Category Archives: Books

Sunday Salon/Currently … September Recap

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October started with a busy weekend — a work event on Friday night, spending Saturday taking The Girl to two of her activities. While she was there, I hung out at the library and finished two of the three freelance book reviews that I have due. Today was rather low-key with not much of anything going on.  I slept in a little, went for a run, did the usual grocery shopping and now it’s 11:00 p.m. and the weekend is over.

I’m really tired tonight, so this will be a quick Salon post.

In September, I finally hit 30 books read for the year. I’ve revised my Goodreads 2016 Challenge Goal down to 50 (from my original 55). Because I’m listening to a lot more music and podcasts in the car, my audiobook count is next to nothing (two for the year so far) which is bringing down my total number of books read. So, that 50 is going to be a huge stretch, but I tend to read more in the fall and winter months, especially around the holidays. Plus, there’s also Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon coming up on October 22!  (Have you signed up yet? I love, love, love the Readathon and so far, the day looks clear for me to participate.)

I read four books in September:

Three of those are review books so I can’t say too much about them yet.

born-to-runI’m starting October off with Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run. I’ve been very excited about this one, and debated holding off for the audiobook in hopes that Bruce will be the as-yet-to-be-announced narrator. The audio isn’t out until December 6, though, and given my track record with audiobooks as previously discussed, I’m probably better off reading this one.

And with that, I’m off to bed.

 

sunday salon/currently… 9/18/2016

Sunday Salon bannerHaving a lazy Sunday today.  I had all good intentions of going the park for a walk/run this morning before the humidity became too oppressive but I woke up feeling blah. Nothing major, just a slight headache and minor stomach woes. It the sort of day where the weather can’t make up its mind: in the course of my writing this paragraph, it has been cloudy, then raining, and now it is brilliant sunshine.  (And 20 miles away at the Steelers game, it was a monsoon.)

Reading/Listening … 
My commute has been rather maddening recently, thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction going on in this town and the hell that is the (now indefinite) closure of the Liberty Bridge. Being that this is the City of Bridges with more than 400 of ’em, you would think one being shut down wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not quite. This is a major bridge, traveled by 55,000 people each day. I’m not one of them, but if you need to go anywhere in the vicinity of the Liberty Bridge, you’re feeling the pain of some miserable drives. Such times are when and podcasts and audiobooks become your best friend.

being-mortal

This week I started and finished listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I thought this was an excellent narrative about the many ways our society approaches the end of life. As a physician, Gawande knows firsthand how medicine offers unprecedented possibilities for extending one’s life, no matter what the cost. But that cost can be physically, mentally, and financially significant, and our society still doesn’t have a strong enough support system and options that allow people to age in place.  As a result, the burden on people is tremendous. Gawande illustrates this by sharing the experiences of his patients and family members, and the result is a thoughtful reflection of how we treat the sick and the dying.

Cooking
The Girl and I were out all day yesterday, so I made Salsa Chicken (from Make It Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea) in the crockpot for dinner. (Because nobody in this house can eat the same thing, The Husband had leftover burritos and rice, and I had a quinoa bowl with tomatoes, corn, black beans and feta.)

While that was cooking, I had a second crockpot going. I keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable odds and ends — tops of bell peppers and onions, gnawed corn cobs, broccoli stalks, ends of string beans, and veggies nearing the end of their prime. When the bag gets full, I dump everything into the crockpot, cover with water, toss in some garlic and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) and simmer for the entire day.  It makes a vegetable broth with much less sodium than commercial brands. I typically freeze this into ice cubes and use the broth for sauteing. Tonight I made minestrone soup and was glad I had the required four cups of broth ready to go.

Writing
I applied for a writing fellowship this week. Might be a bit of a long shot, but one never knows. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Running
On Thursday I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K. So far, so good!  I keep promising a longer post about this, I know. Maybe later this week.

sunday salon/currently …one more day (98/99)

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I confess: I’m ready for this summer to end.  I mean, I would be happy to keep this weather; cool mornings, sunny and warm (but not too warm) low-humidity days and evenings with a slight chill are as perfect as it gets in Pittsburgh. All that can stay. But this has been a long summer in a challenging year with a lot of Really Hard Stuff.  I’m trying to focus on the good things about this summer, instead of the disappointments and the struggles and the hard stuff.

