Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Books I Read in August

Well, according to Goodreads, I only read 10 books in August. Which is still a lot of books, just down quite a bit from my record high of 17 books in July. I would like to say that my on-fire reading pace hasn't actually slowed down, I'm just choosing not to include in this list the 10 or 11 early modern plays I read this month, as I feel weird counting plays as books (that's a whole discussion), and because I'm technically reading them in preparation for my exams, so they don't really count as pleasure reading. Although, I must say it's been fascinating to read all of Shakespeare's best plays at once (I'm not through them all yet, but should be by mid-September) and feel like I'm sort of just standing in a fire-hose, drenching myself in the beauty of the Bard's words. Maybe I'll write about it some time, but probably not until after my exams are over.

For now, let's jump into my August reading recap.

Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd

I feel like someone somewhere recommended this to me as being similar to Edenbrooke, which is a really fantastic (if entirely fluffy) historical romance. This book is not fantastic. Not even close. It was a historical romance, it was clean, it was fine, but I've absolutely forgotten almost everything about it. Don't bother.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Five stars. Just, so, so much good writing here. Okay, this is one of those slow character-driven books with not much plot, definitely more literary. But here's what I love so much about Berry's writing: he takes the ordinary life of a farmer's wife, a woman who lives a mostly happy life with only the small regular tragedies of anybody, a woman who lives a small, insignificant life by the world's standards, and he makes that life epic and important and incredibly beautiful. I just loved it so much, and I found myself sobbing at one point, and I just love when beautiful writing makes me feel like that. This book made me want to write my own life story, if only I could find the words like this to make it feel this beautiful. Strong recommend.

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

This was so much fun. Historical fiction with a magic/fantasy rewrite, and a gender-flip plot. Here's the premise: it's World War I in a world where women have developed remarkable "philosophical" abilities to manipulate energy and matter using "sigils" that allow them to fly, summon smoke, heal the human body, and any number of other interesting super-powers. Men can do this "philosophy" too, but generally not nearly as well as women. Enter Robert Weeks, raised by a mother and sisters who have taught him everything they know about philosophical flight. His only dream is to be accepted to the elite all female Rescue and Evacuation Service Corps serving in the war, but his he good enough to hang with the girls? I enjoyed this world immensely, and look forward to reading the next in the series. Also, I immediately recommended this to my husband, as I suspect he'll enjoy it quite a bit as well.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Okay, this one was completely fascinating and a definite high recommend, but I have some quibbles with it. Voss is a former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator, and he is clearly good at his job. He now works as a consultant for businesses, so most of his advice works really, really well in a business negotiation situation (I immediately recommended this book to my husband as well, because he's a contract attorney in the middle of business negotiations all the time, I feel like this will be super helpful for him). Voss's stories, both from his time in the FBI and from his time in the corporate world were fascinating, and his insight into how negotiating works made me feel like even I could be a good negotiator (this from a girl who avoids conflict at all costs). However, Voss makes big claims about how his communication strategies can work in every negotiation situation in life, including with personal relationships. I can see where some of that makes sense, but he doesn't really delve into that much, and I really wish he would have, because I don't know that I actually agree. I don't think you can apply some of these negotiating principles in a marriage (like, you really should never compromise with your spouse, really? And faking empathy with a terrorist is one thing, but in a marriage, shouldn't it be real empathy, and doesn't that change things?) or with young kids. Those are the people I negotiate with daily, and that's the book I would like to read. Anyway, lots to think about with this one, I certainly don't want to forget what I've learned.

The Girl He Used To Know by Tracy Garvis Graves

I can't remember who recommended this to me, but I was intrigued by the premise. Romance stories with people on the autism spectrum seem to be a thing right now, and I was interested to see how this relationship worked, and what life was like for Annika. However, where this book lost me was when it used 9/11 as a plot device to show us all just what this character is made of. I don't know why that irked me so much, but it felt like too much. Anyway, not a strong recommend from me.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

A re-read for me, to gear up for another stressful and busy school year. Just as good as the first time. Look, if you haven't read this one yet, then you really just need to go get it right now and fix that. It is such good stuff here about actually living an intentional life.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

You guys! What a revelation this book was to me! How have I not heard of it before!? My friend Sarah sent me a link to a podcast she thought I would appreciate, all about this book. As soon as I finished listening to the podcast, I put this book on hold at my library, read it in one day, then altered all my lesson plans to include this book in my first unit for English 101. Here's the basic premise: Donald Miller wrote a memoir called Blue Like Jazz that apparently did fairly well (I've never heard of it, not read it), so two filmmakers contact him and ask him if they can turn that book into a movie. They sit down to write the screen play together, and Miller discovers that despite being able to write a very reflective memoir, his life doesn't actually make a good story. They basically have to make things up to turn his life into a movie. This prompts Miller to learn everything he can about what makes a good story, and then he goes on a journey to live a better story, to make his life a better story. I mean, you can probably see why I loved that. Live a better story! So powerful! Also, I've sat in classes before where people have argued that literature is "post-story" and we no longer have need for narratives or meaning. This book articulates every reason why that is absolute rubbish.

The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

Continuing on with my reread of this series. This is Book 3, and probably my least favorite. But it's still very good.

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

And moved right on to book 4, which is such a stellar ending to a stellar series. Also, while reading this, I realized that while the writing may not actually be that fantastic (I mean, it's fine as far as YA fantasy goes), what I love most about this series is how well it does world-building and politics. I've never seen another more politically intricate YA plot ever, and it's all sorts of fun.

Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

I wasn't super in-love with Hollis' first book (Girl, Wash Your Face) which I read in July, but I kind of got interested in her life again after reading somewhere that her husband left his high-level job at Disney to run her company. She's a bit of an over-sharer, so you learn a lot about her life in these books (like her chapter on sex in her first book, or her chapter on her boob-job in this one). Anyway, my opinion still stands: some of the advice she gives worked for her but should not be taken as a universal truth (oh man, she needs to stop with the diet advice!), but I can see how she's quite motivational. I actually think I appreciated this one a tiny bit more since I found some of her goal-setting advice to be useful (I'm not sure I found anything in the first book useful). Anyway, not a must a read, but it was a good pump-me-up for starting the semester off strong.

Okay guys, there you go. All in all, a pretty good month of reading. Now that I'm back in school, things will probably slow down a bit on the pleasure reading front, but I'll still have my commute to squeeze some good stuff in (though, I'm also listening to all my Shakespeare plays, so my school work is cutting into that time). Anyway, I shouldn't be back here until next month with another round of mini-reviews. But I'll be missing you guys in the meantime!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Summer Recap

I always have such high hopes for summer. For a few months, I get to be a real stay-at-home mom. I get to focus on my projects, my pleasure reading, my agenda. There's time to get the house back in order after a school year of neglect. And there's time for fun. Road trips! Reunions! Swimming and park playing and staying up late to watch movies!

