The 2017 Reading Project – February

In the January post, I indicated that I’ve added layers to my 2017 Reading Project (books I’ve “always” meant to read). The layer I added in February is: all fiction by writers of color. I allowed myself one exception since I was in the middle of re-reading a novel by a white British author when February 1st came around. As soon as I added this layer, dozens of books came to mind, books I’ve read reviews of recently, or have been meaning to read.

Some highlights of my February reading:

Clover, Dori Sanders – I heard about this book, originally published in 1990, because of Call Number, a CrateJoy book subscription box created by a librarian named Jamillah in order to help readers build a personal library of books by black authors. This book was the first selection. Clover’s voice is so compelling as she experiences the death of her father, living with her father’s new wife, a white woman, and her extended family’s grief. This is a coming-of-age story, as well as a story of a family coming to grips with death and a new family member at the same time. Clover’s relationship with her Aunt Everleen, especially as she butts heads and then becomes allies with Sara Kate, her stepmother, was moving.

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The Hilda series, Luke Pearson – These large-sized comic books are mad and amazing. Hilda cannot resist an adventure and I love that best about her. What I also love about her (and this is going to sound weird) is that she’s not drawn or depicted as stereotypically “girlish.” She’s got blue hair and gigantic boots. She’s just this little being who’s very compassionate and curious and always saves the day (after she messes everything up). The art is incredible.

kindredKindred, Octavia E. Butler – This is my always-meant-to-read selection this month. Butler was recommended to me a few years ago, and of course her novel Parable of the Sower has come up recently (alongside Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Orwell’s 1984) as being particularly relevant in our current political environment (/crisis). I listened to the audio version, narrated by Kim Staunton. My experience was similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in that I really enjoyed Staunton’s narration, even while wishing I’d read the book on the page (next time). Kindred is the story of Dana, a 1970s writer in California, who is somehow yanked back in time to a plantation in Maryland, where she saves the life of a young white boy. She returns back to her own time and her husband Kevin, only to return again and again to the plantation and the boy, Rufus, as he grows, each time protecting and saving him. Kindred reminded me of Outlander a bit, except set in more recent times (both the “present” and the “past” storylines are more recent), and of course the story of American slavery is still all-too relevant. Dana’s 1970s didn’t feel much removed from my 2017: her life felt very modern and distant from the past she journeys to. As Dana spends longer stretches of time on the plantation (as a slave, though she has special standing in the house because of her relationship with Rufus, the boy she saved), I was horrified by how she adjusts to slavery, how she is able to justify the actions of the plantation’s masters, even as she’s horrified at this herself. I was so scared for her, sad and angry for what she was suffering as a slave and what she was losing in her “real” life back home, and it was terrifyingly easy to imagine an 2017 version of Dana, of myself, in the story.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling with illustrations by Jim Kay – Here is my one exception. New large-sized editions of the Harry Potter series, illustrated anew by Jim Kay, are being released and I figured it was a great excuse to re-read. Mary GrandPre’s original illustrations have set a really high bar – so much of what we see in our head is because of her! – but Jim Kay has done a really fascinating job of adding new
dimensions, a slight twist to scenes and characters. It’s really remarkable.

Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl – No princesses this mont28502749h, just rad women. I think the subtitle says it all – Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. This book is so visually arresting that I recommended it to several people just by reading it publicly (which I did on purpose), but I’ve also recommended it to a lot of people – friends and teenagers, boys whenever I can. Girls and women need to know about these amazing women, but so do boys and men. I’ve been loving what I’ve been thinking of as “kick-ass women encyclopedias” and I’d included Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (read in December) and Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath (January) in that list, if you’re looking for more.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld – This graphic novel just showed up randomly, so I read it. It is literally about a cop on the moon, though I’d say it’s also about loneliness and human nature. This Goodreads review by Jan Philipzig says it best: “Sparse, subdued, existentialist, melancholy, wryly humorous, and maybe even a tad romantic: I liked it quite a bit. 3.5 stars, I’d say.”

Kick-Ass 1-3, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. – A friend recommended these and I’d liked the movies a. I have to admit: I’m really conflicted. The art is incredible, of course. The story is unique, compelling. There’s a Kill Bill-level of violence that’s just insane. But. Two things. One – these books should really be called Hit Girl. They’re really about her. She’s the interesting character, the one who keeps rescuing Kick-Ass over and over. There would be no story without her. And two – something happens in Volume 2 that angered me so much, because it involved casual and devastating violence that was entirely unexplored in the story. And it should’ve been explored. It just seemed lazy to me that it wasn’t, and also a damn shame. I finished the series, but I could never quite recover from that disappointment.

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward – Using James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time as lens, or a seed, the essays in this anthology meditate on race in America now. I was moved – angered, inspired, saddened – over and over as I read one essay each day. I was finishing the anthology when I saw I Am Not Your Negro, so the essays I’d read inspired by Baldwin were literally in conversation with Baldwin in my head as I watched the film.

Zombillenium Vol 1-3, Arthur de Pins – Not entirely about zombies, this trilogy of comic books about a theme park run by monsters for human guests is funny, weird and often really, really dark.

Queen Sugar, Natalie Baszile – I listened to the audio narrated by Miriam Hyman. Audio books are really making my commute so much more pleasant. I loved living with these characters for a few days. Charley Bordeleon moves from California when she inherits a Louisiana cane farm, feeling alien in a place that is fairly familiar to me. Not entirely, since I don’t have experience on cane farms, but it was still a cool experience to “know” some of the characters from my own experiences in Louisiana. It would be easy to view Charley’s brother Ralph Angel as “the bad guy” in the family dynamics, but since we get chapters told from his point of view and we know his intentions and his struggles, he’s impossible to dismiss. The idea that some family can’t be reunited or see each other’s side really resonated, but of course it was so sad. Charley’s struggle to work the farm and the way she gathers support and partners was probably my favorite aspect of the book.

Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel Jose Older – I’m a big fan of Daniel’s, having read both his young adult novel Shadowshaper and Long Hidden, the anthology he co-edited last year in preparation for a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival and his appearance at the library. I’ve been anticipating diving into his adult fantasy series, Bone Street Rumba, the third of which was just published in January. This first book does a ton of world building, offering a glimpse of an otherworldly and gentrified Brooklyn, and introduces a fascinating cast of non-corporeal and somewhat-corporeal characters. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, considering where this first book left off.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead – I loved Whitehead’s novel Zone One (another zombie book that’s not really about zombies) back in 2012., so I’ve been wanting to read his newest novel since it was published. The tension in Zone One was unreal and Whitehead definitely used his skill for tension in The Underground Railroad. I read it in about two days, completely gripped by the story of Cora, a slave who escapes a Georgia plantation and her desperate journey for freedom after that escape. I was entirely captured as a reader, and as a writer, I was just in awe of the skill with which Whitehead delivered this masterful novel. [He came to New Orleans shortly after I read the book, so I got to see him read from the book and discuss it, which was an incredible experience.]

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah – I listened to the audio of this memoir, which was a little less than 9 hours, during a spring cleaning binge and I was completely blown away by Noah’s narration. There’s just nothing like hearing someone tell you their story. And Noah is incredible at accents and voices. He says in the story that he picked up numerous South African languages during his childhood and this ability to speak to people in their language got him in and out of a lot of experiences. He uses that skill here, speaking and even singing in a variety of languages and accents. He’s an incredible writer, too, invoking scenes so vividly that I felt like I was sharing my house with a host of people whose lives were foreign to me, but who felt so familiar by the end of the story.

I read (or listened to) 32 books (and one issue of a comic book) in February, and these are the highlights.

