Reflections on a Year of Reading

I read a lot. I love reading and books, and stories. This has always been the case.

But in 2022, I decided that I wanted to branch out, try new things, and read different books than I would normally pick for myself. So, I decided to read at least two books per week – one fiction and one nonfiction. Y’all, I had fun. And I read 126 books total, which is more than usual, and I learned a lot about myself as a reader, and about some pretty cool stuff.

A lot of people I talk to have asked me questions about why I decided to read this way, and how I made it happen, so I thought I’d answer some of those questions here.

Why two books a week?

Because I figured that would force me to choose things I wouldn’t normally choose, and get outside of my comfort zone. And I knew I could do it. It might be hard to find time some weeks, but I read fast, so two books is pretty doable for me if I plan well and make time.

How did you make the time?

There’s no easy answer to this question, and there’s no easy formula for making time you don’t have. Wouldn’t that be great, though? The simple answer to this question is, I just did. If I had a free minute during the day, I spent it reading. If Graham and I didn’t have plans during the weekend, I set aside some time to read. If we took a long road trip, while Graham drove, I read. Time is a limited resource, I know, but to do anything you really want to do, you have to just choose to do it.

What do you normally read?

A little of everything. I love children’s and young adult fiction, I love mysteries, I love true crime, I love memoirs. I also really enjoy a good romance, or fantasy, or science fiction. But left to my own devices, I will read primarily fiction with some magic and romance sprinkled in. And I’m a big fan of quieter storytelling. I can’t think of a better way to describe it, but it’s this feeling I get like the story is speaking for itself without much work or embellishment from the writer. Think Kazuo Ishiguro in Never Let Me Go. The one thing I don’t always pick up readily is history, which is funny, because I love history and I’m fascinated by it.

Did you read anything this year that you didn’t like?

I respect any writer brave and bold enough to put their work out into the world. But, sure, I read a few things this year that I probably wouldn’t have finished, if not for this little project of mine. I’m not going to tell you what they are, because everyone should read what they enjoy and I don’t want to devalue any author’s hard work. But I can tell you that they were usually nonfiction books that I just didn’t find were very well-researched or compellingly written. I’m a stickler for research. Do the work, then write the book, you know?

Did you read anything you really loved?

Yes! I really enjoyed the Kamusari books by Shion Miura, which surprised me, because they’re translated, and sometimes things like colloquialisms and cultural nuance and humor don’t always translate well. But in this case, I really enjoyed them. I reread Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, and it hit differently now in my thirties than it did when I read it as a teenager. I read both Star Mother and Star Father by Charlie N. Holmberg and loved them both. Very folklore-based, which was on theme for my own writing in 2022. Ask a Historian by Greg Jenner was super fun, and Starry Messenger by Neil DeGrasse Tyson made me feel both small and infinite. And I’m glad I spent some time with Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, by reading her memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira. There are so many more I really enjoyed. It’s hard to pick favorites.

Did you learn anything really interesting?

Of course I did! Anytime you’re reading, I think you’re learning. But for the sake of specificity, if you haven’t already read them, I think you should check out The Hidden Life of Trees and The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben. Even though I’m mostly an indoor kind of girl (that’s where the tea and comfy reading chairs are), I do love nature, and these books helped me look at things in a new way.

Aren’t you kind of bragging? I mean, no one has time to read that many books.

Someone did, in fact, ask me this, and it’s not an unfair question. I don’t mean to brag. Some people read a lot less, and some people, I know, read more. I like to read, and I like to learn, and I like to talk about what I’ve read and learned. I don’t think people who spend a lot of time working on their health and make significant progress and then excitedly share that progress are bragging. How I choose to spend my time and talk about it is just that – a choice. And setting a goal is a good way to accomplish something.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely! But not this year. It actually was quite a challenge to make the time to really read and focus on so many books. I don’t regret it at all, and I’d love to do it again, but I’ve got some other projects I want to work on this year. I am going to try to read at least one book every week, so while I’m slowing down, I’m not going to just stop reading. I don’t even think I could. I get grumpy when I don’t read. Just ask Graham.

I don’t know when I might get another chance to read so intentionally and so much, and so I’m grateful I did it in 2022. I feel like it was well worth my time, and made my life better. We’ll see what 2023 has in store, but the stories I read last year will stay with me forever. And that’s pretty damn cool, isn’t it?

Announcing: My 2023 Short Story Theme!

For the last couple of years, I’ve challenged myself to write one short story every month around a central theme. Other writers have joined, and it’s just been a lot of fun. So, onward with the tradition!

Last year’s theme was: Folklore. And while I didn’t write a story every month – December ended on a sad note, and I just couldn’t bring myself to write a story while grieving my sweet Gatsby-cat – it was interesting to look at aspects of folklore, how things become folklore, what folklore is and what it can do… Anyway, it was a good year for stories, December notwithstanding, and I’m excited to continue writing them. On that note –  

This year’s theme is:

Wild.

There are all sorts of ways to be wild. There are all kinds of things that grow wild, become wild, live wild. But not us. Not humans. At least, not usually. I want to explore what it means to be wild. And if you want to join me, too, you should!

The rules are simple: twelve months, twelve stories, posted whenever you’d like in any given month. (Normally, I post towards the end.) You can link to this post, if you’d like, so we can read each other’s stories. 🙂

I hope 2023 is a better year just generally. And I really hope it’s a great year for stories.

July’s Short Story

It’ll be up by Sunday at the latest! Honestly, I haven’t started on it yet, but I will, and I’m sure it will be good.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a lovely weekend! And for now, enjoy this picture of Annie (the Snow Dog), who doesn’t like this heatwave any more than the rest of us.

On Caffeine, and Cutting It Out

I love coffee.