And then, of course, you get a few weeks in and despite having finally scrubbed all the bathrooms for the first time in months every surface is dirtier than ever because we are all home all day long making messes, and those trips to the park actually turn out to be kind of miserable because it is so dang sweaty hot, and staying up late for fun activities does not translate to my kids sleeping in later the next morning (why can everyone else's kids sleep in?!?!?) so they are all super grumpy, and there are several attempts at potty training that make me want to lose my mind, and I realize all over again that being a stay-at-home mom is actually just as difficult as being a working mom because of that incredibly draining part where your children never seem to let you even go to the bathroom alone, or so much as finish a thought. Living in a state of constant distraction is exhausting.

So here we are, dragging ourselves to the finish line of summer. My oldest has been in school for a week-and-half now, but the Littles and I start on Monday. I'm both salivating over that quiet little dungeon office where I'll get to spend up to six uninterrupted hours a day not wiping poop off of anyone's bum, and feeling incredibly apprehensive and sad that our beautiful season of freedom and fun is over. In an effort to help remind myself that this summer actually was fun (and not just an unending series of tantrums and bug bites), I'm journaling some of our highlights here. It's all about perspective, so let's focus on the positive!

Smith Family Reunion

My family is pretty spread apart, and we hadn't all been together since my brother's wedding in 2016. Two babies joined the family in the meantime, and it was well past time for us to get together again, so we finally made an official reunion happen this past June in Island Park, Idaho (my aunt and uncle own a cabin there which was able to house the whole crew, and it was just perfect!).

We had the longest trek to make to get there, and we broke it up into a two-day road trip which was actually fairly pleasant.

My favorite part of the road trip was pulling over to a rest stop in the mountains above Jackson Hole to build a snowman! In June! It was a little piece of whimsy that the kids talked about for days, and was so worth the fifteen minute delay and muddy shoes.

We rafted down streams, spent a day hiking in Yellowstone, saw waterfalls, ate a ton of really good food, played games, sang songs and roasted marshmallows by the campfire, and generally had an amazing time just hanging out together.

We hired a photographer to get some real family pictures together, and while it was a bit of a miserable experience (the sun sets so late we couldn't start till 8 PM, and with the time zone change my kids were exhausted and going crazy and had to be bribed with a constant stream of jelly beans, also it was really cold, because, Idaho), but it was worth every penny. Beautiful family, beautiful location, beautiful memories. I love these people so much, and I'm so happy we got to spend time with them all again, even if it was just a few days.

4th of July

You guys, I didn't take a single picture worth mentioning over the 4th of July. I blame this on the fact that my husband was out of town for five days over that holiday. He went to a board game convention in Florida and spent his Independence Day playing game after game after game in a hotel ballroom with a bunch of other sweaty guys (actually there were some women too, and even children!) (and, also, it wasn't all that sweaty, because my husband complained about how fierce the AC was the whole time). I, on the other hand, corralled the three kids over to my in-laws for a weekend of barbecues and paddleboarding on the lake (although we got rained out on that adventure), and staying up late to watch fireworks (and then being very grumpy the next day, because like I said, my kids are physically incapable of sleeping in). It was all much fun, but solo parenting (even with in-laws involved) over a holiday weekend with sugared up kids is anything but relaxing. Also, we got some of the worst chigger bites of the season this weekend. Summer highs and lows right there.

San Francisco Trip

My sister has been living in the Bay Area for the past three years, and I always figured we'd get out there to visit her and get a good tour of her stomping grounds at some point. But then this spring she up and applied to MBA school and got accepted and suddenly we had a deadline to get out there this summer before she moved back to Utah. So we squeezed a weekend trip in between conventions and reunions. We bought our plane tickets back in May when this seemed like the best weekend available, but then her really good friend went and got engaged and scheduled her wedding for this very same weekend. So it ended up being a bit of a crazy schedule, with her trying to balance being tour guide and maid of honor, and we ended up crashing the wedding reception (which I didn't mind one bit, considering the bride's family owns a chocolate company and that dessert table was one of the most exquisite things I've ever seen, and you better believe I left that party stuffing handfuls of decadent chocolates in my pockets and purse).

We actually ended up missing our flight out of Kansas City (it was a super early morning flight, and we naturally got out the door a little later than planned (guys, 3:45 AM is hard on a body), and din't take into account the fact that security would be bonkers that time of day, but surprisingly United was amazing and rebooked us on a new flight out just forty minutes later (and even refunded us $10 per flight? Because it was cheaper?), but because of the stress of it all by the time we landed I had a major headache and was super nauseous. It took me half a sandwich, a couple of ibuprofen, and nearly throwing up on the side of the road before I picked up enough energy to dive into our touristing schedule. Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge (naturally), and I feel like I still look a bit peaky in this photo, but all that brisk Bay breeze up on the bridge really helped pick me back up. I'll spare you the onslaught of photos, but we spent the rest of this day roaming around San Fran, and what a charming little city that is! Never want to live there, but it was so fun to visit!

Day 2 included some hiking in the redwoods, hitting up the beach at Half Moon Bay, and then an evening strolling about Stanford campus and the Palo Alto area (not pictured, but really beautiful campus).

Saturday was wedding day. We did a session in the newly renovated Oakland temple during the ceremony, and made it out in time to catch some photos of the wedding party. You can see my sister there in her maid-of-honor glory (she's not really that much taller than me, she just had on some fancy high heels and I was in flats). The reception was down in Carmel, which was about 2.5 hours south of Oakland, so we headed down there. Nathan and I wandered about that cute little touristy town and had a little picnic dinner on the beach before crashing the latter end of the reception. We flew out super early Sunday morning, so it was a quick trip, but I'm so glad we made it! It was a ton of fun and I would not mind a more extensive trip back to the Bay Area again some day (and next time, I'll be prepared with warmer jackets, those are chilly beaches!).

Tanner Family Reunion

Toward the end of July, we had a small Tanner family reunion on my husband's side. This one was close to home for us, because it revolved around his little sister's mission farewell, so it all happened at my in-law's home and we just had to travel across the border to Missouri. Festivities were dampened quite a bit, however, when my father-in-law suffered a minor stroke the week before the reunion, and then in the hospital they discovered even more serious and concerning issues with his heart that required quite a few procedures. So he was in the hospital for the whole weekend, and several of the planned activities were canceled and he missed the farewell talk.

We had quite a time cramming this crew into his hospital room for visits a couple times.

But we did manage to make it out to the lake for a fun swim day with the cousins! So it was still a great time.

