Read On!

I said I’d be back this week with my 2019 reading list, and I’m a woman of my word. Check out the entire list!

It’s going to be a busy year of reading—if I can keep up with it—but hopefully one that’s full of learning and laughter, tears and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Some highlights, at least in my mind:

  • Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner. I like to think of Frederick as a personal friend. So often his words have been like a balm to my soul.
  • Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I’ve been meaning to read it for years after having numerous people rave about it at Andrew Peterson and the Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot.
  • On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. All I can say is that it’s almost as if this book were written for me.
  • Remember God by Annie F. Downs. If ever a person needed the message of this book, it is me.
  • News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt. I had the privilege of hearing the author speak in a panel discussion during the Southern Festival of Books held last fall in Nashville. I’ve been wanting to check out this novel ever since!
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. I’ve read and mostly loved every book Kate Morton has written. I enjoy her style and the mysterious feel to each novel. I have read some reviews of her latest, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, that weren’t quite complimentary, but I’m looking forward to it!

I’ve already finished my first read of the year (Allen Eskens’ The Guise of Another) and will have a review ready for you by next week. Until then, it’s on to my next read, All the Light We Cannot See.

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2018: A Reading Recount

In 2018, I opened the year by being pretty brutally honest about my lack of reading in 2017. I did improve in 2018, but not as much as I might have liked.

You can check out my updated 2018 reading list, but it suffices to say that I read 11 books this year. At least it’s double digits, right?

When I started thinking about my 2019 book list, a big part of me wanted to push for reading a book a week, completing 52 books in a year. But seeing that last year’s number was 11. . . that seems a little much.

So I decided to go for 50!

Last year, I learned some lessons from my reading list. For example, sometimes you have to let go of the list and embrace interesting books that drop into your life. I joined a book club (that I’ve yet to go to a meeting for, but I did join) and through that discovered two of my favorite reads of 2018: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy and Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, which I started reading on a plane ride home from Boston and finished the next day.

A random interview with Charles Frazier—I think on NPR?—got me interested in Varina, a novel about Varina Davis, the first lady of the Confederacy. I listened to that one, using the Nashville Public Library’s Libby app, which honestly is one of my favorite discoveries of 2018. Plus, Frazier threw in Mary Boykin Chestnut as a character. (Little known fact: I competed at the state level in National History Day competition in an individual performance as Mary Boykin Chestnut.) It was fascinating to me, and I binge listened to the last of the book in a parking lot, trying to finish up before the book returned to the library.

A couple Fiona Davis titles rounded out the year, quick reads that entertained me over the holidays. The Masterpiece and Dollhouse didn’t originally appear on my reading list, but I added them when books from my list were on hold through the library’s app. Davis writes historical fiction, which I enjoy, and both of these were set in New York City. While I think both had some issues, they were quick reads and mostly fun.

Now books I didn’t really care for. . . Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton (guys, I just didn’t get it) and Chris Bohjolian’s The Night Strangers. My Name Is Lucy Barton felt unfinished and dissatisfying while The Night Strangers had more plot development but the whole plot turned out to be stupid.

Which is sad because I enjoyed several of Bohjolian’s earlier works, like The Sandcastle Girls and Midwives. 

All said and done, 2018 was a good reading year, but 2019 will be even better. I’ll be back with my 2019 Book List next week. I’m planning to include some books I didn’t finish in 2018, sneak in some to the top-rated or most-anticipated books and throw in a few classics. But I’ll also be leaving some room for those quick reads and book club picks I’d never have picked up if it weren’t for a recommendation, assignment or an interview.

Welcome, 2019!

As 2018 drew to a close, I found myself thinking time and time again about this blog. When I started blogging a decade or so ago, it was a way to encourage the discipline of writing in my life. I had become an editor at that point and spent my days poring over others’ work rather than my own and I didn’t want writing for my own personal benefit to fade out of my life.

In those days, I blogged daily, first thing. But since leaving the editing world (at least full-time; I’m still open to freelance gigs), I’ve been writing daily. And most of the time, these are stories I’m excited to tell and tales about people I want the world to know and experience.

I write every day, but I blog … rarely.

