The Reason For Thank You Notes

I’ve never won a major award. Also, I’ve never won an intermediate award or a minor award or even a free pitcher of margaritas at Trivia Night. I have in fact been overlooked in all categories of every award in every industry, including the ones that seemed a sure thing, like Best Repeated Abuse Of Split Infinitives or J.D. Power and Associates Best Customer Service (General Literature Blog Mass Market Segment). I’m not bitter-MUCH-because it’s really true that it’s an honor just to be nominated. It’s always seemed to me that the most satisfying part of winning any award in public is the opportunity to publicly express gratitude to the people that have stood with you on whatever journey you’ve been on that led you to that podium. We’ve all seen that at the big performer-centered award shows: tearful recipients clutching something gold and shiny, rushing through a list of names, trying to ward off the “shut up already” orchestra music.

It must be difficult to get that once-in-a-lifetime chance to say THANK YOU only to be thwarted by a commercial break. If you want an unlimited gratitude plan, you need to publish a book. Authors have it figured out because a published book presents legions of places to thank every family member, editor, librarian, barista, dog, cat, and historical dead-type people that offered support, inspiration, or grilled cheese sandwiches during the writing of the book. There’s a Dedication page. Not enough space there? Please, expand in the Acknowledgments section, and tell us more. Need to offer more thoughts to tie it all together? There is always the Epilogue option. As a reader, I devour every word in these sections, because I am fascinated and moved by the communities and the processes that produce my favorite books, and also I’m trying to put off doing my laundry.

All For You Author dedications run the gamut from silly to sad to serious. Often, dedications are memorials to honor loved ones who have passed, such as Charles Finch’s simple lines in his nautical mystery Burial At Sea to his grandmother “who loved sea stories”.  When it comes right down to it, though, my winner for the ultimate dedication goes to British poet and playwright Robert Browning. Robert Browning was one-half of the Victorian poetry power couple Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and there ain’t no celebrity like Victorian poet celebrity cuz Victorian poet celebrity got formal rules of comportment and sexual repression. Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were already separately established on the literary B list when they married in  1846. It was during their marriage that Robert produced one of his most important works, Men and Women.  It’s a substantial work of 51 poems and in the last poem, Browning speaks directly to the reader and dedicates the entire incredible collection to his beloved wife. Think about that the next time you buy your significant other a funny Hallmark card with a picture of cartoon cat saying “I love you so much I brought you a dead mouse”.  Basically: you had the choice between epic poetry and dead rodents, and you blew it. Browning knew exactly what to do with his authorial podium – tell the whole world that his best writing was ultimately a gift for his wife. (Elizabeth was no slouch in the dedication department, either. Her masterwork, Sonnets From The Portuguese,  consists of love sonnets written to her husband and gave the world the immortal lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”. Take that, Hallmark.)

The Chair Recognizes  Where a dedication is limited to one person, maybe two, or a family, all limits are off in the Acknowledgements.  An author can acknowledge everybody. No worries about time limits, or forgetting someone and having to recover in the press room. Acknowledgments are a lovely way to loop in not only the professional relationships that take a book from idea to publication but all the other key people in an author’s circle. I love reading these, but my inner nerd is most happy when reading acknowledgments in any book that is history-related because I am so DOWN with learning about anyone’s research processes. History authors got some damn fine research processes, just sayin’, and nobody is finer than Laura Hillenbrand. Her meticulous, painstaking research has produced two of the finest American history books ever written, Seabiscuit and Unbroken.   Laura Hillenbrand’s research methods are an art form. YUP I SAID THAT. FIGHT ME. The acknowledgments for Seabiscuit read almost as a love letter to how intimate and personal history truly is, unpacking Hillenbrand’s tenacious approach that combines painstaking thoroughness with wildly open curiosity. Before it was history, it was someone’s life, and Hillenbrand acknowledges those lives with respect and sensitivity. GAH I just talked myself into re-reading Seabiscuit.

Just One More Thing Dedications and acknowledgments are as common as dirt. When an author wants to get atypical, then it’s Epilogue time. It’s fancy to add an epilogue. Not country club fancy. More like, expensive mascara fancy. When an author needs to put a bow on what you’ve just read, a bow that needs the emotional weight of a dedication and the space afforded by an acknowledgment, then an epilogue delivers the perfect flavor of closure.  Jenny Lawson illustrates this absolutely perfectly in her book about living with mental illness, Furiously Happy. This book is intentionally hilarious, not to downplay the seriousness of her disease, but to highlight the impact anxiety and depression have on her day-to-day life and how she chooses to cope with these chronic conditions. In her epilogue, she allows the humor to fall away in a heartfelt, raw appeal to people that she knows are sharing the same struggles. Mental illness is an isolating condition, often complicated by shame and stigma. Lawson uses her time at the podium to remind her most vulnerable readers that they are valued. It’s the perfect bow.


