Category Archives: The Sunday Salon/Currently

Sunday Salon/Currently …What I’ll Be Reading in These Uncertain Times

 

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
James Baldwin

A week ago, when I titled my Sunday Salon post  “Welcome to the Last Week of America as We Know It”,  a line borrowed from Saturday Night Live, I was not expecting … well, this.

I speak, of course, of the election’s aftermath and what appears to be an unprecedented, dark, grave new world.

Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, sarcastic or cavalier, let me assure you otherwise. I am deeply, deeply concerned about the path we are on as a country and the days ahead. In yesterday’s post (“Seeing Red”) I shared my initial thoughts on the horrific state of our union.

While my anger hasn’t abated — indeed, it’s likely to stay heightened in light of news of loathsome individuals en masse who are being appointed to the highest positions of power in the land and plans already in the works to deport 30 million people — it is being fueled by a desire to do whatever I can to be a strong voice and effect change.

I’ve been reflecting on how this unprecedented moment offers an opportunity for avid readers, especially book bloggers, to make a renewed, focused commitment to elevate and celebrate literature that is more diverse, that raises awareness, that focuses on the issues and the people who will need us as champions and advocates in these uncertain times.

I’d like to think I already do this — or, at least I try to. My literary diet already consists of ample helpings of literature with LGBTQ themes and issues impacting women, girls, and people with disabilities. That’s certainly not going to change. But I recognize that I need to step up my game in this area considerably by reading and blogging about books outside my comfort zone. 

These times require nothing less. 

I want to read more books by and about people of color and other ethnicities in order to deepen my understanding of history and race, of the lives and experiences of people whose background and circumstances don’t necessarily mirror mine.

I want to read more books about feminism and to get on a first name basis with the suffragettes and the pioneers of the women’s movement. I want to read more books about the process of creating “the old mechanisms of compensatory care and activism” from the past because I think the grassroots, underground movements that provided health care and services to people in crisis are going to be the models for the path forward.  (h/t to my friend Sarah Einstein, author of MOT and Remnants of Passion for letting me borrow some of her words)

I want to read more books from our library’s extensive World Fiction collection and seek out voices from other cultures besides this one.

I want to read more books to strengthen my knowledge of the issues that allowed someone like the President-elect to tap into the anger and frustration of so many people.

And above all, I want to read more books about ways that I can continue to cultivate a healthy and calm spirit with a strong mind and body, because these times are going to require all that we have to give to ourselves, those we love, and the changed world in which we now live.

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Sunday Salon/Currently …Welcome to The Last Week of America as We Know It

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To paraphrase Benedict Cumberbatch’s intro to last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, welcome to the last week of America as we know it. Regardless of how this election turns out, we’ll be waking up to a different country on Wednesday morning. It will either be a country that will have made history by voting for its first woman President and someone who has spent her entire life fighting for women, girls and families while representing the nation on a global stage … or it will be a country careening down a dangerous path led by an unstable, racist, xenophobic, sexist, egotistical, uninformed hot-headed monster with complete disregard for anyone’s interests except his own.

It’s pretty clear where I stand on this election — solidly, enthusiastically, emphatically 100% and then some With Her, if you had any doubt.  I cannot wait to vote for Hillary Clinton. Yet there’s a part of me that wants to crawl into bed right now and not emerge until all the votes are counted and we (hopefully) know who won this thing. I’m not banking on that being Wednesday, so if that means I need to become Rip Van Winkle, that’s fine with me.

As appealing as that is, however, the anger and vitriol fueling this country’s deep divisiveness won’t vanish overnight. It’s not like we’re going to learn the results, immediately turn to our neighbor and start singing Kumbaya.  (At least, I’m certainly not.) Who knows what kind of America we’ll be living in this time next week? It’s scary and stressful and anxiety-producing.

Still, I feel that I should be chronicling this pivotal moment in history somehow, maybe writing more about what this feels like. I’m not sure why or for whom, exactly; I guess I have this notion of potential grandchildren asking me about this unprecedented time and me not remembering the intensity, as hard as that seems to believe.

Both of my kids are very, very engaged with this election, so maybe I feel compelled to capture this moreso for them — so they can remember how it felt and what this time was like.  I am taking The Girl with me to vote on Tuesday evening and into the voting booth itself.  We’ve taken the kids to vote often, especially when they were younger, but I want my girl to be able to tell her potential grandchildren that their great-grandmother cast a vote for Hillary Clinton way back in that crazy historic year of 2016, and that she was part of it.

I want them to remember this.

The election has been the main topic of our dinner time conversations and The Boy, in particular, is very inquisitive.  (For the record, The Boy has been invited to accompany us to vote, too; he’s declined.)  While I don’t want to quash his interest and enthusiasm, he’s like me in that when he likes something, he is ALL IN and somewhat obsessive in his consumption, taking things to extremes at times. There have been several occasions when we’ve had to tell him to dial it down or take a time out from the election talk.

