On Blogging and Gardening

Over the last week I’ve read so many fantastic books. I’ve spent plenty of time out in the sun with pages and pages of engrossing stories. I’ve had ideas for blog posts, and zippy lines to include in reviews pop into my head. 

I’ve also been tired. For better or worse the Sarah that could stack plans on top of plans with barely time for a commute in between is gone. I need my me time after socializing (safely, from a distance.) I need more quiet and less obligation. I spend more time fiddling around in my kitchen making snacks, sugary treats, and elaborate dinners. Deadlines are only pressing for me when they come from work or family. Unfortunately that means blogging sometimes falls to the wayside. 

It’s how I currently need to spend my time. The slowness is important. My motivation is elsewhere. It is in my garden; which is starting to perk up with rain and sun; It is with my afternoon walks full of fresh air and wildlife; It is with my boyfriend as we watch reality shows on Netflix and cheesy movies before bed. My motivation is with things that give me hope, that let me see there is a future still even amongst the crazy that is the world, especially the United States in this moment. 

As I was planting my tomatoes, basil, and zucchini last month several friends sent me the same quote. In years past I would have found it saccharine and useless. This year I hold it in my heart. 

“To plant a garden is to believe in the future.” 

I see it often attributed to Audrey Hepburn. I’m always skeptical of quote origin. In truth it doesn’t matter if one of my favorite actresses uttered those words. Right now as the days feel endlessly long and the sun beats heavy it is what I need to hear. 

And my garden is a perfect metaphor for this blog. It requires attention and tending. It takes time and patients. There is so much work on the back end (reading, weeding) before anything thrives (reviews, fresh food.) Sometimes the work is fun. Sometimes it isn’t. It is often rewarding. There is always a lesson to be learned, even with flop posts and overwatered plants. 

This is all to say blog posts will still be coming, but they’ll be at a slightly different pace. Summer is a time for living away from a screen, so if I don’t hit 2 posts a week it is fine. I’ll still be here, still blog hopping, just on my own time.

On Reading On a Schedule

I was never very good at the books-for-homework thing. Assigned reading stressed me out. I am such a mood reader that the idea that I have to sit down and read X number of pages a day was a struggle. In high school my grades reflected my lack of interest in keeping to an external reading schedule, despite being a vorochuse reader. 

Fast forward to 2020. I’m (probably) done with school forever. I have an advanced degree. I did the work. I finished the reading on time. I no longer feel pressured to finish books in a timely fashion. Even my regular book club schedule usually allows for a full month to read something I am already interested in. 

These are the perks of running book clubs. I very rarely struggle through the reading. 

Anyway, That was all true until this week. You see, one of my book clubs fell of schedule. We’ve been meeting biweekly through the course of this pandemic and have so far had no problem doing the reading. But summer is here and even though we are a bunch of women who rarely leave the house other obligations are starting to pop up. Work is getting buiser. We’ve had to adjust. So instead of waiting a month to read a book we were all excited about we decided to meet this week.

This week being only 7 days since our last meeting. 

This week meaning I had 7 days to read a 430 page book. While I was already in the middle of another book. And had just started reading A Court of Thrones and Roses Before Bed. 

Needless to say I had to put myself back on that school schedule. Instead of accepting interruptions from my boyfriend or regular virtual game nights with friends I have spent my nights reading. I feel the pressure and I can honestly say I have no interest in going back to an externally paced reading schedule. It is truly not for me. 

Also, I am loving The City We Became but it is VERY heavy and I just want to go back to my YA romances and pretend the world isn’t happening. Is that really so much to ask?

Now I am off to go sit in my new favorite reading spot and continue my homework…er group reading.

On a Season of Books

Suddenly it is June. The grass is green. The trees have their leaves. By the time this publishes my garden should be firmly in the ground with lots of potential veggies waiting to make their way from the back of my yard to my kitchen table. 

I’m not sure I could have imagined this – the nice weather, open windows, long days – at the end of March when so much was uncertain.  I also couldn’t imagine this last week with the pain, protests, and worry.  I’ve spent much of the last several days talking with family and friends who may not understand the need for this unrest. It isn’t perfect but I feel I am getting through to some people. This is a reminder that activism doesn’t just exist online with black squares, but within our communities, with the people we interact with daily.