This is gonna be one hell of an epilogue

It’s awards season. Go ahead. Pretend you’re getting that award you know you deserve, grab a spatula, and practice your epic acceptance speech in the mirror. It will be our secret.


Action Items
Extra credit if you read any of Robert Browning’s poetry.

The Reason I Have Solutions

If you’re in a frantic race to the finish full of stress and endless errands-congratulations! You’re doing the holidays right! It’s important to take shortcuts whenever you can, so hear me out when I tell you that:

  1. If you have an entertaining dilemma, Julia Reed probably has a solution, and
  2. Don’t bother doing stuff like taking pictures or making any kind of written record of your memories. TIME SUCK.

Click here and out how you can do the above simultaneously!


Who knows? Maybe a Julia Reed book is that perfect gift for someone on your list, in which case I’ve just solved THREE problems for you. YOU ARE WELCOME.


Action Items
Take a nap, probably.

The Reason To Walk The Line

One of the fundamental expectations I have of the books I read is that in any given book, STUFF WILL HAPPEN. The plot, characters, story arc, theme, point-of-view….basic book guts should be present, accounted for, and delivering. Honestly, if I wanted nothing to happen in what I read, I’d stick to technical manuals and pre-screened credit offers. Having said that, I do have a threshold for the quality and amount of stuff that happens in a book. There’s a tipping point for when a story can feel overwrought and overdone. Simply put, there’s a fine line between dramatic and drama. Please allow me to illustrate:

The Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years in extra innings in a rain-delayed final game of the series? Dramatic.
People starting fistfights over discount sheets at Target on Black Friday? Drama.
Awaiting the first photographs of Jupiter from the Mission Juno spacecraft? Dramatic.
Any episode of any reality show that includes “big”, “fat” and/or “war” in the title? Drama.

Dramatic story elements are like cake. You can flavor them however you want, layer them for gravitas, and even carve them into weird shapes. Drama is the icing, piped on in swooshy swirls and decorated with sprinkles for flair and impact. Just enough of each makes you crave dessert, but too much and you’re looking at diabetes. Today’s roundup offers up some books that dance along that fine line and deliver a little of both.

Forward: A Memoir (Abby Wambach) Abby Wambach made soccer history repeatedly during her run as a power forward with US Women’s Soccer. Most goals scored in World Cup play? Check. 100 career goals scored? Check. World record for most goals scored (breaking Mia Hamm’s world record, NBD)? Check. Abby Wambach retired as a soccer player in 2015 with 184 career goals in international play, more than any player has ever scored-male or female. Her memoir begins and ends with soccer, laying out her tortured relationship with her body and how she translated that into the mind-blowing, powerful playing style that captured America’s attention. In her private life, Wambach grappled with revealing her sexuality to her family and her public, addictions to pills and alcohol, and a rocky marriage. Now sober and working for ESPN as an analyst and a contributor, Wambach’s memoir is less a reflection on a past long gone than a laying out of her strategy for tackling her demons in her future.
The Fine Line:
Dramatic After spending her post-high school graduation summer skipping workouts, drinking all the beer, and inhaling all the junk food, Wambach showed up for her first workout as a Florida Gator completely unprepared and out of shape. Knowing her spot on the team was on the line, she forces herself to get through drills so punishing that they made me nauseous just reading about them.
Drama Blow-by-blow, word-for-word recreations of looooong text exchanges with friends during personal crises.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Truman Capote) If you are only familiar with the movie version of Truman Capote’s novella, then what you’ve seen is a sanitized version of this story, cleaned up for a conventional 1950s audience. The book is infinitely more twisted. On the page, Truman Capote lets his bitch flag fly, and Truman Capote has a Ph.D. in Bitch Flag. Holly Golightly is an opportunistic country girl come to town, looking to make her fortune as someone’s wealthy wife in postwar NYC. Her story is told by her brownstone neighbor and friend, a man who at first observes Holly’s comings and goings and then becomes part of her inner circle. The first person narration puts us uncomfortably close as Holly jumps from various frying pans into various fires. For all her self-destructive faults, Holly possesses a shrewd charm that is just as compelling today as it was when this work was first published. All of Truman Capote’s contradictory longings for fame, social cachet, and privacy are manifested in this jewel box of a book.
The Fine Line:
Dramatic Holly’s touching, pure love for her brother Fred. He is never far from her thoughts and his well-being is her motivation as she looks for financial security.
Drama Holly forces her pet cat out onto the streets of New York to fend for itself because she and her cat are independent souls who “never made each other any promises.”