I had hoped that by the time 2019 got here, I would have a plan for what I wanted to do with my blog. I’d tossed aside the idea of closing it down completely and thought that I’d magically have an editorial calendar of sorts all planned out.

But 2019 is here—and I don’t have a plan. I don’t have all the pieces lined up and the stories written and a plan for what I’ll post here tomorrow or next week or next month.

And maybe—just maybe—that’s a little how my life feels right now. I have a beautiful life, but I don’t have all the pieces lined up, a detailed plan for how 2019 will go. And maybe that’s because I’ve lived long enough to know that life is more like a river than a straight line. It’s full of curves and rapids and long months or years where it feels just like you’re floating or stalled—either way, you’re getting nowhere fast.

So in 2019, I’m embracing the reality that I don’t have to have everything figured out. It’s OK to be unfinished, as this blog has always proclaimed. And while I have some goals for this year—reading more, getting to know my neighbors better, consistently studying Scripture, investing in the lives of people I love better, taking time to enjoy the things I love—I don’t have a 2019 plan of action.

And I’m OK with that.

All that to say, there are some things I know I want to do on the blog this year. I want to continue to highlight things I love: family, faith, writing, cooking, reading and the creative arts. I want to see if there are ways to work in more journalistic approaches to stories, maybe including profiles of people I know or meet. I want to take a deep dive into history and examine something or someone, to research and learn and write about it.

These are all unfinished ideas. But like I said, that’s always been the idea behind this blog. So here’s to a new year and a fresh start—and a hope to publish more here in 2019!

Benefit of the Doubt

Part of my job involves editing the quarterly alumni magazine for the University. This also means that for a few weeks after each issue hits mailboxes, I receive calls from all the people who want their names off the mailing list.

Usually, the people are polite and just inform me that the person on the mailing label no longer lives at that address or that their parent has passed away and no longer needs to be on the mailing list. I express my condolences or thanks, get the information, and pass it along to the person who manages the list.

Early last month, I got a call from a man who I assumed was calling for this reason after he introduced himself. I had my pen ready to take down his address.

Instead, his voice took on an angry tone and grew louder as he spoke. His ire wasn’t fueled by any content in the magazine. Instead, it was the mailing label that had angered him. Pause and consider that: the mailing label.

Addressed to both him and his wife, he was furious that we had addressed the magazine to his wife using the title “Mrs.” rather than a title that reflected her professional position.

A position we at the university were entirely unaware of.

(Note: people often assume that universities automatically receive address updates, death notices and promotion info. We don’t—not unless you tell us.)

I assured the man that using the title “Mrs.” was in no way meant to intentionally slight his wife, but it did little to calm him. He informed me that if we expected him or his wife to do anything for the university, we should give his wife her due. I explained again that there was no intention not to do that. It’s hard to address someone with a title you don’t know they have. I ended the conversation as amicably as I could and went on with my day, but I found myself thinking about it again and again.

I ended the conversation as amicably as I could and went on with my day, but I found myself thinking about it again and again.

In many ways, we’ve become a society that doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt. Like my caller, we assume that any discomfort, small mistake or slight that comes our way is intentional.

 

Not everything that seems like a slight or dig at you is intentional. That car that cut you off in the traffic on the way to work? Maybe she was late for a presentation and didn’t even see you. That email that seemed snarky and pointed? Maybe the writer was trying to be funny and didn’t realize that humor can be easily misconstrued when there aren’t facial or social cues to tip you off. That person who is being so hard to work with and seemingly making snide comments behind your back? Maybe he or she is going through something personally that you have no idea about.

Sure, sometimes we discover that some people are intentionally trying to be hurtful when their actions erase all doubt. But most of the time, do yourself and those around you a favor and give them the benefit of the doubt!

Book Review: Miller’s Valley

51wvFN1WeRL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite modern authors, and I picked up this book almost as soon as it hit the bookstore shelves.

In 2016.

I’ll let that sink in.

I started the book sometime last year, but lacking the time and mental capacity, I wasn’t really able to engage with it until the end of February. I’m glad I did.

I get that I’m predisposed to like anything Anna Quindlen writes. For some reason, her novels and characters tend to resonate with me. And Miller’s Valley described a small, rural town, and the long slide toward irrelevance. Eventually, the valley is flooded and becomes a recreation area.

