Winter. I’m in the throes of it.
I’ve already shared all of the ruler-in-snow and Bella-in-boots pics, so for today I’ll share the latest happenings. Yesterday I woke to a thick fog that left HUGE, furry flakes clinging to everything, making our yard look like a Dr. Seuss illustration.
See how big the flakes are? Those are individual ones on the tree! You can see every detail of each flake. Incredible.
Here’s how I’ve kept warm the last three months. (Yes, we’ve had snow on the ground since the last Shelf Life post. All snow. No grass. …SOS)
1. Rising Strong, Brené Brown
Have you heard of emotion-guru Brené Brown? If not, I might recommend you watch her record-shattering Ted Talks (1 and 2). She knows shame, vulnerability and promotes facing each with fierceness, honesty and acceptance.
This is my first book of hers to read and deals specifically with how to pick yourself up when you fall by “rumbling” with all of the emotions involved. Something we can all relate to. I’m sure the library will be so pleased to see how many pages I dog-eared. They should really just be glad I didn’t underline or take to the margins.
This book spoke to me. As someone who prides herself on her strength and resilience, I have had so many falls, most of them never discussed and many I’m still recovering from. Until now, I didn’t have the tools to face them and heal.
I recommend this to anyone and everyone. Here are a few takeaways:
* “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them. And while the journey is long and difficult at times, it is the path to living a more wholehearted life.”
* “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
* “We don’t compare when we’re feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.” (gulp.)
* “Stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. Stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are.” (double gulp.)
* “On a one-inch-by-one-inch square of paper, write down the names of the people who really matter. These should be the people who love you not despite your imperfections and vulnerabilities, but because of them. When I’m struggling to make a difficult decision, rather than closing my eyes and trying to imagine how the cheap seats (people who criticize, but don’t matter) will respond, I go to someone on my list who will hold me accountable to my own standards.”
2. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
Career of Evil is a fantastic addition to the series. Cormoran and Robin are back, tensions are high and crimes are a’happnin’. J.K. continues to depart from her Harry Potter days in this truly dark and gruesome tale. I should have known when in a launch interview she described having horrible nightmares while researching and writing this book. It’s not for the faint of heart. I hope she continues her book-a-year schedule, because I have to see what happens next!
3. After Alice, Gregory Maguire
I have a deep-seated love of all things Alice in Wonderland. I’ve always loved its Golden Age animation in the Disney version, and the 1985 TV movie has given my family more laughs than just about anything. (Two words: Carol. Channing.) It’s a fascinating story and I was excited to see Gregory Maguire’s treatment. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Maguire in general. Wicked remains one of the few books I’ve started and just couldn’t make myself finish, despite loving the musical. But I had to give him another go since I’ve been Team Alice for as long as I could remember. Happy to say that I finished it! The beginning took me a while to gel into his writing style, but I really feel like he captured Lewis Carroll’s whimsy and quirkiness quite well. I enjoyed revisiting Wonderland from a different point of view, one that’s for adults. Worth the read if you have a hankering for the Queen of Hearts or a certain Cheshire Cat.
4. The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
After muscling through my last YA trilogy (The Maze Runner series), this story is such a breath of fresh air. In her second installment, Erika Johansen really solidifies the strong characters she introduced in The Queen of the Tearling and set the course for the final book that comes out later this year. Despite its reeeeally long chapters, I am loving this series. I wouldn’t classify it as YA due to some of its unsettling subject matter, but definitely my favorite literary heroine since Katniss. If I can’t sway you enough, Emma Watson secured the rights to not only produce the movie, but also will star as Kelsea. Get reading, folks!
5. Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman
I love that I’m surrounded by other voracious readers in my family and friends circles. Many times I’ll come home and find a stack of books left by my mom, aunt or grandmother after they’ve finished with them. I’ll usually bring back 2 or 3 that look good. Sometimes those hand-me-downs sit on my shelf for a while, depending on my library reserve schedule. I’m sad to say I have too many “haven’t reads” on my shelf these days. (Possible 2016 resolution?) This is one of those books and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. I wanted something quick to read while in the pit for The Nutcracker. I shouldn’t be surprised it was so great. I usually love everything Oprah stamps with her approval. This heartbreaking tale of a woman who returns to her hometown and reunites with her first love is from 1997 (!), but still felt relevant and timeless. I’ve never read anything by Hoffman before, but I’d definitely be willing to dive into her other bestsellers. Her writing is detailed and gorgeous. Too bad it took me almost 20 years to find it!
6. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline
I tend not read happy books. This story is rife with tragedies, but is somehow very uplifting and leaves you with a smile, despite what you crawl through to get there. I wasn’t aware of the orphan trains that would run from the east coast to the midwest, shuffling (predominately immigrant) children to the homes of those looking for an extra set of hands for their farm or business. What a scary time that must have been for them. I have several friends and acquaintances that have adopted or are serving as foster parents. It can be just as scary for them, too. Overall, this is an interesting read into a world that needs more awareness.