In some sad ways life is starting to feel more normal. Bad news is a constant but there are also . neighborhood walks, zoom meetings, and baking. Curb side pick up for groceries and not running out for that one sort of important ingredient are pretty firmly ingrained in my psyche. The future is still foggy but it feels like at least when the fog clears there will be S’mores and bon fires. Michigan’s Stay at Home order lifts at the end of the week and I can confidently say I don’t know what that means for me. I will not be returning to restaurants and I am not going to be on the frontlines of museum staff returning to work. I will still only interact with family and friends in outdoor spaces and will attend more virtual social hours and trivia nights. 

There will also be books. 

This spring I finished 23 books. That is more than half of my yearly reading goal. In fact I am only 5 books from completing said goal. The year isn’t even half over. It’s crazy.  

I found pandemic reading to be a real comfort. I now truly savor my reading time. I have gone back to my physical books. I have given myself the space to say I cannot focus right now and put on an episode of something mindless (or MASH. usually MASH.) 

I found solace in historical fiction. Reading about time travel and real travel made me feel more connected to the world. Love stories brought me lots of comfort. On top of that some virtual author events let me connect with some amazing writers without leaving the comfort of my couch, or putting on jeans. 

I’m sure my reading life will continue to adapt and grow as the world works to find a new normal. I know there will still be blog hopping, fun novels, and friends. There will be afternoon snacks and late night ice cream from the freezer. There will be more unknowns but I am confident that we will adapt. 

Here’s to summer, sun, and stories.

On Loving the Book but Hating the Cover

I spent years reading the praises of Elena Ferrante. I remember fantastic reviews of the early books in her Neopalitan series. I remember words like addicting and immersive. I was fully interested. 

And then I saw the cover to the first book in the series. You see, My Brilliant Friends cover reminds me of a really dull 1970’s family drama. To me it indicates a story that is outdated but not currently relevant, characters that will have no depth, and pages of dull prose. The covers for the rest of the series, to me, feel the same. They feel old but not relevant, dusty with little breaks from boredom, like something I would be embarrassed to have to carry in my bag. 

I wound up buying a copy of My Brilliant Friend while I was visiting an indie bookstore in Nashville. I wanted to buy lots of books and one of the booksellers was very persuasive. Luckily this was right before Michigan’s Stay at Home order, and I quickly needed new books to read. 

I was sold by Ferrante’s first page. I tried to get my book club excited about these now realized modern classics. I heard crickets. The cover had the same effect on than them it did on me. 

This isn’t my first experience with unwarranted cover judgement. I’m a huge fan of the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I love everything about the books – except the covers, and some of the titles. Five years ago I found myself doing the exact same thing – begging friends to read amazing books – please ignore the cover. Fortunately then I succeeded. I have a small group of Cabeswater fans who still joke about the less than ideal cover art for such an amazing series. 

Lately I also find myself weary of trends in cover trends in fantasy and historical fiction. Women’s turned backs, backlit buildings with a brightly lit background, the same font over and over. 

I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their cover but hell, humans are visual creatures. I’ve read absolute shit novels with covers that could hang in museums. There is power in that image. Sometimes that power is enough to get me through a book but not through the first 50 pages. Sometimes I’ll push through, hoping the book lives up to its cover only to find myself angry at my wasted reading time. 

I have also clearly found gems with covers I find less than desirable, sometimes even embarrassing. Clearly I need to get out of my cover judgement comfort zone more often. Luckily with the prevalence of eBooks I find it easier to pick a book just on description alone and not worry about looking at a cover I find unengaging for days at a time. 

How do you feel about covers? Are you as judgey as me or are you happy to read anything no matter how it looks packaged up at your library/bookstore/online retailer?

On Rekindling my Love of Physical Books

One of my earliest posts to this blog was about my love of audiobooks. It is a topic I retouch on often. Same with ebooks. Book format over the last several years hasn’t mattered much to me. I find audiobooks are great for listening to while I work, cook, clean, and take long meandering walks in my neighborhood. Learning to love audiobooks gave me a new way to explore my reading, and gave me a way to fit in reading time during time I considered lost, like my morning commute. 

