Summer Reading: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh

Summer is my favorite reading season.

First, I’m a teacher, which means that I have two months of unemployment(10 month employee=2 months unemployed, summers off are a myth). Instead of letting this get me down, I use my summers to recharge, relax, and read. I don’t want to brag, but there is something luxurious about spending an afternoon reading or forgetting what day of the week it is.

Secondly,  I live in the South, and summer is too hot and humid for tons of outdoor activities(except the beach and pools and the lake and camping). This means that staying inside and reading is the best option. Believe me, I finished several books in one sitting. It was delightful.

Today, I wanted share what I have been reading this summer. I promise NO SPOILERS! Just short little reviews of what I pulled off my bookshelf or bought.

The Good:

Rabbit Cake by Annie Harnett: If the cover doesn’t make you buy this book, the quirky narrator and authentic first person voice should. The novel touches on some tough topics like grief, the death of a parent/spouse, and moving on past tragedy. The narrator must learn how to deal with a sleepwalking sister  and a father who wears his deceased wife’s robe and lipstick. Funny and warm and well-written.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: In this novel, Saunders pushes the novel form into a cross between a play and stream of consciousness. The best way to describe this book would be if Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury had a baby. It would be this novel. A word of advice, this book needs to be read in print.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Every summer, I read Faulkner. This was the most challenging novel that I read. Imagine the first 95 pages as a stream of conscious foray into the mind of a mentally challenged adult. With each new section, a new narrator begins sharing his or her experiences, and the novel ends with a broadening from 1st person POV to 3rd person POV.

 

The Bad:

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer: I received this book as part of a book swap. This book combines things I usually love: coffee, YA, and hints at Jane Austen. This was the worst book that I have read this summer. First, there is no conflict. Everything goes according to plan for the main character, and when there are minor obstacles, like a mean girl in her high school, the tension never increases. Secondly, the characters are cliche. I liked the narrator, but every character was typecast and played the part too well. Plus, this writer uses so many adjectives.

 

The Meh:

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly: I loved the premise of the book. Eclipse chasers being hunted down by someone they tried to help. I found this recommendation from The Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide 2017 .  Usually, I love Anne’s thoughtful suggestions, but this book fell flat for me. Three quarters of the way through the book, I just skimmed because the plot began feeling contrived, and the ending was too gimmicky for my taste.

What have been some of your good, bad, and meh summer reads? Tell me in the comments.

A Reader in Search of a Book Club

I’m certain that I have been a reader my whole life.

So much so, that I also became an English teacher who will enter her 10th year of teaching this fall. I’m still not sure how I have survived in the classroom THAT long, but I have. Here’s a good year 10.

2017 is my year to savor things, and over halfway through the year, I’m not doing well savoring the good things going on around me. I should look forward to my evenings when I can read, but instead I find myself wasting time and not fully living out my One Word for 2017.

But this post is about books and reading and life.  

Sometimes, life happens. I don’t always read like I want to read during the school year. I mean, my reading life goes something like this:

4:30pm: Come home and take the dogs outside for a run(they run, I don’t)

5:00pm: Think about dinner and throw open the cabinets and find something to cook(chances are it will pasta, tacos, or chicken and rice)

5:30-6:30pm-ish: Cook dinner and eat

7:00pm to 8:00pm: Brain off time or sometimes prepping for the next day school by reading what I assigned.

8:00-9:00pm: Brain off time which is usually me zoned out watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown(makes an excellent bed time story cause I fall asleep to one of the episodes on Netflix every night) or Big Bang Theory.

9: 30pm: Bed time

Not exactly the reading life I want.

But this summer, I have had some time to think about how I use my time in the evening. Do I really need to watch reruns? No, I can quote almost all of the Big Bang Theory episodes.  What I need is to read. Actually read books that I want.

And this is why I need to find a book club.

I don’t do well if I am left to my own devices. As I typed out my school year evening schedule, I realize I have a lot of time that I waste on TV.  I need people to kick my ass into gear when it comes to reading books.

So, I’m starting my search for a book club.

I will (hopefully) put up a weekly post about the books that I have read or currently reading. Maybe, we can create a book club feel right here on this blog. Join with me as we discuss books and everything in between.

What would you want from a new book club member? Tell me in the comments.

Savor the New Year

Somehow, we made it to 2017.

I do not do resolutions. I do not try to change everything that didn’t go quite right before January 2nd. I don’t. I cherish my sanity too much.

I do choose a word to focus on for the year. Some years, I remember well. 2014 was BRAVE. 2015 was BUILD. I don’t have a clue what I picked for 2016, but if I were to pick a theme word, it would have been year of GO. I traveled more last year than I ever have, visited more countries, experienced new things. 2016 was one of the best years of my life, but like everything else, it has been packed away like a suitcase.

