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Good books – April 23, 2018 edition

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Dear friends,

Here’s a roundup of some recent reads:

Upside of falling down

I didn’t expect to love this, but I really did!  “The Upside of Falling Down” is a light romance, “young adult” novel that, at first, seems like it will be predictable – a young woman is the sole survivor of a plane crash, and wakes up with no memory of her life before.  A young man befriends her and … you think you know the rest, but that’s where the twists and turns start coming.  I found it to be a page-turner, with some really surprising revelations at the end.  If you’re up for a light, fun read, this is a good one.  Available for borrowing on Kindle Unlimited.

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Honestly, I didn’t love this one.  If you’re looking for a book that says “rah, rah, yay you!” then it’s for you.  But if you have deeper issues of anxiety and depression, you may not find it helpful.  To me, much of her advice has the flavor of “If you’re lonely, get out and meet people!” or “If you’re sad, look at how happy people act, and act like them!”  There *were* some useful ideas about where our attitudes and mindsets come from, such as growing up in an environment where relationships are difficult, or money is scarce.  But overall, I found that the advice did not account for the complexities of human emotions.  It has high ratings on Amazon, though, and it’s a bestseller, so a lot of people like it.

Year one

If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts, dystopian novels, or magic/witchcraft stories (or all of the above), you’ll love this one.  It starts with a common premise – a sickness has wiped out most of the human race, governments have collapsed – but the fascinating part is how the survivors find one another and come together in communities.  The book is meant to be the first in a series, and I can’t wait to read the next one.  Recommended!

Silver Lake

This is a romance / “haunted house” story about a group of friends in their mid-twenties who had gone to high school together.  One member of their group, Brandy, had disappeared years before and is presumed dead, but her other friends have been having mysterious dreams about her.  At the request of Brandy’s mother, the friends reunite at a cottage on Silver Lake – one of their former hangouts – to see if they can piece together the clues to Brandy’s disappearance.  The story?  It’s ok.  I found it a little predictable, but not in a bad way.  It’s a light story, and for me, it was a “palate cleanser” between other books.  It’s available on Kindle Unlimited to borrow.

Year of Yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed this memoir by the creator of such TV shows as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy.  Shonda Rhimes is a busy woman with an overbooked schedule, so she got into the habit of saying “no” to a lot of opportunities and engagements.  One Thanksgiving, as she was preparing dinner with her sister, her sister said “You never say yes to anything.”  This prompted Shonda to engage in deep self-reflection.  She committed to finding ways to say “yes” more in the coming year.  As she came to learn, saying “yes” sometimes means saying “yes” to your own well-being, instead of other people’s requests.  A great book for introverts and those who love them.

Have fun reading!

Blessings,

Annette

 

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The most important grade you’ll earn

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Dear friends,

It’s finals week, and students (and their teachers) are thinking a lot about grades.

I hope that all of us – including my students – will take up this challenge.  It’s not a formal assignment, and it won’t be graded (at least, not by me).  Your “grade” will be reflected in your quality of life, relationships, and sense of self.

I want all of us to make a concerted effort to befriend someone different from ourselves.

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If you’re a liberal, make friends with someone whose beliefs are conservative.  If you’re religious, befriend someone who questions, or disbelieves, the existence of God.  If you are American, make a new friend who grew up in another land.

I’m not here to tell you that we’re more alike than we are different.  Sometimes our differences are vast, and we should honor them.  But we need to talk to one another, and more importantly, to really listen.  To see each other as companions on the journey, wherever we started from, wherever our ultimate destination.

Challenge yourself to find that new friend, and to open your mind.  That’s our assignment, and I hope we all earn the highest marks.

Blessings,

Annette

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How to read more

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Dear friends,

If you love to read, and you’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more of this pleasure into your life, this post is for you.  If not, please pass it by!  My intention is not to make anyone feel guilty about the time they spend in other pleasurable pursuits – but if you want to spend more time enjoying books, I’ll share some of the techniques I use to build more reading time into my busy life.

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Try listening to audiobooks

If you haven’t tried audiobooks, please give them a shot.  I use the Audible app on my phone, and download books for listening in the car.  I love to listen to books on long trips, but also on short ones – even the drive to and from work.  Sometimes it’s nice to just listen to someone read to you.  Two caveats:  (1) before you buy, listen to the sample.  Occasionally I can’t stand the narrator’s voice, which means the listening won’t be much fun.  (2) there’s a danger of “zoning out” and realizing that you missed the last few minutes of the story because you were thinking about something else.  If that happens, just backtrack a bit.  You can always re-listen to favorites, too.

