Tag Archives: Carly Simon

Best Books of 2016 …Thus Far (33/99)


That’s how many books I’ve read so far this year. That may sound impressive — especially when the average American reads 12 books per year and 27% of Americans don’t finish a single book —  but in the book blogger world, 19 books in six months is verging on pathetic.

(I know, I’m too hard on myself. This is true.)

At the midpoint of this current trip around the sun, I like to reflect on the reading year to date by sharing my favorite books of 2016 thus far.  Sometimes there’s a standout book that is a clear front-runner and sometimes there isn’t.  This happens to be a year when there is — and it’s a book that has landed among my all-time favorites.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant and compassionate neurosurgeon who, at 38, was diagnosed with lung cancer just as he was on the verge of completing a 10 year residency program, has much to teach us in his posthumously published memoir. When Breath Becomes Air is more than the journey towards one’s own lightbulb, a-ha, now-I-know-what-life-is-all-about moment of revelation that often accompanies a serious illness or tragic event. It’s about what it means when everything you have worked toward and planned vanishes at the precise moment when you are on the cusp of realizing all those dreams and aspirations.

Scorpion Tongues

Scorpion Tongues: The Irresistible History of Gossip in American Politics by Gail Collins 
This presidential election campaign is like nothing we’ve seen before … at least in our lifetimes. History tells a different story — and many of them — of political scandals that rival what we’re seeing today.

The Art of Description

The Art of Description by Mark Doty
Written by a true master of the craft, this is a fantastic book exploring how we use words to place the reader in the heart of our work.  Reading this is like taking a class with Mark Doty himself (something that is on my literary bucket list).  Until then, we have this gem.

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, edited by Amy Ferris
An astonishing anthology edited by Amy Ferris (her Facebook posts are gorgeously written and full of inspiring kick-assery), the emotions in these essays are raw and real. These are personal, true accounts of people who have struggled with depression, suicide (either their own attempt or that of a loved one) and mental illness. As a society, we need to do a better job of telling our stories in order to help break the stigma that fosters shame and secrecy.  Shades of Blue is a damn good place to start listening.  Don’t be surprised if you find shades of yourself between these pages.

The Best American Essays 2015

The Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy
A fantastic collection of essays by some of our best writers, including Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, Margo Jefferson, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit and several others.

Boys in the Trees

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
Carly Simon’s songs are ones that make her fans — of which I am one, very much so — feel as if we know her.  Here, we learn for the first time the stories behind the lyrics that we’ve been singing for years. It’s an eye-opening, often surprising, sometimes heartbreaking look at family dynamics, coming of age, betrayal, sexuality, motherhood and the publishing and entertainment businesses.

So there you have it.  The best books I’ve read this year (so far).  It’s interesting that there isn’t any fiction on this list.  This seems to be shaping up as a year dominated by nonfiction, especially essays and memoir.

How is your reading year going? Is there a standout book (or books) that will be among your favorites this year?

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #33 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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Sunday Salon/Currently …

Sunday Salon bannerCurrently …
Sunday afternoon, 4 p.m. This is a three-day weekend for me, which I am grateful for. It’s snowing outside with temperatures going down to 7 degrees tonight with wind chills near -15 (ugh) and football is on TV (go Steelers!).

Listening To …
The Lazy Weekend playlist on Spotify. As I mentioned in last week’s Salon, this is my new toy. Because of the layout of our office, several of my coworkers prefer listening to music on their phones and iPods during the workday.  I tried doing the same over the past week and it actually made me more productive at times.  I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m in a phase where I’m craving some new music, so if you have any suggestions for artists or playlists you love, I’m all ears. (Literally.) I like singer-songwriter types, indie-alternative, vocalists, that sort of thing. Some people who I’ve had in heavy rotation this week:  Josh Ritter, Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge, Ben Folds, Dar Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter …

and of course, Carly Simon because of what I’m …

Reading …
Boys in the TreesI love Carly Simon, so it is no surprise that I am enjoying her memoir, Boys from the Trees. It is quite eye-opening, to say the least.  In my view, this book is more autobiographical than memoir, but I’m OK with that because hers has been one hell of life.

