Tell me your favorite beach reads!

We’re going on a little beach getaway for the next week.

I’m super excited, but the process of packing and getting ready has been sort of stressful. (I wrote a little about it in Monday’s post.) Normally, I’d have a reading list ready to go, but I haven’t had a chance to even think about it this week.

So, help me out! What are your favorite beach reads? Anything I can’t miss? Anything that just makes you think of summer? Give me all the recommendations, y’all! And thank you! 🙂

Real Talk: I’m in a reading rut.

I mentioned in my Q&A last week that my non-writing life has been unexpectedly chaotic this year. I’ve not been able to hike as much as I’ve wanted to, and I’ve not had time to work on some of my other creative goals. These things, I expected. Something has to give, right? But a surprising consequence of the chaos has been that I’m in a bit of a reading rut.

I read a lot. Normally over 100 books a year. I like reading. It’s a thing.

But this year, I’ve only read 24 book so far, and I’m having trouble getting excited about new books or looking for my next read. It’s weird, actually, and I’m certain it’s not permanent.

Which is where I hope y’all can come in! What are some of your favorite reads from this year so far? What should I read next? What book can I absolutely not miss? Send me recommendations! I like lots of different genres, and I love discovering new things. If you read it and liked it, tell me about it.

And I’ll get myself out of this rut, one story at a time.  

A Book, a Quote, and a Wish (One More for Women’s History Month)

I didn’t plan to write another post for Women’s History Month, but it seems the universe had other ideas, and here we are.

I’ve been working my way for the last few days through If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie.

(Cover image from Goodreads)

I’m not finished with it yet, so I can’t recommend it completely, but it is certainly making an impression. And there’s one quote from it, in particular, that I just can’t get out of my head:

We are wild creatures still, at heart, and if we listen to our hearts we will remember how to listen to the song of the fierce-beaked, wild-winged little wren who, hopping from tree to stump, shows us the way home. When we stop, when we let ourselves see, when the torn veil of this broken civilization lifts away from our eyes – we can find our way back home.

I’ve been thinking on this one for days – women as wild creatures, the unrelenting call of home, nature as a partner, and as something sacred, and the things, a million little things, that pull us as women away from ourselves.

The older I get, the more I notice. And the more I notice, the more determined I become to explore and discover my own magic, and to live in it and share it without shame or fear. And I suppose that’s my wish for all women, as we continue to make history – that we find our magic, that we let our magic shine, and that we leave a path for others to follow.

Found Friday #9: The Gift of Ghost Stories

Back in 2016, my friend Liz gave me this book as a housewarming gift.

To be fair, I don’t know that it was meant to be a housewarming gift, as both Liz and I love a good ghost story and she just thought I’d enjoy it, but the timing worked out. And it’s more special than a “just because” present. It’s signed by Frank Raflo, the author.

He passed away in 2009.

I felt like it was time to revisit this book today. After I read it the first time, I tucked it away on my bookshelf and didn’t really think much about it. But stories are the gifts that keep on giving, and I thought it would be fun to re-read these, since it’s spooky season. There are lots of good stories in this book, but, as it turns out and after reading it today, there’s one in particular that I just can’t get out of my head.

And next week, I’ll tell you why. 😉

*In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about some of the ghost stories I grew up with living in Virginia, I recommend the Ghosts of Virginia books by L.B. Taylor, Jr. I devoured them when I was younger, and I come back to them often.*

What’s your writing routine?

The short answer is: It is not.

I read this book recently, which gives brief descriptions of the routines of famous writers, artists, and other creatives.

I’d recommend it, if you’re looking for a fun, quick read. And it did get me thinking.

When I decided to pursue writing as more than just a hobby, I thought I’d develop a routine and habits, in the same way I’d developed them working in an office – a 9:00 a.m. coffee, a quick walking break mid-day, a late afternoon rush of productivity. But that never happened. I do write a fair amount, most weeks, but never on any kind of schedule, and never as part of a regular practice. And when people ask what my routine is, I never really know what to say.

