audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

anxiety, audiobooks, books, meditation, reading

Audiobooks: A Cure for (my) Road Rage

I’m a Lake Woebegone driver: better than average, and I know it for absolutely certain. Some of you who may have doubts as to how much anger this librarian actually holds in reserve, sitting in my passenger seat as I drive from red light to red light past the strip malls of  Route 1 would give you all the proof you needed that I have given myself an apt name. The fury I dredge up on the road heats itself from only two sources: lack of safety and lack of consideration. Of course, when driving a 2,000 pound vehicle in New Jersey, there are plenty of combinations of them both.

During grad school in particular, my road rage escalated. I was taking a full-time course load, working two on-campus jobs, and driving down Route 1 to a third. Among New Jersey drivers… The anger that I felt (and still feel) when the driver in the car ahead of me goes under the speed limit is the emotional equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, because I am no-passing trapped and likely going to be late. Like, come on man/lady/fellow human, why do you need to make me hate you? I don’t know you! I would like to like you, but I DO know that I need to get where I’m going and I didn’t allot sufficient additional time in my day to do so!

Note: this impatience is doubled during what some states call “extreme weather events,” or what THIS Midwesterner calls “rain” and “snow.” I understand that when it is raining, you do not want to tailgate someone, but it does not mean to drive 10mph slower. Barring a typhoon or broken wiper blades, these conditions occur OFTEN and SHOULD BE familiar to you.

Is this starting to feel like I am a compassionless know-it-all who lacks empathy for my fellow earthlings? Are you saying to yourself, “maybe the person is a new driver! Or maybe they are elderly!” Yes? I actually don’t know that those two exceptions make any difference to my opinion, because I generally think that if you cannot handle driving under safe and considerate conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that this level judgment and anger, not to mention the muscle clenching, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate that occur simultaneously, just aren’t good for me.

Enter: audiobooks.

I cannot emphasize enough the magical soothing effects of listening to a story or learning about an interesting topic, often read by the person who actually wrote the book. Focusing on the book’s content occupies the portion of my brain responsible for being cranky and annoyed. Listening to books as I drive also makes me feel uber-productive, because I’m making progress in consuming ALL THE BOOKS while doing something repetitive and boring I had to do. #winning #nerdalert

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and mentioned many favorites in My Best Books of 2017 but let me take this moment to shine a little light on another one I read before last year.

DH

10% Happier by Dan Harris made me think about meditation for the first time without rolling my eyes. I knew a thing or two about pushing my own limits, and about racing thoughts and often uncontrollable anxiety and anger. Listening to Dan’s newscaster voice was great, and his dedication to sticking with meditation impressed me. It impressed me because at no point during my time with his story did I attempt to meditate at all. I just thought, “huh. Meditation makes him 10% happier; that would be cool” and after I downloaded one app (Stop. Breathe. Think.) that had a meditation to help me fall asleep, I carried on my merry (or fuming) path of least resistance.

Enter 2017, a year I have most frequently seen referred to as a “dumpster fire.” Personal stuff and the news made me unhappy, and when I reached my 30th birthday, I knew I had to change something. There are plenty successful, well-adjusted people out there, some in my circle, who are not overcome by the news. They consume the same information as I do, feel just as strongly about it, but do not immediately spray obscenities into their surroundings, nor spike their blood pressure. I needed to be more measured.

I read another book: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

AP

This time…. I also didn’t do any of the suggested “practice” meditations as I read. But, I did put language to what I wanted: I want to control my emotions so that they don’t rule me.

It took pushing myself to attend a Kundalini yoga/meditation workshop at a local studio before I actually did meditate. And dang, people. It is not as hard as I thought. I don’t have to clear my mind or check in with every part of my body like I had always thought (and read). I just sit there and breathe (okay, okay, it is slightly more complicated than that). But it IS all in my head, all the roadblocks and the solutions. And the few minutes I set aside give me something to be proud of every day: I took the time to check in, to refocus, to decompress and lower my blood pressure. I took steps toward being one of those calm, cool people who don’t fly off the handle at the sound of 45’s voice.

I won’t start preaching, but I do think that we the (stressed) people need to take care of ourselves, and that meditation can help. It’s January and I’m still on the New Year/New Me train, but from here on out, I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to portray myself as a Pollyanna full of sunshine and rainbows. I just want to be 10% happier and re-gain my “edge.” Nerd/active citizen power!

And, if audiobooks and/or meditation and/or reading books about it still sound too hard, there are always tweets from the Dalai Lama.

Breathe easy, y’all. And leave 10 minutes earlier 🙂

audiobooks, books, lists

Best books of my year

To be honest, I don’t usually write recommendation lists at the end of the year, except for my Aunt Sandy, who sometimes asks me to recommend books around Thanksgiving or Christmas. She is a delightful human and I like being asked for recommendations for books I’ve already read. Much harder is recommending books for people who don’t have my same taste, so… here, in my first attempt at a year-end roundup, I will avoid the challenging task and do the one easiest to me. That’s the privilege of having your own blog and not working at a public-facing desk!