 

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The 2017 Reading Project – January

This year’s reading project is pretty ambitious. So, first, I decided that I wanted to focus on books that I’ve always meant to read. Several books came immediately to mind. I own copies of a lot of them because in a strange bit of irony, I tend to ignore books I own in favor of library books. It’s not something I do consciously, though I am aware that I do it. Something about due dates just keeps me honest.

So. The plan was to read books I’ve always meant to read (and “always” means different things in each case). And I *am* doing that, but I’ve added layers to the 2017 Reading Project. More on that when I write about February’s reading.

For now, some highlights of my January reading:

The Winter Circus, me – The first book I read this year was my own. I finished a cover-to-cover re-read. It’s pretty good, in my very biased opinion. 


between-the-world-and-meBetween the World and Me
, Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’ve been wanting to read this book, a letter from Coates to his son, since it was published in 2015 and I decided that I would listen to the audio, which Coates narrates. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, especially when it comes to non-fiction, because there’s nothing like hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice, as if it was just the two of you having a conversation and you’re listening with everything you’ve got. Then, Tubby and Coo’s Book Shop selected Between the World and Me as the first read in the Brave New World Book Club, so I knew this was the right time. The book is slim, and it’s powerful. It’s a 3-hour listen and there’s no excuse not to read or listen to this book. If you don’t understand what people are talking about when the issues of police violence, microaggressions and systemic racism come up, you owe it to yourself, and to our shared world, to listen with everything you’ve got. If you do already know what’s up, I still recommend you listen to Coates’ academic, personal, rational and passionate letter to his son because there’s always something to be gained from hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – This book’s been on my list since it was published, but what really cinched it for me was when several friends raved about the audio book, which is read by Wil Wheaton. As I mentioned, I’ve come to really love audio books over the years (since a job in 2011 where I drove 12 hours a day for a few weeks). The best ones are like old-school radio plays, and this one is very good. The book itself is really intricate and detail-heavy, with callbacks galore, which doesn’t usually make for good audio listening. However, it was such an immersive story and Wil Wheaton did a tremendous job with the narration. For a couple weeks, listening to this audio book made my daily commute go so much better. Plus, there’s a cameo where Wil Wheaton narrates a sly reference to a fictional version of himself and that was a treat for an 80’s girl to hear.

Revival Volumes 1-7, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton – I’ve been obsessed with zombies for a while and I came across this comic book series that is not about zombies, but a more mysterious version of what would happen if some people didn’t die when they died. It’s pretty bizarre and fascinating. The art is gorgeous, even though I found it confusing sometimes (two of the main characters are sisters and it was sometimes hard to tell them apart, as well as some of the other [mostly female] characters). I decided to chalk this up to my being a comic neophyte and I just trusted that I’d figure it out and I always did.

Feedback, Mira Grant – I’m a big fan of the original Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant (which *is* about zombies, well, as much as any zombie story is ever really about zombies). This is the fourth book in the series, but it follows different characters and a parallel story to the original trilogy. It was fun to return to this world and to see the protagonists of the original series and their journey from a different perspective, mostly as characters waaaay in the background. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-style.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger – I read Junger’s essay “The Bonds of Battle” last November, in The Best American Essays of 2016 and I was really moved and obsessed with the ideas raised. Couldn’t stop thinking about the essay, which was the seed for this book, so I had to read it. It’s another slim title, but like a lot of short and focused books, it’s pretty devastating and captivating. I refer to it all the time in conversation because it covers a lot of ground. But really, the subtitle tells you everything – this is Junger’s extended mediation (with research) on why people need each other, need to belong to units (families, communities, etc.) in order to thrive. That humans are communal beings is information that is more important for us to recognize and reconcile than ever before.

Princess Princess Ever After, Katie O’Neill – This is a cute, quick juvenile graphic novel that matter-of-factly tells a fairy tale about two princesses being themselves exactly as they are, adventuring and falling in love, which is pretty cool. It reminded me a bit of the Princeless series (and I’m not the only one, from the Goodreads reviews), but this is a much simpler and streamlined story for younger readers, perhaps, which is cool. It also reminded me a bit about the lovely Three Thieves series, which I read last year (along with Princeless). I should also mention that I read Cleopatra in Space Books 1-3 by Mike Maihack this month, too, and it’s a pretty great companion series to the others mentioned in this paragraph (a time-traveling Cleopatra is teleported into space! makes friends and has adventures!). And Compass South, the first book in a new series about twins in 1860 who adventure (with a pit stop in New Orleans), by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, which I also read this month. As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many comic books about adventuring girls who are entirely themselves.

handmaids-tale-audible_The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – When I initially conceived of the “always meant to  read” project, this was one of the first books that came to mind. I have been meaning to read this one for years, long before the new tv show and American politics took a sharp right turn toward the Republic of Gilead. But, once again, the time was finally right. I listened to Claire Danes’ narration of the book on my commute to and from work and I was entirely engrossed and enraged by the story. However, while I really enjoyed the way Claire Danes read the story, part of me wished I’d read a physical copy first because the structure of the book is intricate and there’s a lot of word play and subtly in the language that I think would’ve had more impact if I’d seen it on the page. So, I’m thinking about re-reading the book almost immediately. Like maybe next month, in March.

The Dark, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – True story, my co-workers and I are all fans of Jon Klassen’s “Hat Trilogy” of picture books, which are darkly funny and sly. So when I stumbled upon this one, I insisted one of my co-workers read it out loud to some of us and he did an amazing job without ever having read it before. He did wonderful voices for both Lazlo (the little boy) and The Dark.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg – This graphic novel is stunning. In the vein of (responding to?) A Thousand and One Nights and set in the world of her earlier book The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this book is a story within a story within a story, so very meta. While looking up the book in Goodreads, I found this amazing quote from reader Chihoe Ho: “The moral of this story is: Tell stories to get out of dangerous situations. But not just any stories. Smart stories. Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” That pretty much says it all. I was so moved reading this book.

awesome-9781781083246_hr  The Awesome, Eva Darrow – A friend and co-worker recommended this book last year and it sounded, well, awesome. The premise: a teenage girl is an apprentice to her monster hunter mother, but can’t get her journeyman license (particularly for vampire cases) until she loses her virginity. But I didn’t pick it up right away, for some reason. Once I did, I adored Darrow’s incredible sense of her world and characters. Maggie and her mother’s relationships is one of the best in fiction, and Maggie’s sense of her self (as well as her doubts) felt very real and very special to me. I wish I’d had this book at 16, but I’m glad it’s in the world now. Also, I should say that the book is very striking – the cover art, the black-tipped pages, the cover material, the size of the book, all of this made the book feel good in your hands and also very unique.

The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George (translated by Simon Pare) – Another great audio book, this time read by three people – Steve West for the bulk of the story, as well as Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell. Something about the multiple readers added to the radio play feeling. I’m always fascinated by books in translation (this was originally published in German), especially when there’s so much emotional nuance, like there is in this story. It’s hard not to love a story that features a “book apothecary” on a boat and a querulous bookseller who refuses to sell books people want to read, insisting they buy the books they need to read. But then the story becomes an adventure tale, as the lonely main character goes on a journey and ends up forming a family of sorts from strays and lost causes he meets along his journey. This book had so many unexpected layers.

Rejected Princesses, Jason Porath – This is one of the coolest books I’ve ever read – a heavy encyclopedia of animated princess-like illustrations to accompany biographic entries about kick ass women through history. It took me about two months to read, because I read it at work and purposefully let people “catch” me reading, so I could tell them about it. It started so many conversations and a lot of folks of all genders and ages wanted to read this after I told them about it. The book started as a website and gets updated every Wednesday, so there’s side stories about the badasses in the first volume and articles about current amazing women. It’s the best. Can’t wait for Volume Two.

