Thoughts on a second read-through of “Deep Work”

Goodreads review of Cal Newport’s Deep Work here.

Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

Cal Newport

This quote in and of itself is quite alarmist, and the reason I re-read this book. I had read it previously in 2017, surprisingly long ago. I remember trying to implement some of the practices he mentions (quitting social media, embrace boredom, work deeply, etc.) and doing some of it successfully.

I’ve been teaching from home since March 2020, with a short stint back in the buildings in October and November. By nature of my new placement in only one school instead of anywhere from two to four (and back in high school, yay!) and the layout of the building, I now have my own classroom again. While I have not spent a lot of time in there yet doing just a normal school day, I know for a fact that not having to share my space with another teacher, even one who respects boundaries, is going to help my productivity so much. My current situation with one school, in a grade level I’m familiar with and quite frankly, love, and the ability to create my own work environment are all essential parts in this puzzle.

The first question I had when reading this book was: What products are teachers tasked with producing? I know that teachers are definitely knowledge workers (and not manual laborers), but through about half the book the first time I read it, I was skeptical. How could I really boil down what I do as a teacher into a short list of goals or tasks?

The other question that came to mind was: How do you expect me to implement this in my job where my attention goes from one thing to the next dozens of times a day? You don’t get it! During my planning, I get emails from administrators and colleagues, I have meetings scheduled at the last minute, people walk in my room to ask me questions… I can’t do this.

I think the answer to the first question is that my job is to produce high-quality lessons based on standards and grade-level material that will help advance my students’ knowledge and use of English as measured by assessments (yes, plural, because there are so many.) That is my job, first and foremost. Yes, I wear so many other hats as well, but by and large, that is my number one task.

The answer to the second question is boundaries. I think teachers can say “no” more than they think they can, and consequently, save their planning time for what it’s meant for: planning lessons and preparing materials. As we know, how teachers are treated, especially non-tenured teachers, varies widely from state to state, but I would make the stand that if you say “no” to even just one committee invitation as a non-tenured teacher, you won’t get fired. I also think that everyone can benefit from not having email open every single minute of every single day. Sure, there are important announcements that come through (like next steps on bringing more students and staff back into the building) but I posit that most of the time, it’s not required to act on them right now; actually, in doing so, your precious concentration might broken (I don’t say “precious” facetiously… it really is precious).

So far, what I have strived to do in my own work (and I have a slightly different job teaching than my classroom/content teacher counterparts) is to shut down email and phone during my planning time. I need the ability to fully concentrate. Not only am I creating lessons, but I am working with new-to-me curriculum and adapting for online use.

I have noticed that making these boundaries has been beneficial to not only my production, but my mindset. Even if I get only one class (I teach two, plus a number of “push-in” lessons every week) prepped, I feel accomplished and might even be able to extend my concentration as I think about it over lunch or while waiting for a student to log on to a different session.

Saying “no” is very difficult in the education world, but not impossible. And having worked in other industries, it’s hard everywhere you go. The consequences of saying “no” in my experience don’t depend on the industry, but on the flavor of leadership – do you get a guilt trip? Or do your superiors respect your wishes? Inevitably, saying “no” must be done in some instances if you’re to have a successful career and feel like you’ve accomplished something of your own every day. On the flip side, it is also super important to be a “team player,” especially for a teacher like me who works collaboratively with so many other staff to help the students learning English. I can’t be an island, as much as I want to sometimes. There is a give and take that we all must participate in. Finding that balance between boundaries and team player has taken me a long time, and I think arriving there at a comfortable space in the middle is a hallmark of one’s career, and people will respect you for it. Another thing they will respect? High quality lessons and instruction that can be shared and adapted.

Overall, Deep Work make me think yet again about my own goals for my career, and what makes me feel successful. It reminded me to point out to myself the things I have to offer to my industry, my employer, and most importantly, my students. We do have power as employees to take back some of the power, not work ourselves to death, and still feel like we’re making a difference.

Religion & faith in context: The Book of Longings

Let me start by saying, Wow. I was blown away by this book by Sue Monk Kidd, who also wrote the best-selling Secret Life of Bees (which I have not read). The Book of Longings was really a book I have needed in my life for a long time, though it was just released. It was my first finished book of 2021, but one that will be on my mind for a long time.

Here is a link to my review (spoilers).

Beyond the review of the book, I can say that I think I know why my therapist might have recommended this to me. She often recommends literary fiction, some of which I have read to the end, some of which I have DNF’d, and some which I have avoided, like Book of Longings.