The Heart Goes Last

This week, I finally finished The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, my first book of the year — which wasn’t intended to be my First Book of the Year or even my second. I wasn’t too enamored of this one, to be honest. The premise was a good one and it held my interest for most of the first half, but then it became … I don’t know. I stopped caring about the characters and the plot became more and more farcical.  I listened to it on audio to start, and switched to the print edition to see if that made a difference. It didn’t.

Last night, sometime around 3 a.m., I remembered that this is a Bloggiesta weekend. Because, of course … isn’t everyone thinking about their blog in the middle of the damn night?  So, needless to say, I haven’t done anything related to this. I did start my review of The Heart Goes Last on Friday night and there’s this post, so there’s that.

Fortunately, this is a three-day weekend for me, so there’s still time to do some Bloggiesta-ing. I’d like to update my Book Reviews page, but we’ll see if that happens.  I’m not feeling the whole Bloggiesta groove this weekend, mainly because I have to focus on an essay I have in progress for something.

Hope your weekend is going well and that you’re keeping warm!

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Sunday Salon/Currently: Jan 10, 2016

Sunday Salon banner

Happy Sunday, loves. Today was a blustery and cold Sunday here in Pittsburgh, the kind of day that started with temperatures in the 50s and quickly plummeted throughout the afternoon. Rain, snow flurries, wind — all perfect migraine/sinus headache weather. I feel one starting so I’m taking my usual precautions to try and manage this as best as I can.


Boys in the TreesI’m still reading my second first book of the year, Carly Simon’s memoir, Boys in the Trees. I’ve been a fan of Carly’s since I was too young to fully understand and appreciate her lyrics. This highly-personal, eye-opening memoir really provides a lot of context to her songs. She’s always been somewhat of a private person, but in this book, she opens up quite a bit about her issues with stuttering as a child, her parents’ marriage and growing up as the daughter of publishing magnate Richard Simon, and her earliest relationships. Anyone who thinks they know Carly Simon through just her music probably doesn’t.

My audiobook this week has been The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.  It’s not my favorite of hers, to be honest, and I’m actually getting a little bored with it.  I’m not connecting with the characters and I don’t really care what happens to them. I should probably consider it a DNF and move on.

This weekend, I’ve been listening to a great deal of music on Spotify. You see, when Spotify was first introduced, I eagerly signed up. For whatever reason, I abandoned the service awhile ago. With Sirius XM in the car, I was doing most of my music either with the radio or my CDs and I haven’t logged on for years. (Really, it has been a long, long time.)  I didn’t really see a need for more music.  Plus, recently there was a little glitch with my laptop and The Husband’s Spotify account (he’s a Premium user and loves it).

Finally, this weekend I determined to try and figure out the issue — and I did! Now I’m back on Spotify and downloading ALL. THE. SONGS and creating a bunch of playlists. I tend to listen to the same artists and judging from my friends’ feed, there is a lot of good music I’ve been missing out on. I’m having fun with this.

I stayed up much later than usual last night watching the Steelers-Bengals game last night. Even though I kept it on after The Husband went to bed, I really wasn’t paying much attention until the end. What a game that was, with the disgraceful behavior of the Cincinnati players and their fans: throwing things on the field, hurling beer cans at people in the stands, cheering when Big Ben was injured. Such an embarrassment to their city.

And I’m from Philly, so I’m rather well acquainted with the whole unfair phenomenon of how a few drunken Neanderthals (who every rational person knows don’t represent an entire metropolitan area or fan base) can manage to tarnish a city’s sports reputation for decades. But what we witnessed last night seemed beyond the pale, more than a handful of idiots. It’s a wonder someone didn’t wind up dead.

It was perfect soup weather today, so I decided to use up some odds and ends for a minestrone. Some frozen corn, peas, carrots. I added tortellini and leftover garlic bread from last night’s dinner to every else’s bowls except mine. The Husband and I liked it, but of course the kids hated it. I’ve gotten to the point where if they don’t like what’s for dinner, they can make a sandwich or have cereal or learn how to cook for themselves. I’m so frustrated with their ridiculous picky eating.  They’re 14 years old and I’m done playing restaurant.

