A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Where love leaves us

This week’s book is another story collection. This one by Renée Manfredi called, “Where Love Leaves Us.”

One story in particular haunted me for years. I remember certain details to this day and I remember dissecting each scene, trying to figure out how she had created this story that just mesmerized me. In “Bocci” ten-year-old Elena is herself mesmerized by her Catholic religion. The story starts with her declaring to her mother, “Jesus Christ is a blood clot in my leg.” Her mother is less then enthralled by her daughter’s obsession. Her father makes up for that by his sheer devotion to his daughter. But that devotion and her devotion to her religion cannot save her from the violent ugliness in the world.

A sentence I underlined: She is ten, an ordinary little girl whose imagination sometimes intersects inconveniently with truth; all of her imaginary friends die tragic deaths and she grieves them as though they were real.

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

If-I-Loved-You-I-Would-Tell-You-This-194x300

I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them. Doing both is how I taught myself to write. When I first saw this week’s title seven years ago I knew I had to buy it.

It is “If I loved you, I would tell you this” by Robin Black. The title alone grabbed me but then the writing. Oh, the writing and the characters and their stories. Well, I knew immediately that it would be placed on my Permanent Bookshelf. They are exactly the kinds of stores I long to write—honest explorations of what it means to be human.

Ron Carlson once said that literary fiction is about the complications of the human heart. That’s what these stores explore with such grace and depth.

Today happens to be the 7-year anniversary of this book’s publication. I’ve read everything she’s written since including the novel “Life Drawing” and a collection of essays on writing and life, “Crash Course.” Honestly, I’d read her grocery list. And once I learned that she was 48 when her first story collection was published, my writer crush was solidified. As a writer approaching 52, I yearn for role models of women who didn’t give up, who started late, who set their voice loose into the world. Robin Black is absolutely that role model for me. My writing bucket list includes taking a writing workshop with her.

(As a bonus, there’s a great conversation between Black and Karen Russell at the end of the book.)

A sentence I underlined: Every once in a while. though, that softening patina an extra glass of Chianti can give, that velvet cloth it lays over every jagged edge, evokes a kind of humble gratitude in me.

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature  book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Anywhere But Here

“Anywhere But Here”  a novel by Mona Simpson

I remember not being able to put this down. I am fascinated by mother/daughter stories—reading them and writing them. This one mesmerized me and made me want to write my own novel. Up to then I had been dabbling in short stories. When a teacher once commented that my writing reminded her of Mona Simpson, I almost swooned with joy.

The first two sentences hooked me: We fought. When my mother and I crossed state lines in the stolen car, I’d sit against the window and wouldn’t talk.

The tension was set up from the first two simple words.The whole novel explored this tension, this parting and coming back together between Ann (daughter) and Adele (mother). They were both such complex characters that I alternately loved and loathed and it made me realize how important that is to a story. No character (or real life person) is all good or all bad.

The story pulled me along but the sentences themselves left me dazzled. I’d set the book down, pausing, telling myself that this was the kind of book I wanted to write. It still is.

#TBT: A Book I Love

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature  book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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In honor of his reading that I am attending tonight, today’s book is “Fitting Ends and Other Stories” by Dan Chaon.

When I was first teaching myself to write short stories, I turned to this book over and over, poring over each story to discover what made it tick for me. Each one hooked me from the first sentence and kept me hooked to the last. I was mesmerized by his ability  to meticulously dissect the emotional fallout from tragedy: a father and son attend AA together, an accident befalls a fraternity, a father is having chemotherapy, a boy sees his older brother wearing women’s clothes. I remember being haunted by the lingering residue of the stories much like the character in the title story is haunted by the death of his brother. Reading this collection felt like my own master class in short story writing.

A sentence I underlined back then: I remember being surprised by the sound that came from my throat, a high scream like a rabbit’s that seemed to ricochet downward, a stone rattling though a long drainpipe.

Books Read in January.

january-books

“Talking As Fast As I Can” a memoir by Lauren Graham

Some of the most exciting things that happened in my life took place before I turn six years old.

I don’t generally read celebrity memoirs, or any books really written by a celebrity. When Snookie came out with a novel? Well, let’s just say that might’ve been the last straw. I don’t believe in books as brands. Books are breathing entities filled with hope and they lessen the burden of loneliness. Before reading Graham’s book, the only other celebrity book I read was the story collection by Molly Ringwald and it blew me away. As I read I could tell it wasn’t just a piece of her brand puzzle. And she could really write. What she has in common with Graham is that they were both English majors. So, maybe I’m a bit of a snob but if you took time to study literature then I have a certain amount of respect for you and enough curiosity to see what you own writing is like.