The Queen Of The Night (Alexander Chee) Generally speaking, you can’t get more dramatic than opera. Opera is the loaded double burger with cheese and bacon on the drama menu. The Queen Of The Night is an opera in novel form, with Alexander Chee delivering a life story so fantastic it’s just this shy of magical realism. Set in Paris during the Second Empire, under the reign of the Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, The Queen Of The Night is a master class in social climbing, and falling, and climbing again. Our heroine, Lilliet Berne, is the toast of Paris, enjoying success and fame as a leading soprano. When she is offered the opportunity to realize every singer’s dream of originating a role in an opera written especially to showcase her talent, she agrees to meet with the composer to discuss the possibility. It is then that she discovers the novel on which the opera is to be based is actually her own life story. Lilliet’s quest to find out who spilled her secrets takes the reader through Lilliet’s very eventful life. There is just a whole lot of book going on here, and Chee ingeniously enfolds the tradition and elemental structure of opera into the story. I could not put this book down, but damn, it wore me out.
The Fine Line:
Dramatic Lillet’s childhood on a farm in Minnesota comes to an abrupt end when she is orphaned as a fever wipes out her family.
Drama Prussian soldiers invade Paris and Lillet escapes capture in a hot-air balloon.

Southern Living White Cake, Red Velvet, Peppermint, White Chocolate, Coconut


Ultimately, drama tolerance is relative. Your mileage may vary, but there’s an immense literary satisfaction in indulging in juicy, well-executed drama. It’s the holiday season -indulge! Put on your biggest sunglasses, fling that long scarf back over your shoulder, toss your hair, and dive in. Act like you own the place.  It worked for Holly Golightly.


Action Item
Maybe get a giant hat too. And a hot-air balloon. Just in case.

The Reason To Put Me In, Coach

A couple of weeks ago, my friend, blogger and writer Baddest Mother Ever, invited me to attend a very cool book tour event with her.  I was  immediately in because “book” and then “TOUR” so YUP.  Lucky for me, it was Luvvie Ajayi’s book tour in support of her first book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. We were going to get to meet Luvvie in a pre-event reception, hug her neck in a photo op, and get our books signed. I was thrilled because one of my favorite kind of books is Autographed Books. (Other favorite kinds of books include Book I Am Reading Right Now and The Next Book I Am Going To  Read.) I also detected an ulterior motive in the invitation, in that Baddest Mother Ever has been complaining that her TBR list is too long because every time she reads my blog, she adds another book to her list. Since she’d already read I’m Judging You, she was heading off my next book recommendation at the pass and neutralizing the Bookreasons impact to her list. I SEE YOU, BADDEST.

I could not wait to read I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual and meet Luvvie Ajayi, because I am always looking for new, highly qualified life coaches. I need an army of life coaches. It’s because in my head, I operate with sophistication and grace. I’m manners personified and I know exactly how to react in any situation because of my inherent maturity and genteel upbringing. In my head, I’m Jacqueline Kennedy. On the outside, I’m also Jacqueline Kennedy, assuming Jacqueline Kennedy swore like a drunken sailor, had a laugh loud enough to peel paint, and had the personality that is commonly associated with the first, cranky stage of a hangover. I try to have couth, I really do, but I am just naturally couth-repellent. I’m often told that I’m the “mean friend who’s really nice!” Ooops. Whenever I hear that, I cringe and put another notch in my “Failed At Keeping My Mouth Shut” belt. It’s got a loooot of notches.  The only way I can justify my blundering style is to say that when you interact with me, you’re getting unintentional authenticity. You’re also getting a lot of F-bombs, but you should probably have expected that authenticity comes with F-bombs, so that’s on you. Basically, in most social situations, I’m Godzilla, and the world is my Tokyo.
Godzilla: (Stomps on Tokyo)
Tokyo: Ouch
Godzilla: Sorry
Godzilla:(Stomps on Tokyo)
Tokyo: Ouch
Godzilla: Sorry
Godzilla: (Stomps on Tokyo)

Luvvie Ajayi is an authentic truth-teller too, but considering that she’s built a successful career from authentic truthtelling, I was hoping I could learn from her how to be less Godzilla and more like one of those Disney ballet hippos from Fantasia. Luvvie is a blogger, pop culture commentator, activist, and digital strategist who has made a name for herself on the Interwebz with her savvy, forthright commentary on everything from Game of Thrones to race relations to technology. She’s channeled her insight and humor into her first book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual.  I’m Judging You is a collection of humorous essays explaining exactly what we’re all doing wrong and how she’s judging us for it.  She’s knowledgeable, experienced, frank, and funny, and her book is so entertaining and illuminating I barely noticed it was slapping me upside the head with solid life coaching.

Baddest and I arrived at the venue, got our books, and found the lounge where the meet and greet was transpiring. After meeting Luvvie, engaging in some low-key fangirling, AND GETTING MY BOOK AUTOGRAPHED YES THANK YOU, we took our seats for the main event of the evening: an interview with Luvvie conducted by author Denene Millner. All the salient questions were covered: Luvvie’s background, the germination of the idea for her book, her writing process, and how her life has changed since her book was published. I was especially interested to hear how she has personally driven her own book tour after receiving the minimal amount of support from her publisher. From an initial two city tour to seventeen stops-and counting-Luvvie used the power of her network to drive potential readers to her book, landing I’m Judging You on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s the kind of change that social media is driving, a circumvention of the usual routes by which a book does or does not succeed.