The week after that was rather stressful for my in-laws, as Evy continued to prepare for her mission while my father-in-law prepared for what we thought at the time was going to be open-heart triple-bypass surgery. We went out to dinner with the family the night before Evy left, and then we headed over to the hospital where she was set apart. She flew to Utah the next day while my father-in-law went in for surgery. They ended up not doing the bypass surgery, opting instead for stents (which, while being a less invasive surgery, was actually a choice they made to keep him viable for a heart transplant at some point in the future). Anyway, while everything is fine and he's home from the hospital now and recovering well, we were all a little tense and stressed for a while there. Like I said, this summer has been all about highs and lows.

Little Things

We had a lot of other smaller activities, of course. I tried to plan some fun outings on a weekly basis. We usually made it to the library once a week, and had the occasional swimming or splash pad outing, or trip to the local nature preserve. Some of these little outings were fun, most were a struggle. If it wasn't the two-year-old throwing one of her epic tantrums, it was the four-year-old having an anxiety melt-down, or the seven-year-old exhibiting some early signs of attitude (everything was dumb and boring, which made me want to scream at him so much). Kids are so unappreciative of how awesome their lives are.

Surprisingly, while taking my kids on outings was usually a flop, staying home and in our usual routine was shockingly successful this summer. All three of my kids play really well together, and they had a great summer making circuses in the backyard, and building block cities around the basement, and all around just keeping each other entertained together. I mean, we had occasional spats (usually between the younger two), but I've got to say, this is the cutest group of little sibling friends, and it melts my heart every day to see how much they enjoy each other. I hope this dynamic lasts forever (fingers crossed!).

And speaking of staying home and sticking to routine, we actually had a surprising amount of success with chore charts this summer too, which I might write about at some point. And also, it meant I got a ton of reading in. So maybe that sounds super boring, but hey, I'm calling it a win!

But, it's over now, and we all head back to school/preschool/daycare on Monday. This semester will be very different for me, as I no longer have any coursework of my own. I will still be teaching and holding office hours, but I will be spending the rest of my time reading like mad to prepare for my exams (orals, comps, whatever they are called) which I'm tentatively scheduled to take around the end of November. I have so much work to do (I am feeling so much overwhelm and anxiety about preparing for these exams), but the scary thing is, this starts the part of my PhD journey that is all self-directed. I'm in charge of my schedule, and while there is a ton of work to do, I'm the one who has to set the pacing. So, if you notice me posting here or on Instagram a little too frequently, feel free to remind me to stop procrastinating (writing here will definitely be one of my pleasant procrastination tactics!) and get back to reading all the early modern drama! I really need to be disciplined, which means I probably need to be a little MIA around here.

So farewell sweet summer! Good-bye dear readers! I'll drop by occasionally (got to keep up with my monthly round-up posts at least), but you really shouldn't hear much from me until exams are over. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

If I Were the FLOTUS...

Okay, I read Michelle Obama's hugely popular memoir/autobiography back in June (not pictured here, I'll get to that book in a second), and while there were tons of things in there that I loved and could go on endlessly talking about, one of the things I've thought about a lot since reading that book was the initiatives she was able to champion as First Lady. I know generally that every First Lady gets to pick a focus or initiative, a cause to champion if you will, for their time in "office," but it was interesting to read the backstory of how Michelle Obama got the idea for her focus on healthy eating and physical fitness during the campaign (it started with a wellness check-up for one of her daughters, where the pediatrician warned her that the daughter was borderline for obesity, which led to Michelle hiring a chef to help them eat more healthy, and it grew from there). Obviously, I was aware of Michelle's "Let's Move" initiative during the time, but hearing the backstory of how she came across the idea, the people she got involved, and the incredible things she was able to accomplish using the influence of her position led me to wonder, if I were the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), what initiative would I choose to promote?

I mean, can you imagine? You're just this average person living a mostly ordinary life when your husband manages to get super popular and decides to run for the Presidency, and then he wins, and suddenly you find yourself with this massive platform, everyone listening to and watching you, all of this influence over popular opinion and policy... what would you do with that kind of power? What good things would you try to accomplish?

As I was pondering this question myself (not that I'm in any danger of ever being either FLOTUS or POTUS for that matter), my very first thought was, obviously, a literacy initiative. I'd do tons of promoting for reading aloud, get famous actors and voice-actors to do public readings all over the place, get all the free books (and audio books) and give them out all over the place, host read-a-thons, and just have all sorts of fun promoting books and reading and reading aloud. It would be awesome.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is another issue near and dear to my heart that I would work to promote, and it almost caught me by surprise, because this is not an issue I've ever really talked about before nor promoted. That issue is mental health.

Part of the reason this is an issue near and dear to me is because there is a history of mental illness in my family. I grew up with untreated mental illness affecting my family life every single day. This is not something I generally talk about because it is so sensitive an issue, and because I wish to protect the privacy of my family members. Growing up, the mental illness was a huge family secret. We didn't talk about it with anyone, we worked as a family to hide it and present as normal a face to the public as possible. I do not advocate for secrecy, I think the secrecy was a major part of the problem. But I understood then, and I understand still now, there is so much stigma and shame associated with mental illness. People suffering from mental illness are judged, unfairly so, and part of our family culture of secrecy was to protect our loved one from that shame and stigma. I still (mostly) keep these secrets to this day in order to keep providing that protection.

So yes, I think if I were given a platform large and powerful enough, I would want to start using my voice to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness in our culture. This is not something people should be judged for, or shamed for. Much like most physical illnesses, most mental illnesses are not a choice, not something that people can control or fix on their own. Nobody gets embarrassed or ashamed for getting pneumonia or breaking an arm or having an appendix burst, they just get the treatment they need from the support people who help them. It should be no different for depression or anxiety or any other type of mental illness. No shame, no stigma, just recognition that something is off and help is needed to get back to normal.

A big part of breaking down stigma for mental illness, and I think what would be a big part of this dream fictional initiative of mine, would be focusing not just on mental illness, but on MENTAL HEALTH in general. What I mean by that is that most people seem to think that mental health "treatment" or "therapy" or whatever are just for those with serious mental illness, but the truth is, everyone who has a mental state (that is, everyone who is alive and has a thinking/feeling/processing brain) should be concerned about maintaining and improving their mental health. Just like everyone needs to work on taking care of their physical bodies and promoting physical health through exercise, healthy eating, etc., all people need to take care of their mental and emotional health as well. We all need to work on mindfulness, coping with anxiety, communication, healthy relationships, managing emotions like stress and anger, and all the myriad other things that fall under the broad category of mental health.

We do not put enough emphasis on mental health as a society. We do not teach what mental health is or how to maintain it, and we do not provide nearly enough access to mental health professional help. Part of this, again, is stigma (therapy is only for really sick people, or really rich white women), part of this is availability (not enough therapists, not enough insurance coverage for therapy). I feel like a bit of a hypocrite saying this, as I've never gone to therapy a day in my life (money, access, etc.) but I believe that just like most people have a primary care doctor and are encouraged to have yearly physicals, most people should also have a primary care therapist and regular mental health checks.