I have been on a faith journey my whole life, beginning from the time I was four years old and our neighbor Anna Rushford invited my family to church, the church right across the alley. It happened to be a United Methodist church, and this faith tradition was heavy on both sides of my family. I had even been baptized in a different Methodist church when I was only 2.

Fast forward to now, when I’ve been a Christian for 30 years, having been a member and at times heavily involved with different kinds of churches, all the while with questions in my mind about who God is and what his relationship to me looks like. I also recently have been questioning where Christians get some of the ideas they do about the Bible, and then decide that what they have learned is the only way to interpret it, and THEN use it to degrade, judge, ostracize, and ignore others. That I’m angry about.

Besides the religious aspect of Book of Longings, I thought a lot about the plight of women rich and poor in the first century. Though my life looks quite different than women of that time, I can relate to so much. What I can’t understand because of my own time, place, and privilege, I can imagine. No matter the social station of different phases of life of our main character, Ana, she experiences tragedy and silencing of her voice. She has deep emotions and desires that are often in conflict with each other. Her experience showcases many aspects of the general human experience.

I did cry at a point in this book, and if you’re not familiar with the story of Jesus or if you haven’t read this book, stop reading! I saw Jesus’ betrayal and death through new eyes, but really, eyes that might have been there. I knew there was a group of women including his mother and Mary Magdalene, but never in my life had considered that his wife would be there, nor that she might have just barely made it back after a long absence to see her own husband put to death. For some reason, witnessing that momentous event through new eyes had a profound impact on me.

I know what love is, and I know what it looks like in the context of my faith. I believe that two people can be brought together for not only love, but for companionship and the betterment of the world. And I know what it feels like to be separated from that person for long periods of time. I know what it feels like to just have to get my voice out – that’s why I write. But I write on a screen, not on papyrus.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s all connected. For a long time, I have compartmentalized many things: my relationship with God, my experience as a woman, my sexuality, my wants and desires for life. But it’s really all related and part of my human experience. I think just as the Trinity – Father God, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit – cannot be separated, our body and spirit cannot be separated.

This union of elements for me has been a new experience, and one I’ve desperately needed as I find my way in the world as a woman with a body and a soul and as a woman without children. When I go places, I take both my body and my soul with me, always. When I experience happiness, it flows through my mind and also my body. I first learned about what the world was like through my body (attachment theory). How then can my body be separated from my mind or soul?

Today we still return to our roots in times of crisis; we look to the stories of our origins to make sense of things, to remember who we are.

In Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

Returning to my roots is not an option for me – I must do it. That means returning to the stories that shaped my childhood and my first views of the world – the stories of the Bible. For several years I have been the absolute worst scholar of the Bible, and maybe it’s just as well. The scholar hat really isn’t fitting well, and that’s okay. I just have to come at it from a different angle. I’ll get back there with time and care. It cannot be forced.

In all, The Book of Longings did something for me that I have needed – it has given me a context for understanding Jesus in a way that I can understand and relate to on a visceral level, in a way that can easily bypass my brain and all its questions – through the love of another human.

Reading Goals and Contemplations for 2021

Here we are, another day, another post about reading. I’ve never really regularly written about my reading… ever. I think when I was younger, I was so unsure of myself as a reader, and trying to pretend I loved reading when it was all I could do to pay attention, read the Cliff Notes (for some books), and regurgitate information in class.

I was actually in the high-level English classes in high school, but I think it was because I was a really good test-taker. If I were to be asked to provide exposition about a particular book, I’d fall flat on my face. I relied on my smart classmates to provide that for me so I could jot it down in my notes for the eventual test.

To be honest, I’m not sure what all has changed in the past few years that I’ve been so interested and devouring books, especially this year. Maybe I’ll do a post soon about my 2020 stats. I’m still balls-deep in the Mistborn trilogy. Today is my first day of winter break (perks of being a teacher!) so I will definitely spend a chunk of time reading. I have so many thoughts…

Besides perhaps being more mature, one thing that has helped immensely in my rekindled love of reading is that people are out there talking about books. Some of our Maryland friends are huge readers and so they talk about things they read. I have discovered BookTube. My husband has been reading fantasy since he was a wee lad. My immediate family are big readers, too. So I have a lot of great influence and accountability, if I want it.