When the interview concluded, Luvvie took questions from the audience. It’s worth mentioning that this event was sold out with a 200 person waiting list. Luvvie has been a presence on the Internet since 2007, when we used stone tablets and chisels to enter logon IDs. As a result, her fanbase is deep. It wasn’t surprising to see that she had a full house there to support her first book. What was remarkable, though, was the thread that tied together the questions that the audience asked. One by one, the people chosen to ask a stood, took the microphone and initiated their question by telling Luvvie when they first found her. “I’ve been following you since 2007.” “My friend told me about you and I’ve been reading your newsletter for years.” “I was one of your first followers on Facebook.” “I saw a keynote address you did a few years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since.” Some people told intensely personal stories about struggle, and hardship, and how much it meant to have Luvvie’s words as a touchstone. Most everyone talked about the importance of the laughter and pure entertainment that they found in their Luvvie corner. I’m Judging You is a first book and will be the first time many people read Luvvie Ajayi. But to the community of fans that grew up reading Luvvie, it’s the next stage in an ongoing conversation they’ve been having for years.
Godzilla: I like autographed books too
Tokyo: You don’t say
Godzilla: (stomps on Tokyo)
Tokyo: Godzilla can you stand still for like five damn minutes

While making me delicate or refined is probably beyond even Luvvie’s powers of transformation, watching the members of Luvvie Nation reaffirmed for me why I love the written word so much. Words help us connect, and the digital age, for all of its flaws, has amplified the potential and the power of that connection. Luvvie Ajayi is currently taking the power of that potential on a book tour. Thanks for inviting me, Baddest. I liked being Luvviejudged. And – your break is over. Next week, I’m going to recommend some James Joyce.


Sign here please


Action Items
Immediately upon finishing I’m Judging You, I washed all my bras. You’ll understand after you read the book.

The Reason You Should Pass The Tissues

I like to pride myself on my stoic, even-keeled approach to life, but that is a giant lying waste of time because I am an emotional emotion who goes around emoting all the time. I wouldn’t know stoic if it bit me on the ass and offered me a Band-Aid. Interestingly enough, though, I am not much of a crier. It’s not that I don’t feel sadness, it’s that I’m shallow and mostly dead inside. I don’t feel a LOT of sadness before I get distracted by jazzier feelings, like sulkiness or enthusiasm or hungry. The result of all this diversion and denial is that a lot of my crying gets done as a result of book ambush. There I’ll be, reading a perfectly innocent book, when I unexpectedly get jumped by the major sads. It can make reading in public a little tricky, but I’m a razor’s edge kind of gal. Sometimes, a catharsis via a good cry is what’s called for, even when it’s terribly inconvenient to fall apart in my dentist’s waiting room.

There are books that have made reputations by the epic sobfests they instigate. Where The Red Fern Grows. The Color Purple. Charlotte’s Web. Whichever Harry Potter book where Snape dies. I didn’t cry while reading any of these. They barely ranked a “Watery Eyes” on my personal Cry-O-Meter, but the titles listed below? My Waterloos. Let’s face them.

John Adams by David McCullough

Learning about the American Revolution sounds exciting until you realize that a lot of the American Revolution is about meetings. I don’t care if you give your meeting a fancy name like “Continental Congress”. It is still a MEETING and the only thing more boring than going to a meeting is learning dates in the 1770s when other people held meetings. The only exception to this rule is if David McCullough writes a book about the meetings. (Sorry, Lin-Manuel Miranda.) I can go on and on about David McCullough’s books (and one day I will) and his masterpiece John Adams is the American Revolution story we all deserve. This definitive biography of America’s second president is enthralling, with a sexy love story and political intrigue and an honorable, intensely principled central character. I was so absorbed by  David McCullough’s charming and sympathetically rendered portrait of John Adams, and so delighted by the details of Colonial life and times, that I was completely unprepared for John Adams to die. On the 4th of July. And the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. AND ON THE SAME DAY AS HIS BESTIE THOMAS JEFFERSON. Are you kidding me with all this? As I was hard weeping my way through this part of the book, my husband heard me crying and came to check on me.
Husband: Are you ok? What happened??
Me: (sniffles) John…Adams…diiiiieeeeed (fresh weeping)
Husband: John Adams? Federalist John Adams?
Me: (closes eyes, nods)
Husband: (makes disgusted noise and leaves)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff’s superpower is research. More accurately, it is researching the unresearchable. She should have a place in the Marvel Universe for this because it’s at least as difficult as using archery to defeat robot armies. It is this remarkable, non-archery ability that delivered the book Cleopatra: A Life into my hot little hands. When you hear ‘Cleopatra’, what comes to mind? That’s right—Elizabeth Taylor’s questionable style choices and something vague about a snake. For all Cleopatra’s fame, very little was documented about Egypt’s defining monarch, until Stacy Schiff came along to do all the heavy lifting. For gaps where records about Cleopatra do not exist, Stacy Schiff’s meticulous research fills in with fascinating details about Egyptian history, culture, and what it meant to be a member of the royal family in power in Ptolemaic Egypt. Cleopatra was strong ruler dedicated to the welfare of her kingdom, but it was her alliance-turned-love-affair with Mark Antony that gives this biography a powerful emotional thread. Cleopatra and Marc Antony seal their fates when they unwisely take on the Roman Republic. After losing the final, decisive battle against the Roman leader Octavius, Marc Antony commits suicide. The description of Cleopatra recovering her beloved husband’s body and bringing it home to be with her prior to her own suicide is nothing short of heartbreaking. Cleopatra’s devastation and desperation as she prepares to take her life – I cracked while I read this. And it wasn’t pretty weeping, either. It was a big old ugly cry, the kind where your lashes get so wet it feels like your mascara is running right off even though you’re not wearing any mascara. That is the blurb this book needs: “I cried my imaginary shadow mascara right off my face”.