Note: these were not all published this year. As is a running theme in my overall life and specifically my reading life, I often operate on a delay, reading bestsellers from three years ago because I can safely do so away from all the ‘popularity,’ and form my own opinion about a book. [Spoiler alert: I usually love them, so waiting to read them was just a pretentious waste of time when I could have been reading and enjoying it earlier.] I also am on a delay because I mainly get my books from libraries (shocker!) and sometimes wait a little bit longer because there is a queue and I don’t mind waiting for a FREE BOOK. MY POINT BEING: don’t get mad at me that I’m recommending books that aren’t brand new and trending.

Unless you and I don’t agree on politics, if one sounds like you might possibly like it and you only read one book this whole year, I think you’ll be happy that you picked the one you did.

Best of my 2017

Audiobooks (because if you aren’t listening to audiobooks at this point, you should try one):

 

 

  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty– turned into an HBO series, but I didn’t watch it. I listened to this too, and Moriarty is Australian so the reader is too! It made me want to drive all the time so I could listen to it. It’s a whodunit, mixed with family dramas and is SO GOOD.
  • Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman – I never really cared for John Hodgman or thought he was funny, and I have now been proven wrong. I laughed out loud the entire time. Not the part about his mom who died; that part made me cry, but the entire rest of the book was entertaining and self-aware and hilarious. Great essays and insight. Necessary reading if you love the East Coast.
  • Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard – as  you will learn, I love books that make me laugh and are deep in the same breath. Eddie Izzard reading this book was everything I could have wanted. There was a whole separate book in the footnotes that he added on to the book text, so don’t read it– listen to him tell you about his amazing life. I love his standup, and his personality, and ugh five stars.
  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – I realize this appears to be a political choice given the controversy around him right now, but it was really good. I apparently like listening to books on politics (see next 2).
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders – I’m listening to this audiobook right now, and it is giving me hope for politics/humanity. It is also making me very sad about how I voted in the 2016 primary.
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren – she writes about her life growing up in the lower-middle-class, as a professor and senator. She writes about her main focus, which has always been regular citizens and protecting them from predatory corporate abuse.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – I love his voice, and he tells his life story with such factual grace. Is he single? Does anyone know?

 

Reg’lar books – novels:

 

 

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – won the Goodreads Choice Awards this year for fiction. Novel about a mother and daughter moving to *my hometown!* and the wealthy family they rent their apartment from. My affinity for it is not due to it being set in my hometown.
  • Plan B by Jonathan Tropper – about a group of friends after they graduated college, one who is divorced, one who is famous and an asshole. Set around the year 2000, so a throwback to a pre-cell-phone era.
  • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand – children’s book. A young girl whose parents are having marital problems gets sent to grandma and grandpa’s house for the summer, where she meets her cousins and tries to emerge from her imaginary world.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt – happens to be written for children, but was nevertheless delightful for me as a grownup. It is set during the Vietnam War and the main character is a boy who tends to get into trouble and get caught.
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – a story about some mischievous goings-on at a boarding school. Great female main character.

 

Reg’lar books – essays/memoir:

 

 

  • The Moth Presents: All These Wonders, collection – Speaking of emotional books, this one is great! The Moth is apparently a storytelling group, and this collection is a selection of personal stories that had been performed at one point. Very moving and a huge variety of content.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy – autobiographical book about some of the best and worst times in Levy’s life, personally and as a journalist.
  • One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul – 95% less dark than it sounds. Personal essays about her life: dating, immigrant family, visiting India. She is a writer for BuzzFeed and she is funny. Laugh-out-loud funny.
  • The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt – I didn’t know that Anderson Cooper was part of the Vanderbilt family, and this book was lovely. He and his mom discuss the things they never discussed when he was growing up, and it is a touching book where they make sure to talk about things before it’s too late. I bought it for my mom. *This distinction will heretofore be an acronym: SITMM (sent it to my mom).*
  • We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby – irreverent essays about topics like sexuality, poverty & adulting.
  • The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – SITMM because she was such a talented, insightful writer. When this book was published, it was huge because she had died 5 days after speaking at graduation as the Valedictorian of her class at Yale. I enjoyed her essays more than her short stories.
  • My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul – this woman has had an enviable life (in my eyes!). She lived abroad, she works in Book Reviews at the New York Times… And she is an amazing writer. Book about books & life, just my thing!
  • How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis – speaking of books about books, this one was amazing. Her essays… are so good. Read it.

 

Reg’lar books – learnin’ books (true ‘nonfiction’):

 

 

 

HOLY MOLY. It was so challenging to whittle down this list, even though it still feels massive. I read a LOT this year. 170 books and audiobooks, approximately, up to this date. I separated these into arbitrary categories, but I do think they all have an overarching, general appeal.

Let me know if you’ve read them or choose to! I love having mini-book club with another person who has read what I have. What were the best books you read in 2017? What should I read??

Thanks for reading!