So… 2021. What’s on tap? With a gift card I received for Christmas I’ve ordered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Ship of Magic. These are all well-regarded books in the adult fantasy genre, ones that I’ve heard mentioned over and over. I generally don’t buy books, especially hardcovers, when I’m not sure if I will like it or not. A house project we have coming up is to install better bookshelves in the front room – so, of course more beautiful books to fill them won’t be a bad thing.

With the books I mentioned, I will delve into the writing of three new-to-me authors: V. E. Schwab, Scott Lynch, and Robin Hobb. I don’t know much about V. E. Schwab other than her books are lit. Scott Lynch wrote the introduction to a book I read recently for book club (Dragon Waiting by the late John M. Ford), and I won’t lie: I was so excited about his writing style that I wished the actual book had been written by him! I have also heard nothing but great things about Robin Hobb, a female author. Maybe I will also read the Farseer trilogy that she wrote.

I have also preordered the new Sarah J. Maas book that I think will be released in February, A Court of Silver Flames. This is the fourth book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series that I absolutely devoured end of 2019 through the beginning of 2020. Naturally, because it will have been a year since I completed those books, I should reread them, not only to have the events and characters in my mind, but also because they are such fun books to read.

I anticipate that I will read much more fantasy. Who knows.. maybe I’ll get into more of the Cosmere and read Way of Kings et al. I will be beginning two series with the Scott Lynch and Robin Hobb books, so I’ll have a natural TBR set up if I like those. I might continue with the Outlander series since I’ve had the fourth book on my monthly TBR for, well, months.

And then, of course, is the book club I belong to where we read award-winning fantasy and sci-fi. The first book of 2021 will be A Memory Called Empire, a space opera with indigenous Mexican vibes. I’m here for it. Never thought I’d say that about a fantasy or sci-fi book, but here we are. I will probably get started on it soon after I finish Mistborn.

As far as a number of books to read, I’m unsure about this goal. In 2020, my goal was 40 books, which for me at the time was realistic but still pushing it. So far, as of December 23, I’ve read 64 books. What. The. Heck. That’s more than a book a week. Even if I don’t include my DNF’s, that’s still more than a book a week. I guess 2020 was made for reading.

In 2021, I will also aim to discover more about why the genre of fantasy has appealed to me so much outside of the fact that it’s a convenient and fun escape from the current world we live in. It’s certainly not the only reason, though. Stay tuned!

Fear and guilt and why I read

As we near the end of 2020, this is the time I can look back and catalog in my mind my experience with reading this year. Without a doubt, a pandemic will naturally give some more time to read, and that’s what happened to me. We are not super extroverted social people in the first place, and generally do spend a lot of time at home, but a pandemic helped us solidify that more as we opted to stay inside. In addition, for the majority of the past 9.5 months, I have not had a commute, which saves not only the 50 minutes driving to and from work, but the time I spend packing a lunch, getting my bags (yes, multiple) together, et cetera.

I really went balls-to-the-wall with Sarah J. Maas’s books.

I could have chosen to do many other things with my extra time. I could have done more yoga, gone to the gym (when it was open), I could have made lavish breakfasts, learned new makeup application techniques, spent more time in my craft room. But instead, I decided to read.

When I was younger and looked at the way other members of my family devoured books, I remember thinking about how they would just spend so much time with… themselves. In a world that may or may not really exist with a story that is not true. In my mind, that was a waste of time. Why would you keep your nose in a book so often when you could do other things?

Yep, more Sarah J. Maas, and a super cozy fantasy read: Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Also see: This is the part where The Pandemic and Quarantine Began.

I think some of my motivation to not read was from guilt and fear. I felt guilty, sitting on my butt reading for hours on end. Surely there were chores to do! Things to cook! And then when I became old enough for a job, there were hours I could work. So work I did, and for probably at least 8 years of my formative years, I did not spend them reading in my spare time.

I also felt fear. The good ole FOMO existed before social media, and already I had some tenuous relationships with friends. If I didn’t pounce on an invitation to hang out, would I have said friends for long? (My tenuous relationships mainly resulted from my own actions… I was part drama queen, part Stage 5 clinger).

I could go on about how these two states of being – fear and guilt – have dominated my life since I can remember.

Blindness was a mindfuck in the best way.

So here we are. It’s the end of 2020 and I’m almost 35. I’ve read or DNF’d 62 books. My goal was 40. What happened, besides having more time?

I challenged myself with a few books from our retiring pastor’s library – Black Theology of Liberation was eye-opening.