Book reading supplies: Bookmarks, comfy chair, cucumber for puffy eyes


Love Is A Mix Tape: Life And Loss, One Song At A Time by Rob Sheffield

Just typing the title of this book makes a lump well in my throat. Rob Sheffield, a music and culture critic for Rolling Stone, wrote this memoir about meeting, falling in love with, and marrying the perfect girl while a student at the University of Virginia. It is a love story about how complicated dating life can be, about marrying young and loving the intimacy of married life, and about reeling from the sudden, crushing loss of that intimacy. Rob and his wife Renee were married five years before their life together abruptly ended when Renee died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 32. Rob Sheffield processes his shock and grief by losing himself in the 90s music that brought them together, telling the story of his life before, during, and after Renee. He sugarcoats nothing in this book, laying bare the bewildered anger and aimlessness he felt after his wife’s death, all the sadder for its contrast with the contentment and joy he found in his relationship with Renee. This book took me beyond ugly crying into showoff crying. I went for the sustained, constant quiet sobbing for the entire second half of the book, and because I just could not believe that Renee died. I kept interrupting myself to go read that part again. It’s a beautiful, moving, and brave book.


Action Items
Honorable crying mention goes to the part of Little House On The Prairie when Laura’s dog Jack dies.

The Reason To Polish My Trophy Case

For a very long time, it did not occur to me not to read any book I started cover to cover.  I didn’t know I didn’t have to finish. Never giving myself permission to put a book down means I’ve done some serious hatereading. (Hatereading is my least favorite kind of reading. It ranks below carsickreading and interruptedreading.) It’s not like I’m going to qualify for the ‘Always Finishes The Book’ Prize because it doesn’t exist and there’s no scoreboard for it anyway. No one is keeping book scores except for the unreasonable compulsive asshole who lives in my head, and she should shut up. Letting meanless scorekeeping sabotage my Main Fun Thing by sucking all the fun out of it is somewhat shortsighted.  Reluctantly, but necessarily, I have given myself an out in some specific instances when it becomes clear and a book and I are not compatible. Even though the breakups are handled gently and with respect – I always take the book out for coffee, and I NEVER give the bad news over a text message -there is a little part of me that feels like I let the book down. Please join me as we twirl around like happy autumn leaves in a mini tour of my Hall of Shame.

The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo I tried with this book. Twice. I still can’t believe I could not finish it. TWICE. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has all of my Basic Crime Fiction requirements: down-on-his-luck grizzled male narrator, badass female protagonist, and a film adaptation starring Daniel Craig. When I first picked it up it seemed Smilla’s Sense of Snow-ish, and I was down with that because I loved that book. When I could not get into it, I figured I was just was not in the mood in that moment to feel Swedish so I put it aside. Then suddenly everyone I knew had read it and then the movie was announced then everyone had read the second book in the series I was all, ok, what the hell am I missing here? I hunted up my copy, took it with me on a vacation, and I cracked it poolside. It was slow going but I kept telling myself it was going to get better! Any page now! After I’d been at it about half an hour, the friend I was with said “OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG YOU KEEP MAKING SIGHING NOISES EVERY FIVE MINUTES STOP IT RIGHT NOW OR ELSE.” My involuntary breathing hated the book as much as I did, and my friend hated my exasperated sighing. It was time to bail. Sorry, Dragon Tattoo. I wanted it to work out as much as you did.

