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Cultivating a Summer Reading List

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Cultivating a Summer Reading List

Summer is here, my friends, wether we like it or not. I'm not a fan, but I know that a lot of my friends are. I also know that a lot of them ask me for reading recommendations for the summer. I haven't been able to use my brain for Literature in about 3 years, so it feels good to go through the stacks and shuffle books around looking for that one (or twelve) to collect and read. 

I don't get a lot of down time these days (I didn't back then either, but it was basically my job to read in a library and write about it). My babies are getting old enough where they are able to fend for themselves for a few minutes so I can sit down and take a gander at what the world outside my little bubble is doing. My brain is in dire need of nutrition in the form of words. Talking to people above the age of 2 has been a chore lately, and I can't seem to form normal human sentences in the spoken form. Sure, I can translate 2 year old gibberish to you, but can I translate my own? 

Anyway, that's why it's important to me to be able to read this summer. I've become practically giddy with excitement to be able to pick a stack of books out of a bookstore and dive in. I'm hungry for reading. When we're hungry for reading it's easy to make the stack bigger than we can handle. I know that I need to pace myself and categorize what I want to read, so I'll share with you how I am cultivating my summer reading list this year. 

What kind of books do I want to read? When you're out there trying to decide what to read, really think about how you want to interact with the book this summer. Do you want an escapist beach read? (Hey! They're important!) Or do you want something a little meatier, something more meaningful, something you can learn from? (To be honest, all reads can be beach reads) How much reading do you want to try to get done? Do you have the time to hang out alone in a beer garden with a cold one and your book? (If only) Or are you going on vacation and have literally all day between snorkeling and drinks by the pool and dinner to read? Sometimes the best (and my favorite) way to pick out books is to just be set free in a bookstore for a few hours. (But I am trying to be intentional here) There are definitely a lot of different kind of books out there. And one book usually leads me to another, so my list might look different at the end of the summer than it does now. Here 4 genres that I am planning to read: (Links provided on the pictures)

Personal Development~ I think it's important to never stop growing and learning. Here are some of my picks for this: 

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.  Nobel Prize winner Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein show that no choice is ever presented to us in a neutral way, and that we are all susceptible to biases that can lead us to make bad decisions. But by knowing how people think, we can use sensible “choice architecture” to nudge people toward the best decisions for ourselves, our families, and our society, without restricting our freedom of choice. (Source: Goodreads

I heard about this book on the TED Radio Hour on NPR (Waves hi to Guy Ras) because that's the nerd I am. Then we saw it at the Coop bookstore when we were in Cambridge last week. It felt like a sign, so we bought it and this is a book Dan and I are going to read and compare notes. I'm kind of excited. 

The Art of Mindful Birdwatching: Reflections on Freedom and Being by Claire Thompson, reveals how the practice of mindfulness enriches our birdwatching experiences - and explores how birds are, in turn, the ideal inspiration for the practice of mindfulness. To Claire, bird flight is a symbol of freedom to soar through life without constraint, and mindfulness similarly enables us to invite freedom and happiness into our own lives. (Source: Goodreads) 

I am a fan of Terry Tempest Williams and this seems to be somewhat similar. As a person who loves to connect with nature wherever I am, I am looking forward to this book as a resource. 

Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-pa Turner. We live in one of the most connected times on earth but never before have we been so lonely and alienated from each other, from ourselves, and from the natural world. Whether this manifests as having difficulty finding community, feeling anxiety about our worthiness and place in the world, or simply feeling disconnected, the absence of belonging is the great silent wound of our times. (Source: Goodreads) 

I've picked up a bunch of books on the idea of belonging recently. I don't know if its because we move around a lot and I'm having an existential crisis, if I don't feel like I fit into any kind of faith community and I am having an existential crisis, or if I am just being existentialist. What I do know is that I have been feeling rather alone lately and this book has been a balm on my weathered soul. 

Professional Development~ I am far from a pro at anything, (Except Literature- I earned that title) It's important for me to remain motivated in my life as a freelance designer and writer. These books help me maintain that motivation. 

Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman by George Steiner

This is an important text on how to interpret your writing in a political style. As a writer who is becoming more and more political, its important for me to be able to learn to read between the lines of others' work and my own. 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont

This is a re-read. I seriously love Anne Lamont (even with her problematic dreadlocked hair). This book is about writing, live, and letting go of perfectionism. Letting go of things that stop us from writing, wether the object is the mountain of work that it seems to be, or the fear that no one will like what we have to say. I am addicted to acceptance, (see above "Belonging") so, one of my biggest blocks to writing is that no one will read me. This book is a good reminder to breathe and let the story come out. 

A Knitters Home Companion: A Heartwarming Collection of Stories, Patterns, and Recipes by Michelle Edwards

Knitting is a large part of my personal and professional life. I love these kinds of books that bring the craft to the home. I also love bringing it outside of the home into the light of story. I am looking forward to the patterns and recipes too. 

 

Fiction (Literature)~ Fiction opens doors to new experiences that we would have otherwise not had. I know that it's a cliche statement, but it's true. It helps us understand others. Here are some exciting stories I am reading this summer. 
 

How to Walk Away is Katherine Center at her very best: an utterly charming, hopeful, and romantic novel that will capture reader’s hearts with every page. (Source: Goodreads) 

This is from the author of Happiness for Beginners which was a lovely story that I read in New Jersey after I had graduated with my B.A. I am excited for this because it seems to be even more... emotional? This is a story about love and resilience. Personal resilience. I love a good "walk away stronger" book. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak. (Source: Goodreads) 

I've been wanting to read Celeste Ng for a long time. I haven't been able to get my hands on Everything I Never Told You, but I did finally buy this one. I have to say, so far, it's pretty incredible. 

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author. (Source: Goodreads) 

You guys, you guys. This book. I couldn't wait for summer to start it. I read half in one night. I will probably read the other half tonight. It's part Beloved part As I Lay Dying in some sense. About a family that needs to come to terms with their own past, their extraordinary gifts, and each other.  I am in love with this book. Jesmyn Ward is probably the Toni Morrison of the 21st century. I don't say that lightly. (Also, has the potential to be a snot bomb, keep the tissues close) 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is about an older childless couple who move away from family to avoid those nagging "why can't you have a baby" looks and accusations. One day, a child shows up in front of them and their lives are turned upside down. 

This could very well be a 5 alarm snot bomb. An old couple drifting away from each other until a child comes into their lives. How will it end? I am almost afraid to find out. Since becoming a mother, I can't handle things where bad things happen to children. I am hopeful since the ratings are favorable. 

Activism~ I mean--- if you know me you know that this is where my passion is. This summer I am listening to the voices in the margins and learning where I can do better as a person in the world. I want books that speak truth to power and point out the blind spots that I've built up in my life. 

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. 
For readers who have engaged with America's legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I'm Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God's ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness--if we let it--can save us all. (Source: Goodreads) 

So... This should probably be at the tippy top of the list. This is the book I should be shouting from the rooftops that everyone should read. I am about to start it and I know I am going to be humbled and shaken. It's time. 

All the Women in My Family Sing: An Anthology by Women of Color edited by Deborah Santana is a vital collection of prose and poetry whose topics range from the pressures of being the vice-president of a Fortune 500 Company, to escaping the killing fields of Cambodia, to the struggles inside immigration, identity, romance, and self-worth. These brief, trenchant essays capture the aspirations and wisdom of women of color as they exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity and build bridges to heal the brokenness in today’s turbulent world. (Source: Goodreads) 

This will probably belong in my wheelhouse as a foundational book. I love women's voices. I love voices of those we tend to look over or ignore. I love the purpose of this work, to make space for voices of color in publishing. I'm excited to read these. As a motherless daughter, I am always searching for that feminine voice. 

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri. Framed as an empowering letter from former Hillary Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri to the first woman president, and by extension, to all women working to succeed in any field, Dear Madam President is filled with forward-thinking, practical advice for all women who are determined to seize control of their lives-from boardroom to living room. (Source: Goodreads) 

I've been holding onto this one. The election in 2016 took a lot out of me. My own mother died the day after the election, right after Hilary Clinton conceded defeat, right after I told her that a woman was going to be president soon. The disappointment and grief was real. The fact that I, again let my mom down (a fiery feminist who would have hated the current white house resident) and the grief that I had to live through this while she got the sweet escape of non-existence. There was so much grief. I'm ready now to embrace my power and make this world a place that my mother would want to live in. Make this place habitable for my sons, and everyone they see. 