These characters somehow seemed like people I know. Recognizable in the familiar faces of my hometown, where family farmers work hard to provide for their families in the way they always have but that our culture is quickly phasing out. Mimi, the driven girl who becomes a doctor and eventually comes back home. Mimi’s brother who goes to Vietnam and comes back different. A family tied to the land that had been in their line for decades. Aunt Ruth who can’t or won’t leave her small house behind Mimi’s and the dark secret she hides.

As an adult, I’ve learned how much my hometown has shaped and formed me. This novel delves into that, the idea of home, the importance of the place and the people who shape the adults we become. It made me cry; it made me laugh; it made me long to visit my hometown and fall into the patterns of the place that built me.

Quindlen’s descriptions are beautiful and poetic at times and none of the characters feel false or undeveloped. Except maybe Eddie, Mimi’s oldest brother, but that gets resolved later in the book.

And maybe that’s also on purpose. The book is told through Mimi’s eyes, starting when she is a child and ending when she is a mother and grandmother herself. So often as kids, we see the adults in our lives as one dimensional and only as we grow older do we begin to discover the nuances of them, the struggles, hardships, desires, hopes and dreams that have fueled and shaped them. And they become three dimensional, flesh-and-blood characters fighting their own battles each and every day that we were blind to for so long.

I think every Anna Quindlen book is worth the read, but this one touched me in a way maybe the others haven’t. Maybe it’s because I read it at a time when I’m undeniably a little homesick—not for my hometown exactly, but for the idea and ideal of it.

Things I Like: Podcast Edition

It’s probably well documented on this blog that I like podcasts. More often than not, I fill my drive to work or survive Nashville traffic on the way home with a podcast as my sidekick. I listen to a wide variety of podcasts, from ones that are designed to help me grow in my profession to quiz and game shows to longer form stories.

But there’s one playlist in my podcast app (I use Overcast, we’ll talk about that sometime, too, probably) devoted entirely to history podcasts. I’m a longtime listener to “Stuff You Missed In History Class,” and last Friday I discussed my love of “Slow Burn.” But I was served an ad while listening to “Slow Burn” that led me to a new favorite, “Backstory.”

170x170bb“Backstory” is a weekly podcast hosted by historians. The talk together for some of it, and there are interviews and guests. The hosts describe the podcast as going beyond the headlines to examine how today’s current events can be shaped by American history.

For example, for President’s Day, the hosts tackled the lives of presidents after they left office. I learned things about President Grant that I had never known.

I’m a big history nerd. I recognize that, but I’ve always been intrigued by the way the past informs the present and the future. This podcast delivers on that. It’s as if I’m sitting down with the hosts and having a conversation about history. Granted, they know way more than I do, but I feel smarter and entertained at the same time.

So, if you’re a fan of history, try it out. I’ve only listened to a few episodes, but it’s a refreshing take, and you’re sure to learn something along the way!

___________________________________________________________________________

website-President_Reagan_alone_in_the_Oval_Office_1984-1024x681Check out their latest episode:
Life After the Oval Office: Presidential Legacies.” 

Mac and the hidden food

Hey, guys! It’s me, Mac!

I finally wrestled this computer away from Mandy so I could write a little on the blog. I mean, I have things to say, too, and she’s not very share-y when it comes to this blog.

Is share-y a word? Yeah, whatevs. I’m a dog. I’ll say what I want.

So I wanted to tell you about this thing I’ve been doing that really confuses Mandy. It’s kind of fun to confuse her, so maybe that’s why I do it, but anyway. I eat this special canned dog food. Canned because I refuse to eat anything else and special because I have all these allergies, and I have to have a limited ingredient diet. I also take a pill for that every day. Mandy seems really conflicted that she has to buy a prescription allergy med for her dog, but who cares?! I certainly feel better.

Anyway . . . Mandy feeds me my food twice a day on a small plate thing. My favorite thing in the world to do is to try to bury my food. Sure, I’m inside and I’m tossing imaginary dirt on top of that food, but still, it’s fun. When I want to take it up a level, I like to take my toys and flip them on top of the food so I don’t have to look at it.

