Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sunday Salon/Currently … Fall Back

Currently …

We turned the clocks back last night, as one does to commemorate the first weekend in November. Yay for an extra hour in the weekend.

This has been a fairly quiet weekend. The Girl went to her Sibshop group yesterday and afterwards we had lunch at Hello Bistro (love their salads and fries!) then spent the rest of the day at the library.  I had all good intentions to go to church this morning but woke up with a sinus headache. Perhaps the weather is being a trigger. We had an intense thunderstorm last night and there’s another one underway as I write this — highly unusual for Pittsburgh at this time of year — so because of that and the headache, this might be a short post.

Reading

October was a pretty good reading month. I read four books, three of which were on audio.

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, by Manoush Zamorodi.
Listeners of Zamorodi’s “Note to Self” podcast are likely familiar with the five day challenge she hosted to help reduce the amount of time we spend with our phones. This book is an extension of that.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit
How history shows us that hope is always possible, even in the most difficult times.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign by the woman who should be sitting in the White House right now.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of powerfully insightful essays written by Coates during each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

Blogging …

Coincidentally, all the books I read in October were all nonfiction, a nice warm up for participating in Nonfiction November. I’m also enjoying discovering new blogs as part of NaBloPoMo.

Cooking

Made a delicious minestrone soup in the Instant Pot tonight. I love soup on Sundays and having leftovers to freeze or take for lunch.

Anticipating … 

Heading to bed now and hoping this headache goes away soon.

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

the thing with feathers

It’s funny, isn’t it,  how sometimes the smallest things — like this gorgeous sky over Pittsburgh this morning — are able to lift your mood, even for just a few moments.

I was dropping The Girl off at a workshop this morning and the leader hadn’t yet arrived, so we were waiting in the parking lot. Normally, I would have reached for my phone to check Facebook — undoubtedly to be greeted by a fresh barrage of bullshit —  but something made me look up.

“Wow, check that out,” I said to The Girl. “It looks like a feather in the sky.”

She thought it resembled a surfboard. Feather, surfboard, whatever. The point is, I was filled with a momentary sense of wonder, delight, and hope — elusive emotions for me lately, if I’m being completely honest.

Maybe it’s the anniversary of when we realized how dramatically the world had changed and remembering how optimistic we were feeling this time last year, certain that we were on the verge of electing Hillary Clinton as the first woman President of the United States. My Facebook memories from a year ago are almost unbearable; like many people, I had been hoping that, despite a deeply divided electorate, that goodness would prevail and that the high road wasn’t the dead end it turned out to be and yes, that love would trump hate.

Obviously, a lot of us were wrong about that.

The last few weeks have seemed particularly exhausting. Resistance Fatigue was high; I felt powerless, worried, and resigned that nothing was going to make a difference. It didn’t matter if I called my despicable Senator Pat Toomey 100 times every day; he wasn’t suddenly going to do the right thing and do something already that actually benefitted the people he claims to represent. Quite the opposite.

(I will say that #MuellerMonday certainly helped put a spring in my step. As I frantically refreshed all my news sites this past Monday, I did so with hashtags like #BestMondayMorningSinceNov7. And it was, for a lot of people who have been feeling the way I have been.)

Emily Dickinson famously wrote that “hope is the thing with feathers.” I think the feather in the sky was a reminder that hope still exists, that there are still good things in a world gone so very wrong, if only we remember to look and not be distracted. Case in point: my plans while The Girl was at her workshop were to write (maybe prep some blog posts!) and read. Instead, several friends mobilized online to do what we could to help one of our mutual friends. Another friend posted a photo of a wallet she found on the street — and it turned out to belong to a colleague!

These are the little big things that will sustain us amid the many difficulties and challenges of this world.

These are the little big things that will keep us looking up.

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Nonfiction November – My Year in Nonfiction

In addition to NaBloPoMo (that’s National Blog Posting Month), I’m also participating in Nonfiction November. As the title suggests, it is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction and is hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), founder of the event and who explains the event’s history here. Each week, a different host will offer a writing prompt pertaining to nonfiction books and reading. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun, connect with other avid readers, and get plenty of great book recommendations to topple your piles and shelves.

For Week 1 (Oct 30 to Nov 3), Julie @ JulzReads asks about our Year in Nonfiction.