Can you imagine how much better people's lives could be if we were all more educated about what mental health looks like and had better access to mental health care? How many people could manage the stress and anxiety of life better? How many relationships could function better? How many social problems could be solved just by teaching people how to process the emotions in their lives in healthy ways? If I were the FLOTUS, this would be my work: to get better mental health education into our school curriculum, to get better support for mental health professionals (talk about an under-appreciated profession), and to increase awareness and access (through insurance, through whatever means) to get more people the mental and emotional help they need.

But Suzanne, you might be thinking, therapy is a nice idea and all, but doesn't it all feel just a bit privileged? Like, how nice that our first world country can get worried about people's emotions, but there are real problems out there! People are dying from disease and warfare and actual serious things! Isn't that where our money/focus ought to go? Solving these real life or death problems?

To which I'd say, let's look at some statistics:

-Suicide is one of the top 10 killers of Americans every year, and the second-leading "preventable" cause of death.
-In the 10-24 age range, suicide accounts for 17% of deaths every year.
-Outside of suicide, mental health contributes to death in the forms of addiction (especially the epidemic opioid crisis), eating disorder casualties (eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness), and other accidental or preventable forms of death (the exact role of mental health is sometimes hard to determine, but it often plays a role).

So let's not pretend mental health doesn't have life or death consequences. Let's not pretend this isn't a serious issue. Let's not pretend that this isn't affecting all of us at some level.

I mean, let's just take a look at the chart below:

Notice how the teen suicide rate was actually declining right up until the time social media shows up, and then look how it sky rockets. Coincidence? This social media world we are living in these days is brutal for our mental health on so many levels. Absolutely brutal. And our kids are growing up in this world with so few tools to help protect their mental health. Social media is probably not going anywhere, so maybe increasing education and teaching kids (and adults) how to take care of their mental and emotional health, and providing them access to mental health professionals without stigma or judgment, we might just be able to save a few more lives.

Mental health is an issue for all of us. Breaking down the stigma around mental illness benefits all of us. Increasing education and access to mental health care benefits all of us.

Where the Watermelons Grow, that book in the picture up there, is a book that illustrates my point. Maybe you read my quick review of it here, but if not, here's the summary. This book is about a 12-year-old girl who's mother suffers from schizophrenia. Her mother has been hospitalized before and has been on medication to manage her disease, but things are getting bad again. The book explores the complicated emotions this young girl experiences dealing with a mentally ill mother, but what stood out to me through the whole book is that the mother was not the only one who needed help. Everyone in the family needed help. The father, the daughter, and obviously the mother, were all under enormous strain, all experiencing stress and guilt and shame and other really big emotions. All of them had a mental health state that was under pressure. The mother needed hospitalization and medication, but the daughter needed support too. She needed safe people to talk to, she needed a support system to help her cope and process and deal with her emotions. She was able to find an informal one, but so many aren't that lucky.

Whew, this is quite the soap box I've been on here. Clearly, this is something I feel passionate about, but I didn't even realize it till last month, reading both these books in such close proximity and thinking about all the feelings they brought up. I'm not going to be FLOTUS any time soon (uh, ever), but I guess I can use my small bit of influence where it is now to promote the things I care about. I'm already using this blog to promote literacy and books and reading. Maybe I'll start using it a little more to promote this other issue I (apparently) care so deeply about.

End the stigma. End the shame. Educate yourselves. Take care of your mental health, and support everyone else out there in their mental health journeys. This is literally a life or death issue.

What would your issue/platform be if you were FLOTUS? What are the causes you would champion?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Digital Minimalism (What Am I Even Doing On Here?)

Okay, so at the end of June I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (he also wrote Deep Work, which I read a while back and really loved). Long story short on this one is that I loved it. I'm a Cal Newport fangirl, I love the way he thinks and works, and he's the kind of person that if I ever met him in real life, I'd want him to like and respect me and the way I work.


This book also kind of led me to an existential crisis about what I'm doing here and whether I should quit blogging entirely.

Okay, so the premise of the book is that we are all way too addicted to our phones, and social media in particular (though technology in general) is specifically designed to keep us addicted because they make money off our attention. Now, I've never considered myself to be super addicted to my phone. I mean, I have an iPhone and I find it useful for lots of things and I definitely enjoy being on Instagram, but I'm nowhere close to the addiction levels Newport describes in his book (or that I see regularly in my freshman on campus). I don't have Facebook on my phone (and while I still have an account, I probably only check Facebook a couple times a year), I mostly try to keep my phone out of sight during the day (hiding it from my children), and the number one thing I use it for is listening to audio books (which, okay, is something I do a lot of, but I don't necessarily consider that a bad use of my phone).

But after reading Newport's report of how social media is specifically designed to create addiction, and how much money they make off of our attention, it just made me feel icky. For phone addicts, Newport recommends an extreme 30 day digital fast, cutting out any electronic interaction that isn't strictly necessary for your livelihood. I didn't feel like I had an addiction problem that needed fixing by such intentional means, but I inadvertently found myself feeling so conflicted about social media after reading this book that I just didn't even want to open up my Instagram app, or check the news, or read any blogs, or do anything (even email). I didn't want to give my attention to anything there.

So, for most of July, I accidentally took a social media fast. I just lost all enthusiasm, and generally stayed away. I wrote two posts here on the blog (one a belated reading recap post, and one a book review I felt obligated to put up after signing up to be on the launch team), and posted once on Instagram on each of my accounts (again, related to that book review I had signed up to promote), but otherwise, I just stayed away from these platforms. I doubt many people noticed what I considered to be my "absence." After all, when I'm really busy during the school year, that's about my regular posting rate anyway. The difference for me was that I actually had a ton of posts planned. It was the summertime, I had time and space to devote here, this was my hobby, and I was going to write a bunch of things.

But after reading that book (here's the existential crisis part), I felt aware like never before how my creation of content asks for attention from you, my audience. I'm asking you to give up precious moments of your valuable time to read my posts, like my pictures, listen to my stories, and engage with my content. Should I be doing that? Should I be asking for you attention? Should I be encouraging you to spend time on these platforms by creating my content, or should I be encouraging you to get off by not creating anything? I thought about that quite a bit through the month of July.

But here's the other thing I realized through my month off. Newport tells us in his book that if you are going to embark on his digital fast, then you need to have activities in place to fill that time (otherwise you will be bored out of your mind and revert back to all your old social media habits). He recommends specifically creative outlets, hobbies that require you to interact with real people and/or produce tangible things the way the digital world doesn't allow you to. And this is where I had a bit of a crisis.