I do think about the impact this election is having on Generation Z (my kids’ generation, those who were born in the mid-late 1990s or early 2000s) but who are taking note of the discourse of this race. I wonder (and worry) about their long-time views on voting, democracy and public decorum.  I think the reality-showification of this election, our politics as entertainment, would be an interesting study or book as it relates to this generation. (I’m available and willing, agents and publishers who may be reading ….)

That’s been part of the reason why, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about limiting my media consumption of election-related news. (I know how hypocritical that sounds; I say this and then I write a whole blog post about the election, effectively contributing to the noise.) That means no political podcasts, no opinion or think-pieces, very little political engagement on social media. Everything that’s said has been said; everything has already been analyzed from every possible perspective. There’s nothing more I can learn, no new insight to be gained, nothing I can offer that you haven’t heard me say already.

Instead, I’ve been listening to music on my commutes to work, running, and reading, so since this is technically a Sunday Salon post, here’s a brief recap of all that:

Reading …

mothering-sundaythe-rain-in-portugalshut-up-and-run

This week I finished three books in TWO DAYS, which is unheard of for me.  My current pace is more like three books in a month, if that. With a total of 37 books read this year, my revised 2016 goal of 50 books feels more doable.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift will be among my favorites of 2016.  This novella is simply spectacular. Set in England, the story takes place in 1924 and centers on Jane Fairchild, a maid to the wealthy Niven family. They are friends with the Sheringhams, whose son Paul is engaged to marry Emma Hobday.  That small detail doesn’t stop Paul or Jane from having an affair. The entire story unfolds over a few hours, making this the perfect book to read over the same amount of time. In fact, I’d say that this should be required to be read in one sitting, as I did yesterday afternoon while The Girl was at the library’s Anime Club program. It’s resplendent and luxurious, sexy and suspenseful, with hints of Virginia Woolf and reminders of Mrs. Dalloway.  I loved every word and every minute I spent immersed in this. What a decadent way to spend a Saturday.

The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins is the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ twelfth collection. It’s a perfectly fine, enjoyable grouping of poems.  Those of us who are familiar with Collins’ work will find his usual fare here as he’s not a poet who surprises in terms of style or subject matter. He’s comfortable, pleasant, an easy read.

Shut Up and Run, by Robin Arzón offers runners of every ability motivation, training plans, practical tips and advice combined with Robin’s personal philosophy of fitness and story of how she left law to become an ultramarathoner (that’s someone who participates in events exceeding the marathon distance of 26.2 miles). Robin Arzón is fierce, strong, a real badass and I really liked her perspective.

Running … 

pile-on-the-miles

Since Labor Day, I’ve ran or walked a total of 26.2 miles — my own personal marathon! — by following Couch to 5K. I’ve also lost 10 lbs. But with the days getting shorter and colder weather making its presence known (not to mention easy access to an abundance of Halloween candy in the house), I felt like I needed additional motivation and accountability to maintain my running progress.  I was excited to see that Run Eat Repeat, a running blog I’ve been reading, is hosting Pile on the Miles, a fitness challenge during November which sounds like a good way to stay on track.  I set myself a goal of 15 miles this month, which may be too ambitious for me.

It’s going to be quite a week.  Go vote, my American friends. (And if you’re in Pennsylvania and need a ride to the polls? Lyft and Uber are giving you a free ride.)

See you on the other side.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently …Halloween Eve Edition

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Friends, I’ve reached my limit with this election. Friday’s news put me over the edge — again — and I simply can’t take another week of this insanity. To make matters worse, I live in a state with a hotly contested Senate race AND I have a hateful, bigoted, racist asshole incumbent for way too many years as my State Representative. The latter has billboard-sized signs on roads I need to travel (plus on my neighbors’ lawns along with Trump/Pence signs).  I’m so done. I put myself on another election news blackout this weekend and it probably won’t be the last.

(Unfortunately, the election is one of The Boy’s favorite topics of discussion.  I mean, I love that the kid is engaged in his political future and is educating himself about the candidates and the issues, but he likes to talk about it A LOT. That’s another reason why I need to step back from the news coverage; I don’t have the energy to explain things to him if I’m already weary of the daily barrage of crap.)

Currently … Reading

born-to-run

Born to Run is proving to be a good election diversion. I’m a Bruce fan and have been looking forward to this memoir. It does not disappoint. It’s written much in the casual, poetic style of Bruce’s songs (“The bride and her hero are whisked away in their long black limousine, the one that drops you off at the beginning of your life.”) and nobody writes about place the way Bruce does.

