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It has been a year, y’all. There’s no way a list can capture it all, but here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

  • run miles and miles through my beloved neighborhood of Eastie, mostly in the mornings before work
  • knitted myself a pair of gloves, a cozy headband and two sets of legwarmers
  • lived in leggings, jeans, Allbirds sneakers, scarves and my green coat (see above)
  • discovered volunteer ushering and leaned hard into it
  • returned to Vermont, and adventured to western MA and the North Shore, with my guy
  • spent a couple of sweet solo weekends in NYC
  • delighted in hearing and promoting our young people’s music at ZUMIX
  • made lots of chickpea curry, ratatouille, black bean soup and other simple meals
  • drunk hundreds of cups of tea
  • spent a sweet Thanksgiving with my guy
  • interviewed several authors for Shelf Awareness
  • read roughly 230 books
  • done a lot of yoga, mostly at The Point
  • sung in a local carol choir for the fourth year
  • said goodbye to my beloved Darwin’s
  • written a couple of pieces for ACU Today
  • spent a little time in Texas
  • hosted my parents for their first joint visit to Boston since 2018
  • continued to savor my writing class on Tuesdays
  • worked the polls again, twice
  • gone to the movies alone (and with my guy)
  • helped pull off the ZUMIX Gala and Walk for Music
  • started a newsletter
  • done a “Southwest tour” to visit friends in Arizona and California
  • become a regular at the Eastie library
  • published a couple of essays online
  • gone back to some local museums
  • been to Portsmouth, Amherst and Westerly with my girl Jackie
  • taken a salsa dancing class
  • been to my first Comic-Con
  • survived having COVID
  • attended a number of outdoor concerts here in Eastie
  • seen both the Indigo Girls and the Wailin’ Jennys in concert (!!)
  • loved All Creatures season 2 and Magpie Murders
  • turned 39
  • tended geraniums, a fern, an African violet, paperwhite bulbs and cherry tomatoes
  • tried my best to pay attention, love my people and be brave and true

What has this year looked like for you?

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Last week, I finished up the set of books I’d been reading: a fun Star Wars novel; a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about Partition in India/Pakistan; a Filipino-America cozy mystery; and a biography of a female Icelandic sea captain. I thoroughly enjoyed all these stories (plus my fall reread of Anne of Windy Poplars).

As I wrote my bite-size reviews for this blog, I found myself on the hunt: not only for my next book, but the next incarnation of my reading mix. For a long time, especially since I started reviewing books for Shelf Awareness, I’ve been a multiple-books-at-a-time kind of girl.

There are a few reasons for this. One: my Shelf books have deadlines, whereas the books I read purely for pleasure can allow for – even require – lingering. Two: some books can’t (and shouldn’t) be plowed through in a few days. I like to take my time with thoughtful nonfiction, or with a meaty novel that I need some time to digest. Three: I need something very gentle for bedtime reading – either a reread of an old favorite or a cozy, warmhearted story that will in no way give me nightmares.

Fourth, and maybe most important: I love what the reading mix does for my brain.

Our brains work differently in reaction to various kinds of stories; we process factual accounts differently than a fictional story, and we take distinct insights from reading disparate genres. Some forms of writing, like a fast-paced YA adventure, are meant to be read quickly, immersively. Some, like poetry, quietly insist on slow and reflective reading. Different genres and topics feed varied parts of our minds and souls; they make us question, reflect, protest, laugh and cry, or sigh with happiness. I feel most mentally balanced and nourished when my book “diet” includes a mix of genres and formats.

My review work helps me in choosing a mixture at any given time. Since I review multiple genres, I’m often working on a novel and some nonfiction for the Shelf at the same time. But I’m also always reading a novel or two for fun, and I pick up interesting nonfiction, like Joyful (above) or The Art of Gathering (more recently). I frequently seek out YA or middle-grade, which I don’t review; and I love a book of poetry or luminous essays when I can squeeze it in. (At the moment, What Wildness is This – a collection of nature essays by women about the American Southwest – is marvelous morning reading.)

I do my best to include authors of color and/or stories featuring a wide range of characters and settings, though I admit I often gravitate toward stories by and about white women who share some of my experiences. I think seeking out diverse books – more of which are available than ever before – helps us grow as readers and as human beings, but it’s also both fascinating and a lot of fun.