I became motivated to read more because of a few things:

1. Numbers. I like crunching data and seeing progress. Goodreads provides a perfect place to track my reading and even get more recommendations. I forget things easily (maybe adult ADD? Who knows…) so Goodreads helps me remember a good book I saw or heard about.

2. Booktube. Yes, this year I finally bought a one-way ticket for a ride down the worm hole to Booktube. Some of my favorites are Peruse Project, Jen Campbell, Reading With Moe, and Elliot Brooks. One of the motivations for any activity that we humans have is community – not feeling left out. I love watching these women talk about the books they love, don’t love, and even about books they’ve written.

3. Conversations I have can have with others. I mentioned in an earlier post about how when you read, you have so much to talk about with other people! Even if you’re just talking about a genre that the other person doesn’t like, there’s bound to be something to connect about. Aaron and I have even opened up new conversations between us because now that I read fantasy, I know more of his “language” when it comes to books. Book clubs are fun, too!

4. Personal insight. Usually in every therapy session, my therapist asks what I’ve been reading. We talk about it, she gives me recommendations, and I’m left to think about a particular book’s influence on my life. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things that annoy me in a character, but then realize that those are also the same traits I dislike about myself. Or, I see a type of character in a new light, like a villain who had some sort of trauma that made them the way they are, and it sparks compassion. When we practice compassion or understanding with fictional characters, we can then transfer those attributes to real people in the real world.

5. Exposure to new ideas. A world where there is a magic system based on metals? (Allomancy in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn) A world where the guy who is hired to kill monsters is actually the most well-adjusted character? (The Witcher) A space suit made by and for humans? (Jack Glass) A memoir that discussed the possibilities of cultivating an urban garden? (Farm City) An epic love story where a woman travels through strange stones? (Outlander) These are all new ideas that are worth pondering and exploring more, at least for me. My world is expanded, even from sitting on my couch under x blankets, wishing for a pandemic to end.

Magic Lessons.. one of the best books of 2020. I also loved Jack Glass.

I have no idea what 2021 will look like as far as reading is concerned. As demonstrated in my November reading posts, I am awful at planning what I will read besides the book club I’m in. I don’t want to the emotions of fear or guilt to spur me to read any book. I will be bringing in the new year with our local library’s winter reading challenge, which this year is accompanied by my other favorite activity – running. What’s better than that? Reading and then a run to either listen to a book or think about what I read? You decide.

Really delved into fantasy here.

November Reads & December TBR

Knowing that I did not stick with my planned to-be-read list for November, I’m giving myself some leeway for December. Here are my TBRs:

In November, I read 5 books, almost 6 if you count the overlap of my first foray into the Cosmere of Brandon Sanderson: Mistborn: The Final Empire. One book that I did not plan on reading but was actually perfect for last month was An Everlasting Meal by chef and restauranteur Tara Adler. I happened to find it in a Little Free Library stop on a walk with our dog downtown.

For a book club that reads award-winning sci-fi and fantasy, I’m going to be reading Greenglass House, pictured above. It’s about an orphan who has been adopted by innkeepers and must figure out secrets of the inn. It’s set during winter, which is a perfect pick. I anticipate that it will be a fun read: it’s a seasonal one, and considered a middle grades book.

Now, about Sanderson. WOW. I finished Mistborn last night and tried to process some of it… but wow. I can’t wait to read Well of Ascension, for which I bit the bullet and ordered the hardcover. (I may or may not have already also ordered hard copies of The Final Empire and Hero of Ages.) I actually read most of this book via audiobook from my local library. I’ve been trying to get into audiobooks more. I generally was never a podcast or talk radio person, but being someone who likes to multitask (and do more crafting because of the season), I thought it was no skin off my back to listen. I also have taken to listening to books while I walk, and even while I run. The narrator of the Mistborn book, Michael Kramer, is fantastic. He does a great job of giving slightly different voices to the characters without going overboard. I usually speed it up… mostly it was at 1.25x, and last night when shit was REALLY hitting the fan, I sped it up to 1.5x.

Besides Greenglass House and the Well of Ascension, another series I want to get back into is Outlander. I’m due to read the fourth book, Drums of Autumn, which has been on my TBR for honestly months now. Part of me is terrified of the length of the book – some 900 pages – and part of me is terrified of getting my heart broken. But this is why we come back to the series we love, right? Because we have a stake in the characters’ fate. Because we see ourselves. That’s why I come back, at least.