You see, my creative outlet is creating content here. My hobby is this blog, and accompanying Instagram account. So what did I fill my time with in July? Well, I read a ton of books (surprise surprise), but then I just wanted to talk about them here. I played lots of board games (a Newport approved hobby), but being married to the man I am I do plenty of that anyway. I practiced the piano a little (now that we have one), which was positive. I even found an evening to sneak away for a long solo hike through our local nature preserve, and it was a wonderful, magical experience (well, except for the chigger bites, because I forgot bug spray, rookie mistake).

But I missed writing. I missed writing here. I missed posting to Instagram. I missed having these outlets to talk about books. These are my hobbies because they fill me up, they provide me with joy, they make me happy, and feeling like I needed to quit them actually made me depressed. I really was kind of depressed through much of July. I discovered that this blog and related social media provide a deep value to my life.

So that means I'm staying. I'm sticking around here. I'm creating content here because I need this outlet in my life.

But I'm going to do it with as much respect as possible for the time and attention of my audience.

I've never been one to seek out rapid growth or a huge following either here on the blog or on social media. I'm not much of a self-promoter. I've always only ever done this for fun, and this book convinced me that I need to keep it that way. I am not going to put my time into growing my audience or producing more regular content or asking people to pay attention to me. If people happen to find me, if they happen to appreciate my content, if they happen to like or comment or engage with me, I will be forever grateful for the gift of their precious attention. I will try to provide them with something interesting, something worthwhile, and a wonderful new book recommendation to take away with them. But that is all.

So I guess, after all that, what I've decided is that things aren't going to change much around here. I'm not abandoning my digital hobbies, but I'll also not be taking them any more seriously than I already do. I'll post what I can when I can, and I'll try to make it as useful and interesting as possible. But I think that's what I mostly already do.

And for everyone who follows along, thank you so much for thinking what I do here is worth your time and attention. I just love talking books and ideas and life so much, and it is so much more fun with an audience. Thanks for being here with me!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Books I Read in July

Well, folks, looks like I set a new record! I read 16 books this past May, which I was pretty sure was a record for me, but last Wednesday I finished my 17th book for the month of July, which I must say, impresses even me (especially considering I DNF'd a few books). July was a rough month around here for a couple of reasons, but at least I was rocking it on the reading front! I mean, honestly, that's roughly a book every two days!

So what did I read? Well, let's jump in!

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

This was a sweet little historical fiction book I picked up after reading my friend Amy's review of it (and if you know or follow Amy at all, please remember her family in your prayers right now!). There's a bit of a painful (but oh so realistic) crush/awkward teenage romance situation that does not end happily (sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone, but like I said, pretty realistic). I loved the themes of education and religion, how this Christian girl came to serve in a Jewish household, learn their customs, and love them (with some missteps along the way). There were some really nice discussions around the topic, and I think this would make a fantastic book club book, especially for middle-grade/highschoolers.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I just had to read this book to see what all the fuss was about! I mean, people have strong opinions about this book, they either seem to love it, or hate it with a vitriolic passion that cannot be contained (just read the comments/reviews on Goodreads/Amazon, lots are glowing but some people get so harsh). I, on the other hand, fall somewhere in between. I'm not sure I need Hollis' brand of motivation in my life, I don't think she should be giving anyone dieting advice, and I can see where a lot of the criticism is coming from. That being said, I think she has overcome a lot in her life, I admire the business she's created and the success she's achieved, and if women find her motivational, then more power to all of them. I wish nothing but the best to her and her work. All that being said, I don't believe this one is a "must read".

The Heir Chronicles Books 1-5 by Cinda Williams Chima

Okay, I blew through this series in early July, and for the sake of efficiency, thought it might be better to review the whole series together rather than each book individually. Chima wrote one of my favorite fantasy series of all time (Seven Realms, see a couple books down), so  when I realized she'd written this earlier series, I knew I definitely wanted to check it out. And it was good. Not fantastic, but good enough to keep me reading all the way through. The premise here is magic in the 21st century (think wizards with cell phones), and the world and the system and the stories were all good fun. My favorite was probably the first one (The Warrior Heir), although the second and third ones were both pretty good too (The Wizard Heir and The Dragon Heir). With books 4 and 5, the series took an abrupt turn (and it felt unplanned, like the series was supposed to be a trilogy and then this extra story-line got tacked on, so there were some holes), but in general, if you like YA fantasy, then I think this is a really fun series.

More Than Enough: How One Family Cultivated a More Abundant Life Through a Year of Practical Minimalism by Miranda Anderson

If you haven't already, you can read my full review here!

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

After reading Chima's other series, I really wanted to come back and revisit this Seven Realms series since it's been a good six years since I last read it, and I wanted to see if it was as good as I remember it being. This first book really has to set up a lot of ground-work and do a lot of world-building, so it wasn't super action-packed, but I forgot just how intricate this world and plot are! I'm excited to re-read the rest of the series, but unfortunately the next one has a six-week wait on it! Ugh. Anyway, if you like fantasy, this one is fantastic, a definite recommend. My husband loves this series too (we actually re-listened together on our trip to San Francisco).

The Stranger From the Sea by Winston Graham

Well, after about a year break, I decided to pick up on the Poldark series again. This one is number 8 in the series, and I was interested to see that this one picks up a few years later, with the second generation all grown up and falling in love now. It was fun, still a fair amount of drama, but the historical detail is fascinating.

The Miller's Dance by Winston Graham

Number 9 in the series. More drama (but my goodness I was grateful when Clowance broke off the engagement), and more questionable moral behavior from our supposed heroes, and with that I'll probably take another year long break. Will I ever finish this series? Only time will tell.

The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle

Okay guys, are you familiar with Carol Tuttle and her 4 Energy Types? It's a whole thing, and I won't go into a lot of detail now, other than to say that I generally love a good personality profile system, and this one is pretty interesting (especially because she uses it to tell people how to dress... somehow it works, I don't know). Anyway, in this book she talks about how her energy profiling system can be used to help you be a better parent, and I'd heard someone say this was the best parenting book ever, and I love a good parenting book, so I finally got it checked out from my library (no audio version, sadly). And while I wouldn't go so far as to say this is the best parenting book ever, I will say that I found it fascinating how easy it was to type my children (all three are different, all three were pretty textbook), and that I did gain a few new insights that will be useful in future. All in all, if you like personality profiling and parenting books, this one is pretty good and you'll probably get something out of it. The bottom line is, let your child be who they are meant to be and stop trying them to get them to be something not inherent to their personality/energy type/etc.

Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright

Okay, so a few years ago I read a fairly positive review of a book by the title Lies Jane Austen Told Me that was a memoir from the perspective of a single LDS girl. When I saw this book by this title being featured on my library app, I thought, "Oh, I've been wanting to read that!" so I checked it out. Little did I ever think there would be two books by this same title. The book I listened to turned out not to be a non-fiction religious memoir, but a fictional chick-lit story. So I was surprised, but it was fine! It was cute and clean and mediocre at best, but I liked it enough to finish it. If you like clean chick-lit, this one will definitely scratch that itch. But I guess I'll have to wait a little longer to read the one written by Julie Rowse instead of Julie Wright (I mean, even their first names are the same, how uncanny is this?)

Where the Watermelon Grows by Cindy Baldwin

My sister sent me this book a year ago. She met the author (who lives in her area) and had read the book for a book club and knew I should read it too because we grew up in a very similar situation. It took me a year to read it, because I suspected it was going to be emotional. And it was (I cried all the way through the end). I wish I'd had this book as a twelve-year-old girl myself, because so many lines could've been picked from my brain at that age. The story is about a twelve-year-old girl dealing with her mother's mental illness (schizophrenia), and I've never read a book that offers a more accurate depiction of what it's like to be a child of that kind of parent. My situation growing up was different, but I related to so many aspects, like the secrecy, the desperate search/wish for a magic cure, the anger and frustration, all of it hit very close to home. Objectively, I'm not sure how good the writing is or if the story would be compelling to anyone else, but I give this a definite recommend.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

Guys! I think I finally found the financial book that totally fits my personality/goals/style! You know I've been reading a bunch of financial books recently, and while some of them were good and taught me a lot (and some were stupid and taught me nothing), this is the one I didn't know I was looking for. Here's some reasons why I love it: Joe Dominguez is apparently the original FI guru (before FIRE was a cool and popular thing, and for those of you not in the know, that stands for Financially Independent, Retire Early), but what they preach is less radical frugality (though, they definitely admire radical frugality) and more living in line with your values, which (surprise, surprise) usually doesn't mean buying more stuff. I LOVE the tracking system. I already track expenses, but their system of spreadsheets and wall charts speaks to my inner control-freak soul, and I'm determined to do a more thorough job. For some reason, making early FI feels so difficult and unattainable (as frugal as we are, we are not radically frugal, plus we have kids), but this made it feel possible and doable and like a really exciting thing. This is the financial book I want to give to my kids. This is the system I've liked the most. Time will tell if it really is that impactful, but I definitely recommend.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

I've read my share of books about habits over the years (Better Than BeforeThe Power of Habit, etc.) so I didn't really think I needed to read this one, but I'd heard it praised over and over again as being the definitive book on habits, and since I really do love me some good solid habits, I decided I needed to read it. And yes. Absolutely. If you only read one book about habits, make sure it is this one. This guy knows his stuff and offers a really practical system for both making and breaking habits. He offered tons of fantastic insights, but one that actually clicked for me as "Aha! That's the one simple thing I need to do to create good habits in my life!" was... tracking (are you surprised, did I not just talk about tracking in my last post?). All I have to do is start tracking something for it to naturally increase in my life. That's totally a reward for me (this suggestion is under his section about how habits need to be rewarding). There's tons of other good stuff here too. In fact, I made my husband place this on hold for himself as soon as I finished it, because he's been working on some of his own habits recently, I knew this was the book he needed. I totally, completely, 100% recommend!

The Day The World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede

I can't remember where I saw this book recommended, but I'm so, so glad I put it down on my list and checked it out! If you are feeling at all discouraged about all the bad stuff going on in the world these days (and after this past week of gun violence, aren't we all feeling more than a little discouraged?) then this book will absolutely restore your faith in humanity! This book is a bit of journalistic reporting, telling the story of how the residents of Gander, Newfoundland (population just over 10,000) came together to take care of over 5,000 stranded passengers and plane crews when 38 flights made emergency landings at the Gander airport on the morning of 9/11. Seriously, I was choking up every other page or so because people are just so good! So kind! So selfless! Obviously, this doesn't capture everyone's stories, but Defede does a great job of telling as many stories as he could and they are just heart warming and remarkable. Absolutely recommend!

Alright guys, there you go, another fantastic month of reading! As always, if you've read any of these, chime in to let me know what your thoughts are! Nothing I love more than a little book chatting!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review: More Than Enough

Do you guys follow Miranda at Live Free Creative Co? I've followed her for a while now, and I really, really like her. I like how deeply she thinks about things, I like the way she lives her life just going for her dreams and doing what makes her happy, and I like a lot of things about her style (even though it is very opposite of mine). So when she wrote a book and announced an open invitation to join her launch team for the release of said book this summer, I thought, why not? I want to read the book anyway, and it'll be summer! I'll have plenty of time to read and review it!

Well, the original release date was June 25th, which then got pushed back to July 9th, which is when I was supposed to be telling you all about this book. But my summer has been just a little bit busier than I anticipated, and clearly I'm behind. But, better late than never, right? Right!

Okay, here's the backstory on this book. Miranda, her lawyer husband (maybe another reason I like her, she's married to a lawyer too), and three kids are living their normal modern lives in a nice big beautiful home in Austin, Texas (oh yes, another Texas ex-pat!), basically living out the American dream, when at the beginning of 2017 she has this big epiphany/idea. She was looking around at their big beautiful home, and especially at all the stuff they had filled it up with, and thought, "We seriously have everything we need. We have more than enough. We should stop buying stuff!" So they did. For an entire year, her family stopped buying non-consumable items completely. No new clothes. No home decor items. No new technology. No new toys. To complicate the "Challenge" (as she refers to it), they moved half-way through the year to Virginia (or North Carolina? somewhere over there, I forget), and ended up downsizing drastically. So what started as a practice in not adding to their stuff also became a process of getting rid of as much of their stuff as they possibly could.

So after their year of no spending, she decides to write a book about their experience, which I have now read, called More Than Enough: How One Family Cultivated a More Abundant Life Through a Year of Practical Minimalism. Let's talk about this book, because I have a lot of thoughts about it. I followed her blog throughout the year of her big "Challenge," so I wondered how much I would actually get out of the book, and while much of the story was familiar to me, there was still quite a bit of reflection/lesson-drawing that gave me plenty to chew on. So, in no particular order, here are some of my thoughts about the book.

I spent the first part of the book wondering if I was the target audience for her message. First off, I absolutely do not identify at all with the type of retail therapy or impulse shopper she seems to be speaking to as a universal audience. Spending money actually makes me feel anxious, I'm not generally the type of person to stray off my intended list (and I always have a list), and I never go to stores "just for fun." I'm not sure I've set foot in a Target since moving to Kansas (there was a Target across the street from us in Houston, which made it more convenient, but now that I actually have to drive to any store I go to, I stick to the generally cheaper and closer Walmart). Maybe I'm different than most people this way, but I generally do not enjoy shopping, so her insights about the time and money she was saving by not doing all this impulse/therapy shopping didn't really resonate with me.

