Tag: Reading Reflections (Page 1 of 5)

My favorite books of 2017

You lose a lot of reading time when you’re taking care of a baby — or at least I did. I read fewer than 10 books in 2017. I did read tons of articles, and several short stories, but still. It’s a little bit sad.

I think not reading as much also has a noticeable impact on my writing. Less input, less output. So lately I’ve trying to make reading more of a priority, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed each night.

Anyway, these were my favorite books in 2017, in order of when I read them:

   

I talked a bit about the three YA titles over at We Heart YA. Here, I want to share a few lines from HOMEGOING, a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved the characters, the themes, the back and forth “twin” structure. It’s brilliant and beautiful, powerful and moving. (I actually doubled over in agony at one point!) My top favorite of last year, no question.

It had created an impossible situation, and those who had been determined to stay on the fence found themselves without a fence at all.

Among other things, this line reminded me of the 2016 presidential election.

She was staring at the bark on the palm trees, the rounded diamonds crisscrossing against each other. Each one different; each one the same.

I love the simplicity of this image, and the beauty and truth of the observation.

“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”

That is something I really struggle with. I agonize over decisions, even dumb little ones sometimes, and if I later find out that a different choice would have been better, I have a hard time letting it go. What a useless way to spend my time and energy. And worse: it’s me undermining myself.

I’ve been working on it, though, and I think I’m getting better.

The word hit her like a memory. Though she had never been there, she could sense its presence in her life. A premonition. A forward memory.

love that phrase, “a forward memory.” I have had that feeling before, but never had a name for it. Such a strange and beautiful thing.

(Early in my relationship with Andy, we broke up. I remember so clearly this feeling in my gut that it wasn’t The End, that it couldn’t be. I just knew in my bones that there was supposed to be more to us, as if I had already seen it, already lived it. Happily, it turns out I was right.)

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in your world began as the evil in your own home.

Such a smart, important, and difficult truth.

“Just because somebody sees or hears or feels something other folks can’t, doesn’t mean they’re crazy. My grandmother used to say, ‘A blind man don’t call us crazy for seeing.'”

I never really thought of it that way, but it’s a good comparison. A good reminder of how and why to respect other people’s perceptions.


For previous years’ favorite books, click here.

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LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

I first read LANDLINE back in 2014, shortly before my wedding. This was intentional, as I knew the book focused on marriage — what it’s like and what it means. Not that I was totally clueless about those things. Andy and I had been together for 9 years already, and living together for the vast majority of that time. For us, the wedding was sort of a formality, albeit a joyful one.

Last year I re-read LANDLINE (the audiobook version this time) and found myself drawn to many of the same insights about love and commitment and building a life together.

She hadn’t gotten to say “I love you” — Georgie always said “I love you,” and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.

Andy says “I love you” to me every morning before he leaves for work. In some ways, it’s perfunctory. In same ways, it isn’t at all.

Georgie never thought she’d be old enough to talk about life in big decade-long chunks like this.

It’s not that she’d thought she was going to die before now — she just never imagined it would feel this way. The heaviness of the proportions. Twenty years with the same dream. Seventeen with the same man.

Pretty soon she’d have been with Neal longer than she’d been without him. She’d know herself as his wife better than she’d ever known herself as anyone else.

It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate. Commitments like boulders that were too heavy to carry.

It astounds me that Andy and I have already spent about a third of our lives together. Before long, it will be half. And then more than half…

Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

I actually think Andy feels even more this way about me than I do about him?

“Just because you love someone,” she said, “that doesn’t mean your lives will fit together.”

“Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen — because you love each other.”

“I’m not saying that everything will magically work out if people love each other enough… I’m just saying,” he went on, “maybe there’s no such thing as enough.”

Even though Andy and I have a pretty healthy and functional relationship, I try not to take it for granted. I try to remember that, as natural and “easy” as it feels now, getting to this point did take some work, and staying the course will too.

OK, I’m going to present the rest of these excerpts without my commentary. I think Rainbow’s words capture and convey everything all on their own anyway.