As for the rest of my December reading, well, we’ll have to see. I have winter break at the end of the month, and obviously hope to spend much of that time reading in addition to dog cuddling, cooking, and crafting. Who knows… I may be into Stormlight Archive by 2021…

Books under the rug

The memories we have as children are grossly underestimated. The experiences, people, sayings, jokes, smells, foods, books… it’s really amazing that all of this fits so well as it’s swept under a rug. Until it doesn’t fit, and one by one each memory or book or food grows legs and crawls out, peeking its head out to see if we notice it.

And once you notice it, you can’t not notice it. And then you have to decide what to do with it. Ignore it? Try to shove it back under the rug? Good luck with that, because all the other things under the rug have already spread out a bit more, just like you do when your spouse leaves you and the dog sleeping in the bed. It’s the nature of living things to spread out and take up more space when they can.

So then you have this thing to deal with. You can decide what to do with it. Deal with it immediately? Hold it and inspect it for cracks and lies? Set it on a shelf to collect dust? Whatever it is, your brain has a neural pathway for that, I promise.

My neural pathways have made detours and new paths with lots of gravel and potholes, but new inroads nonetheless.

Upon learning of my impending transition to teaching high school again, I judiciously curated my collection of items I’d acquired over the past four years of teaching elementary. This included a box of books that is now on the floor of my office closet. Many of those books were ones I purchase to have a copy for when I was working on students with the prescribed curricula – books about Biscuit and Little Bear and rocks and Willy Wonka.

Where this overlaps is that many of these books I had on the bookshelf in the nursery in my mind. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of my gifts for their children knows that I am a pusher of literacy. You will read, and you will like it. Or at the very least, know how to do it and use it to your advantage. In teaching elementary students, I found many books I added to the bookshelf in my head. One that was already there was Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman.

And thoughts and memories of this book are what catapulted me into an ugly cry at 6:05 AM after I’d been laying awake for at least an hour and a half. It was triggered by something as innocent as my husband telling the dog to “give your momma a kiss, no not me, I’m not your momma…”

Are You My Mother? is a children’s story about a baby bird that falls out of a tree and thus is separated from his mother. He spends the whole book walking around, trying to find out where his mother is. We can assume that he’s so young that he’s not yet imprinted on his bird mother and maybe this is a reason he’s having trouble figuring out that no, the dog is not his mother. And the boat was not his mother. And so on.

Some descriptions of this book call the baby bird’s wandering “hilarious,” but fuck me if this isn’t one of the saddest books out there. I never realized this sad perspective until the memory of the book came back to me. How sad for the mother and the baby bird to go through this event.

I could not tell you why this was one of my favorite books when I was young, and one of my favorites to introduce my students to (most of them were Spanish-speaking and I had the bilingual edition). I knew who my mother was, and I never questioned it. I was never separated from my mother like this baby bird was. I’m sure there’s more I could explore about being emotionally separated for a period of time.

I wanted to read this to my child. Over and over. To teach them the basic names of certain things, and to indirectly teach them how invert the subject and verb to make a yes/no question (linguist here). I wanted this book to get lots of handprints on the cover and maybe some crayon marks throughout. I wanted this book to have a wobbly name amateurly written inside the front cover.

So yet again in this journey that I 0/10 would not recommend to anyone I have found something else to mourn. For awhile I could hold off on it because I was sharing books with my young students, and sending books like this to nieces, nephews, and niblings. Most of the children in my life are getting older and ready for novels and fantasy stories and maybe poetry compilations. I have so many books to share and nowhere for them to go, except a box in my office closet. At least they’re not under the rug anymore.

November TBR Update

Looks at calendar. Um, what? It’s the middle of November already? A little unbelievable if you ask me.

So far this month, I’ve read three books, two of which I had planned on reading and one that I kind of planned on reading, but then actually did, thanks to the library’s grab-and-go curbside service. And another shout-out to now teaching virtually again, at least for a few weeks. This means I have at least an extra hour in my day, which consequently lends itself to more coffee and reading time in the morning.

If you remember from my November TBR post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned The Dragon Waiting. I tackled that one first because next week I will be discussing it in the award-winning fantasy/sci-fi book club and I wanted to be sure I read it. This coming weekend or early next week I will probably review it a bit and write down some notes.

It was a tough but enjoyable read. The first thing I thought of when it opened to one of the main characters, Hywel, is that 1) I don’t know much about Welsh language and culture and 2) Beowulf. Since we’re discussing it in book club next week, I don’t want to say too much here. But overall I really liked the writing style and flow of the book. The dialog was tough to follow.

My second read was Season of Storms, one of the installments of the Witcher books. I loved this one. It was actually perfect coming right after a heavier, denser fantasy book. I have already had a good introduction to the world of the Witcher through first the TV show and then a few of the books. Geralt and Dandelion are true-to-form and I found myself actually laughing out loud. Mostly it felt like I was riding alongside Geralt as he went from here to there, but there were a couple plot arcs (is that a phrase?) through the book. It’s not billed as a novel, but with the way the stories resolve themselves, I would personally say that it is. Next in that series is Blood of Elves.

The book I just finished tonight was not on my original November TBR. Because the weather is getting cold here and I was already in Europe in The Dragon Waiting, it made me think of a book I loved as a tween called And Both Were Young by one of my all-time favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Last year or the year before I did a re-read of some of her books – A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters, A Wind in the Door.

And Both Were Young is a really good coming-of-age story set in a boarding school in the Swiss Mountains. There’s all the vibes of a cozy winter story – snowfall, talk of skiing, wool, fireplaces, hot cocoa. Beyond that though, I remember why I loved the story so much. The main character Philippa, or “Flip,” comes to a boarding school as a tall, gangly, slightly socially awkward girl who through about the course of a semester learns to make friends, let things go, and also creates a relationship with what I’m assuming as her first boyfriend, Paul. She’s also very introverted and contemplative, which besides being tall, I can relate to.

The book is set right after World War II, so there is a lot of discussion of other students losing parents and family members, and dealing with the after effects of war. In fact, the book discusses a lot of perspectives of grief, and it’s a way that the characters, both students and faculty, bond with each other. While it’s a very fast and digestible read, it was just as great as I remember.

Today I received on request from the library An Ember in the Ashes, which is a YA fantasy book that’s been on my TBR for quite awhile. I might go ahead and dig into that. All in all, I’d say it’s been a successful month.

What happens when you read fiction or fantasy

Like I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I haven’t always been a big reader. I’ve always aspired to be a big reader, maybe even faking it once or twice, but never like my sister. Or my mom. Or even some of the kids in my family.

Truth be told, up until a couple years ago, I never really saw the benefits of reading fiction, and definitely not fantasy. I think my exact words to my therapist were, “It’s a waste of time to read stories that aren’t real.” Well, friends, I stand corrected. And sometimes I have to teach fiction so it’s helpful to everybody for me to read all the time…. right?

One. You learn about places you’ve either been to… or places you want to go. I’m not sure who would read Outlander and then decide they don’t want to go to Scotland. That is, unless you really hate cool rainy weather, endless precipitous sea cliffs, and amazing history. Last month I read Magic Lessons, and I think I fell in love a little more with the Northeast/East Coast region where we live now. We’ve been here about five years, and when we first arrived I wasn’t thrilled, but it is home and there’s so much to love about it. While reading the book, I kept having flashbacks to my short stay in Providence, Rhode Island last year in October. Even though the story was about witches (or because it was about witches?), it gave me a warm cozy feeling. But, Elizabeth, what about places like the Shire? Or Hogwarts? Well, those places can exist in our minds and through our imagination we can have experiences there.

Two. You see real people as complex as the characters you read about. There’s a story arc, character development. Sometimes it takes characters years to develop into their final form, and even then, even after the last page of a series, there’s still a question in your mind of, What if? I think this point is super important because in our world right now, it is so easy and even encouraged to demonize others. When a member of my family was getting out of a bad situation, I kept reminding myself that no person is either 100% good or 100% bad, even the perpetrator. Call it human nature, call it whatever you want, but we are all complex and subject to the human condition, even the murderer Jack Glass. People you may meet now may seem to be two-dimensional or in a plateau of their own personal development, but you have no idea the extent of the life they lived before your life lines intersected. And even our beloved characters in books – there is obviously a story before and after the tiny part of their lives that we see as readers. We meet Harry Potter when he’s 11 and follow his story until he’s 18, but when about when he turns 21? Or 25? Or, gasp, 30? There are innumerable events and chance meetings in his life that can change him still.

Three. Your vocabulary deepens. Research shows that it takes many encounters of a word before it makes it into our vocabulary, maybe even 15-20. Despite the research surrounding literacy and language acquisition, I believe there’s a kind of alchemy that happens in our brain when we read, and eventually those words will make it into our writing, speaking, and even into our imaginations or dreams. Of course, there is vocabulary acquisition that happens during phases of listening, like with podcasts. But I think reading is starkly different from listening to a podcast in that you are the one who adds inflection, who pauses when necessary to mull over something, and you make your own context by the sections you reread.