The latest incarnation of my reading mix includes that essay collection; Priya Parker’s thoughtful book on how we gather; a fun Regency romp set in London; a middle-grade novel; a British rom-com; and some other books I’ve yet to discover. I love the way these books can interact with each other in my reading life. And I’ll keep seeking out the mix – and changing it up – for as long as it works for me.

Do you read multiple books at once? Do you pay attention to your reading mix?

P.S. The second issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for December!

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If you know me, you probably know that I usually have several books going at once: at least one for review at Shelf Awareness, a fun or meaty novel, some thoughtful nonfiction, a middle-grade or YA novel, maybe a memoir or some poetry. (These categories often overlap.)

I love reading this way: I have maintained for years that different books feed different parts of my brain. I’m a fast reader, and can blow through a medium-sized novel in a day or two if I want to. But I’ve been thinking lately about another kind of reading: the slow kind that creates space.

Earlier this summer, I picked up What Comes From Spirit, a collection of short selected pieces by Canadian Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. I’ve been lingering over it, reading a piece or two in the mornings, trying to let the words sink in before I dash off (sometimes literally) to start the day. It isn’t always Wagamese, of course: sometimes it’s Mary Oliver, or a piece from an essay collection, or flipping through a beloved book on writing.

I like taking my time with writing like this: slower and contemplative, with more spaces between the words. I am (generally) in no rush to finish these books and check them off a list; I find the slower pace helps them sink in more deeply. And it’s a nice contrast, sometimes, to racing through a fast-paced spy novel or YA romance.

Do you read books at different speeds? I’m curious to hear!

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Detective stories “dream of justice,” Peter Wimsey noted long ago. I love following strong, determined female sleuths as they hunt for clues, navigate their own lives, search for truth and peace. 

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As is my wont, I started reading about running before I ever became a runner (though reading about it did not directly spur me to take up running). I remember enjoying Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, mostly for its rambling style and the Boston setting, years before I fell in love with the sport. But the books I’ve read about running in the last few years have, not surprisingly, resonated much more deeply.

I picked up Catriona Menzies-Pike’s memoir The Long Run (above) at the library not long after I started running. I loved it so much I read it again this winter. She weaves the history of women’s running together with her own experiences as a runner. Like me, she’s a writer who never expected to take up running; also like me, she has run after (and through) some serious life upheaval. Her writing is lovely and lyrical, shot through with grit and wry humor, and a dose of straight-up feminism. I love this book.

Katie Arnold’s memoir Running Home came across my desk for Shelf Awareness when I’d been running for about a year. It is about her struggle to find a place for herself, her love of trail running in the American West, her relationship with her dad, and so much more. I run differently than Arnold (who is now an ultramarathoner) but I loved so much of what she had to say. She is a thoughtful, engaging writer, a devoted daughter and warmly, utterly human.

I’ve read a few other books on running, mostly memoirs, which you can find on my Goodreads shelf. But these two are the standouts, so far. Anyone have other running-book recs? I’m all ears.

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This is the summer of simple breakfasts: Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries in the blue-and-white bowls I bought from Carolyn. I eat sitting at my kitchen table, sipping ginger peach or English Breakfast from one of my favorite mugs.

This is the summer of morning pages: filling up slim notebooks with scribbled thoughts, jottings, worries, hopes, half-remembered dreams. I went to Bob Slate right when quarantine started and spent a small fortune on journals, which have lasted up until now.

This is the summer of morning runs, down the hill to the harborwalk and over to the greenway, pausing to snap photos of harbor views and herons, wild roses and day lilies.

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This is the summer of purple sneakers pounding on pavement, I’m With Her or the Highwomen in my ears, pulling up my neck gaiter when I pass another person, wishing I could stop to pet the friendly dogs.

This is the summer of masks: wearing, washing, pulling up and down, wondering if I should buy more, on repeat.

This is the summer of long bike rides, alone or with G on my new single-speed pink bike, gradually gaining confidence in hills and corners, thankful for a way to avoid public transit and be out in the sunshine.

This is the summer of missing normal: canceled plans, Zumix concerts in the park, dinner with friends, time with my family, hugs.

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This is the summer of Sara Paretsky: I’m deep into V.I. Warshawski’s adventures fighting crime in Chicago and I think it’s safe to say I am obsessed.

This is the summer of Tuesdays at the farmers’ market, buying salsa roja and berries and sometimes hummus or muhammara, from the handful of sellers who wait faithfully on the plaza. After we shop, we sit in the grass and snack, savoring tart currants and sweet strawberries before heading our separate ways, toward home.

