t read, and maybe read a few of the posts I spotted while skimming, But I’d probably put the iPad down at that point and pick up my book-in-progress in hopes of getting in those few pages.
Something’s Gotta Give, Something’s Gotta Go
About two weeks ago, I unsubscribed from two of the most active feeds in my reader. The amount and frequency of their posts were causing me to prioritize them over other sources just to keep from getting buried, and I decided I was done with that. I still get email newsletters from one of them and I’ll keep up with their posts that way. I haven’t missed the other one at all, to be honest (and for the record, it wasn’t a book-related blog). This simple act has allowed me to keep my feed reader much more manageable, and that’s been remarkably energizing.
I’ve had a few opportunities this winter to hunker down with a book for a big chunk of time during the weekend. That’s been energizing too, but perhaps more importantly, it’s been inspiring. It’s reminded me how much I like reading that way, and how much more I feel like a READER when I can read that way. I intend to prioritize that a lot better than I’ve been doing while trying not to be sucked into the Book Blogger’s Paradox.
And thanks to this renewed feeling of energy and inspiration, I put six books on library hold last week. Two of them aren’t audiobooks. Some changes come in with baby steps.
If you’ve made any changes in your habits that have made your reading life better, tell me about them!
I’m still working my way through Big Little Lies in print. When I get a block of time to spend with it I move right along, but those blocks of time are (still) tough to come by. I still think I’d get through it this way faster than I would the TV series, though.
I’m in between audiobooks right now and have been commuting with podcasts for the last week or so. I had a bit of book hangover from my last audiobook, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Suburban family drama is one of my kryptonite genres, and Ng was good at it with her first novel, Everything I Never Told You. I thought she did it even better in this one, and I wasn’t ready to jump straight into another book after finishing it.
I Heard It Through the Car Stereo
For the last few days, I’ve been binge-listening at the intersection of TV, podcasts, and audiobooks. Previously.TV recently launched a return to its roots in the TV-recap site Television Without Pity (of blessed memory, RIP). It’s posting Epic Old-School Recaps of a select group of shows, written by some of the original site’s original writers. But because it’s harder these days to make time to read online epics, the recaps are also read aloud and recorded. I’ve barely started Season 2 of The Crown, but I’m almost finished with it in recap form…and I’m loving it.
When I get to the end of The Crown, I have the latest episode of Hit Parade next in my podcast queue. During my middle- and high-school years I was mildly obsessive (is that a thing?) about the music charts. I listened to “American Top 40” every weekend and recorded each week’s countdown in a series of spiral notebooks. The notebooks are long lost, but their contents are still lodged in my head. Thanks to them, I have a freakish ability to correctly identify songs from the mid-1970s through the following decade and place them the correct year. This once-a-month music podcast totally understands that obsession. Bonus: almost every episode reminds me of an old favorite song that’s been missing from my library.
…And the Rest
February is the shortest month on the calendar, and it will be an even shorter one for work for me. I have a five-day weekend coming up while my son spends a few days with us on his return trip from Australia. (One more thing I’ve been reading–his Facebook updates from Down Under.) Two weeks after that, it’s another five-day weekend, hanging with fellow Whovians at Gallifrey One. It will probably be one more month that’s short on reading, though.
How has your January been, and what are you looking forward to in February?
I really want to try to get a post up at the beginning of each week, either sometime on Sunday or first thing Monday. Don’t be surprised if it’s the only post that makes it some weeks–because I won’t be!–but I really like the weekly look back/look ahead so many of us do on weekends.
Books Report: Recent Reading
Audiobooks:In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett reminisces about the making of her landmark comedy/variety TV show (1967-78). I grew up watching that show and I’ll say more about the book if I get time. But until then, I’ll tell you it was a delightful listen and a fine First Book of the Year (started and finished in the first week of 2018!). Also, this dress will never not be funny:
Print and e-books: I finished my last book of 2017 during the last weekend of the year. Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s by Jonathan Bernstein and Lori Majewski was another trip down Memory Lane, except for the parts I missed the first time around. I would have liked a bit more about some of the artists (and lyrics to the featured songs). I also found the format a little repetitive, but overall this was a fun read.
This Saturday morning at Starbucks, I started reading Big Little Lies by Lian Moriarty. Many of you have probably read it already and/or watched the TV series. We didn’t have HBO when the show originally aired–and I’m not sure when I’d get around to watching it now that we do–but I’ve heard so much good about it that I decided to go to the source material.
And Some Reading ABOUT Reading
If one of your goals for the new year is reading more/better–however that looks for you–both the LA Times and Apartment Therapy want to help. They have some of the same suggestions and you may have heard them all before, but I thought I’d pass them along anyway.