Four. You have something interesting to talk about… all the time. Even if all you’re reading is historical romantic fantasy, there’s still lots to discuss – characters, settings, and relationships among the characters, even reading habits. If you can get past the conversation where people low-key shame you for having enough time to read a whole book and talk about how horrible they are for not reading, it can be super enlightening to have these conversations. And another perk is that often they have absolutely nothing to do with current events or politics – for once can we talk about things that are not on Facebook??

Perhaps these amorphous conversations evolve into an organized book club. Without a doubt, telling other people about what you read strengthens your own comprehension skills because you’re retelling a story you read with your audience and purpose in mind – maybe it’s being simplified for a child, or someone who’s not as into fantasy as you are. Maybe you cannot stop talking about a book you read (as I am with Court of Thorns and Roses or The Bear and the Nightingale) and you’re trying to persuade someone to read it. That right there is considering your audience and purpose.

Five. You relax your brain and your body. For me, reading can be meditative. Right now, I read when I wake up (after taking the dog and during consumption of a French press). And I let reading put me to sleep. Maybe it’s that I didn’t have bedtimes stories read to me past the age of about 5, but I love being all cozy in bed with a book. The house is quiet, the dog is snoring. It’s like Christmas Eve every night. For just a little while, I can escape.

Five. You introduce yourself to new or possibly contrary ideas from what you know, or what you subconsciously believe. This has probably been the most instrumental thing that’s happened to me as I’ve really become a reader. You’re introduced to relationships you don’t know much about (such as in LGBTQ-affirming books like I’ll Give You the Sun) and decisions made that you don’t agree with, like in Tidelands, but you also can’t fully comprehend. This point of course applies to nonfiction, and this was a big reason I read nonfiction for so long. I wanted to know more, more, more information about a topic. The difference is that I would get stuck on one idea, like when I went through my Mt. Everest phase, and then I would be reluctant to read about new ideas.

I want to conclude with a quote from On Tyranny, a cute little but powerful book I picked up from our library sale…

Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.

-Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

November TBR

Guys, at the time I’m writing this post, I just finished my 56th book of 2020. I cannot believe it, honestly. I started reading again as a habit back in 2017, and solidified my habit through my local library’s Winter Reading challenge (5 books from December to March). I started my rekindled relationship with reading with mostly nonfiction, beginning with Endurance by Scott Kelly. Spring and summer 2019 saw me reading the Winternight Trilogy – amazing!! And from there, my love for fantasy and some scifi was born. And as an almost 35-year-old woman, I have no qualms admitting my love for young adult/new adult fantasy like Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses… all the thanks to Sherry of Young House Love Has a Podcast for the introduction to the SJM universe(s?).

Now, it’s November 2020 and I’ve been an active member of a book club that reads award-winning fantasy and scifi. So for sure that book has to be on my monthly TBR. I also recently subscribed to Book of the Month Club, but decided to skip this month because nothing really caught my eye.

1. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. Guys, I’m balls deep in the Outlander universe. I’m caught up with season 3 so please, don’t tell me anything! I’m not sure I will finish this one in November, as I keep my Outlander books waiting in the wings and want them to last as long as possible.

2. The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford. Historical fantasy set in medieval Europe. Sounds perfect for fall.

3. Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated from Polish). One of my husband’s and my goals for 2020 was to read The Witcher books together. We found a recommended order, so we’re trying to be sure to read the short stories and anthologies before diving into the novels. I’ve never played the video games (not really a gamer) but the TV show on Netflix is so. good.

4. Destierros by Gabriela Riveros (in Spanish)

Earlier this year I worked my way through about half of The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. It moved very slow, was very descriptive, and lost my attention. It just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. Next time I pick it up, I will read the rest in Spanish. Now that I’m back teaching high school again, I’ve been having a lot of memories of my first job teaching Spanish right out of college, where I completed a degree that should have been called “Hispanic Literature” because that’s basically what all my classes were.

Now that I’m reading again and with much more self-awareness, I thought I’d pick up some books en español. I am also on a mission to improve my Spanish proficiency, which hovers around intermediate-advanced to advanced. Anyway, Destierros was recommended by the Goodreads algorithm, so I’ll check it out.

