Philosophy and space kittens (spoilers below for A Desolation Called Peace)

In January, I read A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I actually really enjoyed it. (In fact, my new fave fantasy/sci-fi subgenre might be space operas…) So far, the sequel in the duology, A Desolation Called Peace, has delivered. March has been a significantly slower month as far as reading goes. Something’s happening in my body – i”m coming out of hibernation, out of winter. I also have had more than a few nights where I just had to go to bed early because of fatigue or a headache, or both. Nevertheless, I persist with my reading goals and habits.

A Desolation Called Peace starts out with Ambassador Mahit Dzmare on Lsel Station. She has two imagos of Yskandr – one she was given before being assigned to the empire Teixcalaan in the first place, and one that she and her Teixcalannli companions retrieved from the body is Yskadr himself which she had implanted in her brainstem by way of shady back-alley neurosurgery. Now the Councillor wants her to download the imagos… and Mahit could be in serious trouble.


I want to extrapolate some quotes that I find particularly interesting and applicable to… well… life.

“Don’t trust anyone who makes you feel good without knowing why they want you to feel that way.” (page 41)

That is a good reminder in case you’re wondering if someone is trying to emotionally manipulate you. After working in schools for the better portion of my teaching career, I can tell you that kids see right through that shit. But unfortunately, many adults have ulterior motives for making other people feel good or wanted or accepted.

“The body didn’t care about the size of the promise, only the size of the cut.” (page 77)

I kind of interpret this to mean that we don’t quite realize the promises or oaths we swear until we’re burned by them. Sometimes you have to be “cut” or burned to learn to not make promises you can’t keep.

“What better way to draw a monstrous thing to its death than to use its functions against itself?” (page 83)

Yes, we can use our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses against them. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

“Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource.” (page 167)

For sure. I think trust can be long-suffering, but it can be used up and unable to revive.

“Cost-benefit analysis was antithetical to sleeping.” (page 174)

Ahh yes. Make a pros and cons list they said. It will tell you what you need to do, they said. Until you get zero sleep because you’re perseverating and probably worrying.

“Imagination created biases.” (page 174)

YES. Imagination can be great, but it can lead to pie-in-the-sky expectations. And then when real life hits, all the expectations come crumbling down.


Besides these quotes, the book is just good. The plot is moving forward, there’s great character development, and, as the title claimed, there are space kittens. I’m not much of a cat person, but this excites me. I’ll be back with more about A Desolation Called Peace after I’ve finished it, hopefully soon!

What I read in February – a hodge-podge

New Adult Fantasy Romance

The fourth book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series was released in February, and to be honest, the books I read towards the beginning of the month were placeholders as I waited for my hardcover copy of A Court of Silver Flames. I also finished my re-read of the series – I finished a good portion of A Court of Wings and Ruin as well as the accompanying novella A Court of Frost and Starlight in one day. February was a strange month work-wise – lots of weather delays and a couple three-day weekends. Hence I feel I had more time to hunker down and read.

Emily and I will be talking about A Court of Silver Flames on our podcast later this week. I’ll give you a preview: it wasn’t my favorite! But there was amazing character development, relationship drama, and steam. Lots of steam, my friends.

Immigrants in America – Literary Fiction

This is a genre I haven’t read in a long time but have recently come back to it. The books I’ve been picking up have come highly recommended and they are relatively short: 250 pages or so. I’ve found that in order to handle these short books that pack a punch, I have to be in the right sort of headspace. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was heartwrenching but I couldn’t stop reading. It was beautifully written as it’s written by a poet, and the audiobook is narrated by him as well. I actually found myself drawn to the audiobook more than the paper copy – many names are Vietnamese and the way his grandmother talks is better expressed via voice.

I also read an early release via Book of the Month – Infinite Country. This was also a short but emotional ride about a Colombian-American family separated by miles and citizenship status. While it was fiction, it doesn’t seem far off from events that actually occur.

Dabbling in Sci-fi

Sci-fi is a genre that’s even newer to me than fantasy. From afar, something about it seems hard, cold, science-y…? But one of the best things about being a member of a book club is testing the waters of new genres and ideas. I’m coming up on a year of being in this club that reads award-winning sci-fi and fantasy, and I’ve come away with new favorites and surprises of books I’ve actually enjoyed. In February we read The Prey of Gods, and wow, was this a wild ride. I couldn’t put it down. The author allows us to follow the lives of many characters who actually all end up connected to one another somehow. If you’ve ever seen the show Manifest, the pace and unpredictability of the book remind me of that show.

Finally, a little bibliotherapy…

I read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coehlo at the suggestion of my therapist. The plot in this book wasn’t my favorite, to be honest, but I love Coehlo’s writing style (or at least how it’s translated into English from Portuguese) and this book lets us live for a little bit in Spain and France. It’s completely relationship-driven, and those stories generally have me right from the beginning. There were many good quotes and ideas I pulled from this book and I’m excited to read more of his works.

Soneto XVII por Pablo Neruda (o, en mis palabras, Feliz Día de San Valentín)

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.


Hace muchos años me encantaba la poesía hispana. Y en este punto, no esperaba leer muchos poemas. Han pasado casi 15 años desde que me gradué con un título en español y su enseñanza, pero llevo esos trabajos conmigo, en todas partes y en todo momento de mi vida.

El caso es que, cuando era joven, me gustaba la poesía en inglés, pero todavía no tenía las habilidades para leer y escribir en español. Pero cuando entré a la universidad y comencé a estudiar mi segundo amor (el primero fue el piano), se me abrió un mundo. Entonces, estoy aquí con casi 35 años y la poesía todavía me conmueve el alma.

Las obras de Pablo Neruda están en la lista de mis favoritas. Les doy un pedazo de mi corazón de años pasados, y les deseo un buen San Valentín.

A Memory Called Empire – Reading Blog (spoiler free)

January 8, 2021

I started this book soon after finishing a quick foray into the icy floes of the Arctic. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I don’t normally read “space operas” – in fact, I had to ask a friend what that even was. “Star Wars is a space opera,” he told me. Fair enough. I am familiar enough with Star Wars (at least the OG episodes) to understand. I have a deadline to finish this book – I am reading it for book club at the end of the month.

Page 100 – so far, so good. I can totally relate to this character’s innate flaw – the fact that she is trying to traverse and assimilate into the Teixcalaanli culture after years of study and even slight obsession. I make a connection in my mind to my slight obsession with Spanish and Latin American cultures, specifically Mexican. Fashioning the main character within a new world and language that is not her own is a great way to build suspense and conflict throughout – it will affect every interaction and event in the story.

There is a lot of talk about poetry and different structures the world employs to tell stories – history of the architecture, history of the world. It’s quite interesting, and definitely gives a sense that this world is steeped in culture, god-worship, and literature. Being a linguist myself (or at least, amateur), I so appreciated the line that says,

The Sunlit use of the first-person plural was unusual and slightly disconcerting. That last “we” ought to have grammatically been “I,” with the singular form of the possessing verb. Someone could write a linguistics paper, for girls on stations to gush over late on sleepshift–

page 98

Ok, friends. Have to get to work. I plan on reading quite a lot this weekend.


January 13, 2021

I stand corrected; I did not in fact read as much of this book as I wanted this past weekend. For some reason I imagine myself all coiled up on the couch with coffee for the entire weekend. Life has to happen, chorin’ has to happen. Another book caught my attention (Deep Work by Cal Newport) – and I finished that one instead. It was a good call because this week has been great at work.. so far.

Ok, I’m now at page 300.

For being a “brilliant space opera” (that is, not my first choice of genre), I am enjoying this book quite a bit. And I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I should just accept that yes, I do like some science fiction, and let it be. But also I think part of a reading blog is to tease out the details of why I am enjoying said book. At least for me it is.

So much has happened to our main character, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare. It’s been less than a week into her assignment to Teixcalann from Lsel and she’s run into quite a bit of trouble. The synopsis will tell you that the former ambassador has died from unknown-to-our-protagonist causes, and that it’s up to her to figure out what’s going on before she gets killed.

We have a couple of allies helping our main character: Twelve Azalea and more notably, Three Seagrass, her cultural liaison. I don’t want to give much away because I want this to be a spoiler-free get-inside-my-head reading blog.

To that end, I will say that for someone who has not read hardly any science fiction in her life, the world building and immersion is supreme. Truly. Martine really has thought about all the aspects of a civilization and incorporated them into her created world. One of the most effective ways she creates this cohesion is by her use of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. These range anywhere from transcriptions of flights, excerpts from scripts of a show or performance, quotes from seminal literature… all of those things help to create a well-rounded experience for the reader.

