Blog Hiatus

I mean, the title kind of says it all, right? But I’ll spell it out a bit more: I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog. Starting now. For an undetermined amount of time.

It’s been mulling around my head for a while, this idea of taking a break, but I’ve been loathe to do it because… well, I like writing this blog. I like having a space to air my nerdy writer ways, my book habits, my little adventures. I like talking with fellow writers and readers and adventurers. Thanks to the encouragement of my best friend, I started Buffalo Writes two years ago and haven’t regretted a minute of it.

The fact is I have too much on my plate right now, between work and editing my book and beginning a new writing project. (OH YES, a new project. Because I’m apparently a masochist. But it involves a 98-year-old, and that’s not the kind of thing you press pause on.)

At first I thought, “Well, I’ll just update the blog less frequently.” Which worked for a while. But still the thoughts lurk in the back of my brain… what’s your next post going to be? When is it going to be? Should you give an update on writing? On what you’ve been reading? What have you been looking at lately? Even with less frequent postings, the blog still takes up brain space. And that’s what I need to free up.

This is not the end. It’s just a breath.

One Thing at a Time

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a coworker at a party. About work, because I dunno, that’s the kind of small talk coworkers engage in. As it was the start of the New Year, we talked about goals, resolutions. He asked if I had any. I said,

“I really want to try and focus on one thing at a time. Just one — not switching back and forth between tasks.”

And saying it out loud, I knew it was true — this was an important thing to keep myself from feeling depleted by the end of each work day. So I made the resolution to focus on only one thing at a time — to finish one task before moving on to the next. Which sounds simple, but in the modern-day work environment, when your whole job revolves around a computer, and that computer is assaulting you with ten things at once — just finishing one task can suddenly require the most Herculean effort you’ve ever put forth.

And then, as fate or luck or whatever would have it, I was went this article:

Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion …. we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

And this:

Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

If you have five minutes, go read the article. It highlights so many issues — but sadly, not many solutions. And after reading it, I WANTED solutions. I am so very aware that I engage in most of these behaviors — keeping Communicator open so people can reach me, reading emails the second they arrive in my inbox, propping my phone up on my desk so I can respond to a text the second it appears — and I can feel the toll it takes on my brain. I feel the mounting anxiety at not being able to get any actual work done. I feel the exhaustion that comes at the end of the day. I feel the hamster in my brain spinning and spinning but not actual going anywhere.

So I’m doing what I can. I’ve turned off the notifications on email. I’m predetermining a set amount of time to focus on certain tasks. I’m setting my Communicator status to “Do Not Disturb”. I am purposely reducing the distractions that come flying at my brain.

I’m trying to do the same at home, too. Set aside 30 minutes — 30 specific minutes — for writing. Read that book instead of fart around on the internet. Purposely decide that I’m going to watch TV for 60 minutes. (Because sometimes that’s what your brain needs after a long day.) Oh, and I’m trying to leave my cell phone in the living room when I go to bed. Checking Facebook right before sleep can NOT be good for cognitive function.

One thing at a time. How did such a simple idea become so complex?

The Writings of Martin Luther King

Last week I was searching for a new book to read and stumbled upon The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. – on sale for less than a latte. And I realized, I’ve never actually read King’s writing before. The fact that I never encountered even one of his speeches during all my years of education seems somewhat shocking. So I decided, what the hey, it’s on sale.

It comes as no surprise, but King was a great writer. This book collects a series of his speeches, ranging from the years 1956 to 1968. It includes the well-known ones — “I Have a Dream”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, “Eulogy for the Martyred Children” — and a lot of others, ranging on topics from segregation, education, India, nonviolent resistance, and the Vietnam War. All, of course, have one universal theme in common: civil rights.

When I read “I Have a Dream”, I closed my eyes and imagined standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun warming my face, as I looked out at the Washington Monument from the exact spot where King delivered his now famous speech. King’s words inspire you to think, to pause, to reflect on what you are doing for the greater good. They’re also relevant — civil rights are still an issue in this country (and, oh hey, the world at large). Today being Martin Luther King Day, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite passages from the book so far.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. –“A Time to Break Silence

There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. –The Social Organization of Nonviolence

Whatever career you may choose for yourself — doctor, lawyer, teacher — let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. –“Speech Before the Youth March for Integrated Schools

I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. –“I Have a Dream

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Intentions

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.