What are you reading this summer? What has you excited? 

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2017 In Review: Or, Avoiding the Dumpster Fire That Was Last Year, Plus a Few Profound Things Mixed In

2017 In Review: Or, Avoiding the Dumpster Fire That Was Last Year, Plus a Few Profound Things Mixed In

How was it that last year was worse than 2016? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. I think that we can all—if we have eyes—understand the crazy that this year has been. I’ve never been as fired up about politics and people as I have been. A lot of that is in direct response in my becoming a mother (and maybe a little becoming my mother). Be the change you want to see and all that. 

During Thanksgiving, my Mother In Law asked us what our highs and lows of this year were. That felt like a dangerous question. One I don’t know if I felt comfortable answering. Would they like my highs and lows? Were my highs high enough? Were they too obvious? What about my lows? How could I tell a bunch of people who voted for “the other guy” that their person made me feel unsafe as a woman in this world? I still want them to like me. How could I bridge that divide between my and their viewpoints? It was not a really safe space to discuss the incredibly deep and profound things that I felt about this year. This isn’t that space either, but it is easier for me to think about it and write it out, instead of answering on the spot. I am learning that I need to be more open and open to discussion when it comes to talking to my family who may or may not disagree with me. I think that if our country is going to have any hope of survival, it’s going to be us coming together to talk to our family members and realizing that we are all still humans. That and also establishing boundaries to keep yourself protected. Ha. 

In an effort to be a bit more open, here are some of my low points in the year: 

1.) Resurgence of Nazi Idealism in our country: 

 This can probably also be filed under, why I don’t like DT. Treat women like crap, Ban all brown people, but call literal Nazis “nice guys”. No wonder they’re more bold. This is not okay, not even close to okay. This is why I need to speak up, not to the entire world, but to our family members who call racists and bigots “protestors exercising their freedom of speech” and turn around to the black community doing the same thing but calling them “thugs who need to get a job and get off the street”. 

RACISM IS NOT OKAY. (And reverse racism doesn’t exist, it’s not how it works)
My human value is not diminished when minorities reach equality with us. Your human value is not diminished. However, if you try to take that value away from someone who is already struggling to survive and fight systemic pressures already in place, then yes…your human value is going to be in question. And you and I are not going to get along very well. 

2.) Systemic Injustice in Our Culture. 

You guys. This can’t be new news. Why why why are we still dealing with this? Why do I feel like I am living in Oliver Twist or Bleak House? If someone spontaneously combusts I really don’t think that I am going to be surprised.

Every day, I am sick of the fear that we have of each other. I am tired of living in a country where police brutality is the norm. I am disheartened to see that there are still mass shootings happening every single day, and nothing is done for sensible gun control. I am so incredibly tired of this vilification of immigrants and minorities, and the working poor. Remember when your grandparents moved here for a better life? How is that different from anyone trying to live here? Why wont we let poor mothers have food assistance without judgement? Why does another black kid have to die today at the hands of a cop?  When I hear these things, I have no idea what we’re going to do to stop it and the task feels so overwhelming and I begin to lose hope. 

America, we can do better.
    We can do better. 

Whew, these things weigh heavily on me every single day. How can I change there narrative of America’s story without white washing the horrible and unforgivable acts that we have always done to the poor, sick, and needy? 

This year wasn’t a complete wash though: 

My one good thing: This is the best thing. The most wonderful thing about this year. 

Holden was born. Little brother to Beckett and complete perfection. Holden was a surprise baby, and I was so nervous the entire pregnancy. Honestly, I thought that we were going to lose him in the beginning. I couldn’t be so lucky with two perfect pregnancies in a row could I? I held my breath the entire time. And the day he came, he was the most beautiful thing. He gave me a quick labor and delivery and an easy recovery—and he gave me the chance to be a mother again. I can’t imagine my life without him. 

Every single day I stare at him in awe. I stare at his older brother the same way. They are my life. It hasn’t been easy to care for these two little people. However, nothing worth it ever is. 

Some days I feel guilty that I brought them into this world, full of chaos and madness. What will their world be like when they get older? I am going to work my hardest to give them a world that is cleaner and more loving than it was when they were born. They have made me more brave, and more fierce, and more willing to stand up for what I believe in than anything else ever has. 

Every human deserves to be treated with dignity.