2014 Reading in Review

Going to call 2014 The Year I Fell Back in Love with Reading. I read so many more books when I was in school, for business and for pleasure. It took a little de-rust-ification (and some really, really great book discoveries) to get me back into it this year.

I never stopped loving books, you see, or at least the idea of them, but I did finish fewer books in 2012 & 2013. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, 2012 was the year I finally caved and got an iPhone. I didn’t even keep a blog log of books I read in 2013. Don’t worry; there were…some.

But here we are. I read 14 books in ’14. How poetic. (I should say FINISHED 14 books. If one were inclined to juke the stats, as our friends on The Wire say, and count all the books that started or dipped in and out of, the number would be much higher.)

To celebrate a year well read, and give you an easy-to-digest rundown of the results, I’m picking up an old whatsarahisreading tradish, with the annual list of Tweet-length Book Reviews. (A couple of these are longer than 140-characters. I MAKE THE RULES!) Enjoy.

Beautiful Ruins

  1. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
    LOLs and more insightful moments than you might expect from comically bad MS paint drawings. Origin of ubiquitous “ALL THE THINGS!” things.
  2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
    Everything you loved from her TED Talk in 160-pages. Practical advice + empathy + sense of humor. A true life saver for me last winter. 
  3. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams & Danny Penman
    Worth it for the included mp3 guided meditations alone. Written by real brain doctors, so it’s light on the foofoo and heavy on the helpful.
  4. Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser
    The improv B.I.B.L.E., yes that’s the book for me! It feels (almost) like taking an improv class in the privacy of your own home. Game on. 
  5. The Tools of Screenwriting by David Howard and Edward Mabley
    Screenwriting class was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. (Howard’s ‘How to Build a Great Screenplay’ is more narrative, also great.)
  6. 10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works by Dan Harris
    A meditation skeptic-turned-believer, this irreverent journalist tries mindfulness to ease anxiety. ‘Make the present moment your friend.’
  7. The Little Book of Sitcom by John Vorhaus
    Just a little amazon ebook, but helpful. Not a lot of books on the subject. “You often have to pass through the bad idea to get to the good one.”
  8. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
    Didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, but imagining Jason Bateman, Ben Schwartz, Adam Driver & Tina Fey was enough to keep me going. 
  9. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (Second time)
    Stand-alone meditations (I’m into it!) on writing/creating in spite of all the tempting, persuasive, habitual reasons not to. “Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” 
  10. We Learn Nothing: Essays by Tim Krieder
    This book fills me with grateful reverence, like having discovered a new dear friend. A more-relatable David Sedaris. First love: this essay about his cat. (Yes, really. It’ll win you over.)
  11. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
    Speaking of winning-over: Lena Dunham. Saw her book tour in Iowa City (love!) this fall, the week after getting my heart broken (for the best!). She was just what the doctor ordered.
  12. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
    1960s Italy + present-day Hollywood. Romance, mystery + movies. One of the best first chapters ever? My go-to “What should I read next?” recommendation.
  13. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
    Handy, well-designed little creativity field guide full of illustrations and quotes. Plus, no small thing, its unusual square shape is fun to hold.
  14. Tenth of December by George Saunders
    Unusual, think-about-them-tomorrow short stories. Each their own little futuristic/sci-fi/dystopian-ish world. Difficult and enjoyable at the same time.

Notable: I no longer finish books that I don’t like, life is too damn short, so these are all fond memories. If you’re really into it, you can check out my lists from 2009, 2010, & 2011.


Tweet Reviews Redux

Back by popular demand (and by that I mean a couple of comments and the fact that I enjoyed doing them last time): 140-character reviews of the books I read this past year. It’s a fun excuse for me to revisit my books and my blog posts. Enjoy.

The year in pages, in tweets

The Phantom Tollbooth — Norton Juster
My 09-10 transitional read. Brilliant, bouncy little book club book. Full of imagination, whimsy, and a final call to live a full life.
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/

Freakonomics — Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
Examines experts, motivation, connections. Inspires “balancing your intelligence and your intuition to arrive at a glimmering new idea.”
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/

The Things They Carried — Tim O’Brien
A+ Nonfic. His subject is ugly but his content is beautiful. The book crosses my mind throughout the day…it’s like i have a book-crush on it.
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/
Twice: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/

Breakfast at Tiffany’s — Truman Capote
Not just for 90s pop songs. Lovely little novel. “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.” Plus Holly says, “oh balls!”

Eating Animals — Jonathan Safran Foer
Really did change my life. My tipping point to vegetarian. Might reframe your thinking, too, if you gave it a chance. Plus the cover is gorgeous.

The Secret Life of Bees — Sue Monk Kidd
April Book Club. Power of grief, womanhood, friendship, forgiveness. Pick it up, and buy a copy for your mom.

Enduring Love — Ian McEwan
Creepy, quick read. I enjoy I.M. If you haven’t read Atonement yet, what are you doing with your life?!

My Life in France — Julia Child
Girl meets boy; meets France; meets food. Bon Appetit!