I also love tea, and I’m too fond for my own good of Diet Coke. As vices go, caffeine’s not so bad. Nonetheless, I haven’t had a drop since June 21st.

This is a change I’ve been thinking about making for a while. I was experiencing some really bad heartburn, and I’ve never been the best at sleeping. I figured cutting caffeine – especially coffee – would be helpful, and so I finally did it.

And, well…yeah.

I’m fine. Totally fine. Really, I’m completely good. Except…

I had no idea how essential caffeine was to my creative process!!

Y’all, I have had so much trouble writing anything good for the last month. Poems are a struggle, and I truly don’t know how I’m going to manage this month’s short story (which is coming this week, by the way!).

So, tell me, writer friends: How do you get yourself into a good writing headspace, especially if you’re also going without caffeine? I’ll take any advice. HELP. Please. And thank you!

(I’ve also cut out alcohol. But that’s been much easier. Which both surprises me and doesn’t surprise me at all.)

Am I a writer this week?

It’s been a week, y’all. Last week was a week, too. I don’t feel like I’ve been able to focus and spend time on the projects I care most about lately, including my writing. In fact, I don’t feel much like a writer this week at all.

It’s not a great feeling. And it’s also not true.

On weeks like this, when I’m tired and stressed and when my impostor syndrome gets the better of me, I remind myself that creating is fundamental to who I am. It’s part of me, just like my hair and my nails and my eyes and that weird little wrinkle I get in my forehead when I think too hard about math. It’s like breathing.

Every day, I’m thinking about a story, or an idea, or just some words that fit nicely together. Even if I can’t do anything with them RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, we live in a world where RIGHT NOW is often table stakes, a requirement of any job and an expectation in any undertaking. There’s just not a lot of value placed on someday soon, or on letting your mind meander even when your hands are busy elsewhere. It seems, in many ways, we’ve lost the will or the way to appreciate the art of daydreaming.

So, I’ve not gotten much writing done this week. But I am a writer. I can’t turn it on and off like a faucet. I wouldn’t want to.

And if you’ve had a week like mine, this week or in the future, I hope you remember: You are a writer. Even when things get in the way, and even when it feels like you’ll never get back to your trusty old pen and paper (or laptop). YOU ARE A WRITER.

In conclusion, TL;DR – Yes, I am still a writer this week. And I wonder what next week will bring.

What are you reading lately?

One of my goals for 2022 is to read a fiction and nonfiction book every week. So, two books a week, essentially, trying to branch out into new topics and push myself to read new things. I’m a little ahead of the game right now at 56 books read. (Not a contest, but yay! That’s three more than I was able to read during all of last year.) But as you can imagine, I’m always on the lookout for my next read.

So tell me, what are you reading? What have you read lately? What should I read next? And if you’re looking for recommendations, too, feel free to leave me a comment! I’ve read lots of good stuff this year. 😊

April’s Short Story

It’ll be up tomorrow! In the meantime, here’s a preview. Enjoy!

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I don’t like the term “monster hunt.” Humans can be monsters, but everyone goes on and on about Bigfoot. Spare me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We set out around noon on the first warm day of spring. There were two of us. There was me, and there was Ty, my best friend. Ty carried the map, the tent, the food, all the other “useful stuff” (his words), and the dog’s leash. So, I guess there were actually three of us – Ty, me, and Septimus.

I asked Ty once why he named the dog Septimus.

“Because,” he said, “he looked like a Septimus. Just look at him”

In front of us now, walking up the trail into the woods, Septimus sniffed and explored, nose to the ground with his floppy, pendulum ears dangling into the leafy brush, drool trailing along behind him in a silvery, viscous path. He didn’t carry anything.

I held the camera.

“I don’t know what you think you’re going to find,” Ty said, craning his neck around to get a glimpse of me behind him. “And I don’t want to be in whatever video you make when this is over.”

“‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep…’” I replied.

“You didn’t come up with that.”

“No,” I said, “that was Robert Frost. But it makes my point.”

“Which is?”

Ty walked on ahead.

“Which is,” I said, “that you’ll never find anything if you don’t go looking, and there’s no place like the deep, dark woods to get started.”

Friday Writing

Hello, Friday! Hello, Spring!

It’s so hard, when it starts to get warm again, to focus on work, and it’s been a busy week. But I’ve managed to stay on top of everything, and I’m spending today just writing. And drinking coffee. Which definitely helps with the writing.

And you know, I think this is honestly my favorite way to spend a Friday.

Imagining the Unimaginable

This is not a book review.

For one thing, I don’t really do those, and for another, I haven’t finished the book yet. But I started reading Imaginable by Jane McGonigal yesterday, and I’m finding it really interesting so far.

I have anxiety. I don’t talk about it a lot, but it is something I’m dealing with. I tend to catastrophize when I’m stressed, and I fight off invasive thoughts – especially about the future and what I can and can’t do about it – all the time. Not as often as I used to, but still pretty often.

Like many people, these last couple of years have been a challenge for me. And with the news coming out of Ukraine, the state of American politics, the very real threat of climate change, and just the general list of “unknowns” that we as humans have to accept every second of every day, it’s easy for me to get bogged down in desperation and hopelessness. I’m a positive person, and I look for and work for good things, but man, it’s hard sometimes.

So when I came across Imaginable, I was immediately intrigued. McGonigal is a professional futurist (what a cool job!) and a game designer (also a cool job!), and the combination of those two fields makes for a really compelling exploration of how to imagine possible futures, how to think about the unthinkable, and how to then cope with it and get our minds around it.

I have a big imagination. It works for me creatively, but can definitely lead me down some dark alleys and scary paths when my anxiety decides to join the party. I’m really looking forward to diving into this book more deeply. I’m about three chapters in, and I’m hooked. I expect to finish it today.

And if you read it, too, let me know your thoughts!