“When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescafé factory at the town’s eastern edge. I don’t like coffee but I like that smell. It’s comforting; it unites the town in a common sensory experience; it’s good industry, like the roaring rug mill that fills our ears, brings work and signals our town’s vitality. There is a place here—you can hear it, smell it—where people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures, play baseball, die, make love, have kids, drink themselves drunk on spring nights and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town.”

All this makes Born to Run a relatively fast read, which is good because it’s due back to the library on Wednesday.  love-warrior

This week I finished Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, another memoir that I loved and which will be on my Best of 2016 list in a few short weeks. Such a honest and heartfelt memoir. You can feel Glennon’s pain and strength on every page. I’m recommending it to everyone.

Currently … Cooking:
I’m getting more strict about only making one meal. The kids will be 15 in a few weeks and are more than perfectly capable of preparing something else if they’re not pleased with the fare offered. I’ve resigned myself to being unable to accommodate everyone.  It’s one thing to make small changes for dietary preferences but it’s another thing to make a separate meal altogether and I’m just not doing it anymore. If that means people are eating cereal or sandwiches every night for dinner, that’s fine with me.

Currently … Watching:
At the moment, The Husband is switching between the Eagles-Dallas game and the World Series. Also, everyone’s talking about “This Is Us” and so far I’ve been resisting.  I’m thinking I’m going to cave soon and see what all the fuss is about.

Currently … Linking:
My friends Andrew and William have a great opportunity to make a significant investment in their current business, Allegory Gallery, which is a bead, art and jewelry store in Ligonier, PA. It’s a wonderful space where they nurture creativity and artists, and I have a special fondness for them and Allegory Gallery from when they generously hosted a reading I did. They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign for this endeavor and I encourage you to check out Project: Next Step if you’re inclined to support their efforts.

More Links I Liked This Week …
Bookertalk shares a personal remembrance of the Aberfan disaster in South Wales, a tragedy which I’d never heard of until reading her post.

For the remaining days of this godforsaken election, Nancy of Mixtape Midlife is encouraging women to acknowledge and celebrate each other — to give a nod to the nasty, if you will.

Nine more days.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … October 16, 2016

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Like many people, the political events of this past week have left me emotionally drained. It was a difficult week, a painful one, with so many of us feeling shaky and in solidarity with the women who so publicly and bravely shared their stories of sexual assaults that happened decades ago. It’s horrifying and astounding that nearly every woman among my Facebook friends has experienced this trauma. So many of us are feeling this so very personally and if you also have been reliving difficult memories this week, I hope you know this:  I see your pain, I hear your cries and your stories, and I am right there with you.

(And if you haven’t watched Michelle Obama’s powerful and emotional speech on this issue in its entirety, you need to do so. Right now.)

On Friday, I decided to initiate a little weekend social media break from reading any election-related posts or articles. It’s a tough balance for someone like me who is very much of a news and political junkie and who is definitely afflicted with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  But it felt necessary.

I think it was somewhat successful. Here’s what I did:

slow-cooker-lasagna-soup1) Made a fantastic recipe (Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup) that everyone in our family liked, which is unheard of. It’s from Skinnytaste: Fast and Slow, the new cookbook from Gina Homolka (Skinnytaste). I made some modifications to this recipe, using some leftover vegetarian meatballs instead of chicken sausage. I also didn’t have any gluten free lasagna noodles, so I made it with regular noodles and just didn’t eat those.   This is going in our regular rotation.

2) Planned some dinners for this week and next, and went grocery shopping (as per usual).

3) Went shopping with The Girl at Plato’s Closet and Target. She needed some long-sleeve shirts and I wanted to get myself some proper running clothes. I found a pair of capris, a top for when the weather gets cooler, and a sports bra.

4) Wrote a freelance book review and submitted it at the eleventh hour.

american-girls5) Read. I’ve been reading American Girls: The Secret Lives of Teenagers this week. Our school district is hosting Nancy Jo Sales tomorrow night for a presentation and discussion, and I’m planning to attend. I think this is an important subject for parents, and although I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about the realities of teens’ lives on social media and how to monitor it (which we do), this book is definitely eye-opening and educational. I’m not going to finish it before tomorrow night, though.

6) Ran.  I finished Week 4 of Couch to 5k, but I think I’m going to repeat this week. I’ve only been able to get through the first full run and most of the second.

Hope you had a great weekend!

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Sunday Salon/Currently … October Surprises

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So much to tell you this week.  First and foremost, though, my thoughts are with all who are being affected by Hurricane Matthew and his aftermath. I know several of our friends and family had some stressful days this week and others are still dealing with the storms. And Haiti–my God, what a heartbreaking situation.