Welcome to Deadland, Zachary Tyler Linville – I read this book in about 10 hours. I picked it up and read the first page on a whim and just didn’t stop reading. I basically got no sleep that night. It’s a zombie book that follows two sets of characters both before and after an illness starts infecting people. Like a lot of zombie books, it’s not really about zombies, but more about people, how they form groups and survive, but also what they suffer *before* the apocalyptic event. There were a few engrossing mysteries to keep me reading obsessively, but it wasn’t very gory.

Full disclosure: I read 33 books this month (well, one of those “books” was an issue of a comic book and another was a script, but still). Also, “read” is used whether I listened or read. But, the point is that I haven’t written about everything that I read in January.

I seem to be reading a lot of books about princesses and zombies. Or, I should say “princesses” and “zombies.” But basically, kick ass women (both fictional and real), as well as monsters. Plus, some very timely, long-awaited reads.

 

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My End of 2016 Homework

I’ve been doing this end-of-the-year homework assignment, since Jamey Hatley suggested it in 2010, telling me: “I don’t think you realize how much you’ve done this year.” A lot has changed over the years, but still I wrap up each year with this homework, and now I know lots of people who are writing “have done” lists, rather than to-do lists.

Last year, I wrote that my resolution for 2016 was to do more of what I was already doing in 2015. Coincidentally, I think a lot of this year’s “have done” list lines up with last year’s.

1) Cooking at home was once more a priority. While I continued to bake my bread every week, and take it to gatherings, I also made beet humus and a few soups new staples. I spent a lot of mornings using my baking or cooking as a timer for a writing session. Throughout the year, I read The Food Lab, which is essentially a cooking textbook, and talked shop with co-workers who are legit chefs (i.e. they’ve worked in restaurants and been on The Food Network). I hoarded cookbooks from the library (books are a running theme this year, you’ll see), and planned a Mediterranean-themed small plates dinner for a friend, using pretty much every pan and dish I own in the process.

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2) I threw myself into my dream job, working at the library. Last year, it was a revelation to find myself anticipating going to work, rather than dreading it. I’d had so many temporary and seasonal jobs over the course of my career (film gigs, jobs around my school schedule), I wondered if my joy and pleasure with the job could be sustained in a regular full-time job. Plus, the library has always been my happy place. It was a busy, sometimes chaotic year. The branch where I worked closed for renovation and I worked at half of the 14 library branches in New Orleans! I joined a planning committee, organizing programs. The work I’ve done this year has touched on the skills I’ve gained from every other job I’ve ever held. And as my first year anniversary arrived, I was surprised that through all the ups and downs, all the of challenges and extra tasks I took on, I still loved my job. When I got back into my newly-renovated branch, I found myself pleased to go to work everyday, still.

3) I dipped into new and old dance styles. I went to a kizomba house party and a dance meditation session led by a belly dance instructor. I danced a little salsa, went swing dancing with friends, danced to a big band. I learned the National Dance Day choreography from New Orleans Dance Network instructors at the library. As always, I danced around my house.

4) And of course, there’s tango. For the third year, I helped organize the New Orleans Tango Festival, including a milonga on the Creole Queen riverboat (yes, while the boat was cruising). A lot of my jobs have included event organization and I brought so many previous experiences to the logistics for this event! The milonga on the boat, and the whole festival, went very well (check out the link above for the 2016 video).

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5) Finally, I got to San Francisco. I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Last year, while flying to Portland for ValenTango,  I had layovers in San Francisco, so I got to see the city while landing and taking off there. It was so beautiful that I promised myself I’d go this year. And I did! I went to Nora’s Tango Weekend and had a blast, catching up with friends who come to New Orleans for our festival each year, and making new friends.

6)  Continuing the travel trend, I also went to the 5th Annual Cleveland Tango Bowling Marathon. This trip combined a few things for me. First, one of my oldest friends, Beth, had moved to Columbus for work. She’s gotten to see me dance tango a few times and wanted to learn more. Plus, I have family in Columbus, including one of my grandmothers, whose birthday was after the marathon. So, Beth and I had a fabulous few days in Cleveland: catching up, dancing and meeting new people. Then, we went back up to Columbus and I made dinner for my grandmother for her birthday before returning home. It was pretty much a perfect trip.

7) I got to meet Alexander Chee at the Tennessee Williams Festival, and Daniel Jose Older when he spoke at the library and then on the panel I moderated at the Louisiana Book Festival. I also got to meet R.L. Stine while he was in town for Bouchercon, and Chris Baty when spoke at Words and Music. Was pretty inspired by all these authors and their talks.

8) Speaking of that Louisiana Book Festival panel that I moderated. It was on the topic of anthologies, but was basicaly an unabashed excuse to get Daniel Jose Older, Jamey Hatley, Maurice Carlos Ruffin and Erin Wood together in the same room so I could eavesdrop on their conversation. It was a satisfying success.

9) And speaking of success… I got to witness the success of a lot of my friends this year. I hibernated a lot, but when I did get out of the house, it was usually to go watch a good friend read their work. In the midst of bad or heavy news, hearing about someone winning a prize or publishing a story or a book was something to really get excited about. I know this is my “have done” list, but this year, I do count celebrating the success of so many lovely writers as something I have done. A highlight, really.

10) Because there was a lot of bad news this year. We’ve all been reeling from the deaths of of icons who touched our lives. Nearby, a lot of people suffered in the Baton Rouge floods, including friends. On the personal front, a few friends have been battling cancer, one facing a terminal diagnosis. One of my grandmothers,  who I hadn’t seen since her birthday during 2012’s Grandma Road Trip, passed away this year. Another friend died unexpectedly just before Christmas. So grief has been a big facet of this year.

11) I felt genuine grief leading up to and following the election. But I also found my voice in the midst of that, or began to use my voice, I should say. For example: like many people, I regularly experience street harassment. I usually freeze up – literally going silent and shaking after I’ve quickly removed myself from the situation. But on election day, when I was catcalled, I pushing through the shaking and the instinct to go silent and I responded.

The rush I felt after speaking up for myself lasted for a while, and I hope it will remain to remind me to speak up. In the wake of our election, I’m having conversations as often as possible, trying to both listen and speak. For an entire 11-hour train ride recently, I did this, talking with person after person in the microcosm of the train, being transformed by those conversations and hopefully adding to the transformation of others.

12) I got a bit distracted at times, loving my job and grieving, but I wrote steadily through the year, determined to finish The Novel. For a majority of the year, I had a somewhat regular manuscript exchange with author Amy Conner and this exchange, as well as sessions with other writer friends, really kept me on track.

13) In fact, I won NaNoWriMo (after meeting Chris Baty, how could I not?) this year. This year’s 50K was about 8K new words on The Winter Circus and 42K words from a new perspective character for a zombie novel I started writing a few NaNoWriMos ago.

14) I read a lot this year, more than any other year since I’ve been keeping track. Books were my happy place. Almost half of my reading this year was comic books and graphic novels, which is a first. I read almost as many nonfiction titles as fiction. I read all of Liane Moriarty’s novels and many zombie-themed materials. I read several anthologies, one play, two screenplays and one book of poetry. I actually read more YA novels than adult novels, due to an ongoing conversation with a friend’s teen-aged son. I used to recommend books to him. Now, he tells me what he’s reading and we talk about the books once I’ve read them.