Try using an electronic reader

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I use the Kindle app on my phone and on my iPad.  You can purchase electronic books on Amazon and download them directly to your device, where they are always handy.  This way, when I have to wait at the doctor’s office, or I’m early for a meeting, I can enjoy some reading time.  Having books on your device is also handy for the gym, if you use the treadmill or stationery bike.

Read more than one book at a time

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I know a lot of people who prefer to finish one book before starting another, but I look at it this way: You watch multiple TV series, right?  So you’re getting a story in “installments,” and then watching other stories before you get the next one.  Yet, if you are involved in these stories, you don’t get confused or forget them.  Well, reading is the same way, at least for me.  I can be reading one book on Kindle, listening to another on Audible, and have a third “real” (paper) book in the bathroom to read while I soak in the tub.  Maybe there’s another on my nightstand.  I like to mix it up.  There’s no rule that says you have to read just one at a time – unless you want to.  Which leads me to my next tip:

Switch up your genres

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We all have our favorites, but reading can become tedious if you always read within the same genre.  So I like to switch it up.  After reading a long, ponderous tome, I’ll choose a fluffy romance next.  I’ll alternate fiction and non-fiction.  Once in a while I’ll choose a book that’s normally “not my type,” but looks interesting.  So if you find yourself in a rut of reading nothing but sci-fi, or dystopian novels, or self-help books, try something different.  It may renew your joy in reading.

and lastly:

Never let it become a chore

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Reading (unless it’s for work or school) should never feel like something you “have” to do.  If you ordinarily love to read, but have come to see it as a chore, take a breather.  If this pleasurable activity ceases to bring you pleasure, go ahead and do something else that lights up your soul.

Happy reading!

Blessings,

Annette

Is this going to be on the exam?

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Dear friends,

It’s a question that students often ask, and I always find it frustrating.  “Is this going to be on the exam?” translates to, “Do I need to pay attention to this, remember it, and reproduce it later?”

I become frustrated, because I find the material fascinating, and I want them to love learning for its own sake.  I want them to be engaged in life, interested in new ideas, without the incentives of reward and punishment.  I want them to become informed citizens of the world, capable of engaging in public debate from a position where they truly understand their own minds on social issues.

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But then I remember:  they aren’t used to that.  They’re used to the exam.

When I introduce them to the idea that learning new things is an important part of their development as adults, as citizens, as members of a community … I try to remember that this might be the first time they’ve thought about that.  They’re not used to being judged on their ability to articulate an argument, or to thoughtfully explain both sides of a social issue.  They’re used to memorizing facts, with little concern about their deeper meanings.

So I keep trying.  I don’t give up.  I pray that when they leave the classroom, some of the seeds I’ve planted will germinate and struggle upward to find the sun.

And they won’t need a number two pencil for that.

Blessings,

Annette

Good books – April 3, 2018 edition

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Dear friends,

Here’s a roundup of some recent reads:

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It’s rare when I finish a book and I’m sad when it’s over – but that’s how I felt about “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.”  I LOVED it.  I loved her!  Eleanor is a single woman, the (seemingly) stereotypical fussy “spinster” who lives alone, talks to her mother on the phone once a week, and has a fantasy crush on a rock star.  She lives a quiet life – she’s mousy and unnoticeable, and she likes it that way.  Then, out of the blue, a new friend – and a secret from her own past – turn her world upside down.  Can Eleanor venture outside her carefully crafted comfort zone?  You must find out!  (Also I hear this is soon to be a movie).

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Ah, “Turtles.”  See, this is one of those “Young Adult” (YA) books that I talked myself into reading, because of the hype.  I know John Green has a huge fan following, but this story did nothing for me.  It follows Aza, a nerdy high-schooler, and a group of her friends, as they try to solve the mystery of a local man’s disappearance.  The story is told from Aza’s point of view, and much of the prose consists of narration of her unruly, spiraling thoughts as she grapples with depression and anxiety.  As I suffer from those conditions myself, I’m not throwing shade about that – but rather, the fact that Aza’s very real personal issues are set against the backdrop of an implausible “Scooby Doo” mystery.  But then, I’m not the target reader for this book.  I’ve heard many young people say they found it life-changing.  Your mileage may vary.

Coming Clean

“Coming Clean” was much more my style.  This is a memoir, written by a woman who was raised by hoarders.  She tells the painful story of her childhood, when she was afraid to bring friends to her house, and how her deep love for her parents was at odds with her despair that they would ever be able to change.  Coming to terms with the shame, and the fear that she would grow up to be the same way, was a long journey, and it’s a fascinating one.  Miller takes a deep dive into the question of how our parents, and our childhoods, continue to define us.

Dog

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was the choice of my book club (actually, I belong to two), and is not a book I would have normally read on my own.  But that’s the great thing about book clubs – they introduce you to titles you would never read otherwise.  The story is told from the point of view of a 15-year-old boy with autism, and provides a stunning insight into the way that people with autism think and feel as they move through the world.  Our protagonist, Christopher, makes a curious discovery about his neighbor’s dog, and sets out on a personal quest to learn more.  Along the way, he uncovers secrets that change lives.