Speaking of storms, I can’t even with the political storm surrounding Donald Trump’s 2005 commentary about being able to grope any woman he pleases because he’s “a star.” Why anyone is shocked by this is beyond me, because all one needs to do is reference any of his rants on women (or anyone else, frankly) to know this is the Republican nominee’s true colors. I’d considered writing a post about such, but you probably have a pretty good idea of my thoughts on the matter. If not, they’re summed up pretty succinctly by the “You’re So Vain” video by the Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC, which marks the first time ever that the incomparable Carly Simon allowed “You’re So Vain” to be used for political purposes. It’s perfect.

And in the poetry realm, Pittsburgh poet Jeff Oaks (who I was honored to read with at Acquired Taste) pens “The God Abandons Donald Trump: a dream”.  (“Now the smoke of sharpening scythes clings to your ties; the voices of the women you thought you’d smothered in gold are rematerializing.“) A great poem.

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YA author panel of Caleb Roehrig, Emma Mills, Anna Banks and Marissa Meyer being interviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam. October 4, 2016, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by me.

We missed most of the Vice Presidential debates this week (Good God, was that just this week?) because we were at the Fall 2016 Fierce Reads Tour featuring YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Caleb Roehrig, and Emma Mills.  The Girl loves Marissa Meyer’s books, so she was the main attraction for us, but all of the authors were incredibly funny and entertaining. We especially enjoyed Caleb Roehrig, who we talked with after the event. His first novel Last Seen Leaving was published that same day and I started reading it while in line to get our books signed. I can already tell it is one I’m likely to enjoy.

the-literary-others-an-lgbt-reading-event-oct-2016There’s an LGBTQ storyline in Last Seen Leaving, which makes it a fitting edition to The Literary Others.  I’m participating in this LGBT Reading Event which is being hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader in honor of LGBT History Month. This week I read I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, a novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan about a family on a road trip trying to find their place in each other’s lives and the world. I loved this story, just as I loved her memoir I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted about living in a haunted house (on Philadelphia’s Main Line!) and her journey as a transgendered person.

I’m currently reading Just Kids by Patti Smith (we’re doing an event at work with Patti tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to finish this in time) and in the car, I’m listening to The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman.

ill-give-you-something-to-cry-aboutjust-kidsthe-gay-revolution

Writing … 
So grateful to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, also a Pittsburgh blogger, who mentions my very short Halloween story “Extractions” in her post “Writers in Pittsburgh Are Going to Be Busy.”  This came as quite the surprise, especially since the Google Alert I have on every version of my name didn’t pick it up. Thank you, Elizabeth!

judy-blume-paperback-of-in-the-unlikely-eventblurb-in-the-unlikely-event

Another surprise was discovering that my review of Judy Blume’s In the Likely Event was blurbed (with my name!) in the paperback edition!  I can’t believe it. This was a review I’d published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015, and I had no idea about this until The Girl showed me last night. Crazy!

 

OK, time for a little reading before making the popcorn for tonight’s presidential debate and whatever surprises await us then.

 

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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.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … First Weekend of Fall

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Currently …
Just finished watching the Eagles vs. Steelers and we’re quite happy in this house tonight, thanks to our hometown team’s win. It’s not easy being a Philly fan in these parts (especially when it comes to hockey) and I tend to root for the Steelers … when they’re not playing or in direct competition with my Eagles, that is.

Reading
No books finished last week, but I’m hoping to finish one tonight. I have deadlines this week for three freelance reviews.

Listening
this-old-man

My audiobook this week has been This Old Man by Roger Angell, who just turned 96 and is still writing great pieces for The New Yorker like the one he published this week (“My Eighteenth Presidential Election and the Most Important“). His essay “This Old Man” is one I’ve read at least twice, which is what made me interested in this collection of New Yorker pieces and other writings of Angell’s.

Running
Finished Week 2 of Couch to 5K this morning!  I thought I’d change things up a little by trying a different park and it was a challenge — definitely more hills than I expected. (I know, I know … this is Pittsburgh. Hills are everywhere.) Total distance was 1.95 miles, with .71 of those running. People tell me my pace is good (12:31 per mile) so I’ll take it.  I’ve been reading a lot of running blogs since this a whole new world for me.

Blogging
Maybe I needed some sort of mental break after 99 Days of Summer Blogging because my productivity here has nearly screeched to a big halt. I think it has more to do with being a very busy couple of weeks at work; after spending my days immersed in words, I’ve found myself needing a breather. I feel my mojo coming back, which is good.

Related to blogging, I was certain my life was complete without yet another social media whirligig, but apparently Litsy became available as an Android app this week and all the cool kids seem to be playing.  So, I’ve caved and now I’m MelissaF in case you want to follow whatever I’ll be doing over there.

Have a great week!

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