I am a huge “Gilmore Girls” fan. I’m a huge Lauren Graham fan, I mean…”Parenthood”…right?I’ve already watched the Netflix revival “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” twice and still wanted more. So, her book. Well, books, actually and I bought both.

This memoir is how I imagine she is when she’s not playing Lorelai or Sarah, but I feel there’s a lot of her in both characters. This book is funny, warm, charming and fast-paced (maybe the quick dialogue thing wasn’t completely Amy Sherman-Palladino’s call).

Not only do we get a glimpse of her childhood and her road to Hollywood success, she gives us a peek behind the scenes of each season of Gilmore Girls as well as the revival! Squee!!! I love seeing behind the scenes of anything, but two of my favorite shows? Well, it was heaven.

She also talks about writing and how she found it. Or, how it found her. And her timer trick to get the actual writing done? I can totally relate to that and it pretty much combines by own process that I’ve pieced together over the years through trial and error. It kind of combines the shitty first draft with a timer. It’s a way of getting and keeping your butt in the chair to get the work done.

So grateful that Graham (although I feel like I can call her Lauren after reading her book) found a process that worked for her to get this book written.

A sentence I love (and made me laugh out loud):

On  being a guest judge on Project Runway

“I can’t even stand giving feedback to the potato peeler I bought on Amazon—what made me think this would be any different?”

“Someday, Someday. Maybe” a novel by Lauren Graham

“Begin whenever you’re ready,” comes the voice from the back of the house.

This fresh, charming novel follows Franny Banks’ dream of acting. She gave her self a deadline to “succeed” that is fast approaching. Does she hang in there just a while longer or does she admit defeat and give up?

I became so caught up in the life of Franny that I forgot than one of my favorite actresses wrote it! One of the things I really loved is how the life of an artist, any artist, is explored. What qualifies as success? Once we achieve whatever milestone we set for ourselves, then what? What if you don’t? Then what?

I realized while reading this that I never set the same kind of deadline for myself as  a writer. Maybe because I have other means of income. But I know that even if I never sell a novel, go on book tour, have my novel optioned for a movie, I will still keep writing.

The advice that her agent, barney, gives her at the end about succeeding in show business can be applied to writing as well: Faster, Funnier, Louder. Read the book to get the details.

A sentence I love: 

(Referring to her filofax but it works as sage writing advice.)

“Just keep at it, like the fictional Franny, keep filling up the pages, and something’s bound to happen.”

“The Hidden Messages in Water” by Maseru Emoto

Understanding the fact that we are essentially water is the key to uncovering the mysteries of the universe.

I borrowed this book from a friend but it is so fascinating and life-changing that I will need to buy a copy for myself to re-read at least once a year to remind me how powerful our thoughts are.

The basic premise is that our words and thoughts have power to heal or hurt. By exposing ice crystals to different words then photographing them afterward he was able to show the physical effect words can have, not only on water but on our selves which are 70% water. Filled with beautiful photographs from his studies, this slim but powerful book lays out how essential it is that we take care with our words.

“Our emotions and feelings have an effect on the world moment by moment. If you send out words and images of creativity, then you will be contributing to the creation of a beautiful world. However, emitting messages of destruction, you contribute to the destruction of the universe.”

Once fully understood, it becomes deeply freeing while at the same time a sobering responsibility.

A sentence I love:

The relationship between love and gratitude may be similar to the relationship between sun and shade. If love is the sun, gratitude is the moon.

Books Read September – December

sept-dec-books-read

“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground, helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on a brutal history we all share. It’s not only the journey of Cora as she encounters different worlds at each stop along the way, but it’s the journey of an entire people and we are given a glimpse into the terrifying life they were forced into.

A sentence I love: George sawed with his fiddle, the notes swirling up into night like sparks gusted from a fire.

“Hungry Heart- Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing” by Jennifer Weiner

The other day, I was walking home from the hair salon to pick up my eight-year-old after school.

If you have followed me at all, you know that I am incredibly curious about other writers’ lives. So, when I saw this book I just had to read it. She covers her life from childhood through adulthood and everything along the way that made her a writer from a father who left her, to being a journalist. It was great to get an inside look at a life that partially has been played out in her books. The sister from “In her Shoes” has got to be modeled after her own sister. She doesn’t shy away from issues of weight and body image, in fact, she embraces them. Her storytelling keeps you hooked, her humor is quick and a sharp (her tweets about “The Bachelor” make we want to watch it just so I can be in on the jokes!) and I closed the book feeling I knew more about her as both a woman and a writer.