 

Favorites: 2014 Edition

In less than 48 hours, 2014 will be over, and I just can’t wrap my head around that fact. I know people say it every year — I know say it every year — but this year flew by. So much happened in 2014, but it feels like not much happened at all. It was a year of hunkering down, of pushing through. But things DID happen — big things. In January, I traveled to Sweden. I got two promotions at work, one of which took me for a ride. I attended my first literary conference. We adventured in Oregon and California.

What I EXPECTED to happen? Well, I said I’d get the second draft of my book done by July 1. I feel a bit bummed about it, but mostly I just feel… resigned. This year, it just did not turn out as expected. I had to focus my time and energy on other things.

But hey, even though 2014 was an odd duck — it still happened. It’s almost over. And I shall continue the tradition of picking the highlights of the past year.

Favorite Movies

What does it say that the only movie I can actually remember seeing this year is Guardians of the Galaxy? Am I losing my mind? Is that why this year went by so quickly? Is everything just getting washed over and turned into a hazy blur?

Well, at any rate… I guess I’ll say Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I literally can’t think of anything else. Oy vey.

Favorite Books

Ok, this one’s easier! I KNOW THE ANSWER! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves tops the list. I loved it so much that it’s affected my shopping habits. (And I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know — hey, have YOU read it yet??

I read Writing Down the Bones at the beginning of 2014, and it’s still a highlight. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was also an absolute treat to read.

And, weirdly… I have to add The Windup Girl to this list. Even though I wasn’t crazy about it at the time — even though I only rated it 3 stars on Goodreads — it’s a book that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about ever since I read it back in June. It’ll randomly pop into my head, and I ponder the plot, the characters, the narrative structure… it stands out amongst other 2014 reads.

Favorite Music

I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac this year. I enjoyed some of the new alt-J. And every time this song came on the radio, I cranked it up:

But if I had to pick one theme song for 2014?

Any time I needed a pick-me-up — any time I felt like I needed my own personal cheerleader — I plugged in and pulled up this song. Thanks, Bey.

Favorite Moments

Eating crayfish in Stockholm. Completing my first 8km race. Discovering the magic of Big Sur. Coming across a crazy bird-pocalypse in Moonstone Beach, California.

Moonstone Beach

Quiet walks at our local parks. And, as cliche as it may sound, meandering down the Manzanita beach at sunset, watching the waves change from orange to pink before finally going dark.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Favorite Food

Lobster tacos at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

… Yeah, no, that’s pretty much the list. LOBSTER. TACOS.

Just like in 2013, I’ve ended on tacos.

How was your 2014? Any standout favorites?

Christmas Tradition

It amazed me the day I learned that people open Christmas presents at different times. Growing up, I thought everyone opened them on Christmas morning, like us. We couldn’t open any gifts prior to Christmas morning, without exception (which led to some very early wakeup times for my poor parents). You had to wait for Santa, after all.

Well, there was one exception.

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I were allowed to open one present each. Just one, that was it. And we couldn’t pick out the present — Mom picked them out, and she always knew exactly which ones to go for, placed strategically under the tree. She’d go and get them and deliver them to our waiting laps.

They were always books.

Now, I know for some children this would be a major disappointment — but not us. We knew those gifts were going to be books, and we were always excited about it. I can’t remember many specific books we received — I think there were several years of the Redwall series, probably some Calvin and Hobbes, Stephen King in later years — but I DO remember the end result: curling up with a brand-new book on Christmas Day, wrapping-paper carnage strewn about the floor.

As an adult, I’ve continued the tradition in my own way; all the kids in our life get books for Christmas. This year, two received The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (one of my favorites as a kid). The little boy who recently moved to the big city gets Snowy Day (recommended by this great picture book blog). The almost-a-teenager gets Snow White and Rose Red, a book I absolutely loved at her age. The 3-year-old who believes in the “fairy tree” in her grandparents’ backyard gets Flower Fairies of the Garden.

I’m not always big on the holidays, and I often feel down about the consumerism of the season — but books? That’s one Christmas tradition I can 100% get behind.

Reading Diversely: A Follow-Up

Back in October, I shared a Book Riot video about reading diversely (aka, reading books written by non-white authors). The video’s creator, Amanda Nelson, encouraged readers to take a look at their “numbers” — the number of authors they’ve read vs. the number of authors they’ve read who are non-white — and try and improve those percentages.

So I accepted the challenge. How has 2014 stacked up after making it a point to read more diversely?

To recap from the last post:

  • In 2013, I read 23 books. 7 were by women authors, putting that percentage at 30%. 1 was written by a person of color, so 4.3%.
  • As of October, I’d read 21 books. 10 were by women (47.6%), and 1 has been by a person of color (4.7%).