Second, I also found her general class privilege (and lack of awareness about it) a little off-putting. She never talks about her family's income (although it's clear that they have a very comfortable upper-middle-class income), and only spends one short chapter on money (in which it became glaringly obvious that our attitudes and opinions about money are extremely different), and at points it felt to me like she was only speaking to people who have the privilege of choosing between buying more cute Anthropology plates or going on fabulous European vacations (choose less stuff, more adventure!) without really acknowledging that for many people, the actual choice is between less stuff and more debt.

So I kept thinking, am I the target audience for this? Is she really only speaking to people with so much financial security they don't have to worry about money, only about the philosophical costs of materialism? And here's where I had my epiphany: Just because I am not buying things because of budget constraints and she is not buying things because of philosophy doesn't meant I can't use her philosophy to feel better about my own position and heal my own relationship to stuff! Maybe I should've seen this from the beginning, but really, maybe I can benefit even more from her insights than someone who is not so worried about their budget! I think the mindset shift for me can be summed up like this, "I don't buy all the things right now because of my budget, but even if I had all the money in the world, I would still choose to limit what I spend money on because less stuff really does make me happier" or something like that.

(*I also just want to stress here that we are in no way in real financial difficulties, my husband makes a great salary and we are probably considered upper-middle-class as well. We never lack for basics, we own a nice house with very nice things that fill it up, and we occasionally take those fabulous European vacations too, just with a lot more budgeting and saving and financial number crunching in the meantime. I don't want to pretend we are in any way super constrained, I just generally approach all of my shopping from a place of budget-awareness, while Miranda on the other hand doesn't seem to have or need a budget, or at least doesn't seem worried about one as she literally has a chapter titled "It's Not About the Money.")

After having this epiphany, I began enjoying the book quite a bit more and began to see the ways all of her insights were very useful for me. So here are some of my biggest take-aways:

What Does It Mean To Have Enough?

This was a question I mulled over quite a bit while reading. Miranda began her "Challenge" because of her realization that she had more than enough. She had a craft room bursting with supplies and storage bins with all sorts of extras and was sure that should any materialistic need arise, they could craft what they needed. She tells stories of all the things they did end up making, clay toys and make-shift Pokemon card binders among other things, using and re-using stuff they already had.

I, however, do not have a bursting collection of craft supplies (not a crafter, don't own a sewing machine, etc.), and went through my Marie Kondo phase pretty seriously a few years ago, so really don't have a lot of "extra" stuff. When we upgraded from our two bedroom apartment to our four bedroom house two years ago, we had several rooms that remained embarrassingly bare for quite a while, and I still feel like there is a never ending list of house projects I would love to spend money on. But I did give some serious thought to the question of, were I to do some version of this challenge myself, would we have "enough" to survive without buying any non-consumable goods? ...

And the answer, I think, is yes. I mean, it would require some creative work arounds. There are a few things we know we plan to purchase in the next few months: a bed for our toddler (she's still in the crib, and I guess she could continue sleeping in the crib indefinitely, but really, there comes a point, and I think by her third birthday it's reasonable to get her a real bed, right?), and a suit for my oldest son (he's getting baptized in December, and maybe a suit isn't entirely necessary, but some sort of new winter-appropriate Sunday clothing situation will probably be necessary given his growth this summer). There will probably be some other clothing and shoe purchases for the kids that will feel urgent. But in the end, we could find a way around each one of these purchases. Not indefinitely, but for a year, we really could probably manage it.

Does that mean we have enough?

One thing that Miranda wrote that really stuck with me is that "Enough wasn't an amount. It was a decision." So I think the answer to the question above is yes. If we decided it, then we have enough. We have enough so that we could mostly comfortably live for a year without buying a single new non-consumable.

And that was a really, really nice thing to realize. We have enough. It also made me feel incredibly grateful to realize that, which brings me to my next take-away...

Gratitude Really is Soooooo Important

Miranda spends a chapter talking about gratitude and it's importance. She was actually playing a Pollyanna-ish gratitude game with her children during a trip to Costco, in which she reminded them of all the great toys and things they already had to be grateful for (like an iPad and trampoline), and I remember thinking, "Well, my kids don't even have any of that stuff, but I'm actually grateful that we don't!"

But really, a focus on gratitude for what you already have makes you feel less covetous for you don't have. I know I have an actual physical list of all the things I know I want to buy for our house once we save up the money for it (starting with the new dresser to finish off our bedroom make-over, to a grill for the deck, to new kitchen counter-tops, and a whole bunch of other things), and focusing on that list just makes me feel the sense of lack. But I also feel incredibly grateful for all the beautiful things we do have, and focusing on those feelings of gratitude will lead to more overall peace and contentment in life. Miranda offers great practical tips at the end of every chapter, but I think the gratitude practice suggestions at the end of this chapter were my favorite.

Other Random Tid-bits

-I loved her suggestion to build community through borrowing. I've been the recipient of lots of good hand-me-downs when it comes to baby and kid clothes, which I love beyond anything, but there are lots of other things that can be shared too (books, tools, fancy dishes, etc.) and I'd love to tap into that kind of community borrowing more than I do.

-I loved her thoughts about creativity in minimalism. I still feel some conflicts here (what if you are creating products/content meant to be consumed by others, how do we balance that with respect for our consumers need for minimalism?), but I still whole-heartedly agree that the best way to really suck the marrow out of life is to create stuff (my stuff usually involves creating with words, but occasionally involves refinishing a chair!).

-I also really appreciated her chapter on time and energy as resources. I feel like in a lot of time management literature, energy levels don't get talked about enough as a crucial part of productivity. I love the way Miranda brought up how much time and energy it takes to earn the money you are spending on stuff. Is the stuff really worth the energy you put into making that money? Does the stuff just sap more of your energy? Good questions.

-And finally, I just appreciated in general how this was a minimalism book that focused on controlling what you bring into the home, as opposed to most minimalism books that focus on getting rid of what you already have. I think this is an important part of minimalism, not bringing the junk home in the first place.

In summary, I really appreciated all of the thoughtful insights and suggestions Miranda presented in her book, and I'm also just really happy for her that she wrote it and made this book happen (she really is living her dreams). After analyzing our spending tracking for the first two quarters of 2019, my husband and I need to do a little belt tightening to meet our savings goals for this year, and I think this book gave me just the motivation I needed to feel grateful for that instead of frustrated. It's true that for me it's far more encouraging to think about budgeting in terms of not bringing excess clutter into our lives than in thinking of it as restriction.