A sentence I love: Remember the way you lived in your body before you learned to see only the wrong in it.

 “The Alchemist” a novel by Paulo Coehlo

The boy’s name was Santiago.

I read this enchanting story years ago but after rereading it, this time after becoming a yoga teacher and living my yoga on and off the mat, it had a whole  new, deeper resonance. It really spoke to my heart, this whole idea of following your heart, following your intuition, which is what led me to become a yoga teacher, which has led me to create a class that combines the alchemy of both yoga and writing. In a world that often feels hopeless, this book shines a light on the very hope we need.

2 sentences I love:

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Commonwealth” a novel by Ann Patchett

The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.

Indeed it did, and that turn sets the stage for a chance encounter that reverberates through two families over five decades.

When Franny begins an affair with a literary hero of hers, Leon Posen, she tells him intimate details of her childhood that become the basis for a best-selling book and eventually, movie. She has no idea that she has set in motion  a ripple that will force both families to deal with issues they have kept buried for many, many years. It’s a rich novel full of love and loss, guilt and loyalty, life and death.

Ann Patchett is masterful at creating complex characters with complex stories and I am just happy to be along for the ride.

Several sentences I love:

Life, Theresa knew by now, was a series of losses. It was other things too, better things, but the losses were as solid and dependable as the earth itself.

“There’s no protecting anyone,” Fix said, and reached over from his wheelchair to put his hand on hers. “Keeping people safe is a story we tell ourselves.”

“Ongoingness- The End of a Diary” by Sarah Manguso

I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It’s eight hundred thousand words long.

I literally just finished this book. Part of me thinks I should wait to reflect until I’ve had time to process it, perhaps after I’ve allowed myself the luxury of reading it again all through in one sitting. But another part of me wants to get my thoughts down before they evaporate. Which feels perfect for this book which is all about memory and time and trying not to forget and learning to remember and just being in the experience rather than chronicling it for a later date.

Each page had a sentence that just blew me away. The prose is sparse and powerful. Each page takes on an almost skeletal beauty, getting to the bare bones of who we are, who we think we are. It’s an elegant meditation on the brutal beauty of time and memory.

2 sentences I love (hard to pick just 2 but here you go):

The essential problem of ongoingness is that one must contemplate time as that very time, that very subject of one’s contemplation, disappears.

Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments—an inability to accept life as ongoing.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Okoloma was one of my greatest childhood friends.

This is a modified version of a TEDTalk she gave in December of 2012. I read it and immediately bought two more to put in my daughters’ stocking this Christmas. It’s a book we all should read because we should all be feminists. It’s a book that reminds us that though we are all human beings “…there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman.” And those particular things need to be acknowledged, seen and heard so they can be changed.

A sentence I love: Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problems of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

“Mr. Ives’ Christmas” a novel by Oscar Hijuelos

Years ago, in the 1950s, as a young man working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Ives always looked forward to the holiday season and would head out during his lunch hours, visiting churches, to think and meditate, and, if he was lucky, to hear the choirs as they practiced their hymns and sacred songs.

A friend recommended this book years and years ago. I bought it back then and it has sat on my bookshelves until this holiday season when I found it and felt compelled to finally read it.

It was the perfect antidote to the stress I’ve been feeling over the state of the world. I was able to drop into another world each time I picked it up. Not that it was a thoroughly happy world. No, it was not at all. It is about life and death and loss and grief. But something about the writing, the story, the characters was a much needed balm to my battered soul. I found myself tearing up and feeling a particular reverence for the beauty of the world, no matter what state it is in.

A sentence I love: Then there were the swirls of green wire and Christmas lights, those that tipped over and bubbled, those whose glowing filaments pirouetted like ballerinas, those whose collars resembled cherry necklaces—those lights entangled or cleverly strung, adorning store windows, twinkling with benevolence, and, it seemed to Ives, nearly breathing, like everything else in the world.

“Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton

It’s almost time. My father and I stand at the edge of a long white carpet, laid just this morning over the freshly cut grass.

Maybe it was the holidays or end of the year emotions but these last two books I read this year, though totally different in tone and subject, really touched my heart. I felt incredibly moved by both stories, feeling more connected to the world that I had been hovering over since the election, distancing myself from it. Both of these stories show people who faced the unthinkable and came out the other side.

Melton’s memoir dives deep into the shadows of what it means to be human and flawed. She bravely peels back the layers of herself and her marriage. She is honest and raw and vulnerable and in doing so, she gives the reader lucky enough to read her words to believe it’s okay if they allow themselves to be honest, raw and vulnerable, too.