15) I conducted a mini reading project in preparation for one I’m hoping to do next year. I really enjoyed the Re-Reading Project in 2014, and I’ve meant to do another one. While I did re-read four books this year (one novel, one picture book, one graphic novel and one nonfiction writing book), that’s not the project I’m hoping to do next year. I’ll leave that one to be a surprise for now. The mini reading project was the Finishing Project. I had a handful of books that I started reading years ago and never finished. For instance, I read most of Misty Copeland’s Life in Motion (through page 228) while I was at the residency in 2014, but just now finished. I stopped reading Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus on page 234, back in 2013. I suspect that one was timing, as I moved while I was reading it.  I read about 20 more pages before I decided wasn’t going to finish that one, this year at least. So ultimately, the Finishing Project only prompted me to finish one book, and to wrap up the ones I was currently reading. There are still six books I had hoped to finish, and maybe I will next year. But a weird thing happened while I was concentrating on finishing books – I read 30 books in December. Pretty much one each day.

16) One book I did finish this year was mine, The Novel, The Winter Circus. I buried the lead on that one, sorry. But after a year of hibernating and pushing off a lot of things for “when the book’s done,” my book is finished. There’s still a lot of steps ahead before it’s a published book that you can buy, but I’ve worked very hard to get right here, to The End.

Now I’m going to go celebrate.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 – Fin

I had ambitions of updating more often this NaNoWriMo, a la 2012. But that didn’t happen. A lot of other things did…

Okay, I’ll just say it. The election kinda poleaxed me. And that’s all I’ll say on that.

So I was processing a lot emotionally and intellectually the last few weeks. But, least you think that this is my “yeah, it didn’t work out” post, that is *not* in fact the case.

I accomplished everything I set out to do this month. I just crossed the 50k finish line (50,004 words) with a combination of new words for The Novel (maybe about 8k total) and over 42k words for the new POV character in the zombie novel. There was lots of action sequences in that, so I had a lot of fun playing.

Plus, I met Chris Baty when he came to talk at Words & Music. He signed my dogeared (and underlined, no kidding) copy of No Plot, No Problem and I ended up helping to introduce him. Basically, my fellow WriMo Hayley and I gave testimonials about What NaNoWriMo Means to Us, then sat down and Chris proceeded to give a hilarious and inspiring talk. That was cool.

I meditated almost every day of the month via the latest Deepak Chopra  + Oprah Meditation Experience. And I read. A lot. But most especially the 2016 Best American Essays, one essay each day. This is a tradition I usually do in January, to start the year off, but I really needed it this month.

So, in conclusion, my life really works best when I’m writing, reading and meditating every day, it turns out. I accomplished a lot this month. Annnnd, I’ve got something cooked up for December, too, so stayed tuned…

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NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s been so long since I updated this blog. Not since the end of 2015, in fact, and here we are again, in the home stretch of 2016. But enough of that.

NaNoWriMo has meant a lot to me since my first time … in either 2007 or 2008. My memory fails me. So, even though I am nearing the end of a major new draft of The Novel that I’m really happy with (finally), I’m also starting a new(ish) NaNoWriMo novel.

Ish because I’m back to my zombie novel, which I always have a lot of fun writing. It’s almost an entirely new story because I’m adding a POV character. When I wrote the story originally in 2012 (…), I had a strong sense of my POV character and her group of friends, but hadn’t conceived yet of a bigger story. Years later, I started thinking about a second POV character and pretty recently a third. I’m working this year on the story of that third character, because it’s the most immediate for me right now.

So I have two projects to work on right now, with two different deadlines. I’m going to use my NaNoWriMo sessions as playtime. Pure creation, which I definitely need to tap in to regularly.

I forgot how satisfying the stats page is for a NaNoWriMo project, so I’m really glad I logged into the site this year to put in my novel info (I don’t always).

Here’s a short summary:

Day 1 – After work, I met up with friends at a coffee shop and wrote the first 591 words of this new POV character.

Day 2 – In two writing sprint sessions with a friend I met at a write-in last year, I wrote a combined total of 2,829 words today. I also read Daniel Jose Older’s Pep Talk, the first of this year. I saw him talk at the library last night, so that that’s some synchronicity in my motivation.

Here we go, Brave New Year….

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_participant

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My end of 2015 homework

This end of the year assessment is an interesting one for me. I started doing this six years ago, at Jamey’s prompting and now it’s one of my favorite ways to wrap up each year.

In the past, I often haven’t wanted the year to end and I’ve been anxious about the coming year.  The last few years have been really tricky and challenging, so I’ve been eager to start fresh. I feel really calm about 2016, even though my upcoming birthday is almost simultaneous with the beginning of both a month of Mercury Retrograde and a Jupiter Retrograde (which is going to be interesting, I understand from reading my horoscope).

All that is to say that while I haven’t achieved everything I’d hoped to achieve this year (see: the last item on the list), I’m still satisfied with my year. A friend asked me tonight what my resolutions are for 2016 and I realized that my only resolution is to continue doing what I’m doing and, in some cases, more of it.

1) I learned a lot about blogging and even met a lot of amazing bloggers. I just didn’t blog. If you count *this* post, I only updated three times this year, which is the total number of posts I published in December 2014. It wasn’t intentional and I felt really bad about it at first. And then I just stopped, posting and feeling bad. I decided to do it again when it felt right, when I had a better sense of what I wanted the blog to be in the future. And, in the meantime, I Tweeted a ton. It started to feel like poetry to me, the opportunity to quickly be creative within a rigid structure (limited characters). I hope to use Goodreads more regularly in 2016, because I would like to continue writing my fun, crazy subjective book reviews. I read a lot of great books this year.

2) My once-temporary apartment became permanent. At the beginning of 2015, I thought I’d be moving for the 3rd time since 2013 and I was pretty miserable about it. I’d fallen in love with my place and my neighborhood.

I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City…

I went so far as to look at a ton of apartments and while none of them was right, I thought I’d have to pick one. And then, on my birthday, a reprieve. It was pretty amazing timing. Since then, I’ve finally settled in completely, hanging mirrors, hooks and cork boards, buying a bookcase and filling it up with books that had been in storage for a year. I downsized to a smaller storage unit and while the majority of my books are still there, I’m now “all in” on my place.

3) My mission to cook more and eat healthier continued. If you need proof, my Twitter feed is evidence. It’s filled with food photos, love letters to cast iron skillets, longing notes about breadboxes. I became ravenous for avocados and beets, two foods almost unknown to my diet previously. Cooking and preparing meals became my main form of entertainment as well as a resolution for better health. A good friend moved last year and gave me a bunch of her kitchen stuff and I endeavored to use it. When the sweet amazing couple who I bought bread from every week at the market left town, the baker taught me how to make bread. Suddenly, I was baking my own bread every week, bringing a loaf (pic below) to every gathering of friends and taking serious pleasure from feeding the people I care about. There’s nothing like it.

Another friend visited early in the year, scoped the contents of my fridge and said, kinda judgey and suspicious, “What’s up with all the green stuff in your fridge?” I was thrilled. And so here you go, a pic of my fridge from a few days ago, way more green than earlier in the year. To round out the photos, a  “skinny cheesecake parfait” (mine is made with minced cranberries instead of strawberries) I just made with the mixer I got for Christmas.

4) I jettisoned broken things or any experience or relationship that didn’t work for me anymore. Including a job that was making me miserable. A grudge that kept me from walking into a place I’d once loved. I lovingly laid to rest painful “what-ifs” about past relationships. And the real biggie – I worked on giving up habits that weren’t serving me or were actively hurting me.

5) I challenged myself to do things that made me anxious or uncomfortable. Liiike, a friend gave me a VIP pass for Jazz Fest and I used it to go see Lenny Kravitz by myself – which is terrifying because I have trouble with crowds. Gotta say, the VIP access was huge in making it possible, but it was definitely still a challenge.

