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.”

HarebrainedCover_Front_hirez

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.

Enough is Enough with “Enough”

A common “motivational” sentiment for creative people, that shows up in writing books and how-to lists and pinterest boards, is something along the lines of: “If you care enough about doing something, you’ll make time for it.” The converse would imply that if you don’t make time for something, you just don’t care enough.

(Ain’t that some shit?!)

Just what a big-dreams-having, maybe-struggling, still-trying, but-not-quite-enough-though creative person needs: More guilt!

I’ve been feeling it a lot lately: the itchy, persistent anxiety of wanting to write (off-the-clock), but not writing.

Being too busy (or at least feeling like I am), or too tired or too distracted. Putting a lot of my energy into things that fall into the Urgent/Unimportant section of my priorities matrix. So much immediacy; so little substance. It’s no wonder it’s often hard to invest in the Non-urgent/Important.

Here’s some permission I’m giving to myself, today. You can have some too, if you need it: Make time. Even a little time.

Not making time doesn’t mean you don’t care. (That was a triple negative, for those playing along at home.) But you probably do feel shitty about it. Taking even a little time to work toward something you want to do, but never do do, (doo doo), will make you feel less shitty. And feeling less shitty is always better than feeling shitty. (So eloquently put. I better write that in ink somewhere before somebody else thinks of it.)

Here’s to trying to write a little, a little more each day.

Also: Enough is one of those words that, if you look at it enough (ha), quickly loses its meaning. What’s that “gh” doing over there? Making an “f” sound? Sure. SINCE WHEN. You’ve got some nerve, for a phoneme. Some nerve.

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.