The Boy’s four-week camp program went well and he’s mentioned wanting to return next year. The Girl got a partial-scholarship for a week-long teen writing camp and also had the chance to do a painting camp, also for a week. She met one of her best friends, who lives out of state, for breakfast.  The Girl went to a sleepover (in a tent outdoors — a first for her) and she was invited to spend a day at the pool with that same friend.

The Girl and I met Judy Blume and we enjoyed a young adult author event with local writers Jonathan Auxier, Nick Courage and Siobhan Vivian. Our family spent a couple days back in Philadelphia (where I also attended the Mid-Atlantic MRKH Conference) and we enjoyed a fun get-together with the Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh casts from 2015 and 2016.

So, yeah. Some good things among the really, really hard.

Blogging
In addition to one more day of summer, there’s also one day remaining of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project!  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m glad I did this (and I’m astounded that I stuck this out for the entire 99 days) but I am equally glad the end is here. I’m have some thoughts on this whole endeavor tomorrow or later this week.

Reading (Summer Reading Wrap-Up) …
Our library’s Summer Reading Program ended August 31 and my official tally was 21 books — which sounds impressive, but magazines also count. If one tallies only books, I’ve read eight. There’s a very good chance that I’ll hit nine by the end of tomorrow (because my personal Summer Reading Program goes from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and maybe I can find a short book to make it an even number. Here’s what I have so far, with one day to go:

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, edited by Amy Ferris
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub (published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/16/2016)
Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister
Tales of An Accidental Genius, Stories by Simon Van Booy
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Reliance, Illinois, by Mary Volmer
Bright, Precious Days, by Jay McInerney

 

Reading (Currently) …
Leave MeAround lunchtime on Saturday I started Leave Me by Gayle Forman and by dinnertime I’d finished more than 150 pages. (I had a few hours to read while The Girl was at a library program.)  It’s a fast read. I’m loving the Pittsburgh setting — and Forman clearly knows this town extremely well, right down to the location of specific stores and the names of local holiday craft fairs.  This one is a review book, and several others will be following it. (Another reason I’m glad 99 Days of Summer Blogging is finished … more time for reading, which I’ve missed.)

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

 

 

the dystopian nonprofit (89/99)

 

I’m reading the new Jay McInerney novel in bed last night when I get to this passage.

Bright Precious Days - quote

Oh, where do I even fucking begin with this?

In Bright, Precious Days, main character Corrine Calloway is the Executive Director of a food bank.  (This would be a job she felt called to after working in a soup kitchen post-9/11 and for which she left her Wall Street stockbroker job.)

Now, then.  As someone with a 25 year career of working in nonprofit fundraising, let me assure you, dear reader, that summer sabbaticals on the beach in the Hamptons is most definitively not “one of the few perks” of the biz.  I mean, unless there’s some other bright, precious nonprofit sector out there. Maybe it exists on that newly-discovered Earth-like planet that The New York Times oddly felt compelled to deem breaking news this week, sending cell phones all over Earth abuzz.

But you’re intelligent life right here on Earth 1.0 and of course you know this is sheer ridiculousness.

I mean, what the fuck, McInerney?  In what universe does this occur?  Certainly not the one I’m working in. I can’t believe I went to work all summer. (h/t to my friend P. for that quip, via Facebook)

All the Executive Directors I know are working their asses off in the summer — in the office, not beachside, unless they happen to be WORKING while on vacation.  Not to mention the staff.

(Can you imagine the morale in that office, as their Executive Director is sunning herself on Long Island?)

I hate when authors do shit like this.  I really do.  And maybe I sound like I’m protesting too much, but I don’t care.  It perpetuates the myth that nonprofits are somehow easier environments than the corporate sector and that’s just entirely untrue.

Maybe I’m making too much of this and it’s just another example of how perfectly over the top this precious this novel is. I mean, there’s so much extravagance with this novel; a few pages earlier, there’s a bacchanalian-like restaurant scene — among many, many restaurant scenes — where the two diners order wine that costs several thousand dollars.

But I wish that McInerney had done his research or that his editor had caught this because it is inaccurate and presents a stereotypical and unfair picture of those working in the nonprofit sector.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #89 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

 

Come Join Us at The Book Bridge! (86/99)

2016-August-BookBridgeMy longtime book blogging friend Florinda — she of The 3R’s Blog — has launched a fun new project. It’s called The Book Bridge and it’s purpose is to connect people with the great reads that we were most excited about within the past month.