The Hunt For Red October Like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Tom Clancy books qualify on paper as something I would really enjoy. (pause to hold for laughter at my awesome play-on-words-paper joke) But I bailed on The Hunt For Red October in the middle of a 3-page description of…omg, something about sonar? I leave these books for the gearheads who can truly appreciate the magic of a dimly lit submarine full of gauges, each requiring their own lovingly detailed description of detail-y details. Gauge on, my gearheads.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Ok, you got me. I did not bail on this book. I’m just here to say I am never ever going to read it ever. This book has a giant squid in it, and I don’t read about spiders. I know a squid is not a spider but it’s close enough because 8 legs and squids are WORSE because suction cups all over the legs. The only book I have ever read about a spider was It and that is only because I DID NOT KNOW Stephen King was going to go all giant town-eating spider on my ass and by the time I figured it out I was too far into the book to stop. That is the last time I let Stephen King bait me with a serial killer clown and switch me to a sewer-dwelling Charlotte with a gland problem. In fact, consider this whole paragraph my official request that bookstores have an Octopod/Arachnid section where all books even remotely related to spiders or squids are shelved. This will make it convenient for me to never get near that section.

Eat, Pray, Love  I know. You loved it. Your friends loved it. Everybody everywhere loved it. I tried. I really did. I’m dead inside. I donated my copy to the library so everyone can continue to love it.

A Brief History Of Time Shut up. You didn’t finish it either.



Thanks for playing.

It can be difficult to tell when it’s not working out with a book because sometimes my best reads are the ones that made me work a little. When I find myself fantasizing about accidentally dropping a book off a roof, I know it’s time to break up. It’s ok. We can’t make it across the finish line every time! I’ll pick up my participation trophy on the way out.


Action Items
Book breakups are hard. Give yourself time to grieve.

Image courtesy Creative Commons

The Reason To Pay It Backward

As anyone does, I take everything Matthew McConaughey says very, very seriously. So when his character on True Detective said “time is a flat circle” while trying to explain why time is a flat circle, I paid attention. Until that point, I considered time to be fairly linear. Except during a 60-minute workout. Do you know how long 60 minutes takes at the gym? About 4,00,000000,00,2 minutes. In that instance time is less like a flat circle  and more like a tremendously annoying parabola. But time being a flat circle? That was such a super-fancy way of describing that what goes around, comes around, that it got me thinking about the unpredictable ways that karma will serve up tasty goodies. Like reading a powerful book, then meeting the person that wrote it. (I’m not a namedropper so you’ll have to wait to find out I met Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine. IN PERSON.)

But first, a word about fangirling. Fangirling is hard work, y’all. It’s a nuanced art form requiring endless hours of practice to strike just the right note of obsessive incoherence. After all, when meeting someone you admire, why behave in a rational, mature way? It’s so much easier to give in to temptation and collapse into loud babbling. If you are the kind of person who can keep your cool when you are introduced to someone of whom you are a fan, I congratulate you and can you please tell how you do that? Because when I am introduced to someone I think is awesome, my feelings tend to fling me around like a rodeo bull, flailing me awkwardly all over my immediate vicinity. It makes the idea of meeting a familiar stranger a horrifying prospect. Like The Hulk, I must carefully avoid situations that might trigger my fangirl mutation. Except when I can’t avoid them, like when I got to meet Dr. Terrence Roberts. IN PERSON.

In 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was desegregated, forced by the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision to end the “separate but equal” education policy that divided life by race in the South. Attempts to integrate schools were routinely met with hostility and defiance. In Little Rock that manifested in targeting the nine African-American students who desegregated Central High School with daily death threats, harassment, and violence. This organized campaign meant to drive the Little Rock Nine out of Central resulted in the dispatch of the 101st Airborne to ensure the students could attend school.  Dr. Terrence Roberts writes about living that experience and the subsequent path his life took in his memoir Lessons From Little Rock. It’s a powerful book, in no small part because of the way Dr. Roberts recreates the unbelievable day-to-day atmosphere of danger and terror that he endured.

Dr. Roberts is retired as a college professor, owns a private management consulting firm, and speaks all over the country. I was fortunate enough to see him speak, IN PERSON, at a local school. Keeping the attention of a room full of restless students for the better part of an hour is no small feat, but you’d never know it by Dr. Roberts. He is a gentle, unassuming man with a compelling presence. I think he commands attention because he doesn’t deal in platitudes. He doesn’t have to. He spent the better part of a year willingly walking into a building where the majority of the people he saw wanted him to go away and die and would have considered themselves heroes for making sure he did just that, so the conviction behind his words isn’t power-of-positive-thinking-hug-it-out stuff. He lived a truly ugly powerlessness, and when he describes how he lived with that fear, persevered, and made decisions that eventually carried him up and out of that world, it’s hard not to listen.

At its essence, fangirling is about gratitude. When someone you don’t know impacts your life, they become a part of your everyday world. It’s a weird, one-sided intimacy that doesn’t translate well into three-dimensional interactions because there just isn’t a way to make gushing not moderately creepy. The gratitude is a silent message, sent into the ether. ‘Thank you. What you did was so hard. I don’t know how you did it. My world is better for it. Thank you.’ Then you meet your hero and it’s all “HI. I LIKE YOUR BOOK. I LIKE IT FINE. I’VE BEEN SENDING YOU THOUGHTS SORRY IF THEY GOT ALL OVER YOU.’   There aren’t words that are adequate to the task of expressing the depth of “What you did matters”, so I’ll pass a story on instead.



