New Year, New Books

I haven’t been active on this page the last few months mostly because what my writing outside of work has centered on. As you get older some things become less black and white while simultaneously becoming more clear. What and who you devote your time to pans out after some tricky negotiating. What you hold close–particularly in today’s age of oversharing–becomes more sacred.

I ended 2019 with the same people, in the same home I started it with. That simple and enormous fact I am grateful for. As Levi and I headed to bed before 11 p.m., I crept into each of our kid’s rooms to check on them (despite being able to see them on the monitor) and physically felt the weight of this gift: their tiny backs rising and falling under the palm of my hand.

I began 2019 with no resolutions and am doing the same for 2020. No sweeping transformative plans or hard-set goals. Unburdened by the confines of a resolution, I am free to follow whatever sets a spark.

For me, 2019 was a year of reading. I finished 13 books which, to an avid read, may be a typical quarterly quotient. But, as a work-from-home mom with a two-year-old and three-year-old, it was the most I’ve read in years. I also started reading five other titles and ended up not finishing them because, once again, time is valuable and I wasn’t going to spend it slugging through a book I wasn’t gleaning anything from or enjoying.

2019 Titles

  1. Circling the Sun, Paula McClain, Historical Fiction, 496 pages, 1/9/19
  2. The Witch Elm, Tana French, Crime Fiction, 528 pages, 1/24/19
  3. Educated, Tara Westover, Memoir, 334 pages, 2/22/19
  4. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Hannah Tinti, Coming-of-age Fiction, 376 pages, 4/4/19
  5. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, Historical Literary Fiction, 6/23/19
  6. Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Literary Fiction, 6/29/19
  7. The Gifted School, Bruce Holsinger, Literary Fiction, 8/3/19
  8. Dominicana, Angie Cruz, Coming-of-age Fiction, 8/18/19
  9. Wild Game, Adrienne Brodeur, Memoir, 9/6/19
  10. This Tender Land, William Kent Krueger, Literary Fiction, 11/7/19
  11. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert, Romance, 11/15/19
  12. The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell, Psychological Thriller, 11/24/19
  13. The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes, Historical Fiction, 12/13/19

2019 Top Three

  1. My favorite book of 2019 was Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. A switchback narrative centering on the lives of Yale Tishman, a gay art director living in 1980s Chicago when the AIDS crisis hits and Fiona, the younger sister of one of Yale’s closest friends who is grappling with her own family in modern-day Paris. Eye-opening and heartbreaking, The Great Believers had me missing the characters for weeks after I turned the final page. The Great Believers won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie medal, the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
  2. My runner-up read of 2019 was The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. This switchback narrative tells the story of former con Samuel Hawley and his teenage daughter, Loo, new-to-town outcasts who are running from and reasoning with their pasts in an attempt to build a more settled future. Tinti masterfully captures place, painting vivid images of Alaska, Wisconsin, Arizona, and a fictional Olympus, Massachusetts that made me want to pack my bags and head to Gloucester, Massachusetts for a long weekend.
  3. Rounding out my top three is Educated by Tara Westover. A memoir detailing the incredible arc of growing up in an isolationist household with no formal schooling, escaping those bonds, and fighting to discover knowledge and receive an education–no matter the cost.

Reading is an active pause from our everyday lives and own narratives. The direction our culture is headed–with social media becoming enmeshed in our day-to-day–is a breeding ground for a self-centered and comparative society. It doesn’t lend to empathy.

When you read a book you step into the complex story of another person–not a picture or post of a single moment or experience. Spending time in the mind and life of someone else–whether real or imagined–and considering their problems and motivations demands perspective of our own life.

In 2019 I read over 5,000 pages in which I got to glimpse into the life of a Dominicana child bride immigrant in 1960s New York City, a girl who grew up in colonial Kenya in the 1920s and became a record-setting aviator, and a man who lost everything to the AIDS crisis in a time when there was little to no support to those who were suffering.

New year, same me. But hopefully 2020 will be another year filled with new books that prompt me to see things differently, connect me with people from other places and times, and remind me to be grateful for my own story.

No Resolutions

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Last December I was six weeks postpartum and had a one-year-old who was on his seventh ear infection and I thought it would be a good idea to attempt a Whole 30 in January.

A year later, the only reason I can fathom I’d even entertain this idea–let alone be fully invested in it–is the lethal combination of postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation I was experiencing at the time.

There are good times and bad times to implement extreme changes in diet. For me, having a six-week-old and a one-year-old was not a good time. And I can honestly say I’m not foreseeing a good time—ever—to elect to restrict my diet to that degree.

I made it sixteen days into Whole 30 when I called Levi bawling and told him to bring home Bob Evan’s chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, and a bottle of wine.

God bless him.

We’ve reached that time of the year again when people are writing their lists of resolutions and picking their word for the year and I can honestly say I’m so over it.

No resolutions for me in 2019.

Ironically enough, my decision to do so is somewhat related to my Whole 30 attempt. I went to the library last December to pick up a Whole 30 cook book (sweet potato and avocado that, Melissa Hartwig. No royalty money from me) and while I was there I saw a flyer for a writing contest.

I typed up an essay in between bottle feedings and diaper changes and sent it in.

While I only made it through 16 days of Whole 30, I was a finalist in the writing contest and received some prize money. Dave Barry read my essay (he won a Pulitzer Prize so you could say he’s kind of a big deal) and I attended the conference affiliated with the contest and met some inspiring writers.

It’s great to have goals and to work towards something. But, it’s often the things that happen when we’re in pursuit of other ventures that impact us the most.

So, in 2019 I will continue to strive towards things that are important to me, but I’m not intentionally chasing a lifestyle change and I’m not going to measure my success on the completion of a list of objective topics. I’m simply going to live, be open to what’s ahead, and embrace opportunities as they come.