Category: Reading/Writing Page 1 of 86

Two very different musicals

Andy and I recently saw the touring production of Les Miserables, which is one of his favorite musicals. A few years ago when he was traveling overseas a lot for business, he would often play the Hugh Jackman movie version — or even just that soundtrack — in the background while doing work on his laptop. Thank you, Delta in-flight entertainment.

I love Les Mis too, in part because I grew up listening to it at my best friend Alex’s house. We would play the Original Broadway Recording on CD, as a lullaby when going to bed, or sometimes as an accompaniment to our make-believe games.

“On My Own,” sung by the character Eponine, holds a special place in my heart, and is possibly the ultimate ballad about unrequited love. I remember singing it to myself often during middle school. My locker was right next to my crush’s, thanks to alphabetized assignments. Hopefully he never heard me humming it under my breath.

As with everything these days, I watched Les Mis through a new lens this time. Now being a parent, I identified so strongly with Valjean’s love for Cosette, his desire to do what would make her happy, even if it put him in danger, or took her away from him.

I also found myself noticing and appreciating new things, like how the same two or three riffs dominate the music, coming in and out, like themes weaving through the story. And in fact, the songs do parallel the way that the plot winds back on itself at times, with all its “twists,” the characters crossing paths with each other in so many different iterations. These “coincidences” could feel melodramatic, like a bad soap opera, but they don’t, because the story is grounded in history, social commentary, and emotional truth.

Also a musical, but completely opposite in tone, is the new TV series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It’s kind of like a grown-up Glee. (Or at least, the first couple seasons of Glee, which were great. I stopped watching after that.) The main actress, Jane Levy, is remarkably charming, and the supporting cast is solid too. As you can probably tell from the bright colors, it’s an overall upbeat show, but there’s a streak of somberness — primarily in the storyline about Zoey’s dad — that adds unexpected depth. Exactly what I seek in my entertainment these days: optimism and heart.

Only four episodes have aired so far, but I find myself eagerly awaiting more.

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Favorite books of 2019

I was very pleased with my pace of reading in the first half of 2019, averaging 3 books a month! Then in the second half, after my son was born, I read exactly 0, haha. Oh well.

Out of 18 books, not a single one was a dud. I think because, with my time being so constrained, I’ve had to get more savvy — or maybe more ruthless — in my reading choices. Regardless, these were my favorites:

ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW was a deftly written personal examination of race, adoption, and motherhood. Completely my jam. I plan to do a “Reading Reflections” post on it later this year.

THE LAST BEST STORY was also completely my jam, but in a different way. A teen rom-com featuring two high school newspaper nerds, with witty dialogue and great character depth.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is a dense but straightforward guide for people who want to do better. I appreciated how practical it was, and I felt like I could immediately make use of things that I learned from it.

And finally, OTHER WORDS FOR HOME is the third published novel by my dear friend Jasmine Warga, and I truly think she has leveled up once again. Told in verse, this book is the story of a young girl forced to leave her home in Syria and make a new one here in America. Full of insight and emotion, humor and heart.

As for 2020, I’m off to a slow start, but I know that as my son gets older and eventually joins his sister at daycare/school, I’ll get my reading time back.

Click here for previous years’ favorites.


My husband’s love of reading continues to flourish, and I take great pleasure in having helped to foster that. It’s so fun to talk about books and authors with him now — and about the thoughts they inspire, and the way various stories intersect with our lives.

These were his favorite reads of 2019:

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EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME by Natalia Sylvester

It has been months since I read this book, but I can still vividly recall so much of it. Beautifully written without being overwrought, the story is full of insights about family, love, immigration, aging, and more. My copy is littered with Post-It flags marking favorite passages. 

This book also happens to be written by my friend Natalia Sylvester, who I greatly admire for her talent, her intelligence, her kindness, and her advocacy.

“You’ll grow slowly, and then all at once.”