I have a similar relationship to ebooks. I’ve had a kindle for years. I’ve love how easy it is to carry around several books with just a light device. It is amazing I can sync the kindle app on my phone with my physical kindle, so even if I have left my kindle at home I can continue a story. I love that I can read my Paper White in bed with the lights off. I’m not a great sleeper and regularly find myself up around 3am while my boyfriend snores. The low light lets me read without waking him up or leaving the comfort of my pillows and blankets. 

But the last few weeks I have had a hard time getting into any book on my kindle. I’ve started several audiobooks just to let them languish half finished. I began to worry that the lack of focus I had back in march

Except, I’m still reading. I still enjoy falling into a story. I just need it to be with a physical book. 

I’ve spent a significant amount of time this past week talking with my cowokers about how they are balancing the work-from-home life with normal home life. We were not readily able to work from home before our shut down, so everything about the last two months has been new. That includes creating offices out of kitchen tables, dogs as coworkers, and more screen time than ever. 

It seems like now my world is mostly screens. I have nothing but virtual meetings, which are exhausting on a social and physical level. I am in several group chats with friends and family, and have a few friends that I know I need to check in on as they quarantine alone. This means I’m on my phone more often. Plus any music, podcast, or audiobook is accessed through my phone. All of my news comes from push notifications or twitter scrolling. 

Oh, and of course the TV is almost always on in the evenings. In fact the boyfriend and I are watching MASH. We’re watching a lot of MASH. The sole benefit to having so much TV time right now is that we find watching Hawkeye and company is engrossing enough, and late enough in the evening that our phones aren’t buzzing and we don’t feel compelled to check them. 

This is all to say that when I really need to decompress, I need to do it with something that isn’t backlit. I still want to spend time wrapped up in a good book, but I am finding I have to revert back to the early 2000’s, to when ebooks and audiobooks weren’t my main form of book consumption and reading time was sacred, planned, and an escape. 

So I am still reading. In fact I’m reading more than I have in years, but I am doing it almost exclusively with physical books. I can see my own personal library growing and my shelves sinking under the book orders I have made. I may not have a lot of space but I know these books will represent another shift in my reading habits, and will always leave a mark on my library as quarantine reads.

On Missing My Libraries

I’m getting a little annoyed. 

As a librarian working from home life is weird. I’m no longer helping patrons do reacher, but instead working on producing digital content, managing my collection from home, and generally working on administrative tasks that aren’t fun on a good day. 

But I still have a job. I am grateful for that. 

But I am still annoyed. My special collection doesn’t keep an ebook collection. We don’t need one. It would be cost prohibitive. I helped write the policy. 

But my public library does keep ebooks. They just aren’t buying very many.  I find myself checking every day for books that have been out for weeks. I’m clearly not the only one. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on the new Sue Monk Kidd book since its release. Unfortunately on the day it showed up on Libby I was too late. I’ll be able to read it sometime in October if the app’s predictions hold true. 

I love to keep up with new releases. I’m an early adopter and like to be part of the first wave to love books.  My library used to help with this. Being able to pull from a large library system was really a treat. Having a physical copy in my hand held me accountable. But now I am left at the mercy of the library budget that doesn’t seem able to keep up with a new way of life.

Professional I understand.

Personally, I am pissed. 

New books are very expensive. Even more so now that I am trying to exclusively support the independent bookstores in my community. 

So I need my local library to step up. 

Please?

On Guilt: With Books and Snacks

I’ve been fairly lucky. Aside from a weed in early March where I couldn’t focus on anything for more than five minutes my reading habits have never been stronger. I’m sure in the next week I’ll recap my 2 full months of the Michigan Stay at Home order with all of the books I’ve finished. 

I know many people have not been as lucky. Earlier in the pandemic I wrote about the grief I’m experiencing as the world changes. Early days were not great for my coping. 