Below I’m including a few of my favorite quotes so far. I will say that generally when I pull a quote from a book, it is philosophical in nature, something that ties me down to the world I’m currently in. Interesting how created worlds still have so much to teach us. I will check in again after I finish the book. Toodles!

Better to take action than to be paralyzed by the thousands of shifting possibilities.

page 203

It is by such small degrees that a culture is devoured.

page 240

So much of who we are is what we remember and retell.

page 290

January 14, 2021

Patriotism seemed to derive quite easily from extremity.

page 304

Hmm. Interesting quote considering recent events.

I just finished the book today. I read 90% of it and listened to about 10%. To be honest, the big reason I listened to any portion of it was to hear the names read out loud.

That aside, the political intrigue and palace antics don’t stop before the end of the book, and they actually bring the plot right to the end. Since this is a spoiler-free blog, I won’t mention events, but I will say that this could be a stand-alone book as most things seemed to be brought to a resolution. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but nothing that overtakes the plot.

Overall, I would give this book 4.25 stars. A book full of political intrigue is generally not my number one pick, but then again, I read this for a book club. For me, one of the points of joining a book club is to be introduced to new books, new authors, new ideas.. so A Memory Called Empire definitely fits the bill.

I did a bit of research on the author, Arkady Martine, and based on her background in history, it makes sense how she came across all the ideas to meld them into this story. I also think it says a lot about an author when they can weave in different genres of writing, such as the poetry, play excerpts, and transcriptions in epigraphs preceding the chapters.

Finally, I identified and empathized so much with the situation of the main character, Mahit Dzmare, and the fact that she was finally immersed in a culture she’d been obsessively studying since she was a child. The way the author expresses Mahit’s experience of being multilingual is so spot-on. I think this part was maybe my favorite aspect of the book.

The sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is on my To Be Read for this year. A couple of quotes to leave us with something to think about…

The world functions as it ought to and if I keep behaving as if it will continue to, nothing will go wrong.

page 378

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

page 387

Creativity for creativity’s sake

I think I underestimated the effect that reading so much would have on me. I forgot how a book can climb its way into your soul, into the very threads which weave you together. Upending your memories, thoughts, feelings, relationships. Turning over new stones of discovery and wrecking you in the very best way in the process.

At least that’s what reading’s done for me.

Some books go fast – I’m a witness to a story and being entertained. Other books train me to run faster and jump over hurdles I’d never encountered before.

Sometimes you see yourself in the characters. In this latest one I’m reading, Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, the timeline that constantly jumps around actually makes total sense. Franny Stone, the main character, is 34 years old. Just like me. She has endured many traumatic events that I never have, but all within a day or a week or a month I can revisit so many versions of myself, replay hours of scenes in my head, recreate complete environments as if I were a computer program. The mood and tone this book engenders has tapped into some deep shit, that I will say.

One super unexpected result reading has had is that my creativity is blooming again. Other factors might include (but not be limited to) less screen time on my phone; more going for walks around town; less alcohol flowing through my veins and disrupting, well, everything; working through therapy and mining and carrying out all the things in my soul, beautiful and banal, enticing and eccentric.

I feel so much like who I was right before puberty and who I became right after – all the feelings of impending womanhood and adulthood and potential mothering all wrapped into one. A giant ball of creativity and longing that looks tangled, makes complete sense to me, but that the world wants to see wrapped nicely and symmetrically into a ball.

I also love the way our psychological journey can mirror our physical journey, and that’s what I see with Franny in Migrations. She’s on a quest to witness the last migration of the arctic tern, come hell or highwater (quite literally) and there are stops along the way that trigger memory of events from her childhood and young adulthood.

The moments I create in my own life mimic the stops I take along the way of my own migration. Midwest to west Texas to Mid-Atlantic, all physical places that mimic big changes in me as a person. Maid to mother to crone, the last of that list yet to be seen. It’s all connected. The things I create and bring to fruition in the world (read: not babies) will be the joys of my life, enmeshed with the experiences and individuals who helped me bear them.

I have to respond to the depths of my soul that cry out for air, that want to be made and created and shared. It’s creativity for creativity’s sake, yes, but also for my own life’s sake.

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.

Slow conversations

Since I have come back to one of my favorite hobbies, reading, I have made some observations about how I enter into and sustain a conversation. I don’t mean a conversation with one person, like a phone call, but instead a large multi-faceted conversation that occurs with the written word.