And now, two months later?

  • So far in 2014, I’ve read 24 books. Exactly 50% were written by women. 12.5% were written by a person of color (Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami, and Octavia Butler).

12.5% obviously isn’t great — but it’s a lot better than my percentage last year (and the percentage this year was on track to be, before I decided to pay attention). It makes me hopeful that when I look back at my 2015 reading list, it’ll be more well-rounded. Or, as a recent Book Riot post put it:

We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help even know which perspectives to try out. — “The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

How has your reading year shaped up so far? (I realize we still have 2 weeks of 2014 left…I personally plan on getting one more book squeezed in there!)

My Paraben-Free, Mostly Natural, Somewhat Cruelty-Free Beauty Regime

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time but hesitated because… well, it’s not the thing I typically talk about here. But after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the topic’s been on my mind more and more — and I finally thought, “Hey, it’s MY BLOG. I can write about whatever I want to write about!”

When it comes to beauty products, I’m a total hippy. It started several years ago (maybe a decade ago) when I decided I wanted to go paraben free. I wanted products that I felt ok putting on my body — but I also wanted them to work. And let me tell you, that can be surprisingly difficult to find.

So what do I look for in a beauty product?

  • Paraben free. This was my first step towards hippy-dom. Parabens are “estrogen mimickers,” and some studies link them to increased risk of cancer. (Nothing conclusive, I should note.)
  • All natural, as much as possible. I’m not going to make my own mascara, but I like ingredients that I can understand, and in general feel that the less ingredients, the better.
  • Cruelty free. I decided to add this criteria after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – so no, not all of the products I use are currently cruelty free. “Natural” and “cruelty free” often have overlap, but not always. I’m not going to throw out everything I have, but as I buy new products, I’m going to be looking for this.
  • Price conscious. I used to buy really expensive skincare products until I realized that, for the most part, the drugstore ones did the same thing. Now I try to buy the cheaper product, when that’s an option. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean THE most inexpensive item on the market — it means that I look at the price, how long the item will last me, and make a decision based on that.

And look — I’m not super strict about this. I try to do the best I can, because at the end of the day, that’s all you can do. I also don’t really care if YOU buy all these crazy hippy products or not — you do you. That’s a personal decision. But, as someone who’s had a hard time hunting some of these down, I’m eager to share what I’ve learned and found along the way.

So, without further ado… here are the hygiene, skincare and beauty products that (for the most part) fit my hippy criteria.

Hygiene Products

hygiene

1. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Let’s start with the hippy-est of them all, shall we? Seriously, half the reason to buy anything from Dr. Bronner’s is to read the insane ramblings on the packaging. But in spite of the company’s “might be crazy” founder, these products are awesome. Natural, effective, smell great, and yes, the company is cruelty-free.

2. Surface Trinity Strenghtening Shampoo. One of the benefits of having a mother-in-law who is a hair dresser is that she’ll randomly recommend new products she’s found. This shampoo was one of those — she recommends it to a TON of people, not just the nature-lovin’ folks — and it’s pretty great. It’s paraben free, sulfate free, vegan, gluten free (for folks who are SUPER sensitive to gluten). It is, unfortunately, not cheap (another perk of having a mother-in-law who’s a hair dresser), but if you want to splurge, I do recommend.

3. Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste. Is there even another natural toothpaste on the market? If there is, I haven’t found it. But why would I — Tom’s is great. Plus, they have a sensitive version for my lil’ sensitive toothies.

4. LAVANILA ‘The Healthy Ddeodorant. Most people are SUPER hesitant to try natural deodorant. Not all are created equal. The hunt for the perfect natural deodorant is my great white whale. Crystal is effective, but after repeated usage, makes my armpits itch. Primal Pit, despite its horrible name and bizarre ingredient list, was SUPER effective (like, the best I’ve ever tried)… until I developed a painful rash from the baking soda. These days I use LAVANILA — smells nice, keeps me odor-free, and doesn’t bother my apparently super-sensitive armpits — but I’m almost always on the hunt for a better brand. In fact, I just bought some Lavilin to test.

Skincare Products

skincare

1. Alaffia Everyday Coconut Face Wash. One of my biggest criteria for face wash is that it actually wash things off. This seems weirdly rare. But Everyday Coconut takes off even my most stubborn makeup, doesn’t dry my already dry skin, and is pretty damn cheap ($8.99 for a big ol’ bottle). Plus, the company does approximately one zillion good things, and happens to be local for me.

2. DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+. This is a product I’m SUPER picky about — it has to sink in quickly and not feel greasy, it has to be moisturizing, it can’t make me break out, and it has to have SPF (for the cancers, but also because WRINKLES). I often experiment, but always end up coming back to this guy. DeVita goes on a little white at first (that’s the natural sunblock), but then it disappears and gets the job done. I’ve worn this in Hawaii and not gotten burnt. Plus, it’s routinely rated top-in-class by the Environmental Working Group. It’s not SUPER cheap (about $25 a pop), but it’s not the most expensive moisturizer on the market either.

3. Earth Science Apricot Night Cream. I bought this as a total fluke after TSA confiscated my night lotion (boooooo). I slapped it on before I went to bed, decided I didn’t particularly care for the texture or smell… and woke up the next morning and was AMAZED at how hydrated my skin looked. No dry patches on this face, baby! Bonus, turns out the company is cruelty-free. And you can find it at the drugstore. WOO HOO!

4. REN Micro Polish Cleanser. After my facialist recommended that I use a gentle exfoliator 2-3 times per week, I found this brand. REN used to have a jojoba-bead exfoliator that I LOVED… and then, because the world is cruel, they discontinued it. Their Micro Polish Cleanser is… ok. Honestly, I’ll probably look for another product after I’m done with this tube. But REN as a company is one I can get behind — good ingredients, cruelty free.

5. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. If I want a mid-afternoon refresher, or a boost of extra moisture before applying lotion, I grab a cotton ball and dab on some of this stuff. Simple ingredients, cheap, and it smells nice (or, as Byron would say, “Like a Grandma”).

Makeup Products

makeup

1. The Body Shop Makeup Brushes. Most of the brushes I use are from The Body Shop — they’re soft, last forever, and are made from synthetic bristles (rather than goat or pony hair, which makes my eyes swell up — wheeee!). There’s some disagreement over whether The Body Shop is cruelty free or not… but I guess as consumers, we gotta decide what’s “good enough.”

2. bareMinerals Original Foundation SPF 15. I’m always conflicted about bareMinerals. On the one hand, their products are decent, if not rave-worthy. On the other hand, while bareMinerals is cruelty-free, its parent company is not (a theme, it seems…). But that said — I’ve been using the Original Foundation for years. NOT as foundation, however — I user it as cover-up. Stick some on a brush, dab it on problem areas. Voila.

3. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15. Oh Tarte. How I love thee. How sad I was to discover you were recently purchased by a parent company that is not cruelty-free. Soon, I’ll have to decide if I’ll continue using you… but in the meantime, yeah, I love these products. Despite the “full coverage” in the name, this foundation goes on light if you don’t apply a ton of it. A little definitely goes a long way — which means that one tube lasts FOREVER. (Which is good, because at $38, this stuff ain’t cheap.) The tube I’m currently using I bought in… wait for it… December 2013. Still goin’ strong.

4. Tarte Clean Slate 360 Creaseless 12-Hour Smoothing Eye Primer. I’m not as nuts about this product, but it gets the job done. It’s an eyeshadow primer, which means you put it on before your eyeshadow. Why bother? Because my eyeshadow lasts all day, doesn’t crease, blends better, and I end up using less of the product.

5. M.A.C. Eye Kohl in ‘Teddy’. How ecstatic was I to learn that this, the best eye liner in the entire world, was paraben-free! How devastated was I to learn that M.A.C. tests its product on animals. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of this one. Probably cry. If anyone has recommendations for a replacement, I’m all ears.

6. Mirabella Magic Marker Eyeliner. I’ve never worn liquid eyeliner, because I find the application of it, um, error-prone. But this stuff is GREAT. It’s like a felt-tip marker — just draw it on, and get some va-va-voom cat eye’s. I don’t wear it often, but sometimes you want the extra drama. This product isn’t the most natural of the bunch, but it IS paraben-free and cruelty-free.

7. Zuzu Luxe Mascara in ‘Onyx’. I am, as it turns out, insanely picky about my mascara. I want it to be natural looking, but not too natural looking. I don’t want to be able to FEEL it on my eyelashes (a weird sensation). I want it to wash off with soap and not require makeup remover. I’ve tested a lot of brands — bareMinerals, Buxom, Tarte — and Zuzu is the one I’ve currently landed on. It’s… ok. I like the way it looks once it’s on, but applying it is kind of a bitch. It gets gunky, and you have to work slowly to make sure you don’t end up with clumps. So I’ll probably move on after this tube. I’ve heard Dr. Hauschka is amazing, but it’s too rich for my blood. I’m tempted to try e.l.f., which is $3 at the drugstore. Can’t beat that with a stick.