We took advantage of the holiday hiatus for most of the shows in our DVR rotation to binge Season 1 of The Crownon Netflix. SO good, but we’re taking a little break before starting Season 2–it’s a lot of drama. Also, the recordings are starting up again and we don’t like to let those get too backlogged.
On that note, is anyone else watching the new episodes of The X-Files? We’re in, but I anticipate much yelling at the TV.
January is such a weird month. The first full five-day work week of the year is bookended by two holiday-shortened ones. I’m starting this one by moving back to my old office with a new title: Assistant Vice President (AVP) of Finance. I suspect that for a while, it will look like a lot like what I did as Controller but with some added elements from my time as Interim CFO. The adventure continues, but I really hope the road will be a little less bumpy from here on out…
Back to the commute means back to audio in the car! I think I may be starting out the week with podcasts, though. Just like the DVR, I don’t like those to get too backlogged either. That will give me a few days to decide on my next audiobook, too.
And I will leave you today with a very tired dog. Sometimes daycare really leaves Winchester dog-tired!!
I keep thinking of 2017 as The Year That Disappeared.
To be honest, though, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It was a year that mostly disappeared from the blog (18 posts in 365 days!), but some of it’s on Instagram.
On a personal level, the highs points of 2017 were pretty darn high:
I stepped up into a new high-level role at work.
Paul and I spent 12 amazing days in Italy. We appreciated Rome, we were delightfully surprised by Venice, and we utterly loved Florence. It was our first time there and we do not intend for it to be the last!
We saw two Tony-Award-winning Best Musicals: The Book of Mormon in July, and Hamilton in October. One was the funniest musical I’ve ever seen (Spamalot has been bumped down to #2). The other was everything,
No one in the family spent a holiday in the hospital.
So yes, there were highs. But highs are always offset by lows.
I barely had a reading life, and most of that consisted of the news and current events. I’m paying for digital subscriptions to several newspapers and magazines now and I’m happy to do it. 2017 was a terribly eventful–eventful and pretty terrible–year. There’s always a sense of hope with the turn of the calendar, but 2018 might not get the memo that it’s supposed to do better right away. In any case, I think that trying to keep up is both essential and responsible.
“Keeping up” has made it tough to make time and energy to read actual books, though. And when you’ve identified as “a reader” since the age of four, not reading really messes with your sense of self.
(If it weren’t for audiobooks I’d have barely read at all in 2017. And sometimes I listened to less-demanding podcasts during my commute instead.)
The blog went dormant. This is partly due to not reading much. It’s also because I didn’t have much time for writing, and when I did have the time I lacked the physical and mental energy.
My book-review index will have a big gap where 2017 should be, and I’m not even going to berate myself for it. I may do short reviews of books that have stayed with me for one reason or another, but if I don’t I’ll accept it.
The Year That Disappeared…Into Work
That new high-level role at work was even more demanding than I anticipated. 2017 was as tumultuous a year for my organization as it was for the world in general. And as a nonprofit, our operations were also directly impacted by a lot of that external tumult and uncertainty.
I learned a lot as interim CFO, but much of the learning happened under intense pressure…and that is not where I do my best. After nine months, I asked to step back down from that role. Next week, I will be moving back to my old one–and my old office.
I objectively accept that I gave the job the best I could. I regretfully accept that I couldn’t perform at the level my organization needed from me. And I gratefully accept that I am able to move back into a niche where we all know I can do well.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to ACCEPT my One Word for 2018,
I’ve never needed to be in recovery, but the Serenity Prayer has always resonated with me:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference
I’ve always felt like the key here is the third line, but in pondering my One Word I was drawn to the first.
How is “accept” compatible with #Resist? So much of what’s happening around us today is unacceptable.
I think it’s about discerning what is appropriate to accept. It’s thoughtfully recognizing what can’t be changed–like it or not–and what needs to change.
I’m working on what I’d call “active acceptance.” For me, that means taking things as they come, but not passively. Most of what I can change is in how I respond to what I accept. I’m trying to figure out how that looks, but here’s what I think it includes:
Saying “yes” to opportunity
Changing “yes” to “no” when I realize it may not have been the right answer after all
Choosing my battles (and when it’s right not to have them)
Being OK with being myself and with others being who they are
Have you chosen One Word for this year? What does it mean to you?
— Dead battery? Probably. This baby’s been sitting idle for quite awhile. Do we still have jumper cables or should I call Triple A?
…OK, it’s charging, but it may be a little while before we can actually go anywhere.
This is post #2500 on The 3 R’s Blog.
(Post #2499 went up on August 8, 2017. Post #2500 is the first one I’m writing on the new 15-inch MacBook Pro I bought a few months ago.)