An editor of an amazing publication expressed interest in my writing and I sent work not once, but twice. I talked myself through a mid-flight panic attack. I binged the first 5 seasons of The Walking Dead and then read the comics and started watching every week, even though I’m a total wuss and almost never watch scary stuff. After years of being intrigued by this show, I just dove in and became a huge fan. Instead of letting panic or anxiety control my decisions, I let the things I loved, or wanted to love, guide me.

6) I focused on the people I was with and/or what I was doing at any given time. Meaning, my cell phone was in my bag or turned screen-down when I was hanging out or taking a meeting. I left the phone in the other room a lot. I gave myself permission not to answer if I was writing or decompressing. But I also returned calls more regularly and enjoyed Skype sessions with folks I love who are far away. I was thoughtful about how I spent my time, and with whom. And I was lucky enough to witness so many of my friends and colleagues achieve wonderful success this year, to be fully present when it happened.

7) I traveled even more this year. A 36-hour whirlwind of a trip to Portland for ValenTango (where I also got to visit with my brother). Atlanta for work and for dancing. Then, New York kept coming up (Anne and Hiro’s joint gallery show, their NYC debut!, a new tango friend who offered to host me). I haven’t been for years and in the past, I would’ve been practical and skipped it, but this year, I gave myself a trip to NYC as a present. I had an amazing time dancing and catching up with Anne and basically living at Google’s offices for the first day and a half (the cafeteria exceeds every legend you might’ve heard). I made new friends while I was there and had a random adventure going to see Karl Ove Knausgard at The Strand with one of them. I longed to go to NYC, so I made it happen. And it was fantastic.

8) (cont’d) Travel Pt II. I made a pilgrimage to a Tennessee mountaintop with Peauxdunque and on the way, stopped by Memphis to catch up with Jamey.

And then another whirlwind tango trip – this one 23 hours in Dallas to dance, catch up with great friends and celebrate the holidays.

9) Speaking of tango. For the second year, I assisted with the New Orleans Tango Festival, which has become, for me personally, a tango family reunion every year. More and more, I appreciate catching up with friends I might not get to see but once a year (if that) and to measure my growth against the last time we danced together. Check out this recap video (you can even see me about 27 seconds in):

And this year was even more special because of the time I got to spend with the ladies of La Bailonga Tango (+ Giovanni Parra), a Colombian tango band that came to Nola for the Festival. We had so much behind-the-scenes fun: getting them to their radio and tv appearances and trying to communicate in both English and Spanish (and oddly, French, which kept popping out when I tried to speak Spanish). I will treasure the experience!

We started working on 2016 very soon after this year’s festival was finished and I’m excited to do it again.

10) I threw myself into a new job, a new career. One that I really, really love. No matter how exhausting and challenging the day is, I end each one entirely satisfied by the opportunity to use my exceptionally diverse job history and my creativity while learning new things, every day. This job is bringing me balance and stability, but even so it’s also forcing me to face my struggle with change head-on. What is this job, you ask? I work at the library. It kinda seems like the obvious path for me, in hindsight.

11) (cont’d – this is worth 2 spots) So obvious that I was probably running from it. I realized that I was afraid of at least two things: a stable 9-5 career and also doing something I loved for a living. What if working at the library ruined what has always been my safe haven, my happy place? (This is the “don’t work at your favorite restaurant” theory). And, the biggie, what if career satisfaction removed all of my motivation to write? Luckily…

12) I wrote with more dedication and playfulness than ever before. For most of the year, I woke up a few hours early in order to write before work! I’d estimate that 2/3rds of the year, I went out of my way and made time for writing. Thanks to several months playing around with a novel about zombies (during the miserable job) and once again to NaNoWriMo in November, I looked forward to my writing sessions. I was light-hearted in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time.

13) I published. A short short story in Like a Girl pre-show supplement. A short piece of advice. More author profiles and book pieces for 225 Magazine. Several small business profiles for Gambit Weekly. An essay in the Scars Anthology. This last one is closely tied to #14 below…

14) I “appeared” more times this year than in the previous three years combined. I hadn’t read my work publicly for about 5 years before that, so this was huge.

A lot of the opportunities I had this year were because Maurice and I were promoting Scars locally. I’ve been so thrilled to share the experience with him and to be included in such a fabulous anthology. It was inspiring to get a tiny taste of what it’s like to publish and promote your work.

I got to have a book release at Garden District Bookshop, where I used to work, to share a stage with authors Jami Attenberg and MO Walsh at the Louisiana Book Festival and then to “work” at Octavia Books alongside authors Claudia Gray and Wayne Curtis for Small Business Saturday

After these experiences – I’m even more determined now.

15) I didn’t finish the novel by the end of the year, like I hoped I would. But I will finish it. After years of working on this novel and trying to put it aside and move on, I finally *know* that I will finish it, soon.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard about writing a novel is that it’s like building a boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight. I’ve spent more than 10 years with mirages of land or no hope of ever seeing it again. And now, there, not too far away, I see land ahead. I know where I’m going and that the journey is almost over.

A friend posted today about “done lists,” vs. “to-do lists.” I like that idea a lot. It immediately resonated. I think that’s what I’ve been doing these last few years. A list to remind myself of everything I’ve done, since it can be so easy to forget the sea of never-ending to-dos.

Can you see why I’m satisfied with 2015? It’s been pretty amazing. 2016 is gonna be even more so, I can feel it. Happy New Year, y’all.

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Quarterly Progress Report: 2015 Q1

Alright now, it’s been a while. You and I both know this, so I’m just ‘fessing up. Since I’ve been pretty quiet this year and because two of my favorite regular posts are the annual end of the year homework and the quarterly reading reports, I thought I’d just smash them together to create a quarterly progress report. Whether this will be a one-timer or a series remains to be seen – let me know what your thoughts are, if it’s something you’d like to see again or not.

Updates on 2015, my life and goals so far:

1. This blog: I’ve been writing and maintaining a blog fairly consistently since 2008 and it’s been a lot of fun. I started out writing 10+ posts a month, sometimes as many as 20-25 during NaNoWriMo in November. The world of blogging has changed so much since 2008, as has my personal and professional life, so there have been different iterations of this blog in that time and that’s the beauty of it, I think, watching it stretch and mutate to become what is most necessary and fun for me at any given time. I think the blog will be undergoing a new iteration soon and I’m in a phase of figuring out what I need from it. I’m crowdsourcing information from a group of other bloggers (look for their links on the right, under Band of Bloggers) and I would genuinely love to know your thoughts, whether you’ve been reading for a long time or catch the occasional random post, whether its in the comments or privately (my email is on my bio page).

2. My low-key New Year’s resolution: During the last few years, my email inbox has become a terrifying place, unproductive and chaotic, a black hole into which good information and correspondence have disappeared. Last year, I had more than 2,000 unread messages in my inbox (not in folders, inbox). Without quite intending to (at first), I started doing something about this late last year, picking up steam as I went. I stopped subscriptions to a lot of email newsletters, switched from daily to weekly in some cases, and deleted dozens of emails in batches. When 2015 started, I had fewer than 200 emails in my inbox, going back to 2012 and I have been steadily dealing with these, as well as developing better and faster data and correspondence management techniques that work for my personality and schedule. As I write this, I have fewer than 25 emails in my inbox, the oldest one is dated 3/1 and I intend, moving forward, to keep it that way. This might seem like an incredibly tedious, nerdy and anal retentive task to update you about however, this took so much patience and I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I just had to mention it.