“Remember how you used to blow bubbles into your drink through a straw? That’s how the first few kicks will feel.”

“After you give birth, every inch of you will be exhausted and in pain except for your heart.”

“When he cries, remember your body used to be his whole world. Cherish the moments he cries for you, but let him go a little more each day.”

This rings so true to my experiences with pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. A good reminder, as I approach the arrival of my second child.

“Who do you think he’ll be like?” he had asked Elda that day at the hospital. “More you or me?”

“Both. And neither. I think that’s the whole point,” she’d said.

So many people — including myself — like to play this game with children. Who are they more like, mom or dad? Well she’s got mom’s eyes, but dad’s nose. Or dad’s stubbornness, and mom’s fondness for sweets.

But what I find so amazing now — watching my own daughter grow up, as well as my friends’ kids — is how the combination of two people creates something entirely new and unique. IB is not a mini-me or a mini-Andy. She’s herself. More and more each day.

“‘Some people have holes in their hearts not even time can fill, but that doesn’t mean they’re broken.'”

Beautiful and true.

Isabel wondered if wanting to be happy for someone counted as being happy for them.

Intentions versus reality. I’m necessarily not proud to say, I’ve felt this gap in my own emotions many times. Less so, the older I get. But still.

“Decisions are not the same as choices.”

I don’t know if I ever contemplated that distinction quite so clearly before, but I thought about it a lot after reading this line.

Sometimes you have to make a decision even when all your choices are bad. Sometimes you have to make a decision even when you have no choices at all.

“I’m proud of you,” he said.

“For what? I haven’t done anything yet.”

“You’ve done everything. You are everything.”

In a society that often seems obsessed with accomplishment, this feels like such a radical expression of love and worth. It really affected me.

Grief is never really gone; it is just a darkness you eventually adjust to.

Grief is one of the themes of my work-in-progress, so I’m always interested in how other people experience and describe it.

“Life is shit, but it’s fucking beautiful.”


I also really enjoyed this: “Can You Just Trust That We’re Human? The Millions Interviews Natalia Sylvester”

There is so much responsibility to writing. Even when you’re saying, I just want to write a book that’s fun for someone. A book can have the power, while being entertaining, to change how a person thinks or lay the groundwork for it or make them say, “I never thought of that before. Let me delve into that a little more.” So, it’s something that needs to be done very carefully. I know there’s some resistance to that, as if it’s telling someone what to think. People tend to react against it as if it’s censorship.

This is art, but it’s a powerful art, and so how about wielding it well? It’s about the craft, too. It’s going to make all of the book stronger. In the revision, it’s a step back, of thinking, what am I trying to say and what have I said? You can never know completely, obviously, because people are going to interpret everything a lot of different ways, but you try to do your best.

On her exploration of immigration, both as a writer and as an immigrant herself:

You leave a whole country, you leave your home. Immigration also means a death. You’re leaving one life for another. You’re ending this whole life and existence that you had in order to hopefully live this new one. So, what’s the tradeoff. What’s lost in that trade?

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Books, motherhood, and time

From “Boyhood on a Shelf” by Barbara Mahany:

That’s what reading together in childhood does: It forever binds us. My two boys, born eight years apart, played with their toys alone. Reading was where we nestled, where we sank in deep, side by side. Books are where our hearts did so very much of their stitching together. And they were my guideposts as a mother; they whispered the lessons I prayed my children would learn: Ferdinand, the gentle bull? Be not afraid to march to your own music. Harry Potter? Believe in magic. The tales of Narnia? Defend what is good. Tom Sawyer? Roam and roam widely. And never mind if you tumble into a slight bit of mischief.


I remember my mother reading to me. For some reason, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and A Castle in the Attic stick out the most in my mind. But I know she started our nighttime reading years before either of those, with classics like Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss. My memories are hazy flickers of a candle’s flame. It’s not the sound of her voice that lingers decades later, but the feeling of being read to, and cared for. The feeling of shared discovery, as the stories unfolded before both of us at the same time.