For 2017, I wanted something different. A word that focused more on being in the moment, than planning out futures and goals and things and forgetting about the now. I’m really good at living in next week and ignoring today. So, my 2017 word needed to be about being fully present in the right now…

I chose  SAVOR for my One Word. I want to savor what is good today, now, this minute. I want to learn to be more impulsive, less held down by plans. I want more everyday memories, less waiting for the perfect moment. This year, I want to savor each day because there is always something good that happens.

What about you? One Word or Resolutions?

Let’s Talk About Self Care

Self care has never come naturally for me.

I’m a teacher, and I have become so accustomed to giving of myself that I don’t take some time for me, to do the things that make me feel like a real live person and not some shell of a robot going through life’s motions.

Most summers, I spend a lot of time perusing Pinterest looking for classroom ideas, new ways to teach the 5 paragraph method, or reading books that I am probably going to be teaching the next school year. Sure all of this is good stuff, but it is not self care. It is simply working from home and continuing the pattern of over-working my already exhausted self.

And this pattern needs to stop.

So, this summer, I am taking a break. I’m shelving my teacher hat that I wear 9 months of out of the year, and I am starting to take care of myself. I tweeted earlier that I can’t be a better teacher if I don’t practice self care this summer. Radical thought? No. It is a vital necessity for me to go into the next school year and be my best.

But what does self care look like?

I know everyone is different but self care for me looks like:

  • Reading the books that I have meant to read but haven’t. I have read 7 books since June, and it is amazing how wonderful it feels to read for fun. I know that there is this common misconception that English teacher get to read great literature all the time. We don’t. This is why I need to read books I want during summer break.
  • Spending time playing with my dogs.IMG_3820 They are the best dogs in the world. The End.
  • Cooking. I mean actually making food. This past week, I through together meal of leftovers and re-purposed them for a new dish, and it was amazing. I called it “Cleaning Out the Fridge” which was pretty much what happened.
  • Writing and working on that pesky I novel I want to finish soon. I have been getting some good work done on my novel this July. Sure, it won’t be finished or anywhere close to being done, but I am writing.
  • And on July 28th…my next published story comes out! I am beyond excited!

How do you practice self care?

Let’s Just Make a List of Inspirational THINGS

Let’s be honest. If I am going to waste my time on the Internet, I am probably reading some sort of list.

It doesn’t matter what kind  of list. Book lists, top 7 things every successful teacher does, 25 camping hacks that you wish you knew, and that only scratches the surface. What makes this worse is that despite the well-written explanations, I only read the numbered or bulleted things unless I want an more in-depth description of why “The Nest” is the best summer read in 2016 (I read it, loved it, and do recommend it).

So, let’s just make a list. No explanations (or super short ones) of things that inspire me.

  1. Another trip to Napa, California. Another time to feel like I wIMG_3599as in a Steinbeck novel but without the angst and dead puppies.
  2. Swinging in a hammock reading a novel.
  3. Trying to hold back laughter as I listen to a podcast on a plane.
  4. My dogs.
  5. Listening to all of The Lumineers new album “Cleopatra.”
  6. Bringing home a bottle of wine from Napa that I can’t get in North Carolina.
  7. Discovering a dive bar, Henry’s, sandwiched between two fancier restaurants.
  8. TacosIMG_3575
  9. An entire week when I didn’t get up before 7am and didn’t put on real clothes till noon.
  10. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck is surprisingly uplifting and funny.
  11. I really want to start my own podcast, but I have no idea what I would podcast about…ideas?
  12. There are more photos of my dogs than myself on my phone.
  13. Also more photos of my dogs than my husband.
  14. I have a thing for lists that can be divided by 5.
  15. The anticipation of Camp NaNoWriMo and Shark Week both start next week.

What about you? What’s on our list?

Let’s Say We Are Going to Camp NaNoWriMo

I am the queen of unfinished drafts.

Like every good writer, I start stories, novels, blog posts with every intent to finish them. But sometimes, I get bored…okay, a lot of times I get bored after I begin always in the middle. That part of the writing process when it begins to feel like work and there I go off to something else new and shiny.

But this July, I decided to try Camp NaNoWriMo…again. CNW_Participant_Square

Last November, I started working on a novel project, and I didn’t finish it (like I said I am the queen). I found myself trudging through the motions of writing before giving up mid-way through NaNoWriMo. Since last November, I keep thinking about this one project. This one idea that I started, characters who won’t let me move on to the next project.

Even if nothing comes from the novel, I need to write out.

This is why I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. If I could explain that writing this novel isn’t about publishing; it isn’t about signing an agent to market my work (I am open to both scenarios should anyone be interested); and it isn’t about writing an insane about of words in one month.