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite Nonfiction Read of the Year

So far, I’ve read a total of 43 books this year and nearly half (21) were nonfiction. Eight of those were on audio. I usually don’t announce my favorites until year’s end or sometime in January, but here are the titles on my shortlist as of today — and it may be close to my definitive list because I won’t be able to choose just one. There are certainly some similarities and common themes, but they are all fantastic in their own right.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of powerfully insightful essays written by Coates during each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign by the woman who should be sitting in the White House right now.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit
How history shows us that hope is always possible, even in the most difficult times.

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson
What makes something “go viral” or become wildly popular? It has much more to do with logic, patterns and familiarity than luck.

Big Love: The Power of Loving with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
Embracing love and cultivating resilience in the midst of deep hurt, adversity and challenges.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Adams
Thoughts and reflections from the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu on choosing to be joyful despite life’s struggles and fears.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, by Heather Harpham
A heart-wrenching and inspirational memoir about finding happiness and love through risk.

You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, by Eric Liu
We all have the ability to be catalysts for change.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher
Hilarious memoir about growing up as “Hollywood royalty” and coping with addiction and mental illness.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
A wry and witty memoir and travelogue about death rituals in the most remote corners of the globe as compared to those in American culture.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
I’ve recommended most of the ones above, especially What Happened and Wishful Drinking (a fantastic audiobook, by the way). I just finished We Were Eight Years in Power this week and I think it should be mandatory reading for every American.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
I’d have to say American and world history. Most of my history reading is more biographical, current affairs, and political.  

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Book recommendations, connections with other bloggers (both new to me and those already in my feed), and inspiration for several posts.

Looking forward to a great Nonfiction November!

 


Thanks for sharing this post!
0

a few mini book reviews (95/99)

One of my purposes for doing this crazy 99 Days of Summer Blogging project was to try and clear out my extensive backlog of posts still in drafts.  I have — no lie — more than 200 such posts that need further development or a place in the trash bin.

There are quite a few sparse book reviews in those posts , some dating back as long as five years. I give those to you here, as mini reviews.

The Little SparkThe Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity, by Carrie Bloomston
C&T Publishing
128 pages
2014

Take some inspiration, a lot of pretty photographs, a few real-life stories, and a handful of reflective writing exercises and you have both a workbook and motivational guide to jump-start your creativity. Whether your creative urges involve crafty pursuits, writing, painting, cooking or something completely, uniquely your own, The Little Spark offers 30 suggestions of how to get started and sustain your passion.

The MaytreesThe Maytrees (audio), by Annie Dillard
Narrated by David Rasche
HarperAudio, 5 CDs
2007

“Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them.”

Love is the theme of this novel, which takes the reader to the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts and into the lives of poet Toby Maytree (referred to as simply Maytree throughout this story) and Lou Bigelow. The story spans several decades of the Maytrees’ marriage and how, over time, they change with it. The narrative felt disjointed at times, making for a confusing-at-times listen, but I liked the writing and David Rasche’s narration kept my attention.

The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton 
Ecco Press
2014
400 pages

I was sold on this by cover, which so perfectly captures the very essence of Jessie Burton’s debut novel, set in 1686 Amsterdam. Petronella (who goes by Nella) is 18 when she marries a wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt.

After moving into his mansion, Nella quickly learns that this is a house of secrets. Johannes spends a lot of time either at work or in his study and isn’t very affectionate to Nella. Her stern and unwelcoming sister-in-law Marin is clearly the head of the household, which also consists of Cornelia and Otto, two odd servants. With its themes of feeling trapped and discovering one’s power – and what we do with that power — The Miniaturist is an engrossing read.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #95 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Sunday Salon/Currently: The Big Game’s On, January Recap

Sunday Salon banner

What a week. Without going into too many details, this week kicked my ass.  I’m glad it’s over. I’m utterly exhausted. I was ready for bed by 6:20 p.m. on Friday night.

To be honest, it has been a tough start to the year.  Whether it’s The Husband’s job situation (we’re in Month #7 of unemployed hell), having to spend $4,000 on a furnace, or any number of other issues that I’m not at liberty to write about here, all I can say is this: If the month of January and the beginning of February are any indications of how the rest of 2016 is going to go, then this relationship is not going to work out.

Super Bowl Plans
Today’s the Super Bowl, and as per usual, we don’t have any grandiose plans nor any dogs in this fight. I’m very glad the Cheaters Patriots didn’t make it, and for once I’m looking forward to the halftime act. (I like Coldplay.) Before that, though, I’m planning to get my hair cut (we are getting professional headshots done tomorrow for a work project) and I still need to go to the grocery store. Hopefully all the crazies have already been there. I’m not making anything fancy. The Boy has requested french onion dip, which is easy enough.

