2015: 13 books, 140 characters

It’s 2016. Let’s live our truth: I finish fewer books and I write fewer blog posts per year than I used to. Blame the busyness of life, the ease of sharing ideas online in smaller quick bites, the existence of the internet in general.

But also, I think, my twentysomething self (who started blogging in earnest in 2007) was a more obsessively introspective, self-discovering and self-centered type of self. (As she should have been! That’s what 20s are for! You go on and find yourself, baby SJ!) Whereas now, I’m a little more grounded in who I am, and feeling better about it (thanks, therapy!), and enjoying the things I like without the need to justify, explore or explain. This is all good.

Wasn’t expecting that nugget of self-discovery. Just occurred to me while writing. Funny how that works.

2015 was good to me. I still read 13 books, not too shabby considering that roughly 20% of adults read NO BOOKS at all. Oh my, internet, say it ain’t so!


So here we go. Keeping with tradition (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014), here’s my tweet-length year of reading in review:

On Writing | Stephen King
My very first S.K. book, and it’s not even a “Stephen King book.” Practical and poetic guide to the writing process—from somebody who knows.

Lizz Free or Die: Essays | Lizz Winstead
Memoir by Daily Show co-creator and feminist icon…I didn’t love it. But that’s okay. Not all comedy is for me. (Lookin’ at you, Master of None. I SAID IT.)

Man Seeking Woman | Simon Rich
Hilarious, bizarre series on FXX is based on a book by former SNL writer. So, duh. Inventive, of-the-moment romance chronicles, rated NSFM (Not Safe For Mom).

Syllabus | Lynda Barry
Part nonlinear graphic novel, part handwritten creative journal, part offbeat instruction manual. All fun to read and digest.

Attachments | Rainbow Rowell
Delightful YA novel recommended by my writing group. Set in 1999, the pre-Facebook story feels retro, as romance unfolds (or does it?) via intercepted emails.

Better Than Perfect | Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
Perfectionism survival guide. 6 of 9 “Does this sound familiar?” intro statements sounded just like me. Scrawled inside cover: “So, wait, everybody’s self-worth isn’t determined by how well they live up to their own harsh, improbable standards?” (Not really joking.)

Harebrained | Meg Myers Morgan
Written by a college classmate and available at an amazon near you! I wrote a longer blog post singing its praises already. Go read that.

Theatrical Husbandry | Susan Mann
Not on shelves yet, but will be. Have gotten to watch the process as my writing group friend worked her way through revisions. Now she’s moving toward publication. How cool is that?

Funny on Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy | Joe Randazzo
This book gets me. Funny, practical primer on all things comedy. He had me on page 15, with this horrifyingly, comfortingly accurate list:


Hey look! That’s me!

Writing Television Sitcoms | Evan S. Smith
Somebody wrote a whole book about this! Can you believe it?! (Exciting to only a small sliver of the population, but I’m one of them.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up | Marie Kondo
The title doesn’t lie. KonMari has changed my life for the better, and I’m still in process. Some of her philosophies seem foo-foo, but they also work. (Magic.)

“If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”

Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat to the Stars | Constance Lombardo
Happenstance while roaming kids section at Barnes & Noble. Almost didn’t buy it (see above, buying less), but very glad I did. Delightful and clever for film-buffs, cat-buffs and tiny-silly-joke buffs.

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers | by Mike Sacks
447 pages of pure inspiration. Creators of Parks & Recreation, Cheers, National Lampoon. Writers for The Onion, New Yorker, Tonight Show. All in one book! And you can buy it!

5 Stars

Three (3!!!) of my friends have written books. It’s a blessing and a curse to have such talented friends; they brighten your life with creativity, and they shine a light on all the ways you feel you could be doing better. Ah, well. As the old saying goes: Those who cannot do, read. 

So reading is what I’m doing. One 365-entry blog turned memoir. One delightful and decidedly un-chick-lit romantic comedy novel. And one collection of personal essays.

I just finished reading the third one, and since I can’t make it to the book launch party in Tulsa tomorrow night, I’m making known my (sincere and well-deserved) praise here on the ol’ blog.

Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time (available at an amazon near you!) is an essay collection described in the blurb as “the collected ramblings of a tired mother, happy wife, grateful friend and busy professor.”


My tweetable review: It’s a damn delight!

My longer thoughts: Reading Meg in good-old-fashioned, page-turning, come-back-later-there’s-more fashion adds a layer of enjoyment for those, like myself, who were already fans of her blog. Her essays showcase the best of what personal blog writing can be: candid. vulnerable. relatable. fun. A well-balanced blend of slice-of-life sketches, thoughtfully revisited memories, and bigger-picture observations.

New readers will find this book is like catching up for drinks with an old friend. And all readers will most likely find an experience not unlike binge watching a favorite series: Reaching a stopping point, with a laugh or a sigh, and feeling the urge to read one more…just one more…

(If that reads an awful lot like an amazon review, that’s because I’m headed over there to post one right this hot second. Because when your friend writes a book, you spread the good word!)

Now for a little revisited memory of my own:

Spending 200-something pages and a handful of hours hearing Meg’s voice in my head took me back 10 years, to my junior year of college, and the days when we worked together in Drury’s Writing Center. As minimum-wage-earning student employees, our duties included removing rogue commas, helping international students come to terms with indefinite articles, and extracting viable thesis statements from the 5-page essays of our peers.

For a writing nerd in need of spending cash, these were glory days.

In the hours when the office was empty (there were many), we would, responsible go-getters that we were, “get some work done.” But attempts at silent reading with another human in the room most often devolved into swapping stories and comparing pop culture notes. (A mutual love of Tina Fey is nothing to sneeze at.) Meg was just a year ahead of me in school, but I looked up to her. She was interesting and smart, and the time I spent with her in that upstairs corner of Olin Library were times when I felt interesting and smart, too. (You know those people? The bring-out-the-best-in-you people? They’re the best people.)

A lot of my memories of 21-year-old me are long gone, or buried deep in journals somewhere, but I remember Meg as one of the bright spots in an otherwise angsty, torn-between-two-lovers, “what am I doing with my life?!” time in my history.

Which is maybe an even better review for her book than the one above: She’s the kind of person you’ll enjoy spending time with.

And since you maybe cannot do, you should read.

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.