I am teetering on the fence with how much to “study” the books I read. Obviously for the Spanish one (#4) I want to be aware of vocabulary and linguistic devices used so I can further my knowledge. For the book club book (#2), I need to remember things so I can discuss them coherently. I have a feeling the Witcher book (#3) and the next installment of Outlander (#1) will be mostly to go on an adventure.

September Reads, incluso un libro en español

On October 1, I completed the 50th book of 2020. A handful of those were DNFs (Did Not Finish), but the rest I read in their entirety.

On the Psychology of Meditation | Robert E. Ornstein & Claudio Narranjo (read September 1-12)

Inhale the fragrance of old books.

Our outgoing pastor invited my husband to his office to collect any books that he wanted. What a gift, right? Among many, he brought home this volume about meditation.

It’s an ongoing joke with one of my sisters and my therapist that I hate meditation but should really try it. (I did actually! This month I did a short video on YouTube from beloved Yoga with Adriene.) Often the first step I take when I’m trying to expose my mind to new ideas is to read about it. I want to know the experiences and science related to a new idea. Meditation was no exception.

This book was divided into two parts: “Meditation: Its Spirit and Techniques” and “The Techniques of Meditation and Their Implications for Modern Psychology.” The first half discusses the role of meditation in the major world religions (yes, even Christianity).

I would say the big concept I got from this book was that meditation is a process of letting go:

The practice in “letting go” that [the negative way] entails, in the sense of “surrendering to” or “allowing,” cannot be completely divorced from a letting go in another sense, which is the essence of the negative way: letting go of habits, preconceptions, and expectations; letting go of habits, preconceptions, and expectations; letting go of control and of the filtering mechanisms of ego.

page 75, emphasis mine

Earlier this year I read Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chodron, and The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, and I’d say this book formed a nice trio with those as background and guidance on letting go and living in the moment.

Jack Glass | Adam Roberts (read September 12-23)

Checking out books from the library has become like Christmas morning. You stop by and pick up your books in a paper bag –
it’s a gift every time.
(Note: Tidelands on the docket for October).

I read this book as part of a book club read for award-winning sci-fi and and fantasy. I will say, I’m not a science fiction fan generally. I do love the cover of this book, and strangely that is one thing that kept me motivated while reading. I was also very intrigued by the characters, particularly Jack Glass and Diana, and the story was so readable and frankly, enjoyable. The world building was solid but not overly extensive, and by the end I found myself actually siding with the murderer-main-character (not a spoiler). I read this both in hardback from the library and partially on Kindle. There was a good basis of philosophy sprinkled throughout the book, namely:

“The best analgesic for mental discomfort is work, of course.”

38% of the way through

This resonated with me because not only do I believe it to be true, but I think that might be one reason Americans are kind of known for being workaholics. When you look at the current state of affairs in the US, COVID-19 and social unrest has taken the giant Band-aid off of our collective “mental discomfort” and exposed the fact that we have a giant rug under which we sweep everything.

But taking a total view, death is the bell curve upon which the cosmos is balanced. Without it, nothing would work, everything would collapse, clogged and stagnant. Death is flow. It is the necessary lubrication of universal motion.

82% of the way through

This is also true. If there’s nothing else that all humankind participates in, it’s death. We all die; there’s no way around it. I found this quotation to be very comforting, as I started this book only a couple of week after my Nana passed away, and a couple weeks before RBG died. We need death, whether we want to or not. A very Stoic thing to bear in mind, for sure.

De qué hablo cuando hablo de correr | Haruki Murakami (leído el 24 de septiembre al primer de octubre)

A little rejected slice of the Seattle Public Library

Les hablo de este libro en español. Una de mis hermanas me mandó este libro hace meses, tal vez años. Es una traducción del japonés, y el estilo es muy conversacional. Me alegría de eso porque no he leído un libro espanol hace muchos años, y honestamente, no me apetecen muchos los libros españoles aunque tengo muchos estudios en español y su literatura.

Me gusto este libro porque se trata de ambos correr y escribir, dos activitidades que a mí me encantan. Me di cuenta que si, quiero ser autora, y ya soy autora. La verdad es que he sido autora a través de la vida mía.

Me gusta mucho leer de la vida de una persona que se convertió en escritor mas tarde en su vida, en los 30s. Trataba de leer este libro para disfrutarlo, no como un gran estudio del idioma español. No obstante, aprendí algunas frases y vocabulario nuevo.

Me dio satisfacción y ánimo para perseguir leer otros libros españoles.