3. Reading and re-reading: After the blowout success of last year’s Re-Reading Project, I had plans to keep going with new titles and more guest posts. I think a project of the same magnitude of last year’s, especially without having a list of titles in advance or any prep done, was just too overwhelming. The book titles I’d planned to read at the front end of the year were all massive and depressing and I just couldn’t do it in the depths of the winter. I haven’t re-read a single book this year. And on the reading front… well… I’ve been slacking off there, too. I’ve read some really amazing books this year, which I’ll tell you about in the Q1 Reading Report soon. I started off with 10 titles in January, a really decent number. But then I only read 5 in February. As for March…I haven’t finished a single book in March, which is an entirely unprecedented experience in my life (to my recall). I *have* been reading, of course, but mostly articles and excerpts of other work (Delanceyplace newsletter is one I kept, as well as the Smithsonian newsletter and NPR’s book and music podcasts). I’ve been reading one massive encyclopedia-esque book since last year and browsing some other books. Also, I sat down and read through the first 60+ pages of the memoir and have been recently re-reading the blog as part of my impending revamp. I’m sure I’ll finish at least one actual physical book this month… [I actually finished reading 2 books since I began writing this post.]

4. Home sweet home: In early 2014, I moved for the second time in 6 months and spent the rest of the year in a tiny temporary apartment. It was a hot mess when I first moved in and after some renovation and the repurposing of things I’d had forever, as well as things I inherited from friends when they moved, it became my home. It was in an area of town I’d never spent much time in and had always gotten lost in before, yet I started digging the neighborhood almost immediately. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it suits me so utterly, which has taken me by surprise. It was looking like I’d have to move again (3rd time in 18 months), so I started 2015 completely devastated, having realized how much I loved the place and how hard it was going to be to find a new home. Then, on my birthday, I got the news that I could stay for the foreseeable future. Very often, I look around my cozy apartment and think, “I’m so glad I live here.”

5. Eating right: One of my proudest moments of 2014 was when a friend looked in my fridge and said, “Hey, what’s with all this green stuff?” It’s only gotten “worse” (or better, more like) since then. I am now cooking and preparing the majority of my meals, eating at home far more often than I eat out. While I did eat canned soup for lunch pretty much every workday for three months (winter sucks, y’all), most every other meal was prepared using fresh and local ingredients. At the farmers market on my way home from work last week, I was telling the tomato vendor about the great sandwiches I’ve been making with her tomatoes and her market neighbor’s bread, as well as the kale from the vendor at the far end of the market. I told the baker (who’s become a friend) how the 8 people at the recent Peauxdunque retreat ate off one of her loaves of rustic white bread for two different meals (breakfast, paired with homemade apple butter and dinner, alongside my spaghetti). I let the citrus man talk me into a second bag of grapefruit on the promise they’d keep well in the fridge for weeks (and his grapefruit are so sweet I never use sugar on them). While I’ve been cooking quinoa without incident for a while, I was so excited to cook dinner for a friend that I cooked waaaay too much and then had to share several more meals with friends just to get all the quinoa eaten up. Happy accident. This has become my hobby, entertainment, passion, all in one, which makes for a very good investment.

6. Writing is my life: I’ve streamlined my life a great deal in order to write as much as possible. I get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., get to the coffeeshop when it opens at 6:30 and write for an hour before work. Sometimes I meditate before my writing session. After work, I come home and cook dinner and prep the next day’s lunch, occasionally meditate, maybe talk to some friends or watch a movie and go to bed pretty early. I still dance tango once or twice a week, but that’s been pretty much all of my socializing outside my house. (Except for occasional literary events like Delta Mouth and the Tennessee Williams Festival). Except for going to the farmers market, I do nothing else regularly. This hibernation worked very well for me during the winter when it was miserably cold and got dark so early. I’ll probably be shaking it up a bit now that it’s getting warmer. But I know that, despite not being a morning person, I really treasure my hour of writing in the morning (even if the hour is actually only 15 or 20 minutes because I’m running late), so I will work hard to maintain that habit.

7. Traveling: Despite my craving for stability and structure, I really love the way travel shakes things up, energizes me and throws everything into a bit of chaos. I’ve already traveled twice this year. First, 36 hours in Portland, Oregon for ValenTango (and to see my brother) last month. Then, two days on a “ridge” near Nashville for Peauxdunque’s annual writing retreat last weekend. I’ve also recently spent a weekend in Baton Rouge, which was an odd and wonderful “staycation” experience in a city where I once lived for several years. It was a blast from the past that united family, friends from several eras of my life, a literary reading, a tango house party, a visit to a museum and several drives through campus. I hope to visit Atlanta soon and maybe carve out some time for a New York City adventure. Let’s see.

That’s the nuts and bolts about what’s been going on the last three months. You’ll be getting a Q1 Reading Report soon and perhaps a reinvigorated, reconfigured bragging on post (or series…). In the meantime, don’t forget to comment or drop me a note about what you’ve enjoyed about this blog and what you might like to see more of here and from me.

 

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2014 Q4 Reading Report

Oh goodness, is this Reading Report overdue. I meant to post this early in January,  but here it is the end of the month and this is my first post of 2015. Ah well, better late than never, right? I read some great books during the last quarter of 2014, as you’ll see below. And I also tweeted about some of my reading as I read, so you’ll get some bonus photos, to make up for being so late.

October

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – I listened to the audiobook on the long drive from Philadelphia to Atlanta at the tail end of the Residency Road Trip. One of the most surprising things about this book, considering how sad the premise is, was that it was easy to get engrossed in the story behind the sadness. It was interesting on a legal, moral, emotional and very human level. I cared deeply about the characters, even when they were being totally annoying or foolish. It felt like a play that came alive in my car as I drove, which was really helpful considering I was on the road for over twelve hours.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – Bought this at a sale at my hometown library. I was aware of it from how well it sold at the bookstore while I was working there, but I didn’t really know what it’s about before I started reading. It’s an incredibly grim subject matter (especially considering the book I read previous to this one), but it’s not a story that’s grimly told. Somehow, the book manages to have the blithe lightness of a romantic comedy, while very intelligently and responsibly addressing a controversial, highly charged subject. I flew through the pages, and got really invested in how things turned out.

Lean Mean 13, Janet Evanovich – I listened to the audio of this one on my way back to Nola from Georgia. I think this is the perfect way to engage with the Stephanie Plum books. I’d started to get impatient with the silliness and formulaic quality of them while reading them, but those very qualities make them such perfect stories to listen to while on the road. Not too distracting, but very entertaining. They keep me great company in the car. The lady who reads the books for the audio is very good as well.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay – Coming back from the residency, I was such a happy dork picking up all of the books the library was holding for me, especially when it came to this one. I’d been looking forward to reading it for months and it didn’t disappoint. Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State is beautiful and brutal and she brings those qualities to bear on these essays, which are also funny and silly and insightful and so, so unerringly smart. She’s one of my new favorite writers.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith – Was very eager to read this one after reading the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I wanted to listen to the audio, like I had for the first, but it was unavailable, so I had to be content with old-fashioned reading, which was nice in its way, of course. I just soaked up this second mystery and the dynamic between Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Once more, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the quick and tidy wrap up at the end — both endings have felt a bit easy and unfinished. But the journey to get there was delightful.

Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman – Read the ReReading post here.

House Proud, Valorie Hart – I introduced Valorie, a friend of mine from tango, during her talk at the Louisiana Book Festival last year. As preparation for that, I pored over this beautiful design book featuring Louisiana homes, including Valorie’s own home with her late husband Alberto Paz.

November

Gates of Thread and Stone, Lori M. Lee – If I remember correctly, I learned about this one on Goodreads, in a discussion about The Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception Once more, a fantasy Y/A novel, really engrossing and interesting, the first of a series (why do I keep doing this to myself? At least the sequel to this one comes out relatively soon – in March). It reminded me a bit of the books by the German author Kai Meyer, which is a really good thing.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy – Read the ReReading post here.