For me, it is about getting into a daily writing habit. It is about not feeling guilty that I can’t keep my damn butt in the chair long enough to write something. It is about breaking free from the endless cycle of “should haves” and “what if’s.”

Sure, I may not finish this month, but if nothing else, I will be a few words closer to finishing.

That’s why I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo again.

 

Let’s Say the Break Is Over…

Maybe, let’s say the blogging break is over…

Two years are enough time to let the Internet forget you, and that’s okay. I’ve grown tired of the platform building, whatever click bait blogs became, so let’s just forget everything that I am told will grow an online presence. Let’s chat, pour a cup of coffee or three, and not worry about selling who we are.

Hi, I’m Sarah, in case you forgot. IMG_0267

In the past two years, I have been busy. Busy is always the excuse we give. But I started a new job. I’m back in the high school classroom full-time again. Same classroom for two years soon to be three. Teaching literature and writing and every so often some grammar, and I feel like my old knack for teaching has returned. I think teaching is like a muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

In the past two years, I have traveled. There was the cruise to the Bahamas. The spring break trip to Ireland with my mother, aunt, and sister. Two work related trips to Napa (who would have thought that working for a mostly rural school district that I would get to go to Napa for professional development?) and one work trip to Nashville. Camping in Asheville and Boone. Birthdays at Carolina Beach.

In the past two years, I have written. The work is slow going, but I see the progress. The poetry has suffered since I am choosing to focus on my short story collection. I have no idea when it will be done or ready for publication or even the process to get it published. But I’m working on it. And that’s the most important thing.

So, I am here and writing on the blog again. How have the last two years been for you?

A No Reading List Summer

Every summer since I had mine own library card, I have had a summer reading list.

Until now.  IMG_1011

Summer 2014 began, and I meant to cull together the books I wanted to read. To have some order, some purpose to what I pulled off of my bookshelves. But it’s July, and no reading list ever happened. For a moment, I panicked a bit–what if my lack of a formal reading list means that I don’t read as much? what if I get sucked into those terrible summer reality shows? what if, what if….

But most of the time, all of those what if’s really don’t come true. Unless by summer reality shows, you lump in anything on HGTV and I’m hopelessly going to watch. But I always read during the commercial break.

But not having a formal summer reading list taught me a few things about me and writing and this blogging life:

  1. Just because other bloggers have their lists doesn’t mean you need yours. Fine, I’m also hopelessly addicted to any reading list on the web–academic books, beach reads, literary fiction, sci-fi–you put a book in a list, I will peruse the list. I don’t have to follow the crowd. Most of what I like to read isn’t very beach friendly (I read a Faulkner novel for fun. Nothing about that screams beach read). Plus, summer is when I escape the well-ordered world of the classroom for a bit.
  2. Getting that GoodReads Currently Reading List under control. I admit to reading several books at one time. If you don’t believe me, there is quite an impressive Jenga-like tower next to my bed threatening to kill me in my sleep.  Right now, my currently reading list is somewhere around 7 with more being potentially added. I started all of these books with good intentions of reading them all, but oh look, another shiny new book or Kindle deal and another book on the list. Slowly, I have been finishing those books that I started and trying hard not to add too many more before I am done.
  3. Remembering why I love binge reading. This summer, I have been trying to make it a habit to read before bed rather than watch a rerun of The Big Bang Theory or the late news. Of course, TV shows have a definite end, but books have these magic chapters and you just have to read one more. Of course, it soon becomes 1am, and you finish said book knowing the next morning will require extra coffee. But there is nothing better than soft, cool sheets and a good book especially in the summer. It is the best magic in the world.

So, do you have a summer reading list? If so, share what’s on it in the comments.

Writing Through the Fog

Writing has been my life for four years now.

I started this blog after I graduated with my Master’s because I needed an outlet–to write out what I think, believe. A verbal map of where I have been, a compass to where I am going. Many times, I write and let the blog fall silent for months. Sometimes, it goes quiet because I’m working feverishly on my fiction, or I allow others to intimidate me into writing nothing. (Note: cyber stalking your ex’s blog says more about you than your ex or his wife).

But most of the time, I am just trying to write myself through the fog. 

Where the storytelling happens
Where the storytelling happens

Two weeks ago, I took the train from Lynchburg to Baltimore to visit my aunts. I had my laptop to write, but I couldn’t. I read a novel and stared out the window as the kudzu passed by. For a writer, travel always inspires me. Going somewhere new or in this case somewhere I haven’t been in 15 years, I soaked up the good food and experiences. But nothing really inspired me to write.