Next Saturday and Sunday is the Winter 2016 Mini-Bloggiesta — with a bonus day of Monday if you happen to have the day off. I will definitely be participating. Not sure for how long or what my specific to-do’s will be, but this is a good opportunity for me (and you, too?) to focus on a few blog tasks that tend to be put on the back burner.

Hope your weekend has been a good one!

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let’s try this again: first book of the year, take two

First Book 2016

Apparently, I’m allergic to Virginia Woolf.

Or, at least my copy of A Room of One’s Own.

As I wrote in my previous post, my First Book of the Year selection was to be Woolf’s longform essay on women and writing. Perfect for the beginning of this year, for several reasons.

But as soon as I opened it, I started sneezing.

And sneezing.

And sneezing.

An hour of this. Remnants of the sinus/migraine nonsense from earlier?  Some reaction to the chamomile and mint tea?

“I wonder if this book was in someone’s attic,” I wondered between sneezes.  I’d purchased it a few weeks ago at Half Price Books.

“Get rid of it,” The Husband said. “It’s killing you.”

“But it’s my First Book of the Year.”

I sneezed again.

“You’re not going to make it to your second book of the year if you keep reading that book.”

I checked the library’s website to see if the e-book was available.  (It’s checked out; I put a hold on it.) I checked another library’s catalog.  They don’t own it.

I answered with a sneeze.

The Husband stared at me.

“Get. Rid. Of. It.”

“We’ll sell it — ACHOO! — back,” I said, taking it down to the garage.

In a matter of minutes, my sneezing stopped.

So, we change direction. Pick something else.  Go with Plan B, the book I was planning to read after Virginia Woolf.

Boys in the Trees

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon.

Now if only I could get the lyrics of “Coming Around Again” out of my head.

Baby sneezes
Mommy pleases
Daddy breezes in
So good on paper 
So romantic 
But so bewildering …. 

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Better Days

Strathmere, NJ during Hurricane Sandy – October 29, 2012
This is the street where my aunt and uncle’s beach house is,
where we vacation each year. You can see their house in the distance, I think.

“The beach is a haze and old love’s a ghost
Hugo is twisting his way up the coast
If you blew out to sea I’d love you most
And we just got here, we just got here
We just arrived ….”

I can’t watch the news coverage of Hurricane Sandy. I can’t stand it.

I can’t stay away from it either.

Here in Pittsburgh, we are not directly in the path of the hurricane. We’re feeling more than the residual effects, absolutely. It’s raining, and the winds are kicking up, and we just got word that the kids will have no school tomorrow.

But as regular readers know, I’m a Philly girl who vacations on the Jersey coast where Sandy reportedly just made landfall and who most recently lived in Delaware. Practically everyone in my life is there. (Except for The Husband’s parents, who are with us for the next 10 days because of The Husband’s surgery on Thursday.)

Still, even watching this coverage from more than 400 miles away, I am heartsick at this.

Absolutely heartsick.

How do you people in Florida and along the Gulf Coast do this, time after time?

I think I am beginning to understand the answer to that. I confess, I never quite understood that before today.

You stay because you are rooted in place, in memory and history, right?  Because that place and those memories have become part of you, embedded in your soul?

Because you know, you hope, you need to believe in better days?

Sunset over Strathmere, NJ ~ June 2011
Photo taken by me during our last vacation. 

I get that now.

Oh, I so get that.

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 copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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It’s Your Birthday, Carly. You’ve Never Looked So Good.

“It’s all of our birthdays this summer
One number older, another year younger … “
“Happy Birthday” ~ Carly Simon
photo from CarlySimon.com

Because it’s her 67th birthday today, I’m using this blog post (which is an encore of a post I published here on this date in 2010) to celebrate my favorite singer/songwriter, Carly Simon. I have no hesitation when asked the proverbial question about which CD I’d take to an island – preferably Martha’s Vineyard, Carly’s home and one of my all time favorite places (we honeymooned there). The real decision would be, which one of Carly’s CDs would make the cut. I’d have to stash some away.