The Big Game’s On Read-a-thon

2016BigGamesOn

I’m participating in The Big Game’s On Read-a-thon, which Jennsbookshelves has brought back this year. Hence, I’m considering this as my kickoff post.  Not sure what I’ll be reading. I had intended to start Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin, but I don’t think I’m in the right frame of mind for that one.

Reading
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying UpThis week, I finally got around to finishing The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I started this back in the fall and abandoned it early on — probably when she was advocating thanking our clothes for doing such a good job during the day. Decided to pick it up again because too many of my friends reported good success with KonMari. I’m intrigued by the concept of decluttering by category — and I’m going to give it a try — but this business of worrying about my socks’ feelings and unpacking my handbag every damn day isn’t going to work.  Also, I’ll give my books a once-over, as I tend to do every so often when I feel the need to reduce the number of volumes on my shelves, but I’m not going to do a mass purge of them.

January Reading
I read three books in January:

The Heart Goes LastBoys in the TreesMy Name is Lucy Barton

It’s always somewhat unsettling to me when I don’t enjoy a book by a favorite author.  Such was the case with The Heart Goes Last (which I reviewed earlier this week) and My Name is Lucy Barton. I know that it’s unrealistic to love everything one person writes, but I was especially surprised that I didn’t like Elizabeth Strout’s new novel more than I did. From the other reviews I’ve read, I’m very much in the minority with this opinion. It felt like there was too much packed into what is a short novel. I don’t know; I need to think about this one a little more. It could be that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this particular book.

On the other hand, I am a huge Carly Simon fan and I was very much looking forward to her memoir, The Boys in the Trees. It did not disappoint. I loved this.  The majority of this felt more autobiographical than memoir; however, that seemed to change a bit in the last … oh, I don’t know, third of the book. So much I didn’t know about her life. Many of her songs take on a whole different meaning now.

Blogging
ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton
All three books that I read in January are ones I own, which wasn’t planned, but it means #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks is off to a good start for me. I really want and need to make a serious dent in my book piles this year. I’m not sure if I read three of my own books during all of 2015.

Things I Liked This Week

I’d never heard of Margaret Chase Smith before reading Ellen Fitzpatrick’s New Yorker article, “The Unfavored Daughter:  When Margaret Chase Smith Ran in the New Hampshire Primary.”

When I shared this article (“Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason“) on Facebook, most people grasped onto the sentiments of what not to say when someone is going through a tough time.  What resonated with me, though, was this: “Because we aren’t going to be able to avoid people going through something, we have to practice getting more comfortable with other people’s discomfort–something that does not come easily. Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown notices that we so strongly need people to “rise strong” that we “reflexively look away” when we witness someone’s “still-incomplete healing.”  

This idea of getting more comfortable with other people’s discomfort makes a lot of sense to me, in light of some of the situations we’ve been — and are currently — going through. As the saying goes, you really do find out who your friends are at such times.

What about you … are you watching the Super Bowl?  Participating in The Big Game’s On Read-a-thon?  Hope your weekend has been a good one and that you have a great week. (I’m hoping for a much better one than last week!) 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Ready … Set … READ-A-THON!

Readathon - Day and Night

Friends, it has been A. DAY.

I mean, for real.

If there is any possible way that a Friday could feel like a Monday, today was IT.

This, in a week when yesterday included getting two crowns at the dentist.

And snow.

On April 23.

When the crowns are among the highlight of your week, you know it is time for serious measures.

Hence, an executive decision.

My participation in the spring Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon begins ….

RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW.

(Hey, it’s the start of Readathon somewhere, isn’t it?)

In reality, all I’m going to do tonight is read the book I’m currently reading, and that doesn’t really a Readathon make. But it will make me feel better, and that’s all that matters.

I also have to work tomorrow morning, so I’m thinking the time will somehow even itself out.

Here are the books I’ve rounded up for this year’s Readathon.

Readathon - Spring 2015

Acorn, by Yoko Ono
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott (in progress)
We Are All Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Tampa, by Alissa Nutting
Deep Lane, Poems by Mark Doty (in progress)
Happy are the Happy, by Yasmina Reza
Looking for the Gulf Motel, Poems by Richard Blanco
Letters to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, by Ander Monson
My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh (in progress)

Others not pictured: Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng; My Mistake, by Daniel Menaker, and a pile of cookbooks.

A few Read-a-thons ago, Florinda had a great idea: use these 24 hours to finish books already started. I love that, so I’ve started incorporating some unfinished books into my Read-a-thons. I also like to use this time to make a dent in the books that I already own.  This year is a combination of both of these as well as a few library books.  (I really need to start restraining myself from checking a book or two out every single day. I wish I was exaggerating; I’m not. Such are the occupational hazards of my job.)

