books + reading

Slow Jams Syllabus

There is a group of books that I keep checking out of the library, over and over again, without ever reading the book.

There’s a similar pile of books on the top shelf of my bedroom bookshelf, and a third group stacked on my bedside table.

These are books about interesting subjects, many of which are highly recommended by friends and the reading community at large.

But I haven’t been able to read them cover to cover.

Nor have I been able to simply move on, which I often do. I long ago resolved to never finish a book that I wasn’t enjoying. I used to feel compulsive about finishing books, even when I lost interest after only a few chapters. Now, I don’ worry about that at all. There are too many good books out there! There is no time to waste reading books that don’t capture me completely.

Yet – I still keep checking these same books out of the library. And I refuse to donate the pile of books in my bedroom to Ukazoo, my favorite used bookstore. I pick them up occasionally – I read a few chapters – and then I ultimately move on to another book.

What gives? And what do I do?

After considering this issue, I noticed that many of these books fit into categories; they are books about writing, parenting, and mindfulness. These are possibly the three subjects I care most about in my life currently.

So why don’t I read these books?

I think part of the reason why is that I don’t have as much reading time as I used to now that I’m a parent. And, related – I absolutely love reading fiction. I will always choose a compelling novel over a non-fiction book, every single time.

But – I still WANT to read these books! They’re on my list because I believe that they’re going to help my grow in my knowledge and my skills in some way. They’re on my list because I want to be a better writer, a more intentional parent, and a more successful meditation practitioner.

So this is what I’ve decided: I’m going to create a Slow Jams Syllabus. (I call these books Slow Jams, because I enjoy them, but don’t plow through them the way I did with all 13 of Louise Penny’s mystery novels.) It’ll be a syllabus, like in college – a list of required reading that I am requiring for myself.

I’m going to give myself a tentative “deadline” for completing the syllabus, although there is NO CHANCE I will stick to this goal if I start a book and find that it’s not as good as I thought it was. This is really all about ME – what I want to do and to learn, how I want to grow. So there’s no need to stick with it if it’s not working for me.

However – having a deadline will help me to be realistic about the not gonna happen factor. If I haven’t read one of these books by the end of 2019 – then it’s probably just not for me, and should be replaced by a title from the wait list. (Oh, yes – there is a wait list. SEE BELOW.)

Syllabus listed below. Happy reading!

Kerriann’s Slow Jams Syllabus (semi-required reading, to be read by January 2020)

No Drama Discipline, Daniel J. Siegel

Parenting From The Inside Out, Daniel J. Siegel

The Soul Of Discipline, Kim John Payne

Story Craft, Jack Hart

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, New York Writers Workshop

Writing To Change The World, Mary Pipher

Bestseller, Celia Brayfield

Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton (and many others)

Meditation Now Or Never, Steve Hagen

Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott

No Bad Kids, Janet Lansbury

The Wait List

Happiness Is An Inside Job, Sylvia Boorstein

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen

MBSR Every Day, Elisha Goldstein

Start Here Now, Susan Piver

The Happiest Kids In The World, Rina Mae Acosta

The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer

Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett

The White Album, Joan Didion

Bark, Lorrie Moore

Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn

books + reading · reading

Accidental Accomplishments #mind #body

It’s snowing in Maryland! The office is closed and I am holed up at home with a fire roaring and Teddy napping. I’m taking advantage of the unexpected playtime by listening to The Girl Next Door (my new favorite podcast!), writing, and reflecting on a few random things.

One of my favorite things so far in 2018 has been a new Facebook group I’m in called We Like Big Books and We Cannot Lie! It was started by a hilarious and wonderful friend of my sister, and it’s basically a big group of people who love books and reading and love talking about books and reading. I’ve gotten a ton of great recommendations for books I wouldn’t have even heard of.

As a result, I have read 26 books in 2018 so far. For me, THIS IS A LOT! (Now, two of            these were super-short books, and three were skimmed toward the end.  But the                other 21 were 100% legit!)

Reading a lot of books is not really a goal of mine, so this sort of happened by accident. But I think it helps that I’ve had an amazing group of people making recommendations and encouraging me to read outside my comfort zone.

One of my other unplanned accomplishments in 2018 so far is this: I have given up caffeine.

GASP.

I didn’t really plan on tackling this, but Tee decided to switch to decaf coffee to help with sleep, and I decided to join her. It was a tiny bit about solidarity and supporting Tee, but my decision to give it up was mostly because it gets uncomfortable being ‘addicted’ to a substance, even if that substance is caffeine. When I’d get stressed, I’d immediately reach for a diet Coke or a coffee. It got expensive and annoying; I don’t want to have to reach for something external to deal with internal anxiety or stress.

Additionally, I frequently had to reach for Tylenol PM to aid my sleep, if I drank too much caffeine during the day. Last night as I was falling asleep, I realized that it was several days since I’d had to reach for a sleep aid to help myself. I’ve been sleeping more deeply and waking up more easily.  It’s wonderful.

books + reading · reading

Inspired & Encouraged #ThankYouLouisePenny #mind #spirit

During the fall of 2017, Hillary Rodham Clinton was interviewed on my favorite podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.  She was featured on a bunch of podcasts right around that time; it was soon after her book, What Happened, was released.  It was bittersweet, listening to these interviews; HRC may be a complicated and flawed individual (aren’t we all?), but there’s no doubt in my mind that she would be a more competent leader than our current president.

However – that’s not why I’m mentioning HRC today.  The real reason she’s on my mind is that, in that September 2017 interview on CYG, she became one of my Reliable Book Recommenders.