8. bareMinerals ‘READY 4.0′ Eyeshadow Palette in ‘The Truth’. Again with the bareMinerals. Sometimes the easy option just works. These colors have a tiny bit of shimmer, blend decently, and are perfect for everyday wear.

9. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in ‘Tipsy’. I don’t know what kind of witch magic is in this blush, but it really does last all day. The matte color looks scary-bright in the compact, but once you put it on, it gives a nice, natural-looking glow. And, like all Tarte products I’ve encountered, a little goes a loooong way.

10. MAKE UP FOR EVER Mat Bronze. Do you know how freakishly hard it is to find a matte bronzer? I’m not a unicorn, I don’t want my cheekbones to shimmer. Now try finding a matte bronzer without parabens — next to impossible! I was so happy when I found this one. Unfortunately, I just learned the company tests on animals. DAMMIT, MAKE UP FOREVER. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Ahem.

So there you have it — my paraben-free, mostly natural, somewhat cruelty-free beauty regime. Obviously, it’s still evolving. If you’re interested in seeing if a makeup company tests on animals, I’ve found the list on Paula’s Choice to be useful.

 

Fall Book Reviews

This was totally unintentional, but the apparent theme of my fall reading list? Depressing ‘R’ Us. Not that any of these books were bad, per se — we just had a whole onslaught of “whomp, whomp” themes. Manipulative friendships, religious cynicism, multiple suicides… it was a whole big bucket of WHEEEEEE!

So let’s get started on this parade, shall we?

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cats_Eye

I’ll start out by saying that since this is an Atwood book, it is, of course, wonderfully written. But Cat’s Eye is wildly uncomfortable. This is the story of Elaine, who returns to her hometown of Toronto for a retrospective of her painting career. While there, she recalls her entire childhood and young adult life — and it’s in the remembering of that childhood that shit gets WEIRD.

If I had to pinpoint one theme of the book, it’d be this: children are horrible and cruel and do terrible things to one another. Enter Cordelia. Cordelia, Elaine’s supposed best friend, is the ringleader of a group of girls who do awful things to Elaine. Just awful. And this is what makes Cat’s Eye such an uncomfortable read — all the terrible things these children do? They all read true. Children can be absolutely cruel and manipulative — but often aren’t seen as such, because come on, they’re children!

About halfway through the book, Atwood pulls a masterful switch on us. I don’t want to tell details, but at a high level — Atwood slowly transforms Cordelia from the antagonist into… well, not the protagonist, for sure. But sympathetic, yes. And that’s why I think Cat’s Eye is worth the read — to watch a master author at work. Sometimes being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley

Oh man. Here comes confession time. I’d never read Travels with Charley, but enjoy a lot of Steinbeck’s other work. So after our California road trip adventure, I decided it was high time to pick up this book. I know a lot of people who love it, and I mean come on, it’s a classic! Man road trips across the country with beloved dog. What could be better than that?

The whole time I was reading it, all I could think of was…

The Simpsons - Old Man Yells at Cloud

I’m sorry, you guys, but most of the time Steinbeck just came off as a cranky old man who was frustrated by the direction his country was headed. Everybody was doing everything wrong! Kids these days! IT USED TO BE BETTER WHAT IS HAPPENING TO AMERICA!

Did anyone else get this impression while reading this book? Was it just me?

Now, it must be said — since this is Steinbeck, there are moments of beautiful lyricism and insight. The last third of the book seemed to hit its stride (once he reaches the West coast — Steinbeck just can’t hide his love for the Best coast). But the rest was a bit of a slog, and if I hadn’t been committed to finishing this one, I may have set it down early. AND THAT IS MY AWFUL CONFESSION.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling

This is the one book that breaks the depressing mold… which is odd, considering that it has a murder-mystery-suicide at its core.

I’ll admit it — I never would have picked up this book (let alone found it) if J.K. Rowling hadn’t been revealed as the author. Even still, I didn’t have super high expectations. I thought it’d be a fun read, but I knew it wasn’t going to be Harry Potter.