Autograph. Would also have accepted “Thank you for suppressing your crazy.”


About a week after the assembly, I was talking with a friend who was there and who also got to meet Dr. Roberts IN PERSON. We were basking in our shared fangirl glow. She’s a teacher, and she was telling me about one boy in particular in her class who has very little patience with himself. As she put it, “He’s a smart kid. He just gives up.” She’s been coaching him all year on how to work through his frustration with little success, watching as he fell further behind, which only served to increase his frustration and decrease his patience. The opportunity to break the cycle presented itself the day after we saw the speech. Her student brought her yet another blank worksheet, saying he didn’t want to do it and when could he go outside and play? Flashing back to the speech the day before, she channeled her best Terrence Roberts. Remembering her student loves soccer, she asked him if he would give up, stop running on the field, while going for a goal. When he said he wouldn’t, she pointed at the worksheet. “Then why are you giving up on that? It might scare you. But you don’t give up.” And in the way that words make magic, that lit a fire, and suddenly she has a student who won’t give up, no matter how much crossword puzzles aren’t soccer. A man given the opportunity to stay in school made a difference for someone with a different struggle. It’s a full circle.

I’m glad I exercised enough self-restraint not to scare Dr. Roberts in public. Since maturity is a goal of mine, I’m chalking that as a win. I was able to control myself mostly because my inner voice was threatening me in my head (shutUP!shutUP!shutUP!) It’s not the kindest of mantras but it prevents me being removed from the premises most of the time.

True story: my inner voice sounds exactly like Matthew McConaughey.


Action Items
Check out Atlanta’s Center For Civil And Human Rights .



The Reason It’s Personal

I am a hopeless memoir addict. I’d like to attribute this to some erudite factor. However, I have no erudites to give. In further proof of my superficiality, I love memoir because I am nosy as hell. I want all the details and all the particulars, so it’s safe to say that memoirs are the book version of my favorite kind of conversation. Here are three that I love, so if you’re looking to pick up a book this week, maybe one of these might do you.

The House On Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper’s life in Liberia was ended in a violent military coup that criminalized her heritage, turning her into a hunted enemy in her home country. In escaping to America, she had to leave people she loved behind. There are larger questions examined in this book about the fragility of populations of a nation in crisis, the brutal truth of being considered human collateral damage, and the struggles to stabilize a chaotic geography. What stays with me, though, is the profound way McDonald’s displacement affects her and the longing for home that echoes through the whole book.

Memior 1

The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key

This book offended me because there are so many perfect sentences in it and 85% of them are belly-laughing hilarious. Why can’t I write a book like that? Then, in the acknowledgements, there is a word search puzzle filled with the names of the people Harrison Scott Key wants to thank, and when I found THAT I had a rage stroke of envy and now I can barely look at you when I am telling you to read this extremely funny, extremely moving book about growing up in rural Mississippi when you really should have grown up somewhere like downtown Toronto. Or maybe the greater DC area. Anyway go read it. I’ll just sit here and fume.

memior 3

The Tender Bar: A Memoir by JR Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer’s book about the men in his life who step in to fill the void left by an absent father and the family bar which served as the grounded center of his childhood universe utterly astounded me. I have recommended it over and over, and of course had to replace my copy because I gave it away. The Tender Bar is also the only book that has ever gaslighted me because when I read Open by Andre Agassi, I had no idea that J.R. Moehringer had served as Agassi’s co-writer, and I spent the whole book freaked out at how much it reminded me of The Tender Bar.  So, what I’m saying when you are reading other books be careful because The Tender Bar is probably watching you.

Memior 2


Action Items
Happy reading.

The Reason For A Team Meeting

I am not exactly a model of discipline or moderation or even a consistent laundry schedule, so the standard ‘Time To Make A Resolution’ does not hold a lot of appeal. It’s just not realistic. For starters, making resolutions involves making a list, and then keeping resolutions involves finding the damn list after immediately misplacing it, so we can all agree this is a system that is riddled with opportunities for failure. Besides, when focusing on my shortcomings, mere resolutions don’t begin to address what needs addressing. I need the kind of motivation that involves someone blowing a whistle in my face at 5AM and calling me a maggot. I am absolutely not going to let anyone do that, because anyone who does that is getting punched, and that judge told me the next time I punch someone I “risk incarceration”. I need solutions that don’t involve having to locate lost objects or put innocent drill sergeants in harm’s way.