I’ve blogged about this previously, but to restate: not everyone in your life is a Reliable Book Recommender.  I have amazing friends – best friends – who are readers, and have a lot in common with me, and yet are UNRELIABLE Book Recommenders.  Our taste in books just does not match up.

During the CYG interview, HRC mentioned being a fan of the Elena Ferrante novels, which I loooooved.  Moments later, she mentioned a different writer, someone I’d never heard of before: Louise Penny, a Canadian author who (according to HRC) had famously authored the Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery series.

Now, since HRC had endorsed the Ferrante novels, I knew we had at least some overlap in our reading tastes.  And I adore mystery novels – well-written ones, that is.  So I requested Louise Penny’s first novel, Still Life, from the Baltimore County Public Library.

Image result for louise penny still life

It’s five months later, and I recently finished the 13th book in the series.  OH MY GOSH I LOVE THESE BOOKS SO MUCH. Each book contains a murder mystery, but there’s a group of characters – Chief Inspector Gamache and his family, his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir; and a small circle of friends who live in a quaint village in the Quebec countryside called Three Pines – that are present throughout the series.  The murder mystery is usually interesting and compelling, but I find that I’m more intrigued by the staple characters than I am by the mystery Gamache is solving. Each character has a compelling back story, personality, and personal journey, and I really love spending time in Three Pines. When I finished Book 13, I was worried that it might be the last in the series; luckily, I started following Louise Penny on Facebook, and learned that Book 14 should be released sometime during 2018!

One of the reasons I have Louise Penny’s books on my mind is that I learned a little about her story.  She started writing full-time in her late thirties, and her first novel was published in her forties. I find this an inspiring, not depressing, timeline.  And, as I’m thinking more and more about working on a longer piece of fiction writing, I am very much in need of inspiring timelines!

As I sped through the Louise Penny books, I realized that if I want to write what I myself love, then I should write a series of mystery novels. I actually realized this as I was contemplating how sad I’d be if Book 13 were the last book in the series; I had the thought that if I really wanted another mystery series PRONTO, then I should write it myself. I’ve been giving it a try, but the idea of writing a good mystery is really intimidating! I mean, how do you come up with something that’s so clever that you can confound and perplex your readers? How do you DO that?! It seems even more egotistical than regular fiction writing. (My Inner Critic voice often says snarky things to me like, “Who the hell would want to read anything YOU wrote?”)

One of the things I am most excited about is that idea of creating a cast of characters that I can revisit again and again throughout a series. It means I don’t have to resolve everything in one book.  I think that will also help with my instinct to tie everything up with a bow at the end of a story or novel; if I know I’m writing a series, it can be more of a slow burn.

SO EXCITED. SO INSPIRED. SO ENCOURAGED.

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books + reading · reading · snapshots

SNAPSHOT #mind #soul

There are, once again, a million mini blog posts floating around in my brain and in my draft folder.  So, without further adieu, a list of random things I’m grateful for:

  • The mystery novels of Louise Penny.  SO FREAKING GOOD.  I started them in the fall (recommended by Hillary Rodham Clinton herself, who is so far a Reliable Book Recommender), and I read all thirteen by the beginning of 2018.  Plus, she announced recently that another book will come out this year.  Yay!
  • This quote from W. Kamau Bell’s book : “Being in my twenties was not helpful for my comedy development because I had nothing going on to talk about.  It wasn’t until I got to my thirties that I had real material.”  I have a constant voice in my head whispering that it’s too late to be a writer.  SHUT UP VOICE KAMAU SAYS NOW IS THE PERFECT TIME.
  • Finding time to meditate.  I’ve been working hard to remember to make time to meditate, and I’ve been doing pretty well.  This was one of my New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s really important to me that I keep it; I’ve been coming to terms with the knowledge that I’m a pretty anxious person, and I believe me26904349_1050168465122347_6526983749737775596_nditation will help me to calm my mind during those paralyzing anxious moments. I’m hoping that a little bit of discipline – sticking with a routine of meditating every day – will help me to increase my overall joy.
  • Rediscovering Buddhism.  I read Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen, about 15 years ago; that was my first introduction to Buddhism, and I loved it.  Now I’m reading another Hagen book, Buddhism Is Not What You Think, and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’m thinking about making a habit out of always having a spiritual book close by; sometimes just reading a few pages out of a book about meditation is enough to help me calm my mind.

Enough for now.  These posts are kind of a dumping ground for random thoughts, but my mind clears up after I write them, so – worth it.

books + reading · writing

On Writing #mind #heart

Why have I never read On Writing by Stephen King before now?stephen_king_on_writing

It’s phenomenal.  I picked it up at my local used bookstore, Ukazoo, a few months ago.  It’s the perfect read as NaNoWriMo 2017 approaches.  I’ve been alternately reading it and listening to the audiobook all week.

It’s good timing – picking up this book at this moment.

This week has been pretty excellent.  It’s been a reprieve from the chaos and the angst that have been plaguing me.  I did not obsessively look for jobs, evaluate career options, or reflect on my professional purpose.

It was a relief.  To have a day that was not dominated by obsessive seeking.

I’m not sure what’s been different.  Tee and I had a long talk on Saturday about my job hunting, which gave me some clarity.  The exact visualization of “what I want” keeps changing.  But just for today – it feels really good to set job hunting aside, to accept what I’m currently doing, and to start getting excited again about writing.  Which is what I wanted to do most in the world when I was ten years old.

Here are my takeaways (some paraphrased) from On Writing:

-Write for you.  Then REWRITE for others, taking out everything that’s not the story. (“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”)

-“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why yimages (1)ou cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

-“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill,one of the prime reasons you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

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-“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

-“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

-“Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

This was way too many quotes.  I restrained myself or there would be way more.