A sentence I love: At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ Challenges {The Year End Updates on Reading Challenges, Personal Goals, Resolutions}

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How did you do? Are you going to do more challenges next year?

I started the year with my own personal reading challenge—read five of my own books before I could buy or borrow a new one. It lasted maybe two months. Good intention to read my own damn books, poor follow through.

I ended the year with two other challenges. #MonthofFaves2016 has definitely revived my blog. I feel more connected to it again and I found strategies that will help in the new year which include writing and saving drafts of posts on the weekend to then post during the week. And using the weekend to visit other blogs and connect there.

Two Instagram challenges revived that platform as well. I did a personal Gratitude Challenge for the month of November and I am finishing the year with the “winterwondergram Book Challenge. It’s been been fun creating photos and meeting people this way.

All year I have doing my own version of “Don’t break the Chain.” I filled my dry erase board with 365 boxes and marked an “X” in one for each day that I wrote. I have yet to break the chain. Yay, me! I plan on continuing it into the new year, perhaps making myself a little more accountable by needing to produce 500 words on my current WIP to earn the “X” during the week.

For meditation, I use Insight Timer and it keeps track of the amount of days in a row that I meditate. It is incredibly motivating plus I get to see the thousands of others meditating with me around the world.

Challenges work for me. I like to see the days add up. I like to see the progress. I like to feel the changes manifest as I remain consistent and motivated.

Check out the challenge here. 

 

 

#MonthofFaves ~ 5 Must Haves for Winter Survival 

Shout out your favorite brand or stores or favorite items.

winter-scene

Image found via Pinterest.

My little space heaters are vital in the winter. This one corner of the house where my writing room is on the ground floor and my yoga room above it, are always so much colder than the rest of the house. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn on the one in my yoga room, head downstairs to feed our cat and dog, brew a cup of tea, sit in my nook to write my morning pages then head back upstairs to my now warm, cozy yoga room to practice and meditate. Same for my office where I write. I no longer have a laptop at the moment, so I must come in here to write. I light a candle, turn on the heater, have a cozy blanket draped over me and I’m all set.

Cozy blankets are another must-have all winter long. I have them in the family room where we watch TV, in the living room, in my office, in my yoga room.

My teapot gets a lot of use in the winter. Not only does it keep me warm but I find that I eat less junk if I have a cup of tea to sip instead.

I am making an effort to get outside more this winter. My natural inclination is to basically hibernate which just promotes a vicious cycle of lethargy. I bought a pair of thin thermal long underwear and top this year so hopefully that will allow me to venture out to the park near us more frequently. Actually, even once would be more frequent than usual. I also got a membership to Planet Fitness, my theory being that when it is too icy to walk at least I can out of the house and get some exercise.

my-cozy-nook

My nook by the fireplace is by far, the coziest spot in the house. I have a basket next it filled with books, notebooks, pens, mindful coloring books and colored pencils. Light a candle, brew some tea, (or pour a glass of wine) drape a blanket over me and I’m in for the night.

What are your winter must-haves? Please share in the comments or link to your post.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves201 ~ Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Surprise Find(s) This Year.

comfort-zone

So, here’s the thing I am realizing—I don’t often venture out of my reading comfort zone. I like the literary stories that I like, the authors I like, the inspiring spiritual stories I like, the memoirs I like, the books about writing that I like.

in 2017, I am going to expand my reading. I am going to venture out of the bubble of my comfort zone. Try genres I usually shy away from (maybe sci-fi, paranormal romance, historical non-fiction, classics) and find authors that aren’t on my amazon suggested list. It’s so easy to become isolated within the things we like, within a community that agrees with everything we believe. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we move beyond those spaces. Books are meant to crack open our world, expand our views but only if we let them, only if we invite them into our lives.

This coming year I am going to do just that.

Check out the challenge here. 

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ #WeekendReading {Picking Favorites} 

Let’s support each other by sharing your favorite post, book, or something else, mentioned on other #AMonthofFaves participant blogs.

~ Tamara of Traveling with T really piqued my interest with her reflection of “All is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker.

~ Love the inspiring changes Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves made this year! And I love the graphic in her header:)

~ I really like how Akilah of The Englishist gave herself specific categories of diverse books to read this winter. It’s making me want to get out of my reading comfort zone!

~ Kailana of The Written World motioned using a bullet journal as one of her favorite things. I have pinned some things on bullet journals but have yet to implement them. Maybe that will change in 2017…

~ I absolutely relate to Kristen’s (of We Be Reading) desire to seek solace and joy in books when we are in a difficult and challenging emotional space.

Check out the challenge here.