It is interesting, and wonderful, to be on the other side of that now.

We started reading to IB almost as soon as she was born. Ridiculous, maybe, but oh well. First, it was simple board books with black and white illustrations. Then, little stories with cute rhymes. Now, we can tackle more complex picture books, with layers of meaning for all ages to appreciate.

I imagine we will do the same with RB, when he gets here. (Oh, by the way, I am pregnant again.) I very much look forward to reading to him too, and to her and him together.

I wonder which stories they will remember the most when they’re adults. I wonder what shape their memories will take.


From “How I Rebuilt My Childhood Library, Book by Book” by J. Courtney Sullivan:

When you’re dealing with used books that once belonged to children, even those listed as “like new” are worn. A stray crayon mark or a torn page is not a sign of neglect, but of love.

With the arrival of every volume, I’d get a thrill, remembering. Not just the book itself, but what it meant to read it under the covers with a flashlight, or on the back porch of our house…


In the publishing industry, there’s a lot of talk about how books are not in competition with other books — at least not truly or solely. They are in competition with movies, TV shows, apps, social media, etc.

Now that I’m a mother, and my time and energy feel much more limited, I understand this more than ever. At the end of the day, after I’ve put IB to bed, and daytime’s obligations have either been finished or saved for tomorrow, I have about an hour or two to myself. I typically spend the first thirty minutes “resetting” the house — cleaning dishes, putting away toys, etc. Then it’s my time to “relax.”

Relaxing should be easy, right? And what could be easier than surfing the internet or watching TV? Or scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds? So those are the places I turn to first. The places where my mind can go a bit blank, usually.

But I don’t find fulfillment there. I don’t gain much if any nourishment from those things. Mostly when I close my laptop or put down my phone, I feel as if I’ve lost more than I’ve gained.

I don’t like that feeling.

Maybe “easy” isn’t always worth the tradeoff.

I want to read more. I want to write more.

And what’s stopping me?

Nothing at all.

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My favorite books of 2018 (and Andy’s too)

I managed to read a few more books this year than last, so I’m happy about that. I mean, quality over quantity, yes. But as I’ve said before, my reading affects my writing. It’s important to me that I fill my creative well.

Because a lot of my favorite reads this year fall under the Young Adult category, I talked about them over in our annual roundup at WeHeartYA.com.

And I have so many highlighted quotes from EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME that I plan to do a Reading Reflections post on it soon.

So the only other thing I want to say here is that it was a great joy to read and truly adore so many books written by friends. (Jasmine Warga, Ingrid Palmer, Natalia Sylvester.) A joy, and an inspiration. And a trend that I hope continues for the rest of my life.

You can see my favorite books from previous years here.


A few years ago, I challenged Andy to read at least two works of fiction a year, as a way of supporting my industry. (The same way that our household supports his, by buying the products his company makes.) Warily, he agreed.

Somehow, over the years, this little challenge has morphed into a personal habit, and he now reads an average of two books per month. It’s amazing!

This year, he asked if he could be included in my annual roundup, and I thought that would be super fun. So here are Andy’s favorite books from 2018…

And his full reading list:

Killers of the Flower Moon – David Grann
Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
Artemis – Andy Weir
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
Exit West – Mohsin Hamed
Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate
The House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea
Awayland – Ramona Ausubel
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
Circe – Madeline Miller
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
The Map of Salt and Stars – Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
There There – Tommy Orange
The Good Son- You-jeong Jeong
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – Ellen Oh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh
The Third Hotel – Laura van den Berg
Severance – Ling Ma
She Would Be King- Wayetu Moore
The Wildlands – Abby Geni
The Clockmaker’s Daughter – Kate Morton
The Witch Elm – Tana French
All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung
Those Who Knew – Idra Novey
Once Upon River – Diane Setterfield
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs – Steve Brusatte

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