But now I have more of a routine, my book clubs are meeting more regularly than they did when we all needed to find a day to actually go to someone’s house. I’m doing more buddy reads and speeding through new releases and TBR backlog almost faster than goodreads can log. 

So why do I feel so guilty? As a person with eclectic book tastes I find that while I am reading more, my tastes are a bit…stagenent. Instead of picking up difficult classics or long reads I’m reaching for love stories, YA adventures, and historical fiction that doesn’t challenge my understanding of the world. 

As a rational person with a completely rational brain I know I’m being too hard on myself. The fact that I haven’t used the last eight weeks to finish Don Quixote is not a personal flaw.  I don’t need to be running a 5k every day, cooking all meals from scratch all while keeping up with the news and learning Italian. I don’t. But I feel like I should be doing all of those things, including reading all of the long stodgy books on my TBR. 

But the truth is I’m enjoying love stories. I’m having fun traveling to different countries and experiencing them with fanciful stories. Literary fiction is great but so is the whole enemies to lovers trope. 

Life is about balance. I listened to Beowulf a few weeks ago so now I get to read about vampire  boyfriends and road trips. It is the rules. At least it is my rule.

I’m taking this rule to other parts of my life too. As a rule I try not to snack. We don’t keep a lot of sweets in the house because no one here can see a cookie and not eat it. Chocolate doesn’t last a day. Cake? No way. I love to bake but in general I don’t keep sweets at home. I’m not the cleanest of eaters but I try.

But now I can’t run to a bakery after a bad day at work. I can’t go on an impromptu date to the ice cream parlor. I can’t treat myself with a burger and fries at my favorite bar for completing a goal, or eat my favorite mac and cheese at trivia with my friends. All of the small treats that used to make weeks bearable are gone. 

So are my restrictions for treats at home.

I keep ice cream in the house now. I make banana bread because I want it, not to give it away. I cover popcorn in chocolate and toss in some marshmallows for good measure. I make grilled cheese as a snack instead of a guilty carb filled meal.

I bought oreos. 

And flowers. 

Life is too short and times are uncertain. It should include sweets, tots, and frozen treats. I don’t want to wake up one day to find that I’ve been chasing a smaller pant size while I could have enjoyed a big buttery bowl of popcorn with my boyfriend on movie night. 

So if anyone else is beating themselves up over their lack of serious reading, their snacking habits or really anything else. We’re still grieving. We’re living through a historic event. 

Eat the damn brownie.

On Reading with Purpose instead of for Distraction

This weekend I did something I try to do every April. I got together my TBR. I prepped snacks and ordered take out. I sat down with my pup and I read. I read and read and read. Every year I try to participate in at least 1 of the Dewey 24 hour readathons. I started back in college, close to ten years ago. 20 year old me had a completely different life with different obligations, and a much messier sleep schedule. Dedicating 24 hours to reading then was a fun challenge, but not one that required marking up my calendar months in advance. 

Over the last few years I find myself missing most readathons. I don’t have the time, and my schedule usually fills up weeks, if not months in advance. In the past few years even if I had a readathon day free it would include meeting friends for coffee, running to the store, or hosting an impromptu game night. 

In short, it is really hard to cancel plans with real people just to read. 

But plans are nonexistent right now, but my TBR pile is still very real. Prior to Saturday I was in the middle of 6 books. Now I’m at 3. 

For the first in close to a decade I approached this readathon with purpose, and it changed the way I read. 

The last couple months have been full of distraction reading, skimming paragraphs to finish a story, and barely keeping characters straight in my head. Distraction reading isn’t immersive for me. The things I am trying to avoid are always there, just below the surface. It is easy to stop to scroll twitter, to go bother my boyfriend, to walk my dog. The story is there as a crutch, not as something I actually care about. 

This weekend I turned my distraction reading on its head. I appreciate every book with purpose. When I sat down I sat down to read, not to pass time, not to forget about the pandemic outside my door, not in place of doing something productive. 

And my quarantine reading experience completely changed. I forgot how freeing reading with purpose could be. That falling into a story is possible, and that I am still entirely able to binge a book without issue. 