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise, Wendelin van Draanen – I love these books, love Sammy Keyes and her friends and their hijinks. She’s really grown up in the last several books, finally discovering the identity of her father and having an adventure with him during the titular cruise of this book. While grabbing the link above, I realized another book in the series is already out – and it’s the last one! I’m looking forward to reading it and a bit sad I won’t be reading any more new adventures, but I have a suspicion that she’ll be in a good place by the time we say goodbye.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler – I knew I was going to love this book just from the table of contents. “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Want” and “Be Whoever You Are” happen to make fantastic mantras. Anyway, this book was, of course, hilarious, but also very insightful and inspiring. After writing about the day she was born, Amy Poehler recommends everyone go ask their parents about the day they were born, which made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of the day I was born. Just one of many brainstorms and moments of inspiration.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn – Whew, boy, this book in INtense, just like Flynn’s other books. Unlikeable women who are utterly human (and sometimes monstrous in such human ways) are Flynn’s specialty. It’s a lot to ingest and I usually need a break between books, but I stand in awe of this women’s storytelling ability. I always feel a little creeped out looking at her author photo – she looks so sweet and normal, to write such breathtakingly dark and weighty books. Of all writers, she’s probably the one I’d both want to have coffee with *and* avoid in dark alleys. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover or an author by her photo. 🙂

Worn Stories, Emily Spivak – This was a pretty cool book. Dozens of essays about articles of clothing and what they represent to the writers/wearers of the clothing. With pictures! It was an accidental find and I was curious. I thought I’d flip through, read a handful and then move on, but I ended up reading every last word. Some were twee and light, but most were (surprisingly, to me) interesting and impactful. It started out as a blog, before it was a book, and the blog continues.

December

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones – I used to be a poet, once upon a time. Sometimes, I still find myself moved by poetry more than almost anything else. These days, while I may read a handful of poems occasionally, I almost never finish an entire book of poetry. I forget, each time, how emotionally weighty poetry tends to be. So I look at a slim volume and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll zip right through this!” But I don’t. I linger and dwell, sometimes for years and never finish a book. So, this is probably the first book of poetry I’ve finished in a long time. I “zipped through,” even though I felt like his poems were eviscerating me with razor wire. But I couldn’t stop. True to form, I obsessed over the lines and words, sometimes getting hung up for a few days before going back and moving on. [You’ll note I tweeted about picking this book up at the end of October, but I didn’t finish it till December.] I had a deadline to finish – this book was requested by multiple people at the library – and I couldn’t bear to return the book without reading it all.

Rooms, Lauren Oliver – Another of my favorite writers, though she’s so fast that I can’t really keep up. This is an adult novel from her, a gothic family story that reminded me of both The Family Fang and Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, my favorite play. The way Arcadia uses various portions of the house and estate, as well as time, really echoed here, in Rooms.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer – Oooh, this book was really important for me to read. I found myself sweating and trembling occasionally as I read it. Why is asking so freaking difficult? Why is owning your right to be and ask for what you want and need so hard? I am so very different from Amanda Palmer – in personality and demeanor and comfort zones, but I admire her so much and it turns out that she has been battling a fight that I’ve struggled with a long time. Need to re-read this every year, or maybe every six months.

Doing the Devil’s Work, Bill Loehfelm – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

Fearless Fourteen, Janet Evanovich – Listened to the audio on my trip to Atlanta to visit my parents for Christmas. It was perfect company, made the trip go smoothly (it’s always rough counting on the radio between Mobile and Montgomery).

My Sunshine Away, MO Walsh – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

So that wraps up 2014. I read some really awesome books in 2014 (A little over a hundred! Roughly, 22 nonfiction books and 74 fiction, plus some other stuff.) In this first month of 2015, I’ve already read a six-book series, a screenplay and two books of essays, all really good stuff, so stay tuned for 2015’s Q1 Reading Report in early April.

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My end of 2014 homework

This is the fifth time I’ve wrapped up the year with some homework, originally assigned by Jamey in 2010. This is my chance, as the year winds down, to reflect on the past and plot the future, to remind myself everything that’s happened and everything I’ve achieved. It’s become my favorite new year tradition.

The 14 Struggles and Successes of 2014

1. I re-read. This time last year, the Re-Reading Project was a scribbled note at the back of my journal. After deciding to re-read 12 influential titles (all originally read before the age of 16), I stuck with it and, throughout the year, I re-read 21 books and 10 friends joined me, writing essays about books that are important to them. I didn’t finish my planned book for December, the only title from the original 12 that wasn’t re-read this year. However, I consider the Project a smashing success because of all of the amazing experiences I’ve had re-reading and all of the tremendous guest essays. Plus, as I suspected, re-reading pushed me to read more. Last year, I read 67 books and this year, I’ve read over 100. And it looks like I’m going to continue it next year, with a different handful of titles.

2. I moved for the second time in six months. This time, I moved to a brand new part of town. I’d always said (and thought) that I hated Mid City, because I inevitably got lost around here and I have a great sense of direction. From day one living here, I stopped getting lost and started finding my way in multiple senses. I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City and it’s been an invaluable lesson.

3. I applied for writing residencies and submitted my work like it was a full time job. Because it was, for the first time, my main job. I even got all organized and efficient about it, too.  (I gave up my t.v. in this second move and hardly missed it, I was so busy reading and writing).

4. I ate and cooked healthier. This has been a slow process, several years in the making, but I had a few conversations last year with tango dancers about juicing and hypoglycemia that pretty much pulled everything together for me. I read a few books that blew my mind. And I started eliminating as much sugar and processed food from my diet as I could on a limited budget and without the energy and time to change everything completely. It started with small changes (no sugar in coffee, especially the sugary iced coffees I love) that grew into bigger changes (lots more veggies, mindful of “sugary” fruits, more nuts and grains). I’m now a regular at the closest farmer’s market to my house, I make most of my meals at home and I’ve noticed that cutting down my sugar intake has made me taste and enjoy food so much more. So when I do eat some sugar, it’s a real treat. Sometimes, it’s hard and I really have to make sure I eat small meals/snacks regularly or I crash badly (but this was always true, I just didn’t know how to manage it). The end result is I’m healthier than I’ve maybe ever been and I’m still working to be healthier.

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5. I read the first chapter of my memoir at Peauxdunque’s  second Yeah, You Write, alongside amazing writers.

6. I assisted with the organizing of the New Orleans Tango Festival, which was an exceptional, educational, entertaining experience. I got to meet, dance with and just hang out with so many incredibly talented dancers. Next year’s festival is already gearing up and I am so excited, even though it’s still six months away! Opportunities like this one really helped make me a better dancer this year.

7. I traveled a lot this year. I went twice to D.C. and got to dance at two different milongas. I spent more time in Atlanta and got to take lessons with teachers there. I danced in Philadelphia and in the middle of nowhere on a airfield. I even spent more time in Baton Rouge. While all of the trips weren’t necessarily motivated by tango, I managed to dance wherever I went. All of this travel, while related to the turmoil of this year in many ways, reminded me how much I really love visiting different cities, the openness it brings to my life. I want to make travel a priority in the future. Until D.C., I hadn’t flown in a few years and I haven’t been out of the country since 2007, so I think that’s gotta change soon.

8. I attended an artists residency, Soaring Gardens. I wrote about this quite a bit on the blog, so I’ll keep this one short. Except to say that my month staying at Soaring Gardens with the artist Anne Canfield was everything I needed and utterly transformative.

9. I “lost” NaNoWriMo. This year’s novel was a silly and fun murder mystery that came to me while I was in Pennsylvania. I was excited to write it, but it never came together. I only wrote a few thousand words on that project, but I’ll never consider this NaNoWriMo (or any other) a failure. I always learn something trying to write 50,000 words in a single month. This is why I totally won this year: during November, I started waking up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. to write for a half hour, 40 minutes, an hour, before work. I wrote over 10,000 new words on the memoir. I kicked ass during those early morning writing sessions, getting more done in an hour than I’ve gotten done in whole days set aside to write. What’s even better is that I’m still writing for an hour most mornings.