Until we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had been several times before, before I called myself a writer. We walked through the Cone collection first–a large eclectic display of Matisse to Picasso to Monet. But the two Monet paintings struck my writing nerve. Both of the same bridge in London except the light and the fog were different. In one painting, you notice all of the hushed blues and violets as you try to make out the outline of the bridge and factories. The fog obscures everything but the basic shapes. The second painting, the fog has cleared. Greens and light and distinct buildings appear without the fog. Staring at these paintings side-by-side, something hit me about my writing.

We have to write through the fog.

Nothing is ever clear when I sit down to write. I don’t fully know my characters or the plot, and sometimes, I use these as excuses for not writing. Albeit, writing makes me happy, so not writing isn’t the best choice. The fog can discourage us because it can be so thick around us, hiding the essential thing that we are towards, but when we show up and do the work and write through that fog–we see our work more clearly, better even.

Today, I needed to write on this blog because the fog has been more like fear and discouragement. I needed to write past my fears, past the those who want me to be silent or unhappy, past my inner editor who says my writing isn’t very good.

Now, the fog has lifted; let’s write.

On Writing and Going to the Gym

I.

I started going to the gym again. Seriously, going to the gym in April. Not the if I feel like I need to go or to satisfy some girl math so I can eat frozen yogurt or tacos. But really going to work out. I hadn’t been feeling like myself for a long time in that bloated, I don’t like how I look way. I could feel the stress everywhere on my body–the sore ache that clenches tight all of my muscles and exhausts me. So, I started going back to the gym. One Word

II.

Writing became too hard, too emotional to handle. I started a few stories then stopped, too tired to keep my ass in the chair. For awhile, I told myself that watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory would help or another episode of No Reservations. Any lie to help me believe that muse needed to be fed before I could work. Like my physical muscles, I could feel the tension in my writing muscles tightened to a chokehold. Nothing came. I wanted to write but didn’t want to actually sit down and bang words out on the laptop. But my writing self started to wither, and  I couldn’t keep up this self-medicating on television reruns. So, I started to write shitty first drafts again.

III.

For some reason, I entered a Twitter contest to win free personal training sessions or a free water bottle. I was hoping for the water bottle. But of course, I won the personal training sessions. I don’t really know if I had an ideal trainer in mind. Maybe, someone trained in yoga or pilates. Someone graceful and lithe who would help me find a workout routine that wouldn’t hurt so much and perform some type of miracle fat exorcism.

That’s not who I got. My trainer is more drill sergeant less namaste. My gym is fairly small, so I had seen him before. Several times actually. He rules over the free weight section like a king. Every so often, making his rounds, checking on the other more intense weight lifters, all those people who usually ignore those of us more casual gym goers. Those of us who run to the locker room and slink toward the back row of ellipticals, those of us who believe that if we cross too far over the line into the free weight section something bad will happen.

I assumed that we wouldn’t get along. That he was just like all the other overly athletic guys I’ve known. The kind that only talk to me if they needed help on their English homework or if I were leading the literature study group. Sometimes, it becomes too easy to construct a whole back story for someone you don’t know and judge him. Like most assumptions, I was wrong. He was nice, really nice. So, I actually enjoyed going to our personal training sessions even thought I once convinced myself I wouldn’t.

IV.

Going to a real writing conference sounded like a good idea. I had been to one writing retreat last year. A small one and loved it, but a writer’s conference felt too big, too many people, too much to take in. But Saint Anne would be speaking, and I needed to hear her. Of course, Anne Lamott could talk about anything and I would try to save my money to buy a ticket. She’s been the driving force behind my writing for a long time. When I hate what I’ve been writing, I read her book “Bird by Bird.” Always helps my writing and me become closer.

I didn’t realize how empty my creativity tank was until I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. There just wasn’t anything left to give except a few tired clichés and some whining about being exhausted. My internet friends would be there which helped me decide to go. After the first day, I started to feel the enthusiasm brewing again. My love for writing awakening from its slumber, and I could feel myself refreshed and ready to write again.

And now, a month after the conference, I’m not sure that I want to do a full recap of it. Too personal, too private as my muse and self finally got some much needed R&R. We can’t write on empty forever. Or at least, I can’t.  So, I allowed myself to be filled again in order to write.

V.

Writers tend to be superstitious. When something is going well, we keep doing it, hoping the muse will never leave or at least find us hard at work. Maybe, it is a coincidence that my writing has been so much better, richer since I started going to the gym, working out with my personal trainer. I don’t know. But what I do know is that writing and going to the gym are too similar for me. I know I need to go and I know I need to write, but I don’t. Then, I worry about it, and everything starts to unravel. For me, I have to do the work and show up. I will admit that I am never thrilled to walk through those gym doors, nor excited to stare at the blinking cursor on a blank page. But I do the work. That’s all I can do.