“Well, while still in last night’s pajamas, I sit in the recliner in my living room and I drink coffee until I’m jittery, and then I type frantically on my laptop until something happens. And then I keep at it until it’s done, which is sort of indeterminate and looks different every day, but I really can’t focus on anything else until I hit some kind of stopping point and please don’t ask me to. And then it’s usually time to eat something or at least drink water because I’ve forgotten to do that all day.”

Like, is that a routine? That doesn’t seem like a routine. But it works for me, at least most of the time.

Though I hate to be asked, I confess I do find it fascinating how different people approach the act of creating. I feel like it’s deeply personal to each creator, and that’s probably why it’s often hard to explain. Or, for some, why it’s easy.

I will never stop learning.

Here’s something I know: I am white.

rehearsal - 087

Here are a few things I also know, because I am white:

I have never had to change how I speak, dress, or do my hair for people to take me seriously and respect my intellect. I have never feared for my life during a police encounter, or worried that, should I be pulled over for a minor offense like speeding, I could be removed from my car and restrained, searched, or handcuffed for no stated reason. I have never questioned my place in society, my ability to access educational institutions, or how others see my humanity. I have never, ever been the minority in any room, ever. I have never been asked if I own my property. I have never been told to “act white.” No one has ever called the police on me for walking in a park, having a barbecue, selling bottled water, or playing with a toy in a public space. No one has ever asked me if my hair is real, and I can go to pretty much any stylist I want to get my hair done. No one has ever attacked me, hurt me, lied about me, or threatened me when I’ve shared my thoughts and stood up for what I believe in. There are no mechanisms of power currently in place to curtail my rights and opportunities in this society, and almost all of my elected leaders look like me. I know that I will be given the benefit of the doubt in my interactions with authorities and employers. I know I will never be treated poorly when moving into a “nice” neighborhood, and that an overwhelming majority of people living in that “nice” neighborhood will look like me. I know that my name will never be laughed at or questioned. I know my family’s name and history going back generations, because they were not stolen from my ancestors, and because my ancestors were not brought to this country in chains.

That’s a lot, right? And these are not things I know because they’ve been taught to me in school. I’ve not read them in books. These are things I know because I live in a society that looks at whiteness as standard, as normal and basic, and everything else as different and other, and, in the worst cases, as dangerous and threatening. These are things I’ve internalized, been born into, without even realizing it.

I’ve always considered myself a smart, curious person, and so it’s been humbling, humiliating, and eye-opening to realize just how much I don’t know about my own country’s history, and how much I didn’t truly understand about how people of color experience life here. As I’ve come to see just how many gaps I have in my knowledge, I’ve been doing a lot of reading (and a little bit of watching). There are lots of lists out there right now for people who want to learn. Here’s one, and another. Here’s one for children. And here’s one for movies, if that’s more your style. And one more. I don’t want to rehash these lists, and I certainly don’t think I can put together anything better, but I do want to share, because people have asked me, just what I’ve been reading and watching.

MEMOIRS AND NON-FICTION

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

A memoir from father to son. Powerful, emotional, personal, eloquent. I’d wanted to read this one for a long time. I’m glad I finally did. I cried a lot.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Devastating, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I read this in college, about thirteen years ago. I felt like it was important to revisit it now, in this moment, with older eyes and more life experience. I was right. And, also, I cried a lot.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for What People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility

Helpful, but humbling. It’s worth noting that this is written by a white person, and specifically targets a white audience.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

White Rage

Shocking, eye-opening. I needed a drink once I finished this one. I couldn’t believe just how much I hadn’t learned in school. It made me angry, and then made me sad, and then made me resolve to keep learning.

ARTICLES

“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”

“How I Discovered I am White” by renegademama

“In other words, it’s ‘white’ until further notice. It’s ‘white’ until proven otherwise. It’s ‘white’ or it’s the ‘other,’ and it has nothing to do with actual numbers, percentages of ‘minority’ population. It has to do with power. It has to do with the culture of power. What do I mean? If a comedy film features a white family, it’s a comedy. If it features a black family, it’s a comedy for people of color. Think about it.”