10. I finally got meditation. Meditation has always been something I understand would be good for me, but it’s been a recipe to fail in the past. I meditated a little, though not formally, while at the residency. Mostly, I journaled like crazy and spent a lot of time in my own head, sitting still outside. In November, while I was *not writing* my murder mystery for NaNoWriMo, I also completed a meditation challenge. It finally clicked for me this go-round and I had a breakthrough about what meditation looks/feels like and how it can help me.

11. I worked on my novel again and while it’s still unfinished (those pesky last 30 pages of the third draft are killer), it’s in very good shape. Meanwhile, I’ve made some great progress with the memoir this year. I blogged more than I have in a long time and published a few reviews and interviews. And, a short essay I wrote will be published in an anthology. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my work in a tangible form that can be shared.

12. I asked for help. I’m not good at this or, I haven’t been in the past. It was very, very hard, but when it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go to the residency, instead of giving up, I launched a GoFundMe campaign. I was utterly blown away by the generosity and support I received. Even when people couldn’t donate anything or much, their notes of encouragement bolstered me. Beyond the fundraising campaign, I’ve received so much help this year (financial, emotional, physical) and after I decided to stop being a basket case about it, I started to accept it as graciously as I could, because everything this year would have been harder or impossible without the help I received.

13. I survived. Historically, I have not managed change well. 2014 was full of transitions, a constantly shifting field. Most of it was positive. Several changes were incredibly sad. Good, bad, positive, sad, it was a lot. I moved for the second time in six months and spent the whole year uncertain how long I’d stay, not just in my apartment, but in New Orleans itself. I fell in love and while the relationship didn’t work out, it changed everything. I wrote my first poem in almost a decade and started journaling hardcore again. I attended two funerals, the first of my life, and I worked hard to support people I cared about through their grief. I freelanced and took on a new role as a salesperson, but I didn’t work on a single movie, though I considered positions on two huge films. My sister’s second son was born, as were the children of friends in the tango community. Three of my friends’ 12 year old sons are now taller than me (no matter how much I grow as a person, I’m just not physically getting any taller). Friends graduated, got married, changed jobs, left town. This year, I struggled to survive all of the changes. Next year, I look forward to thriving. I have ideas and dreams and I’m working on making them plans and realities.

14. I put my writing first. While I’ve never actually given up my writing or stopped completely, I’ve let jobs, relationships, living situations, etc. structure my life and then I fit my writing in between whatever else seemed like a bigger priority at the time. This was the year, for better or for worse, that I decided that my writing, my own goals and plans, had to establish the structure of my life and everything else needs to support my writing. It was really messy and difficult, but I know it was a lesson worth learning. Where I live, who I love and spend time with, what I do to make money, none of this can change who I am: a writer. So all my decisions from now on are going to be made with that in the forefront.

2013 was a rough year and 2014 was, if anything, even rougher. But in the midst of the struggle, as Maurice recently reminded me, is the sublime. I’m ending 2014 stronger than I started it, confident and determined. I’m ready to let go of 2014 and very excited for 2015.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baton Rouge, family, food, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel

The Re-Reading Project: The Book I Couldn’t Re-Read

This time last year, I had a small sheet of paper taped into the back of my journal with a list of twelve books jotted out. My plan was to re-read one of these twelve books each month in 2014 and write about the experience, what I remembered from my original readings and what I discovered reading them now. I’d first read almost all of these books before I was 16 (when I moved to Louisiana) and while I’d read most of them only one time, I counted them all as favorite, influential books.

In January, I quickly fell in love with the project and read 9 kids’ books. I was in the middle of moving for the second time in six months, so I think I was a little nostalgic for childhood and a semblance of stability. It was a lot of fun, in the middle of chaos.

February found me in my new home and brought me company in the project: my friend Maurice re-read an influential book of his own and wrote a guest post. I re-read a Japanese fantasy translated into English.

March brought a guest post from my sister Aimee, re-reading an author she introduced me to and who I would re-read later in the year, as well as a post of my own about re-reading a speculative anthropological romance novel.

As April opened, I re-read a gothic romance while on a train to visit my new love and my friend Missy re-read a philosophical horror novel I’d never read by an author who also wrote a series of books I almost re-read this year.

In May, I confessed to my history as a reader of romance novels and I re-read my first “real” romance novel, by a writer I’ve never read again, and then re-read a romance by a writer whose mysteries I still read, conflicted though I may be about enjoying them.

June saw me at my love’s house, re-reading a young adult trilogy by an author who disappeared for ten years and then became wildly popular again as two of her series were made into t.v. shows. My friend Mary re-read folk tales right around the same time her book of poetry inspired by folk tales was published.

July brought me heartache, but I pushed on and re-read a horror novel by the author my sister introduced me to at age ten and my friend Noel re-read another horror novel by a more famous horror novelist.

August took me back to school, re-reading three books I was assigned as a student, one of which I hated and one of which I loved, and I got on the road for the Residency Road Trip. Blogger Lisa re-read another canonical tome that impacted her.

September was an oasis of calm, of thinking, reading and writing and I re-read a speculative science thriller and my friend James re-read a magical realistic family saga by an author who died this year.

In October, I returned to “real life” and New Orleans, wrapping up the Residency Road Trip and settling back in. I struggled to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October and at the last minute changed it to a magical realistic romantic tale as my Peauxdunque cohort Emily re-read a romantic Civil War saga.

During November, I conducted my own private NaNoWriMo and happily re-read an adventure tale based on an ancient Iraqi folktale while another Peauxdunque cohort, Joi, re-read a gothic horror novel about suburbia and family (not written by Gillian Flynn).

December finds me in a familiar place – swimming through chaos and uncertainty. My friend Rachel re-read a satirical science fiction novel and I struggled, once more, to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October: a fantasy novel published in 1992 by an author who has switched to writing mysteries. (If you can guess what the book is from that description, let me know.) I’ve always remembered this book as one of my favorites, though I might’ve only read it once (it’s recorded in 1996, when I was 14, but I find it hard to believe I only read it one time). I was excited to re-read this book all year long – it was one of the first titles that went on my list. Several times, as I read other books, I thought of this book. There’s an artist protagonist, so I thought it would be perfect after living with an artist for a month at the residency. But, as I dove in, the book never really caught my attention. I was fifty pages in when I started again this month, so I had a head start and I still couldn’t get invested. It finally got a bit more interesting when I passed the 100 page mark last night, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time for every book in a person’s life. And I finally had to admit that I’m just not meant to re-read this book this year. Maybe next year.

This year, I re-read and wrote about 21 books (rather than the 12 I’d originally intended) and my friends wrote 10 fabulous guest essays about books they re-read. Interesting stats: of the ten guests, eight are women and two are men. Even more interesting: I’ve only read 2.5 of the 10 books my guests re-read (the .5 is for Mary’s folk takes because while I didn’t read her edition, I’ve probably read most of the stories), though I have started reading, but never finished, half of them. I didn’t assign any of the titles my guests picked, though we did discuss them in advance and I sometimes scheduled them according to what I was re-reading (Noel in July most notably).

It turns out that the Re-Reading Project is going to continue, with a new slate of books and in a different form. Let me know if you’re interested in re-reading and writing about your experience and stay tuned. In the meantime, you can use this post as an index (or scavenger hunt, if you prefer) for all of the essays for the 2014 Re-Reading Project. 

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Filed under books, Friends, musing, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel, what I'm reading