You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.

You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten — in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

She didn’t know at twenty-three.

“How’d you know he was the one?”

“I didn’t know. I don’t think either of us knew.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Neal knew — he proposed to you.”

“It’s not like that,” Georgie said. “You’ll see. It’s more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one — and then at some point, you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you’re right.”

“No one else describes it that way.” Heather frowned. “Maybe you’re doing it wrong.”

Obviously I’m doing it wrong,” Georgie said. “But I still think love feels that way for most people.”

“So you think most people bet everything, their whole lives, on hope. Just hoping that what they’re feeling is real.”

“Real isn’t relevant,” Georgie said, turning completely to face Heather. “It’s like… you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball. you love each other — and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”

“What’s the ball a metaphor for?”

“I’m not sure,” Georgie said. “The relationship. Marriage.”

“I take for granted that you’ll be there when I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing. I take for granted that you’ll love me no matter what.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Neal, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “I want you to take that for granted. I will love you no matter what.”

Georgie felt herself sliding out of control again. “Don’t say that. Take it back.”

“No.”

“Take it back.”

“You’re crazy,” he said. “No.”

“If you say that, it’s like you’re telling me that all the insensitive things I do are okay. It’s like you’re just handing me ‘no matter what.’ You’re pre-pardoning me.”

“That’s what love is, Georgie. Accidental damage protection.”

The future was going to happen, even if he wasn’t ready for it. Even if he was never ready for it.

At least he could make sure he was with the right person.

Wasn’t that the point of life? To find someone to share it with?

And if you got that part right, how far wrong could you go? If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?

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BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (part 2)

Bad FeministThe first set of quotes I highlighted from Roxane Gay’s BAD FEMINIST can be found here. They are, as one might guess, very feminism-focused.

This set, on the other hand, is more varied. Less political, I suppose, and more personal.

I am quite content to be in my thirties, and nothing affirms that more than being around people in their late teens and early twenties. (26)

First: I have loved every decade of my life, each for different reasons. Also: I’m only just beginning my 30s, so I’m hardly an expert.

But there does seem to be something different, more comfortable, about this era already. At 30, adulthood feels like a pair of shoes that I’ve finally broken in. I’m not playing dress up anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a work in progress. But I’m more the person that I want to be than ever before.

“Self-absorption is different from self-love.” (111, quoted from Diana Spechler’s novel SKINNY)

This struck a chord with me because I know a few people who don’t fully comprehend the distinction between these two things, or can’t cross the bridge from one to the other. (And perhaps I’m guilty myself at times.) It’s kind of ironic how much you can focus on the self, and it comes off as ego, when really it’s more reflective of a deep well of insecurity.

It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies move us through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient. (113)

I’ve gone through ups and downs with my body image over the years. (What young woman hasn’t?) Puberty is notoriously tough, but pregnancy has been surprisingly fraught too. My body is doing incredible things for my baby girl, and I am extremely grateful for how well it is “tolerating” pregnancy. (My OB’s words, haha, not mine.) But at the same time, my body has also morphed into something unfamiliar, seemingly overnight. And it continues to grow, becoming increasingly foreign and uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally.

In the end, the price cannot be separated from the gift, so I will pay it. I will even embrace it, for the strange and wonderful marvel that it is.

But I won’t pretend that it doesn’t also trouble me sometimes.

Just because you survive something does not mean you are strong. (144)

I like this as a counterpoint to the famous saying, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t think one is more true than the other; I just think it’s worth acknowledging that both are possibilities.

Too often, we fail to ask ourselves what sacrifices we will make for the greater good. What stands will we take? We expect role models to model the behaviors we are perfectly capable of modeling ourselves. (169)

I keep typing and erasing my thoughts in response to this quote. Obviously I haven’t quite sorted them out.

The one piece I can clearly express: The people I admire most tend not to look to others for greatness, but rather hold themselves to the highest standards, and constantly seek to improve.