I’ve loved her music since I was a little girl. I can’t remember if I bought “You’re So Vain” on a 45 record (show of hands … who remembers 45s?) or if it was my mom’s. What I do remember is playing it constantly, blissfully unaware of the provocative questions it provoked that still linger today. I didn’t even understand the lyrics but I knew enough to know that I loved the poetry of I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee years before I had my first cup.

I don’t have a favorite Carly song.  It’s impossible to choose just one.  I do tend to graviate to the lesser known ones, I’ve noticed. Many have become mantras for me at different times of my life, and never more so than when my kids were born.

As newborns, Betty and Boo spent a few weeks in the NICU.  During that time, we were told to talk to them, sing to them, anything to get them acquainted with our voices and so they could sense we were there.  So The Husband sang George Harrison songs (because he had just died), and told them about the electoral college (because at the time, the country was in the midst of getting a civics lesson and relearning our American history) and obscure Presidents (did you know we had a U.S. President named Chester Arthur?). I sang “Julie Through the Glass” (“Julie through the glass, just born a day ago/ and who knows where you’ve been/ and where you’re gonna go”) and “Libby” (“If all our flights are grounded/ Libby, we’ll go to Paris/ dance along the boulevards and have no one to embarrass ….”)

Finally, we were on the verge of being discharged and all that stood in the way of us and a ticket home first thing early the next morning was a few ounces of formula that Betty needed to drink – but stubbornly refused.  So, I sang the only song that was in my head at the time, over and over and over.

Silver cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.
We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of desire
through the dark’ning dawn.
(“Let the River Run” ~ Carly Simon)

One time, while Betty and I were grocery shopping, this came on over the speakers and I practically started bawling in the middle of Frozen Foods. “Mooo-ommm,” she said, still dramatic 10 years later. “You’re NOT going to cry and tell me the story about this song and me being in the hospital AGAIN, are you?”)

Back to being NICU parents. This all happened in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making it especially hard to be so isolated and scared, so when Carly’s Christmas album came out a year later, in 2002,  it seemed like “Christmas Is Almost Here” was written for us, with that whole experience in mind.  It has become one of my very favorite Christmas songs because it is so intertwined with those fragile NICU days.

“There’s a hand that’s old and rough
And it’s holding on
To one that’s new and small
Whose life has just begun
Hand in hand
Young and old
We calm each other’s fears
Christmas is almost here

There’s a rocky road ahead
Two people walk alone
Wondering in the fading light
If they can find their home
When hope is almost gone
A distant light appears
Christmas is almost here …”
(“Christmas Is Almost Here” ~ Carly Simon)

In 2005, I noticed an ad in the paper announcing that Carly was going to be in concert at The Borgata in Atlantic City.  We were the parents of nearly 4 year old twins, I had just started working full time again a few months earlier, and concert tickets long ago ceased to be among our discretionary expeditures. We crunched the numbers; nope, no can do. Maybe she would be comin’ around again, but most likely, this was a once in a lifetime thing that we had to be responsible about and let go.

A few days later at work, I opened an email from The Husband.  “From Santa!” it said, and it was a printout of the confirmation from Ticketmaster that we had tickets in the front section for Carly’s 2005 Serenade Tour. It was, without a doubt, one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended (and I’ve been lucky to see some great ones).  Her kids, Sally and Ben Taylor, were with her on that tour and they sang a rendition of “You Can Close Your Eyes” that was exquisite.  (I still sing part of that song to Boo every night … or, I should say, on the nights when he allows me to tuck him in.)

The Husband says that I am responsible for introducing him to the music of Carly Simon.  He knew the most popular songs, but not the older stuff.  (He did the same for me with the Beatles and their solo stuff, too, so we’re even.)  One of the first gifts The Husband ever bought me was Carly’s picture book, The Fisherman’s Song, which is the words to her song of the same name. He thought I was crazy for wanting a picture book in my 20s. After reading it, he understands.

There are so many moments in my life that either have Carly Simon’s music as a soundtrack as well as moments that a Carly Simon song captures for me in my heart. I’ve been listening to her all of my life and I can’t imagine my life without her music.

“So just blow out the candles … Happy Birthday.”

Happy Birthday, Carly.

And thank you.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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