The first edition debuted last month and today, the August 2016 selections are available for your enjoyment.  I happen to have a recommended read included among this month’s picks but even if I didn’t, it’s well worth your while to check it out because there’s something for everyone — suggestions for science fiction, memoir,  recommendation, ,  You can find our latest picks here.

Happy reading!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #86 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

 

sunday salon/currently …moment in time

Sunday Salon 4

Sitting out here on the deck, with the sunny and 75 degrees and no humidity weather as perfect as it gets here in Pittsburgh, this feels like a moment in time. Summer is definitely winding down. Only two days remain before school starts, and it’s a milestone one: this is the year we turn a corner and become the parents of high schoolers.

“I remember thinking, back when we were in the NICU, that their high school graduation year of 2020 seemed so far away,”  The Husband commented on Wednesday, as the four of us sat in the school’s auditorium for high school orientation.  This is where it all starts, the principal said, the plans and decisions and classes that shape the next four years.

Of course, he was careful to say that there’s still time to decide on a post-graduation pathway; nothing needs to be determined this week.  But the message was clear: time’s a-tickin’. Time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ tickin’ into the future …. 

It’s all a bit unsettling. Even without a new building to navigate and new school personnel to get used to, the beginning of school historically tends to be a difficult, stressful, anxiety-levels-through-the-stratosphere transition for our family. Much of this past week has been spent trying to mitigate as much of that as possible. To put it mildly,  it’s been exhausting on every level.

Bright Precious DayOne of my go-to coping strategies has been to seek out a mindless read, and Jay McInerney’s latest, Bright, Precious Days is fitting that bill perfectly. It’s another incarnation of the insufferable lives of Corrine and Russell Calloway, the protagonists in two of McInerney’s Brightness Falls and The Good Life. Just like his earlier works, Bright, Precious Days is yet another one of McInerney’s name-dropping romps through the New York City playgrounds of the glitterati.

If you’ve read any of McInerney’s earlier novels, you know what you’ll be getting with any of his subsequent books. Bright, Precious Days does not veer from the formula that has made him successful. It’s a navel-gazing, salad-eating, charity-gala-going, Chanel-wearing, hedge-fund managing narrative set in New York (of course) between 2006-2008.  Hillary is running for president against a guy named Barack whose only major political experience is a short stint as a Senator;  the subprime mortgage crisis and the recession hasn’t yet happened, and people still carry flip phones.

It all seems like an ancient time, as much of a relic from the past as the cocaine-laced ’80s that define McInerney’s characters own bright, precious days. Those they lost in the era of drugs and AIDS, as well as the horror of 9/11, are still very much part of their present.

Like I said, sometimes you just need a book where you don’t have to think much and if I was in a different state of mind, this might not be holding my interest. But it’s doing its job right now by being an effective diversion, so that’s something. And even though The Husband and I never were nor will ever be in the same social and economic class as the Calloways, there’s a part of me that can relate to them.  At 47, we don’t feel old enough to have kids in high school, despite my insistence to The Husband at the school orientation that we are, in fact older than the typical parents.  At nearly 50 (the age of the Calloways), it seems we should have our act together by now, have done more, know what we’re doing with our lives.  Instead, the decisions we’ve put into place and the assumptions we’ve made about our future feel shaky, at best.

It’s twilight.  The clouds are aflame, there’s a slight autumnal chill in the air. All any of us really have in this moment in time are these bright, precious days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #84 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

celebrating two writer friends, celebrating two new books

 

Linvilla Orchards - Big Book

Pumpkinland at Linvilla Orchards, Media, PA Photo taken by me, September 2007

I’m thrilled for two of my writer friends this week, both of whom announced news of upcoming books. Melissa Sarno‘s middle grade novel, Next to Nothing, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in 2018. I’ve known Melissa’s work through her blog for awhile now and there’s a reason why her blog is one of my must-reads. She writes beautifully and I’m looking forward to reading her book.

I know Melissa through Beth Kephart, so I nearly did a double-take when the very next thing I read was Beth sharing her news that that she, too, has a new book deal. A two book deal, in fact. Wild Lines is also a middle grade story and also scheduled for a 2018 publication date. You all know how much of a fan I am of Beth’s books — and Beth herself.

All this felt kind of serendipitous. Two of my favorite writer friends, two middle grade books. And can we get a shout out for middle grade books in general?  I believe they are so important to young readers as that impressionable age seems to be such a pivotal one, and I’m so glad that both Melissa and Beth are among the excellent writers adding their talents to this genre.

Congratulations, ladies!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #64 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.