Of course, I’m not going to read all of these … but it will be fun trying.

Happy Read-a-thoning, everybody!

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

Readin’at: West of Sunset, by Stewart O’Nan

West of SunsetWest of Sunset, by Stewart O’Nan
Viking
2015
289 pages

“He’d had a talent for happiness once, though he was young then, and lucky. But wasn’t he lucky now, again?”

Luck was in short supply during F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final years. Instead, the famous writer best known for The Great Gatsby had an abundance of misfortune and difficulties that are brilliantly rendered in West of Sunset by Pittsburgh author Stewart O’Nan.

“Despite our view of him as a literary giant and dashing Gatsby, Fitzgerald was an outsider–a poor boy from a rich neighborhood, a scholarship kid at private school, a Midwesterner in the East, an Easterner in the West,” writes O’Nan in his essay “The Inspiration Behind West of Sunset” and posted on his website. “I’d thought of him in Hollywood as a legendary figure in a legendary place, yet the more I read, the more he struck me as someone with limited resources trying to hold together a world that’s flying apart, if not gone already. Someone who keeps working and hoping, knowing it might not be enough. And I thought: that’s who you write about.”

Indeed you do.

And with his writing, O’Nan more than succeeds in capturing this aspect of Scott during these last troubled three years.  At 40, Scott’s literary success is well in the past and his wife Zelda is institutionalized for psychiatric issues. When Hollywood (finally, thankfully) comes calling with work as a screenwriter, he is emotionally and financially broke, “borrowing against stories he has yet to imagine.” (Love that line!)

Nonetheless, Scott heads west in somewhat desperate hopes of making it once again in a town where everyone else’s star seems to be rising but where his is uncertain. He’d answered California’s call before. (“There were years like phantoms, like fog. Often he wondered if certain memories of his had really taken place.”)  Those early Hollywood years and what, exactly, transpired that made Scott so full of self-doubt remain a bit fuzzy to the reader, but that’s all right; West of Sunset stays in 1937-1940.

As the novel progresses, Scott’s own health and emotional well-being becomes more precarious as his battle with alcoholism becomes more prominent. He’s in the midst of an on-again, off-again affair with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who has her own demons to conquer. And when his passive-aggressive egocentric co-worker isn’t being an editorial pain in the ass, his writing career is beholden to the whimsy of the studio powers-that-be who kill any scintilla of hope and motivation (and the possibility of a credit and continued paycheck) with each cancelled movie.  Money is a constant source of uncertainty, and every writer will be able to empathize with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s frustration on his stories being rejected by the popular magazines of the day – most of which adored him once upon a time.

To be sure, West of Sunset has some bright moments. The reader gets to hang out by the pool and at the studio commissary with the likes of Fitzgerald BFF’s Dorothy Parker and Humphrey Bogart – not to mention Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, George Oppenheimer and more than a few others making cameo appearances.  Quite a cast of characters, this novel has. If you’re a literary and/or film bub, this one’s for you.

Dust off the Hollywood glitter, though, and there’s something universally relatable about West of Sunset. Anyone who has ever gone through a difficult professional or personal stretch of time (which would be …oh, all of us) will likely find something to identify with in the F. Scott Fitzgerald that Stewart O’Nan presents. West of Sunset is about coming to terms with real and perceived failure, the drumbeat of self-doubt and loathing that accompanies it, the quest for self-redemption, and what happens when our self-reliance runs out.  (“Somewhere in this latest humiliation there was a lesson in self-reliance. He’d failed so completely that he’d become his own man again.”)

This is a 5 out of 5 stars novel. I was in love from the first three pages and I feel very confident in saying that West of Sunset – the first Stewart O’Nan book I’ve read – is likely going to be one of my favorite novels of this year.

(Are you local to the Pittsburgh area? Come hear Stewart O’Nan tomorrow (Saturday, February 7) when East End Book Exchange hosts the author for his final stop of his West of Sunset book tour. Event begins at 7 p.m.)

About Readin’at: One of the things I’ve come to love about Pittsburgh is how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring stories to life. We’re quite the literary town and I wanted a way to emphasize this.  As a way to celebrate all things “bookish in the Burgh,” I created “READIN’AT,” an occasional feature here focused on Pittsburgh-based literary works, events, and the writers who call this awesome city home. 

 

Thanks for sharing this post!
0