For the record, “start blogging again” is not a New Year’s Resolution. That said, the beginning of a new year does feel like a good time to come back around here. I have missed being here. I’ve missed reading books. I have missed writing about books…hell, I’ve just missed writing, period. Most of all, I have missed my friends and I’m hoping to be seeing a lot more of you soon!
I’m not committing to any sort of posting schedule or content plan right now. It will probably be some weeks before I’m a proper book blogger again. At this point, I’m aiming for being a blogger again, period.
I’ll have a few things to say about things I’ve missed in another post this week. But like many of us, I’m really not going to miss 2017 and am happy to leave it on the curb. Much of it feels like a blur right now, but it will probably prove one of the most memorable of the early 21st century–despite how much of it we’d rather forget. Dave Barry’s Year in Review throws a little water on the dumpster fire that was the year that was.
First Day of 2018, and First on the Agenda…
…is that I have no idea what my First Book of the Year will be yet. (I’m not counting any of the books I started during 2017 that still have bookmarks stuck in them at various points or the ebook I hope to finish by tomorrow.) The odds are good that it will be an audiobook, since that’s what most of my books have been for the last several months, and I’ll choose it by tomorrow morning when my work commute resumes.
I didn’t decide on my One Word for 2018 until early this morning, but I do have one and I’ll be posting about it later this week.
Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s get this year in gear and get this show on the road.
I don’t usually do the “bite-sized book reviews” thing here. But after four months away, it’s probably the most efficient way to catch up! I’m updating my 2017 Book Review Index and reading record with these collected mini-reviews.
Granted, I didn’t do a TON of reading while I was gone. However, I did read too many books to write individual posts about each one. I don’t have the time–or quite frankly, the memory of some of those books–to do that.
This was probably not the best year for me to volunteer as a judge for the Armchair Audies. I made the commitment before I made the job change, though. Fortunately, I’d already read one of the nominees in my category. Also fortunately, Jennifer manages this project with a very easy hand, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure.
The 2017 Armchair Audies: Autobiography/Memoir Finalists
Four of the five Audies finalists in this category were “celebrity memoir” of some form. The degree of celebrity varies, but most of the authors are known for some activity other than writing. My Armchair Audies choice to win was the only finalist that wasn’t one of these.
Journalist Anderson Cooper initiated an email conversation with his mother on her 91st birthday. Gloria Vanderbilt–heiress, actress, lifestyle designer–had been famous since long before he was born, but he realized he might not have much time left to really know who she was. The e-mail exchange lasted a year, until Vanderbilt’s next birthday. The Rainbow Comes and Goescollects these emails. The audiobook literally shifts voices back and forth as Cooper and Vanderbilt each read their own emails aloud.
The earlier sections of the book feel much like an interview, as Cooper sends Vanderbilt questions to answer. This is intentional–the journalist is approaching his mother professionally. Vanderbilt responds as a storyteller–her responses are filled with vivid detail and feeling. As the exchange continues across the year, it becomes more of a dialogue–a revealing, enlightening bonding experience for mother and son.
Although I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Rainbow Comes and Goes, I liked it very much. I was fully engaged in hearing Cooper and Vanderbilt grow closer to each other. I appreciate that they wanted to share the intimacies they exchanged with a wider audience.
Actor Taraji P. Henson’s memoir was published shortly before the release of Hidden Figures, the Oscar-nominated 2016 film in which she portrayed NASA scientist Katherine Johnson. She discusses this role and others, including her Emmy-nominated breakout as Cookie Lyon in Empire, in the context of her experiences as a Black woman in Hollywood. But before Hollywood, there was Washington DC, where Henson was raised to value working hard and women supporting one another. Around the Way Girl makes clear that Henson still lives by those values.
I’m not familiar enough with Henson’s acting work to have sought this out, but I enjoyed it. I did think the later chapters were more fragmented and occasionally repetitive. I find that not unusual in celebrity memoirs, but here, the material sometimes felt very “as told to” Henson’s collaborator. (That may well have been the case.) But actors often make excellent audiobook narrators, and Henson’s reading enhances the book’s conversational, plainspoken style.
I’m not well-acquainted with Taraji P. Henson’s work, but I really don’t know Hannah Hart’s at all. My knowledge of YouTube content and its creators tends to stop at the “awareness” level–I just don’t watch much of it. Buffering likely wouldn’t have crossed my radar without the Audie nomination.
I’m trying to get away from thinking that one needs to have lived a certain number of years to be “entitled” to write a memoir. Memoir and autobiography are not entirely the same thing, for one thing. For another, if one has perspective and insight on the life-shaping experiences they’ve had prior to age thirty, why wait to write about them? Hart writes with compassion, humor, and hope about fragmented families, economic instability, mental illness and sexual identity. She has the experiences and the perspective.