I love how books delve into a topic from the inside out – the ideas slowly form over the minutes and hours. They take their form from a crisp piece of paper to a well-blended watercolor.

Social media has been knocked down several notches in my list of priorities. For a long time, I participated in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I even remember when Myspace was a thing. If you want the hot take about what’s going on in the world, with opinions and facts alike, social media is the place to go. There are innumerable topics and everyone’s got an opinion about them.

The problem with social media is that the ideas are shallow, underdeveloped, and under-researched. Notwithstanding, I get a broad view of the topic, not all that unlike pulling up Google Earth to get a view of the (very round) world.

Social media is designed to show me ever-increasing amounts of things that I agree with or topics I can’t get enough of (more homesteading videos, anyone?), but books are self-selected. While I may read many books about the same topic, there are naturally other ideas woven in, in a way that contextually makes sense.

I was concerned that opting out of most social media meant that I would be missing out (I could write a lot about this). I wouldn’t have a pulse on what’s going on in the world. I’d be off in my own little bubble, oblivious to the pain and grief as well as positive events of the world.

However, I’ve found that reading has brought me to a much more balanced understanding of the conversations happening in the world. I like to call these “slow conversations.” I can take my time to develop my own thoughts and opinions on a topic – recently top choices have been religion, spiritual deconstruction, and Arctic adventures.

Reading also provides ample fodder for ideas about writing – this post is a good example. There’s so much to discuss about books – the topic itself, the author, inferring the author’s inspiration or purpose, meta-discussion like this one. Social media sharing usually ends up spurring a divisive discussion that doesn’t last long – either someone’s right or wrong.

Instead of ransacking the ideas people blast at full volume on social media, I can carefully observe each idea and decide for myself whether or not to add it to my personal repertoire. It’s the difference between consuming French-press coffee from a ceramic mug and a sugary frozen beverage that’s gone in mere minutes.

Simple life in 2021

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we humans make life so much more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Is there anything more basic to life than waking up with the sun, eating, and observing life around us?

As I write this, I’m taking advantage of (probably) seasonal spring-ish weather in the Mid-Atlantic – 50* on a random day between Christmas and New Year’s. Just a week ago we were anticipating a torrential rainstorm followed by a hefty shift in the temperature. The result of this warmer weather is that I’m on my porch with a hot cup of coffee, noticing that the sun’s angle is behind me (I’m facing east) and maybe just a little bit higher than it was only a week ago on the Solstice. I can see the Susquehanna River, its waters a little lower than a few days ago. No speed boats, no tug boats – just a wide swath of blue.

Peaceful. Just sitting and observing is peaceful. And simple. But necessary. Do we really need to sit with a screen in front of us upwards of 8, or maybe 12, hours a day? I know the science is out there – that can’t be good for our brains. It certainly isn’t for me.

To take a wider view, my week-to-week activities BC (before corona) were busy. So busy. So many activities, driving here and there, so many long-term commitments that I didn’t sleep on before agreeing to. Sure, my mind says, Oh, that will only take an hour each week… without adding up the time driving to and from, prepping for said activity, and alllll the mental space that said activity would take up.

I’ve realized a lot about myself this year, and one huge realization is that I really can’t focus on so many things at once. When I’m involved in so many “people-y” activities, I not only spend time doing all the things I mentioned previously, but then add on replaying many interpersonal interactions in my head later… while brushing my teeth, while getting ready for bed, while laying awake in the middle of the night.

At the core of its economy, being so busy and so committed is inefficient. I don’t get the return on investment most of the time. I end up being tired, worn out, and on the brink of throwing in the towel. That’s not good for getting returns on other things that really matter: the work I do every day for a living, close relationships with family and friends, things that keep my life moving forward like cooking and cleaning and maintaining our house.

I want a simpler life in 2021. This does include keeping so much off of my calendar… and actually, it would be nice to not be involved in so many things that I actually don’t need to reference my calendar that often. I have to make transition time in my day – time to grocery shop, time to eat, time to cook, time to clean up, time to relax and unwind…. really relax and unwind, preferably without a screen.

This means that I might fully give myself over to books. My mind, a fragrant offering, if you will. Reading is something I love to do, and more than that, I love the conversations and new ideas that transpire as a result. I love transporting myself to new worlds and new lands, meet characters I never knew existed. And understand myself and my fellow humans more than I did than when I initially opened the cover.

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.