“It’s Time to Listen and Believe” by Ben R. Williams

“But when someone points to the iconography of the Civil War era and says, with heart-breaking honesty, that those symbols are a painful daily reminder of the horror that their ancestors endured? When someone says that many of these symbols were erected during the Civil Rights era to intimidate people like them and keep them in line?

My responsibility is to listen to them and believe them.

When someone tells you what hurts them, you don’t get to tell them they’re wrong.”

MOVIES

13th

This was so, so hard to watch. But is so, so important to watch. You think slavery is a thing of the past? This documentary will make you think again.

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

A mockumentary that plays with the idea that the Confederacy won the Civil War.

WHAT’S NEXT?

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist

I’m reading this one now, and I’m a little less than halfway through. So far, I’m struck by Kendi’s honesty, and this book feels very personal and intimate.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

Me and White Supremacy

This one was recommended to me by a friend. I’m intrigued and excited by the title and the premise. I’ll probably start on it next week.

The Pittsburgh Cycle by August Wilson

This is a collection of ten plays, each of which takes place in a different decade of the 20th century. I read all ten in college, and I think it’s time to reread them. They made a huge impact on me back then, and I expect they’ll do it all over again.

This is not a conclusive list, and I am not done. I won’t ever be done. I will keep learning, because even though I am sad, ashamed, and exhausted, it is my responsibility to educate myself and be better.

I’ve been encouraging others to do the same. It has not always gone well. It’s hard to hear that your people are the villains in someone’s story. It’s hard to see that your ancestors weren’t on the right side of history. It’s hard to contend with being part of systems you didn’t build and didn’t notice but have still benefitted from. I know that. I’m struggling with it, too. But it’s a necessary struggle, and it’s part of a necessary change that’s incredibly, tragically overdue.

Anybody else in need of a good book or several?

It’s been a rough and stressful few weeks, hasn’t it?  I was planning to write a post about the best spots to hike in and around Loudoun County, and I might do that in the next few months; but, with the CDC recommending some serious social distancing measures and with many people opting to stay away from public places and, you know, inside, I thought a reading list might be more appropriate and helpful.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably feeling like you’ll need a lot of books to get through this.

Bookshelves

*The lovely chaos that is bookshelves in my home.

So, I’ve listed below several books that I’ve enjoyed over the last year or so.  They’re not in any particular order, but I’ve categorized them loosely, and if they’re part of a series, I’ve generally listed the first book and added an asterisk.  I’ve linked their Goodreads or Amazon pages and quoted summaries, as well.  I hope you find something here that you’ll enjoy, and I wish you happy reading, good health, and abundant toilet paper in the weeks to come!

Adult Fiction

The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James

“The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.”

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

“It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.”

The Invited, by Jennifer McMahon

“In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.”

The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

“Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.”

Bellewether, by Susanna Kearsley

“Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.”

*Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox, by Forthright

“A letter from a long-lost aunt names Tsumiko heiress to an ancestral estate and its accompanying fortune. Only the legacy comes with an aloof heirloom: an inhuman butler. Argent has served the Hajime family for centuries, and Tsumiko must renew the generational bond or he’ll die. Argent hates her for the hold she has over him, but he craves her soul almost as much as he craves his freedom.”

The Widow’s House, by Carol Goodman

“This chilling novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages blends the gothic allure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and the crazed undertones of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the twisty, contemporary edge of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife—a harrowing tale of psychological suspense set in New York’s Hudson Valley.”

Short Story Collections

Burning Bright, by Ron Rash

“In these stories, Rash brings to light a previously unexplored territory, hidden in plain sight—first a landscape, and then the dark yet lyrical heart and the alluringly melancholy soul of his characters and their home.”

Shatterday, by Harlan Ellison

“…legendary author Harlan Ellison dissects the primal fears and inherent frailties common to all people and gives voice to the thoughts and feelings human beings bury deep within their souls. Unflinching and unapologetic, Ellison depicts men and women in all their ugliness and beauty, and humanity in all its fury and glory.”