I really do dream of getting my shit together, though, and what with resolutions being boring and/or violent, I need alternative inspiration avenues. When it comes time to make life improvements, it’s a better idea to look around to find people who are good at life. Why reinvent the wheel when you can mimic the best? I want iconic trendsetters, people who know how to get it done with style and panache. Like all my problems, I am solving this with books, and with those criteria, it was pretty easy to come up with a short list of candidates and choose my life coaches. Noël Coward and Shonda Rhimes, congratulations. You can start immediately.
You: two feels like overkill
Me: one to coach me
You: ok
Me: and one to look for my lost resolutions list

Noël Coward (1899-1973) was a brilliant playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, and cabaret performer. You know, because well-rounded. His sly wit and deft wordplay largely defined British theater in the period between the world wars. Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Design For Living-Coward’s plays are about grownups doing provocative things. In his personal life, Coward was was an enthusiastic and prolific letter writer and The Letters Of Noël Coward, edited by Barry Day, captures Coward’s correspondence in all its intimate, bitchy, blisteringly smart style. His letters are endlessly entertaining, gossipy, and loaded with Coward’s razor-sharp humor, and they give the impression that Coward was always on his way from having a great time on his way to have another great time.  In fact, he is such a good salesman that after reading this book I have a longing to be British in the 1920s. As a runner up, I would take being British in the 1890s too, but I would not want to be British in the 1980s because my hair never would have done that Princess-Diana-Simon-LeBon bang swoop that was so critical to social success.
Me: I would like to be British
England: Qualifications?
Me: I can pronounce Worchestershire sauce
England: Anything else?
Me: I’ve been drunk at Heathrow
England: pass

Shonda Rhimes creates, writes, and produces some of the most compelling television you’re probably watching. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Private Practice—at some point listing all her shows out loud in one sentence became too exhausting for everyone so now her creative genius is collectively referred to as ShondaLand. In the middle of kicking ass all over Thursday night network TV, she published Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person (2015). Wildly successful in her writing and show development, Rhimes found herself retreating by inches to hide behind her work, essentially disappearing from her own life. Year of Yes describes her epiphany about her invisibility and recounts how she methodically overcomes her inhibitions. Using the word yes as her password, she completely renegotiates how she interacts with the world. The book’s rapid-fire, staccato style captures Rhimes’ joy as she opens up and finds her place in the sun. I want to be Rhimesish almost as much as I want to be British.
Me: I would like to be Rhimesish
Shondaland: Qualifications?
Me: I know how to spell anatomy
ShondaLand: Anything else?
Me: my favorite color is grey
ShondaLand: pass


The bang game is strong.

When I get right down to it, I have gravity problems. That’s right-my issues are scientific. I will dig a rut, fall into it, and whine myself into a state of slug-izontal. Random resolutions don’t have enough in the tractor beam to break me out of my self-induced inertia. My big ideas begin with figuring out how I can sleep late and end with figuring out how I can justify cheese fries for lunch. Giving myself a pep talk doesn’t get results because I can easily buy myself off with more cheese fries. What really fires my rockets?  Cadging someone else’s gumption. It’s ultimately a question of perspective. Imagining trying to justify my slothy ass to Team Coward-Rhimes, cheese fries suddenly lose their luster.
Cheese fries: was it something I said
Me: it’s not you, it’s me
Cheese fries: I can add chili
Me: I hope we can be friends

My favorite Noël Coward play is Private Lives (1930). Private Lives is a comedy of manners about Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase, a divorced couple married to new people and struggling with infidelity. Well, the kind of infidelity that occurs when you find yourself on your honeymoon with your new spouse in a suite next door to your old spouse who is with HIS new spouse and then you realize you really still want your old spouse so you ditch the new spouses and pull a spouseappearing act. The characters are British hot messes who suffer through their collective crises impeccably dressed and with perfect comic timing.  Amanda Prynne knows there will be fallout when she re-elopes with her first hushand on her second honeymoon, but she’s going for it. Shonda Rhimes chronicles the same philosophy (non-fiction version with 100% fewer extra spouses) in Year of Yes. You don’t get an option to stop the clock, so you might as well get off the couch, fling on a classy outfit and enjoy the ride. OOOOH and speak in a British accent while you are at it.
England: NO
Me: just a little one?
England: accent appropriation not approved
Me: English alliteration is excellent

I’m not making a list of resolutions, but I am resolute. I’ll try new stuff and try to be better at my old stuff, and when I need a good shove I’ll look to my Dream Role Model Team. I’ll read Noel Coward’s letters detailing how he worked as a British intelligence agent during WWII. (Yeah—in addition to all the other stuff, he took up intelligence work. WELL-ROUNDED). When I’m working up my nerve to do something that’s a little scary, I’ll conjure my best Shonda Rhimes-making-a-speech attitude, and suddenly I’ll start tossing my hair and screaming ‘BRING IT ON’. It’s not that I want to be my role models–I just need to borrow their brilliance every once in while. I promise to return it in original pristine condition.

Action Items
Here is a round-up of all things Noël Coward, including a link to a performance of Private Lives
Here is a round-up of all the ways you can read Year of Yes