We all have the capacity to do hurtful things, but we differ from one another in terms of scale — how much we can hurt others, how far we will go to make a statement about our beliefs, how remorseful we might feel in the aftermath of committing a terrible act. Most of us, if we are lucky, will only commit petty hurtful acts, the kinds of hurt that can be forgiven. (296)

This feels like a really important thing to understand. Basically: We are all capable of some degree of “evil.” But do we permit those weaknesses within ourselves, or strive to overcome them? Do we deny, or atone?

This is the modern age. When tragedies occur, we take to Twitter and Facebook and blogs to share our thoughts and feelings. We do this to know that maybe, just maybe, we are not alone in our confusion or grief or sorrow or to believe we have a voice in what happens in the world. (297)

Very true. And overall, I think it’s a positive thing — this sense of connection, this ability for everyone to have a platform. But it does come with drawbacks. Everything gets magnified, sometimes beyond recognition. I think we have to be careful not to just build an echo chamber around ourselves. And we have to be willing to listen and learn as much as we are eager to speak and be understood.

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BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (part 1)

Bad Feminist I read this book ages ago, and I’ve had two or three drafts with quotes from it sitting in my WordPress queue ever since. I keep thinking I need to add my own reactions or thoughts like I usually do, but whenever try to do so, I find myself thinking that Roxane Gay’s words are pretty close to perfect, and thus much more impactful on their own.

Feminism has helped me believed my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard. (x)

I believe women not just in the United States but throughout the world deserve equality and freedom but know I am in no position to tell women of other cultures what that equality and freedom should look like. (xii)

Discussions about gender are often framed as either/or propositions. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or so we are told, as if this means we’re all so different it is nigh impossible to reach each other. The way we talk about gender makes it easy to forget Mars and Venus are part of the same solar system, divided only by one planet, held in the thrall of the same sun. (96)

Disagreement, however, is not anger. Pointing out the many ways in which misogyny persists and harms women is not anger. Conceding the idea that anger is an inappropriate reaction to the injustice women face backs women into an unfair position. Nor does disagreement mean we are blind to the ways in which progress has been made. Feminists are celebrating our victories and acknowledging our privilege when we have it. We’re simply refusing to settle. We’re refusing to forget how much work there is yet to be done. We’re refusing to relish the comforts we have at the expense of women who are still seeking comfort. (102)

It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining thing. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly. (189)

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PLACES I STOPPED ON THE WAY HOME by Meg Fee

Places I Stopped On The Way HomeI link to Meg Fee’s blog occasionally, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned her ebook. It’s a short collection of essays about life and love in her 20s in New York City. It’s about home — leaving it, seeking it, creating it. Some of the essays started as blog posts on her site; some are brand new. All were thought-provoking and enjoyable to me.

A few notes from my reading:

“The female doesn’t want a rich or a handsome man or even a poet, she wants a man who understands her eyes if she gets sad, and points to his chest and says: Here is your home country.” – Nizar Qabbani

Those aren’t Meg’s own words, obviously, but it’s a good thesis, so to speak, for everything that Meg does say. And the qualities that she’s seeking in love and in a partner? I have them, with Andy.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky — between him and my parents — but I know what a difference it has made in my life.

The best people I know are comfortable with failure, willing to hang out in discomfort. They aren’t interested in looking cool or terribly concerned with fitting in. They understand the value of listening and are willing to apologize and admit wrong. They are engaged in the very active thing that is fighting for the life you want, and fighting for the love you think you deserve. And at the end of the day, when asked what they bring to the table, they know the answer.

This is the type of person I strive to be. Some days I succeed, some days I don’t. But hopefully the don’t days are getting fewer and farther between.

Occasionally I am rendered breathless by how much there is to look forward to.

I probably cry an average of once a day about something terrible that has happened in the world. And I worry. And I rage. But in spite of everything, there is still hope, joy, goodness, and endless possibility. That’s what we live for. That’s the how and the why. That’s everything.

And now, many months after I originally read and saved Meg’s words, that’s what I feel when I place a hand on my growing belly, and my baby girl moves inside me.

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