Half Wild: Stories, by Robin MacArthur

“Spanning nearly forty years, the stories in Robin MacArthur’s formidable debut give voice to the hopes, dreams, hungers, and fears of a diverse cast of Vermonters—adolescent girls, aging hippies, hardscrabble farmers, disconnected women, and solitary men. Straddling the border between civilization and the wild, they all struggle to make sense of their loneliness and longings in the stark and often isolating enclaves they call home—golden fields and white-veiled woods, dilapidated farmhouses and makeshift trailers, icy rivers and still lakes that rouse the imagination, tether the heart, and inhabit the soul.”

Poetry Collections

Our Numbered Days, by Neil Hilborn

“In 2013, Neil Hilborn’s performance of his poem ‘OCD’ went viral. To date, it has been watched over 10 million times. Our Numbered Days is Neil’s debut full-length poetry collection, containing 45 of Neil’s poems including ‘OCD’, ‘Joey’, ‘Future Tense’, ‘Liminality’, ‘Moving Day’, and many, many never-before-seen poems.” 

The People Look Like Flowers at Last, by Charles Bukowski

The People Look like Flowers at Last is the last of five collections of never-before published poetry from the late great Dirty Old Man, Charles Bukowski.”

New American Best Friend, by Olivia Gatwood

“Gatwood’s poems deftly deconstruct traditional stereotypes. The focus shifts from childhood to adulthood, gender to sexuality, violence to joy. And always and inexorably, the book moves toward celebration, culminating in a series of odes: odes to the body, to tough women, to embracing your own journey in all its failures and triumphs.”

Young Adult Fiction

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.”

 *Red Winter, by Annette Marie

“Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.”

Highfire, by Eoin Colfer

“From the New York Times bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series comes a hilarious and high-octane adult novel about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who lives an isolated life in the bayous of Louisiana—and the raucous adventures that ensue when he crosses paths with a fifteen-year-old troublemaker on the run from a crooked sheriff.”

*City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab

“Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one. When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly.”

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow

“In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.”

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

“What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…”

Manga and Graphic Novels

*Noragami, by Adachitoka

“Yato is a homeless god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshippers! So to achieve his ambitious goals, he’s set up a service to help those in need (for a small fee), hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky, so Yato accepts all kinds of jobs, from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies at school.”

*The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

“New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.”

*Yona of the Dawn, by Mizuho Kusanagi

“Princess Yona lives an ideal life as the only princess of her kingdom. Doted on by her father, the king, and protected by her faithful guard Hak, she cherishes the time spent with the man she loves, Soo-won. But everything changes on her 16th birthday when she witnesses her father’s murder! Yona reels from the shock of witnessing a loved one’s murder and having to fight for her life. With Hak’s help, she flees the palace and struggles to survive while evading her enemy’s forces. But where will this displaced princess go when all the paths before her are uncertain?”

Memoirs, Academia, and Non-Fiction

The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writing, Ideas, and Influence, by Colin Duriez

“A unique account of one of history’s most intriguing literary groups, which will find itself on the reading list of every serious Tolkien, Lewis, or Inkling fan. The Inklings were an influential group, along the lines of the Lake Poets or the Bloomsbury Group. Acclaimed author Colin Duriez explores their lives, their writings, their ideas, and, crucially, the influence they had on each other.”

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie

“When his mother passed away at the age of 78, Sherman Alexie responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is this stunning memoir. Featuring 78 poems, 78 essays and intimate family photographs, Alexie shares raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine–growing up dirt-poor on an Indian reservation, one of four children raised by alcoholic parents. Throughout, a portrait emerges of his mother as a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated woman.”

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, by Neil Gaiman

“Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.”

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, by Keith Habersberger, Zach Kornfeld, Eugene Lee Yang, and Ned Fulmer

“To be our best selves, we must become secure in our insecurities. In The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, The Try Guys – Keith, Ned, Zach, and Eugene – reveal their philosophy of trying: how to fully embrace fear, foolishness, and embarrassment in an effort to understand how we all get paralyzed by a fear of failure. They’ll share how four shy, nerdy kids have dealt with their most poignant life struggles by attacking them head-on and reveal their – ahem – sure-fail strategies for achieving success.”

Educated, by Tara Westover

“Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.”