Mandy finds it so annoying and weird that I’m pretty certain she Googled it. I’m going to check the history on this browser just to see. She thinks it’s some innate dog behavior, that when I’m not necessarily that hungry or don’t want my food right now, I try to hide it so I can eat it later. Kind of a doggy food bank of sorts.

Let her believe what she wants. All I know is that now she has to figure out how to wash all that limited ingredient dog food off my Santa Claus squeaky toy and that makes me laugh!

While You Were Gone

So it’s highly likely you’ve noticed my absence of late.

Despite my best-laid plans—and handwritten content calendar—Unfinished Business came to a screeching halt last month when life got a bit busy. I work at a university, and we’re in the home stretch of the semester, on that final, frantic march toward graduation. It’s a busy time, even for those like me who don’t teach. In addition, I took on a freelance project and it’s my month to teach kindergarten Sunday School at my church.

So many things, happening all at once!

A lot of my life is like that these days.

Work is busy.

Life is busy.

As an Achiever (StrengthsFinders), I seem to continually create lists: laundry to do, groceries to buy, how long to work on my freelance project, rehearsals, and what I’m making for dinner.

I’m tired.

And I’m tired of being tired.

So for the next little while at the very least, I’ll be adding something else to my list: a commitment to take time each week to decompress and do something I enjoy. To recharge. To take care of myself.

To quote Frederick Buechner:

“Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.

And hopefully, I’m back!

Good Things 2.16.18

Truth be told, when I got up this morning, I didn’t really have any desire to write a blog post called “Good Things.” The school shooting in Florida, watching some friends try to help a child through a tough situation, not knowing how or exactly when to help people. . . it’s just been a heavy week. And I wondered if I even had any good things from the week to report.

Turns out, I do.

This blog series started as a way to practice thankfulness, and it turns out that sometimes thankfulness is something you have to continually do. It’s also sort of like a doctor practicing medicine—you have to do it when you feel like it and when you don’t.

And more than often, in those don’t-feel-like-it-times, He reveals even some of the smallest things you have to be thankful for. So here we go!

  • 636476776807162666-Slate-Slow-Burn-Podcast-ArtSlow Burn. At some point last week, a friend of mine was asking for podcast recommendations on Facebook. I’m always looking for new podcasts and she and I have similar interests, so I “listened in,” so to speak. Someone suggested “Slow Burn,” which is a Slate podcast about Watergate. It’s no secret that I like history—but I listened to the entire first season in a week. It’s well done and interesting and I may listen to it again on a long drive when the episodes won’t get so broken up by me getting to my destination. Next season will be about the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Can’t wait to listen to history I lived through!
  • Ceiling fans. So guys, I’ve seen it posted that Nashville hit 70-plus degrees yesterday. It was muggy and warm, but it’s also February and who is going to turn the a/c on? So all day long, the office was stuffy and uncomfortable. Last night, I thought my house was better. . . until I woke up at 4 a.m. and was hot and grumpy. Thank goodness for ceiling fans!
  • 1a29f2950c606cd99b1a380be15aa076--make-mistakes-lukAmazing amounts of Olympic coverage. So guys, back in the day, high school Mandy loved figure skating, particularly pairs figure skating. And my favorite pair of all time was Gordeeva-Grinkov from Russia. They first won gold on the Olympic stage in Calgary in 1988, which I don’t remember, but they won gold and my heart in Lillehammer in 1994. I loved them so much that I’m pretty sure they’re on a poster collage I made that hung on my bedroom door in my parents’ house for years. A year after that win, Sergei died on the ice while training in New York. I was heartbroken. I’ve kept up with Katia since then. My mom and dad bought me the memoir she wrote about her love story with Sergei. This year marks 30 years since their gold medal turn at the ’88 Olympics, so NBC Sports aired a retrospective talking with Katia and she and Sergei’s now-grown daughter, Daria. I missed the segment on Wednesday because I wasn’t at home, but thanks to Hulu and the backlog of Olympics coverage, I was able to watch it last night. Daria has Sergei’s smile and for some reason that makes me happy.
  • Doughnuts. It’s my coworker’s birthday and we’re having doughnuts. It doesn’t have to be much to excite me!
  • Hope. In days when it feels so dark, it’s good to know that hope is not lost. That my hope is in a Person (Jesus) and not circumstances.

“A finished person is a boring person.” Anna Quindlen