An Unquiet Mind — Kay Redfield Jamison
Expert on manic depression is also a patient. Those who can do, teach. First read for senior honors project. Helpful memoir/manual.

Eat Pray Love — Elizabeth Gilbert
Reread pre-movie, post-breakup. Perfect timing. Literary CPR. Just flipping the pages and seeing the typeface is comforting to me.
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly — Jean-Dominique Bauby
Life-giving. Homeboy wrote the book with his eye. With his EYE, people! It and the movie remain among my absolute favorites.

The Creative Habit — Twyla Tharp
Practical, get-to-work advice from dancer/choreographer. Cool to see creativity from a new, while also familiar, perspective.
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/

Your Erroneous Zones — Wayne Dyer
An early self-help book (’76), and therefore a little cliche. Found him bc his words narrate Pixar’s short Day & Night. So inspiring.

The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood
Devoured in four days. Loved (LOVED) the writing and the story and the ideas they inspire. love/loneliness, men/women, identity/society.
Blogged about it: https://whatsarahisreading.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/

Poetry 180 — Billy Collins
Marginalia: “Poetry 180 is slowly changing my life.” I think BC would be glad. Poetry is yoga for the mind. Inverts, twists, restores.

Gift From the Sea — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
6th reading since 2005. Absolute, always-inspiring staple of my book diet. A compact and timeless guide to abundant, wholehearted life.

Broken Open — Elizabeth Lesser
I think I liked this Oprah-fav less the second time around. Maybe needed it less. Worthwhile for its many Rumi quotes alone.

Full 2010 Book Club slate:

The Phantom Tollbooth (Heather)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Amanda)
The Secret Life of Bees (Sarah W)
Princess Bride (Courtney)
Same Kind of Different As Me (Emily)
Twenties Girl (Allison)
On The Road (Deanne)
Diving Bell & The Butterfly / Gift from the Sea (Moi)
The Mysterious Benedict Society (Heather)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Amanda)

Though I didn’t read as many as in 2009, I’m still pretty proud of this list. (The diehard among you will have noted that I made it through ROYGBIV 3 times…) 

*Chin-chin salud* Here’s to books.
Happy 2011 reading, readers!


Loneliness is S-wordy…

Disclaimer: S-word‘s about to get real personal and confessional, folks. Turn back now, while you still can.

(“S-word” is my favorite way to swear at work. Office culture is totally kosher with saying things like “s-word”, even the occasional, well-placed actual s-word is tolerated.)

My high school english teacher gave us this exercise for writing poetry (It’s a tool that i’ve used to get unstuck with writers block, too.) where you take an inanimate thing like an emotion and then flesh it out through the five senses. Goes a little something like this:

For loneliness, say:

sounds like…a song you can’t quite remember.
looks like…the sock that’s left behind after laundry day.
smells like…someone you used to know, in a magazine cologne sample.
feels like…listening to jeff buckley on your car stereo while you drive in the rain. empirically.
tastes like…(for the life of me, I can’t think what loneliness tastes like. Maybe that’s ’cause food is my friend, so I can’t feel lonely while I eat. ha.)

So you can guess what’s on my mind tonight, readers.

I had the idea over the weekend that one huge perk of marriage must be that there’s always somebody there to listen to your stories and care about your shit. (s-word.)
(A perk of being single, no doubt, is having good stories to tell…)

Brace yourselves. I’m going to say the thing that I’m not supposed to say; that our mothers fought so hard in the 70s so we wouldn’t say it, etc.: sometimes it’s really hard work to be alone.

Some nights it just sucks, y’all. You sit in your house and cry while you watch The Daily Show and your cat looks on, concerned. Hypothetically.

And some nights it’s not so bad, true. If I weren’t single I wouldn’t have finished The Handmaid’s Tale in 4 days. (You guys! I finished The Handmaid’s Tale in 4 days!) And I wouldn’t have all this free time to train for my race and write and do all the other good stuff with my time (e.g. watch hulu).

I really, really liked Handmaid’s Tale. (Book Club discush coming Dec 2.) I read this little bit on Saturday morning at Einstein’s Bagels:

You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else.
Even if there’s no one.

My mind perked up a bit, bc I’d just had that thought about marriage and stories on my way in. (I like little moments when life connects like that. It’s what we writers live for, sort of.)
And then five minutes later, kid you not, in walked some ex-couple-friends with their adorable kids. (You know, we hung out when I was in a couple. They were his friends. Now we aren’t a couple. So we’re ex-couple-friends.) And I honest to god wanted to hide. I plotted escape. Is there anything more lonely than seeing ex-couple-friends when you’re out alone?
Out alone on a Saturday morning, reading a book?
I don’t think it gets more tragic.

But I was nice and said hi. We chatted.
Then I went back to my book. And they went back to their kids.
And I felt grateful, sort of, that at least I didn’t have to tell anyone to sit on their bottom, please.
And no one was telling me where to sit and when. So there’s another perk.

Welp. Sorry you had to be the victims of my loneliness, readers. At least maybe I’ll keep writing more. Writing is good company.

(This post brought to you by Edy’s Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip and too many repeat viewings of You’ve Got Mail.)