And then I couldn’t put it down. The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t the best written book I’ve ever read, nor the most original — but it’s fun. It’s just plain fun. The characters are interesting, the plot intriguing. You turn each page thinking, “What happens next?” Which is a quality I remember the Harry Potter books having — sitting at the kitchen table, unable to set the book down, NEEDING to know what happened next. Ms. Rowling, bless you for that — we need books like this, books that get people interested in reading.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

THIS. This was the surprise read of the season. Several friends recommended it, but I knew nothing about the plot. When I started reading it, all I felt was a big fat “meh.” White middle-class 20-something explains family drama. Yup, I thought, I’ve read this before. I almost set the book down, but for whatever reason decided to continue on just a liittttle bit further.

And then — the twist. The thing that makes this book NOT your regular family drama. There had been hints dropped along the way, but I’m not always so quick on the uptake. And in case YOU, dear reader, are not so quick on the uptake… I’m not going to say what The Twist is. I’m not even going to hint at it. Which makes the book pretty damn difficult to review. So I’ll just say this: I ended up LOVING this book. It’s going to be on the 2014 Favorites list, for sure. It made me think, it had me emotionally invested, it had my mind-grapes muddled for days. I read the end on an airplane, which was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I had to stop reading several times because it got me too worked up. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is not THE best-written book I’ve ever read, but the plot — and the questions and moral ambiguities the plot raises — more than make up for it. Seriously, go read this one.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cats_Cradle

Last winter (OMG almost a full year ago??) I read Slaughterhouse-Five and LOVED it — and to my immense shame, I admitted that I’d never read any Vonnegut before. So I thought, “Ok, let’s try another.” And Cat’s Cradle… man, this was one cynical book. Cat’s Cradle seems to be Vonnegut’s anti-religion creed, anti-society creed — the prose equivalent of giving up on all mankind. And that’s really saying something, because Slaughterhouse-Five ain’t exactly unicorns and sunshine. But I mean, look at this:

And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: “Nothing.”

Fantastic prose — DEPRESSING AS HELL. I’m definitely going to be reading more Vonnegut, but this one wasn’t top-of-the-list for me. I consider myself a realistic; I don’t necessarily consider myself a cynic.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

This is a case of “Not for me.”

Last fall (HOW, HOW HAS IT BEEN A YEAR), I read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I wasn’t crazy about it, but enjoyed it enough that I wanted to check out Murakami’s fiction.

Norwegian Wood is objectively a good book. It’s a quiet book about important things (suicide and depression, mostly — I KNOW HOW TO PICK ‘EM, AMIRIGHT?). Just like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the writing quality is high — even beautiful in spots. There is no doubt that Murakami is an excellent writer. But about halfway through… I got bored. I thought maybe things would pick up, so I pushed on. And then I got to a point where I was far enough along that I couldn’t NOT finish, but dammit I just wanted the book to end. So, yes, I finished this book. Mostly out of spite. Good work, me.

But I can’t call this a “bad” book. Because it’s not a bad book — even as I was desperately trying to finish it, I could tell that. It just wasn’t for me. I think these days I need more plot — less introspection, more action. My college self probably would have loved this book — heck, I would have wanted to write this book — but we change, and as we do, our tastes change. Others would enjoy this book. Just not me, not now.

That wraps up the Fall Reading Fun Times. Dear LORD I need to chose some more uplifting books. Any recommendations? Have you read any of these?

Small Acts

It’s been a shitty week.

Look, there’s no point in sugar-coating it. It’s true. This about sums it up:

Ferguson. Horrible floods in Morocco (where a friend currently is). The gaping maw that is Black Friday, opening wide to reveal the beating heart of a twisted societal merry-go-round.

My brain went to a dark, dark place this week. The one prevalent thought that kept popping up?

let's burn this mother down

Things are shitty. Let’s not gloss over that.

But I don’t like it when my brain goes to a dark place. I need something to latch on to — some glimmer of hope. We all do, I think.

So I thought ok — what’s going on right now that’s good? What do I have to be thankful for?

I am thankful that my ankle seems to be healing.

I am thankful that my friend in Morocco made it out of the flood zone.

I am thankful for a husband who is up for any adventure, big or small.

I am thankful for friendships that span 20+ years.

I am thankful for family living nearby.

I am thankful for this small idiot cat, who is sitting on the printer purring for no reason.

I am thankful that we live in a time and place where it’s easy to show support for others half a country or half a world away.

If you’re interested in doing something, anything to make the world seem just a little brighter right now — might I suggest a donation to the Ferguson library? They’ve stayed open during everything, providing a community gathering place and a space for kids to be safe. You can donate easily from their home page. It took me all of 30 seconds.

It’s easy to feel powerless after weeks like this, but even small acts matter.