This is the summer of so much time and feeling like I should be doing something with it.

This is the summer of yoga in the park, spreading my mat out a safe distance from everyone else and breathing through sun salutations and hip openers.

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This is the summer of light on the water, watching sailboats and dinghies and yachts on the harbor, marveling at how it changes from hour to hour.

This is the summer of antiracist reading: Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, Mildred D. Taylor and Nikki Giovanni, making a conscious effort to seek out stories by people who don’t look like me.

This is the summer of Downeast cider – no samples, but cans or growlers picked up to go, refreshing fruit flavors with a little bite.

This is the summer of serious loneliness, trying to build in phone chats and/or in-person connection every day. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s simply exhausting.

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This is the summer of smoothies at Eagle Hill Cafe, a new favorite in Eastie – I’m working my way through their smoothie list.

This is the summer of reading e-galleys for review; I still don’t like it but I am used to it by now. I am thankful to pick up physical books at the library, and drop in at my favorite bookstores occasionally.

This is the summer of waiting: for the pandemic to be over, for my unemployment to come through (finally), for news about my furlough status, for a time when we can gather without fear.

What does this summer look like for you?

 

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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I posted this book stack the other day on Instagram – it was/is the result of a quick scan of my shelves, pulling off books by black authors that have been (for me) powerful and thought-provoking. Some are longtime favorites, some newer discoveries.

Like any book list, it is only a small beginning. I am reading and listening to black voices on social media: Osheta Moore, Austin Channing Brown, Well-Read Black Girl. I am ordering and placing library holds on books by black authors. I signed a NAACP petition calling for an independent investigation into the murder of George Floyd, and broader police reform. I donated to my local bail fund after more than 50 protesters were arrested this weekend in Boston.

None of this is “enough” or gets me off the hook for doing more. I share what I’ve been doing because so many of us white folks don’t know where to start. But we have to start, if we haven’t already. Until everyone is able to thrive in this country, the work will not be done. And we have to look hard at our own hearts – our biases and hesitation and fear – because the real work happens internally, too.

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Most of y’all know I’m a longtime reviewer for Shelf Awareness (best. gig. ever). That usually means I get a delicious stack of print advance copies to try out every month. But due to the pandemic, my last stack of physical ARCs arrived in mid-March. (Shortly after that, the stay-at-home orders came down, and many publicists and editors – including mine – couldn’t get to their offices to distribute books.)

Since we usually read two to three months ahead (those books I got in March all had pub dates for May, though some of them have been pushed back), we had to shift to e-galleys quickly. I was (am) not a fan of this idea: I love physical books, their heft and feel and smell, and I also don’t want one more reason to scroll on a screen. But my sister has lent me her long-disused Kindle Fire, and after several weeks of denial/procrastinating/avoiding reality, I finally have it set up for digital reading. (I’m requesting books through both Netgalley and Edelweiss, and the experience in both places has been mostly fine.)

It’s not as good as a “real” book, and I’m still reading physical books when I can: either rereading old favorites or working through my long-unread stacks. But the e-reader experience is much better than scrolling through files on my laptop, and it means I can still do the freelance work I love.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it’s not what I would have chosen, but here we are. I am (simultaneously) frustrated, trying to make the best of it, and intensely grateful that these are my problems.

Are you reading digitally in these strange times – or do you normally? Any tips?

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Like a lot of readers, I have a stack or two (or five) of unread books around the house at any given time. They are library books, advance copies for my review gig, gifts or loans from friends, books I’ve bought but haven’t picked up yet. And some of them tend to linger for months.

About three weeks into quarantine, when I was really missing the library, I decided to tackle one book from these stacks every week. I bought or borrowed all these books because I thought I’d enjoy them, and now that I’m not able to browse the shelves at the library, I can give them some attention.

I started with Ivan Doig’s wry, wonderful novel The Whistling Season, and moved on to a comics collection my guy had lent me. I tried a book of poetry (which did not stick, for now), and am slowly making my way through A Fine Romance, an illustrated travelogue my friend Kate sent me. I have been loving Mardy Murie’s memoir of her life in Alaska, Two in the Far North, and am hoping to find some other gems in the stacks as I keep going.

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This is good for my wallet, since I am just as tempted as usual to buy stacks of books from my favorite indie bookstores. It’s good for my brain, which relishes different kinds of books, and is particularly craving absorbing nonfiction right now. And it’s good for my sense of accomplishment – no small thing in these strange days.

What (and how) are you reading these days?

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