Little Paris Bookshop

Every once in a while, you finish a book and know that you will never be the same.  This novel by Nina George really touched my heart.  Jean Perdu is a Frenchman who owns a bookstore, and who still carries a torch for a long-lost love.  He goes on a quest to find her, and in the process, finds himself.  A beautiful story of loss and discovery.  A must read.  The author has a second book out now that’s still in hardcover.  I want to read it when it comes out in paperback.

That’s it for now – more to come soon!

What are you reading?  Have you read any of these?  Opinions?

Blessings,

Annette

The reading bug, and why “Booktube” disappoints

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Dear friends,

I love to read, and I read a lot.  I usually complete a book a week, sometimes more, and I don’t have any more spare time than anyone else.  I listen to audiobooks in the car, and I keep a book on my nightstand, one in the bathroom, and one in the living room next to my recliner.  My tablet lives in my purse, and I have books downloaded and ready.  I read every chance I get, and I also create those “chances.”  Many evenings, I’ll turn off the television and just read for an hour.

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I was initially excited to discover that there are Youtube channels dedicated to reading, and to publishing book reviews (a subset of Youtube that users call “Booktube”) – but as I watched more and more of these, I discovered that most of them were dedicated to “YA” (Young Adult) books, and the videos were hosted by high school and college-aged women.  The channels that weren’t “YA” featured mostly specific genres like romance, or thrillers, or mass-market bestsellers.

My taste in books is a bit more eclectic.

I like the bestsellers, sure, but I also love re-reading old classics, and occasionally discovering something new.  Sometimes a friend will pass a book along to me, or perhaps I find an undiscovered title by a favorite author.  The book might not be “current,” but I don’t care, as long as it’s good.

I also like to read nonfiction, which seems to be unusual, at least among the reading community that posts on social media.  I love memoirs too.  I love learning about people’s lives, real lives.  I often prefer these books to fiction.

So where can I find others who share my passion?

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I’m counting on finding some of you here.  In the coming days (weeks? months?) I’d like to write more about reading, and share some books that I’ve come to love.  In the spirit of honesty, I may also warn you off about some bestsellers that are over hyped and not worth your time.

Will you read with me?

Blessings,

Annette

P.S. – If you have a favorite “Booktube” channel that’s not “YA,” please share! x

Where there is no path

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Dear friends,

Sometimes I get stuck.  I’ve been forging ahead, but then I find myself in a foggy place where there is no path, no sense of my next direction, nobody to advise me.  It’s a lonely place to be.  I imagine you’ve been there too.

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What are my options?

I can retrace my steps and go backward.  Never an appealing choice, but sometimes the only reasonable one.

I can sit down and wait … or cry … or scream at the universe about the unfairness of it all.  Sometimes we don’t have the strength to do anything more.

I can use my best judgment to choose a direction, and move forward along a path I create as I go, inch by inch.  This is hard, and scary – nobody but myself to rely on, no hand to hold, no advice to heed.  Just me and my choice, and the outcome will be my responsibility in the end.

Today, I’m making the choice to go forward.  I have no idea what lies ahead, but I will trust what I know, and trust myself.  Whatever comes, I will be all right.

Be brave today.

Blessings,

Annette

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Define yourself

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Dear friends,

“Don’t let anyone else define you – define yourself.”

I came across this quote today, and bumped up against it.  On the surface it sounds great, right?  Our individualistic culture conditions us to believe that we have complete control over our lives, and deciding our “identity” is completely within our hands.

Except it doesn’t work that way.

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Communication scholars (and other social scientists) will tell you that our sense of identity is formed in relationship with others.  We live in community, and our sense of self is partly (some would say, largely) dependent on how others react to us.  I may define myself as friendly, but if others find me cold and aloof, they’re not going to be drawn into friendship with me.  If I am self-aware, I will notice the reactions of others, and I can make appropriate adjustments.

We all know people who have a distorted sense of how they are seen by others.  Your friend might believe he’s charming to women, but others laugh at his awkwardness.  Your sister might think she’s a great singer, but her vocals cause others to cringe.

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Don’t get me wrong – confidence is a great thing, and “fake it till you make it” often works.  We can decide how we want to enter the world, but we can’t control how others react to us.  So that quote about not letting others define you, but defining yourself, is too simplistic, too reductive.  I define myself, you define me, and these definitions will clash and combine and influence each other.

We understand ourselves more clearly in relationship with others.

Blessings,

Annette

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Truth to power

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“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” –Theodore Roosevelt

— The Kansas City Star, 18 May 1918