I also found the book doesn’t matter. I took this readathon to cull  my ever growing “Currently Reading” pile, so I was almost exclusively attacking books I’ve been reading for weeks, if not months. I finally finished The 4th Outlander book, and found that I could actually retain the events that happen in the last quarter of the book with some detail instead of a foggy sense that something weird just happened. I finished a tongue and cheek romance that I auto-bought the day it was released because it sounded so perfect. It turns out it was pretty perfect, my lack of interest in it over the last few weeks had more to do with my lack of purpose in my reading, not in a lack of story. 

I was able to feel connected to characters, appreciate motive, and to not just go through the motions. 

So I am taking this lesson with me for the rest of this week. My reading will not be for five minutes between meetings, or as a hold over when I am too bored and lazy to do anything else. I will pick up my books because I want to enjoy them. And hopefully that means I will get more out of them. 

On Dabbling: Loving Short Fiction

As someone who can’t just read one book at once I sometimes struggle with closing. I have books left unfinished that I started months ago. As someone who will proudly DNF a book it isn’t that I have an issue with abandoning texts. I’m a mood reader at heart and moods come and go even when that 600 page novel on my nightstand doesn’t. 

This has lead to a love of short story collections. There is something so satisfying about finishing a story in one sitting. There is no remembering back to 200 pages ago when something important may or may not have happened. There are no unnecessary characters. Just a single story. 

I also love the focus of short stories. There is never a winding tale. At most there is a passage of time, but always a very tight central theme. Always a message that needs to be conveyed. They feel urgent, important. Like the words flew out and didn’t have time or place in a larger tale. 

I love the sense of completion that comes with finishing a story, and then a collection. I like the power that comes behind a dozen or so stories all around a similar theme. 

One of the things I am missing most right now is strolling through my local bookstore and finding new story collections. I almost always buy one every time I am in a physical store. I will put down a best seller in favor of a short story collection by an author I am only marginally aware of. I know I’ll remember to come back for the best seller. The stories may not stay on my radar as long, but I’ll probably enjoy them with a bit more intensity than that shiny new blog hopping book. 

As I have spoken only generally about short story collections here I will also admit of course they are not all created equal. Instead of trying to list out all of my favorites I did want to provide a few authors who I think regularly put out solid content that I devour on long summer nights, on planes, waiting at the DMV, and before bed. So if you are looking for some  fantastic prose but without the time commitment check outAmber Sparks, Helen Oyeyemi, Danielle Lazarin, Anjali Sachdeva, Rebecca Schiff, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Ted Chiang, Helen Ellis, Lauren Groff, Allegra Hyde,and Alexander Weinstein.

On Loving the Movie More than the Book: Little Women

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was going to try and read more American classics, specifically Little Women.

I won’t lie, most of my motivation for finally giving the Alcott classic a chance was the new Greta Gerwig movie. I love her work and the cast looked amazing. Every trailer screamed period piece love and I wanted to read the book before I saw someone’s interpretation on screen. 

Unfortunately after finishing Little Women I don’t have a lot of love for Jo, Beth, Meg, or Amy. I didn’t want to be a Marsh sister. I didn’t see myself strongly in any of these iconic women. Maybe I came to the story too old, too cynical, or too stressed. Maybe they were never for me. I knew going in that Little Women was a character drama. I knew the plot wasn’t strong. I knew this meant I was going to have to route for the Marsh family. Unfortunately I was unmoved. 

But now I know that I am not a Jo or a Meg. I don’t much care about Beth’s fate. I never want to think of young Amy again.

At least not in their original form. 

A week after finishing the book I sat down and watched Gerwig’s adaptation. While I still didn’t care about the Marsh sisters I was in love with non linear storytelling. The set was complete eye candy and the acting was superb. It was like being transported. 

I actually found myself caring about Amy. Weird, I know. Many have already told me this is the “wrong opinion” but that’s fine. 

It turns out what I needed to enjoy Little Women was more than words. I needed brilliant dresses and well cast actresses. I needed a 2 hour commitment, not several days. I needed a feminst tale for 2020. 

So yes, this was one of the few times I liked the movie more than the book.