Here's to minimalism! Here's to deciding that we have enough! Here's to gratitude for a beautiful and wonderful life!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Books I Read in June

Guys, I'm just so discouraged. I already typed up this whole post a week or so ago, and then when I went to publish it, my internet or something failed me and the whole post got deleted. Between summer schedules, holidays, some fun travel (a weekend in San Francisco, hopefully more on that later), and the fact that I've been trying to buckle down and get to work preparing for my exams (or comps, or orals, or whatever those intimidating things are called) which I have take this next semester, I just haven't had as much time as I've wanted to spend over here on this old blog. But, I've got plenty of things I want to say! So much I want to write about! So many good books I've been reading lately that I need to talk about, so hopefully I'll be able to squeeze a little more time out of my summer to spend here in this space.

But first, let me just quickly (for the sake of record keeping, or whatever) re-type up all the mini-reviews of the books I read in June. Yes, yes, we're halfway through July, but these round-up posts are the one thing I feel committed to on this blog. I don't know why (does anyone besides myself find them useful?), but here we go nonetheless.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

I saw this one highly recommended on someone's Best Summer Beach Reads list somewhere, saw that it was about a big law lawyer in New York, and decided to check it out (being married to a lawyer who worked in big law for a while, I love seeing how the lifestyle gets portrayed in books/tv/media, sometimes they make it seem so glamorous). Basically, this was the stupidest book, probably one of the trashiest books I've ever finished (still not sure why I did finish it). I'm surprised how long it took me to recognize how toxic and immature all the characters were (yes, even the main ones). Definitely skip this one, I don't recommend it at all.

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

If you remember, I read the first three books in this series in May, and have conflicted feelings about it. On the one hand, I think the world is fun and the characters and plot intriguing. On the other hand, I found the romantic entanglements, while not graphic, to be far more mature than appropriate for the target middle-grade audience. I generally recommend this for older audiences who like fantasy and can handle middle-grade pacing (rather complex problems and plot points that feel huge tend to get solved relatively simply and quickly, something I didn't mind), but wouldn't necessarily give any but the first book to an actual middle-grade kid. But that's just me. Overall I quite enjoyed it and will probably read more by this author some day.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

If you also recall from my May reading list, this was the book I meant to read but confused it with another title. Once I figured out the real title it was easy to get this one on hold, and I was not disappointed. This is a heart-breaking book. I've never spent much time thinking about Alzheimer's or dementia, but this story of a relatively young, brilliant, successful woman grappling with the early symptoms and slowly losing her memory and mind was incredibly poignant. It was beautifully written, and raised all sorts of interesting questions for me (Just how much of our identity/worth is tied up in our ability to remember our lives? How do you define "self"? How do you treat someone with respect or dignity who can't remember their own name? What awful strain care-givers must grapple with!). All in all, this is a strong recommend, but fair warning, you will find yourself questioning your own mind and sanity as you read.

The Dry by Jane Harper

I can't remember if I mentioned it here, or only over on Instagram, but we took a nice long road trip in June out to Idaho. My husband and I like to listen to audio books together while we drive, and so I spend some time picking out titles that will appeal to both of us. On previous trips we've had a lot of fun listening to a few murder mysteries from the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series (it's fun to talk about the clues leading up to the reveal and make guesses about who the culprit is), so I thought we'd try this highly rated mystery out. The Dry, centering around investigator Aaron Falk in a small farming community in Australia, was quite a bit grittier and less "cozy" than Three Pines, but as far as mysteries go it was quite good. Neither my husband nor I guessed the twist, and it was a satisfying reveal (just want you to know that it still feels weird to me to describe a book about murder as "good" and "satisfying"). We'll very likely listen to more of this series on future trips.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

This was another audio book I listened to with my husband on our trip. We are both huge Sanderson fans, but this one was a little different from his usual high fantasy stuff. This is a book combining three novellas about Stephen Leeds, a man with multiple brilliant personalities, or mind projections, who help him solve complex cases. I thought the first novella was spectacularly good, the second one so-so, and the third one a satisfying conclusion. The whole book offers an interesting look into the psyche of Sanderson himself as an author, which I found most intriguing, and I think which also offers an interesting explanation for why I find most of his characters so one-dimensional (basically, because any dimensional depth gets flattened out into a new character). Generally a strong recommend.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This was the last audio book I listened to with my husband, and it was a bit of a risky choice. I've never read anything by Stephen King before because I am adamantly not a fan of horror, but I'd read that this one was different than his other fare, more historical fiction, and I had a hunch my husband would like it. I was right, we both loved it, but it was not what I expected. I was prepared for this to be some kind of retelling of the JFK assassination, and it was that in part, but it was also a sci-fi time-travel novel with years of intricate plot and world-building that had absolutely nothing to do with JFK. Stephen King is definitely a brilliant writer, not necessarily at the sentence-level like I usually prefer (the man uses so many cliches), but he is a master at intricate plots and creating extremely evocative settings and moods. A few caveats: this thing is long. It was thirty hours of audio book time, and even at double speed we didn't finish it on our trip (but for a few days after the trip, we'd put our kids to bed, then get ready for bed ourselves and just lie there listening for a few hours). Also, while it is not strictly a horror story, there are definitely some dark and disturbing and violent parts. And King is rather fond of swearing. But even still, I recommend this to anyone who likes intricate, well-crafted plots with sci-fi historical fiction elements. You won't be disappointed.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I finally got my hands on this hot best-seller, and I've got to say, I loved it! It's worth all the praise it's been getting. I found Michelle's voice and story to be so relatable. I don't know if it was the fact that we lived in South Side Chicago for three years so many of the place names were familiar (we actually lived on the very same street as the Obamas' house, and our road would get blockaded every time they came to visit), or the fact that I'm also married to a busy lawyer and have had to deal with some of the same struggles (although, thankfully, my husband has never had a whiff of interest in political office), or the fact that her conflicts about being a working mom made me say, "Yes! Me too!" but I found so much more common ground than I expected. I found her to be real and inspiring. I liked her so much. I had lots of thoughts while reading that I think I'll save for their own post, but generally, I highly recommend this book. It was fantastic.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

This book. I have so much to say about this book it's definitely going to need its own post. Honestly, this book is part of the reason I haven't made as much time to write around here, and that I took an unintentional hiatus over on Instagram. At first I didn't really think this book was for me, since I pride myself on not being the attached-at-the-hip phone-addict he describes as characteristic of the Millennial generation. But this book made me question so much what I'm even doing on social media and what my priorities in life are and all sorts of things. So I have lots of thoughts that I want to talk/write about as soon as I can get around to it. But basically, I want to hand this book out to every Freshman who walks into my classroom and strongly recommend to everyone else besides. Also recommend his other book, Deep Work. Both are amazing.

And that was it for June. Just eight books, a slow month for me. But, I still managed to pass the 50 book milestone for the year, which means, if I keep up my current pace, I'm well on my way to surpassing my goal of 75 books for the year and on track to hit 100 books again. Which is kind of crazy to me. That's a lot of books. What fun!

As always, if you've read any of these books I'd love to hear your thoughts on them! Please share!