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
8. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
The word “freedom” normally conjures positive images like soaring eagles, but Franzen paints an entirely different picture of lives ruined when exploring the freedoms found within. When liberation becomes its own prison. When taking a mile when given an inch. It was a sad 550+ pages, honestly, and by the end I was so exhausted by these characters, I’m still too raw to say if I even liked the book. It has Oprah’s seal of approval and came highly recommended by a fellow book lover, but I just wasn’t crazy about it and his style of writing.
9. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
I flew through this 60-page thriller right after I finished Freedom. It was the cleansing I needed in my head. Originally part of a series of short stories collected by George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn’s mystery is now a stand-alone book, thanks to her Gone Girl popularity. It’s what you would expect from her: edgy, mind-messing and thrilling all wrapped up in a neat package that will take you under an hour to consume. Check it out.
10. Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson, The Blogress, is a brave, courageous woman. She’s also funny as hell. Battling multiple mental illnesses like depression and anxiety throughout her entire life, she writes to educate, to enlighten and, most of all, to entertain. I found this book a total triumph of all three. I’ve battled depression and know countless others who have struggled or are struggling with it. We’d all tell you it’s not a laughing matter, but I love how Jenny’s able to do that, tracing her jest in empathy while gently releasing the grips of stigmas and stereotypes. It’s powerful and hilarious—how does she tread that boundary so well? A few sections that really spoke to me:
* Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.
* It is an amazing gift to be able to recognize that the things that make you the happiest are so much easier to grasp than you thought. There is such freedom in being able to celebrate and appreciate the unique moments that recharge you and give you peace and joy. Sure, some people want red carpets and paparazzi. Turns out I just want banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure at appreciating the good things in life. It means I’m successful in recognizing what the good things in life are for me.
11. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks (re-read)
This is a favorite from my childhood and was the first pick for my book club with niece Lily, LiNo’s Libros! Read about our thoughts on this here.
12. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn
In my new effort to read books that have long been collecting dust on my shelves, I picked this up right after Christmas while I waited for a few library reserves to filter my way. Choosing a book about a lady who leaves behind her corporate life to pursue her dream of attending Le Cordon Blue cooking school was a pretty good pick for heralding in a new year. It made me think “what would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” I can tell you NOT attending Le Cordon Blue—where Flinn had to manhandle all kinds of meat and fat and tendons and livers and sweetbreads—would be on the list. As glamorous as it sounds to attend cooking school in France, I know I wouldn’t last long in those kitchens. But I applaud her for taking a huge risk. Her food writing isn’t as tasty as that of Julie Powell or Molly Wizenburg, but her dream is inspiring and her tales are honest and humorous. A spark of inspiration for the new year.
13. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Guys, this was my first EVER e-book read. I’ve been so hesitant to jump on the e-reader bandwagon, but I’m there. This 500-plus-page book seemed to fly when only holding a tiny kindle. I’m not giving up my love of old library books, but I was surprised how much I did like the experience. But, remember how much I didn’t like The Goldfinch? Well, Ms. Tartt redeemed herself with this one. It’s just the right length for the story (unlike Goldfinch), it’s dark, it’s dynamic. Definitely a page turner and worth checking out. It’ll make you rethink the posse from your college days.
14. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
I broke my (typically) hard and fast rule of not reading books set during the Civil War when I set a new rule of tackling all of the unread books on my shelf. I honestly think I’ve carried this book around since we lived in Dallas. I haven’t even seen the movie. I was just waiting for some perfect time, which of course is never. But I am so glad I did. This book is absolutely beautiful. And though it gives such a vivid glimpse of our war-torn country, it seemingly bypasses all of the gory battle details completely. (Which is probably why I loved it so much.) Its writing is all-consuming and beautifully dark, yet hopeful. I can see why it garnered such immediate praise when it first came out. I am looking forward to finally seeing the movie and, who knows, maybe it’s earned a more permanent spot on my shelf.
15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Hands down one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever encountered. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital from an aggressive cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. But before she passed, her doctors took a sample of cells from her tumor that ended up changing the course of medicine forever. Her cells, known as HeLa, never died and sparked a revolution in medical research that has helped save millions of lives. But no one ever told her family, who couldn’t afford health care of their own. This is such an interesting tale of history, ethics, one family’s pain and the world’s gain. Already in the running for the best book I read all year. Read this! Read this! Read this!
16. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
It feels appropriate that I start and end this quarter’s Shelf Life with Brené Brown. Her books are transformative. I would have even more passages to share with you than Rising Strong, had I not read the e-version of this book. (Kindle people: Is there a way I can mark passages to save? Yes, I’m aware it’s 2016. Help me.) There’s not one person I know who wouldn’t be forever changed by hearing what Brown has to say on vulnerability, shame, the “never enough” culture, the perils of perfectionism and the courage and resilience needed to live our best life. The title comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech and challenges us to step into our own arena. To be heard and seen, and not afraid to fail. At points while reading this I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to absorb. It’s definitely something I could (and should) revisit again and again. Please act surprised if I buy you a copy for your birthday. It’s a book everyone should read.
Next up in the queue:
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Spark Joy – Marie Kondo
The Pink Suit – Nicole Mary Kelby
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel
The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
The Lady in Gold – Anne-Marie O’Connor
The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist