Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: novels Page 1 of 2

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America book cover on a Joshua Tree background.
Took advantage of that beautiful desert sunrise light this morning!

Oooooohh…Nazi story! I’m always ready for Nazi stories, mostly because my boys are big WWII history buffs and it gives me something to say, “Hey guys! Look at this!” or “Is this true?” They know everything.

The Plot Against America is an alternative history, so it will be extra fun. I’m hoping it’s not one of those stories about how if we had just done this one thing differently, everything would have been so much better. Or a story about why it was right to get involved and save the day like we did because the U.S. was so completely innocent and anti-Nazi party right from the start.

History looks so simple from the present. We can look back at the moves that were made with the information that we have right now and think we could have done it better or worse. But the truth is that we can’t possibly know. There are just too many variables. The results of each choice change the next group of choices in ways we can’t predict.

I picked up the book, started to read the back cover, as usually do only to be reminded of the The Man in the High Castle. I loved that show, but I don’t think this book will be all crazy sci-fi. It sounds like it might be more politically based. What would have happened if we had a different president and didn’t join the Allies to fight against Hitler?

This is another book picked out from the great book redistribution event last year. I didn’t know anything about it other than what’s on the cover. A quick internet search as revealed that it was made into an HBO mini-series last year…that I’ve never heard of. So much to watch that never comes across my Netflix “suggested for you” feed.

And so many apparently famous authors that I’ve never heard of! I was just reading about Philip Roth and found a “scathing” biography about him. It sounds damn racy and I’m thinking of adding that to my wishlist. I think I’ll read this book first though. If I like it, I’ll read another one by him and then the biography.

Have you read The Plot Against America? Did you know about the mini-series or Philip Roth? Am I just that clueless, or are there just so many things to know about that it’s inevitable that many things fall through the cracks of awareness?

Go over and get the book at Thriftbooks.com if you want to read it with me and tell me what you think!

The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile by Stephen King book cover on a desert background.

I grabbed The Green Mile off the big library redistribution pile simply because it was King, and The Green Mile was one of my favorite movies. I love this edition because it has “Soon to be a major motion picture!” on the cover. The movie came out in 1999 and the book form came out in 1997. Twenty year old paperback. Win!

I have a goal in my life…to read every book Stephen King wrote. No, not really. I was a huge fan of him in high school and college, but the more of them that I read, the more I feel like many of his books are wonderful but a little predictable. They are comfort stories.

Here’s something I learned from reading both of the introductions. (I know…who does that?) The book was originally a series of shorter books which he wrote as they were published. He didn’t know where the story would take him when the first one was published. I’m imagining writing for THAT kind of deadline and getting nauseous. That’s a rare author that can do that. And the story ended up great! Surprise!

In the introduction, he talked about how Charles Dickens did the same thing but the story lasted years and how he used to read serial stories in The Saturday Evening Post.

“…I liked it because the end of each episode made the reader an almost equal participant with the writer – you had a whole week to try to figure out the next twist of the snake. Also, one read and experienced these stories more intensely, it seemed to me, because they were rationed. You couldn’t gulp, even if you wanted to (and if the story was good, you did).”

It reminds me of why you don’t ration things. It makes people want more of it, even if it’s not good, healthy, or productive. Telling others (or yourself) that you can only have a little makes it scarce and something to hoard. Your brain goes into active collecting mode regardless of how it makes you feel. Crazy.

One of the things I didn’t do with my kids was limit foods that most would call treats. All of the food was in reach and available. I made what I called “healthy” snacks just as easy and available as candy and cookies and over time they learned on their own when not to binge and when to indulge.

This book was written before we could binge watch tv shows. I’ve found the same level of satisfaction there as well. Shows that were fine to watch one episode a week were terrible tv when watched back-to-back for hours one Sunday afternoon. And then there are shows that I can’t get enough of, ones that feed my soul instead of waste my time.

I’m wondering what this book will be? I can’t know if it would have been better to read it one book at a time as it was published, or can I? Probably won’t. I know myself. I tend to be a page flipper and rush to get to the end so that I know what happens. If I deem it worthy, I read it again for more depth.

We shall see. I do know that I’ll be watching the movie after I finish reading this, if I can find it on Netflix. Probably won’t. They never have the movie I’m looking for when I’m looking for it.

If you want to read it with me, go pick it up at Thriftbooks.com and let me know what you think in the comments!


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My Empty Nest is not the End of the Word, But I Could Use a Hug

Every parent experiences the empty nest at some point, I know this. But what if we didn’t have to tuck it all down and experience it alone? Vulnerability in the midst of struggle is not my specialty, but sometimes I feel that my saying something might be just what someone else needs.

The perfect quote for an empty nest on a winter sunrise background.

“And this, he decides, is what a good-by should be.
Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there to pick it up.”

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Goodbyes are so hard. The end of a chapter, the turning of the page. I loved this ellipsis analogy. I often use those, and my son tries to tell me I’m doing it wrong. “It’s not a pause, Mom!” I know but…I like it that way! Think about it.

“Goodbye.”
Door shut. Time’s up. It’s over.

“Goodbye…”
Turns slowly. Starts walking. What’s next?

It’s different and it feels so much better.

And then this one.

“That time always ends a second before you’re ready.
That life is the minutes you want minus one.”

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Yes, it does. I’m going through a big one of these right now. My youngest child has gone off to University in another state. I’m officially retired from everyday Mom-ing.

I have an empty nest.

Everyone knows that once you’re a mom, you’re always a mom. We have an amazingly close relationship. I never experienced that “teenage” stuff, where they shut themselves off from me. I know they’ll always be texting, sending me pictures, and coming back to visit as often as they can.

But… (I did it again)

I’m alone here all day now. And when my husband is done working, we’re alone all evening and all night. And when I get up in the morning, there’s no reason to keep quiet. I can do what I want at any time of day. The TV isn’t on unless I’m watching it. No one is playing music in the middle of the night. No one interrupts what I’m doing. It’s so damn boring.

I’ll admit that I was excited to retire. We have three kids. When the first one left, we relaxed. There was a bit more space in the house. When the second one left, we were happy. There he goes! Two down, one to go! We looked forward to the youngest taking off. If all three of our kids were out in the world taking care of themselves, we were off the hook. We did it. Done! Children are a huge, long-term commitment. It’s incredibly stressful.

But… (he he he)

It’s so quiet. And then…I’m choking up again as I write…can’t we have one more day? One more drive into the city? One more dinner? One more, “Guys! WTF? Can you not?!”

I wasn’t ready.
I seriously underestimated how hard an empty nest would be.

But…

Are we ever ready? I don’t think so. We just have to dive in and keep flailing around until we notice we’re swimming.

I’ve hesitated to write about this for several reasons. It’s so fresh. I’m still working through it. I don’t need other people’s crap right now. But it keeps coming back up. A scratch in the record that needs to be dealt with, not ignored. You’ll only keep hearing it every time you get to that part of the music.

The first is, as usual, I don’t want to make my kids feel bad. They are doing nothing wrong by growing up and going out into the world. Pursuing our own path is what we all do. That’s normal and good. While I’d certainly have no problem with them living here forever, I want them to chase their own dreams without worrying that the mother they love so much is having a nervous breakdown. It would defeat the purpose of raising children into adults if they were so afraid to hurt my feelings that they never left home.

The second is that I’m not good at being this vulnerable. While I’m good at telling others what I’ve already been through and worked on, I cringe at the thought of asking for sympathy and help as I need it. I’ve recently come to notice that my culture fosters independence over just about anything else and I’m not sure it’s all that healthy. Stand on your own two feet. Buck up. Don’t be such a baby about it. From childhood and adolescence, into adulthood, marriage, children, and on until we die, we’re encouraged to keep our feelings to ourselves, to deal with our own shit alone.

I’m starting to question the wisdom in that. The times that I have reached out to talk to someone about something I’m going through, I’ve always found that I’m not alone. Life’s stages are common. We all move through them. Amazingly enough, no matter what you’re going through, there are others that have been there, felt that. The key is finding those people, and they’re usually very close by, remaining silent, believing they are alone in the world too.

And the third reason is people’s reaction. I don’t find support when I express my pain, I generally find platitudes, dismissal, or worse…help or sympathy. We’re not trained in supporting others through something difficult. Have you ever felt something so strongly, a feeling you just don’t want to feel and can’t get away from? Have you ever told someone about it and they said, “That’s just life. It’ll be better tomorrow.” Yeah…not helpful. Or worse, “Everyone feels that. You’re being ridiculous.” And “I told you this was coming.”

What do I want? To be completely honest, I’m not sure. Maybe I simply want to be heard and to get a hug. I’d like to hear an affirmation. “This must suck.” Or “I feel that from you.” Maybe even questions like, “What are you going to do?” I also really enjoy hearing other people’s painful stories. “There was a time I felt that way.” Or “I remember when…” I hear that and I think, “Yes. I’m not alone. I’m just one of the humans here. Life does go on.” And then I consider what’s next or cry some more. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to wallow in my sadness awhile.

Ultimately, the story continues no matter what happens to any of us. It isn’t a period, end of line, close the book. It’s just…what’s next?

I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!

Negativity Bias can be a Positive Force

An example of negativity bias from the book on a desert background.

The old negativity bias is a strong instinct.

“Just like in life, where beautiful moments vanish in a second, and things that ache feel like they stay with us a whole lifetime.”

The 28 Mansions of the Moon by Motaz H Matar

I’m not a romantic, so the first thing I think when I read something like this it, “Of course they do! The things that ache remind us not to do that again!”

Humans are geared, like any animal, to watch for danger signs.

I’m trying to remember who said it, but I remember hearing on a podcast that the good things can happen over and over again. That which will kill you only needs to happen once, so we have an eye for those things. We should anyway. That’s what has kept us alive.

The beautiful moments; the attentive partner, the hot coffee with the perfect amount of Irish whiskey, a taco expertly crafted (that’s meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and then siracha ketchup, for those that are unaware), we can experience them time and time again and get joy from them each time. We don’t need to remember forever the feeling of looking out over Main Street at Disneyland and seeing the castle. We can go see it again! And better yet, forget it and go experience something else, like a perfect score at a trap shoot or bowling game with friends and beer!

The things that ache though, that’s what we need to remember. The grocery store that always has the bad meat that you can’t eat the next day. That freeway that is always packed with cars? Better to remember that and find a new route. That romantic partner that gave you signs he would turn out to be a complete asshole? Yeah…things you should remember and avoid in the future.

If we’re wired this way naturally, if we all keep having the same response to the same phenomena, shouldn’t we consider why? Instead of thinking, “Wow. Humans have some serious flaws,” maybe we could consider how the response may have served us in the past and how we can use it today.

What Is The Negativity Bias and How Can it be Overcome?

Knowing that we are hardwired to pay closer attention to and hold on to the negative aspects of life can help us sort through and make sense of our feelings. Instead of romanticizing them and crying over it, maybe we can think logically and use this instinct to our advantage.

You can find this book and others at Motaz H Matar’s website. If you read it, let me know what you think!

I posted about this book when I started reading it at the beginning of January, “The 28 Mansions of the Moon.”


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I Am A Writer. What’s your Superpower?

Writing Superpower quote with book cover on desert background.

“It feels powerful to him to put an experience down in words, like he’s trapping it in a jar and it can never fully leave him.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I’m a writer. In the past I wouldn’t have made a statement like that. I’m not published. I don’t have a huge following. I don’t write books, fiction or non-fiction. My blog posts…well…what can I say? I have tried my hand at few short stories this past year. It’s something I didn’t realize would bring me so much joy.

It may be one of those flawed super powers that seems cool, might be useful for something, but usually just looks silly or gets you into more trouble than its worth. But I am a writer. I always have been.

I have a box in my room filled with journals, the oldest of which dates back to 1984. I was twelve years old. I was also an avid letter writer when I was a kid. A box of old letters from pen pals, friends that had moved away, proves that.

Do all writers keep things like this?!

The things I choose to keep prove that I am a writer (and a reader) deep down in my soul. Books, journals, letters, photo albums, maps, postcards, etc. fill my shelves all over the house. I even have all the calendars and planners I’ve had over the past twenty-five years, filled with notes about who was where and when, what was made for dinner, and what was spent on what.

I plan on torturing my children with this treasure trove of information someday. When they harass me about my habits, I laughingly tell them that someday the electronic world will disappear and all that will be left of life in early 21st century will be my written archive. Then who will laugh?!

When I walk around my neighborhood, or go for hikes with friends and family, I make up quick stories about the things we see and where we are. “This tree root looks like it’s hatching a rock egg.” “What if we pretended that we were time travelers and asked people what year it was?” “This trail leads to Hobbits.” I’m happiest when I’m with people that will add to the story, not laugh at it as if it were an odd thing to do. Now I’m thinking I should write down and expand on some of those tales.

Unlike the character in the book, I don’t write things down to capture them. It honestly depends on my mood and what I’m writing. I’m attempting to communicate; sometimes with myself (future and past), sometimes with others, sometimes with my family and friends.

Everything I write, including this blog, is simply me trying to understand myself and the world around me, even the fiction. I physically write it down, and share my thoughts here with you, in the hopes that someone out there can benefit from it. I don’t want someone to read my work and think, “Oh! That’s what I am going to do!” I’m not attempting to be anyone’s “guru” in this world.

Ultimately, I’d love it if someone that reads me understands me, considers my thought process, and maybe gleans something from it that makes their life just a little bit nicer.

My superpower is attempting to communicate ideas through the written word. I may not be a proficient one, but I am a writer. I always have been, and I always will be.


If you’d like to go back and read my thoughts on this book from the beginning, start at my post New Read: Normal People.

You can find “Normal People” by Sally Rooney on Amazon.

My monthly newsletter highlights my immediate after-thoughts about the books I read the previous month. You can sign up for that awesome email at the link on the right or by hopping over to my Autobibliography page. Once you opt-in, you’ll receive one email a month only available to my email followers…mmm…so exclusive!

Will the negative effects of social media destroy civilization?

Social media quote from Ready Player Two on book cover background.
The second of only two posts on this book!

“A world where people don’t go outside and touch each other anymore? Where everyone sleeps their lives away while reality collapses all around them?
Sometimes I think my parents are better off. They don’t have to live in this utopia you’ve all created.”

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

I honestly (most of the time) don’t believe the negative effects of social media and the internet will destroy the world as we know it, but I was in a bleak mood when I wrote this, so prepare yourselves. I’m not always this pessimistic, but lately, I’ve felt overwhelmed. I try to assume positive intent. I attempt to see things from a different perspective. But man…when everywhere I look (and I’ve been off social media for over a month now, mostly just looking at the physical world around me) all I see are zombies. I want to scream…WAKE UP!

Maybe I need some new friends? A new location? One of my sons has been out in the world recently. His reports come back positive for the most part. My youngest leaves for university in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to hearing his perspective of a whole new world.

Can we overcome the negative side of social media and use it in positive ways?

I can’t think of how to put this into words. This line just killed me. In fact, the whole book was overwhelmingly sad to me and not because I’m a technology hater. I love the internet. I loved social media, until the past couple of years. I see so much potential, so much to create with it.

But it seems the Ready Player Two characters are only reliving the past through virtual reality, escaping into old movies and music, instead of using the new medium to create and collaborate. I’d hoped the second book would build on the first. I’d hoped that the first book had taught humanity a lesson and that the second would be creative in showing us how we could build on this new technology in innovative and exciting ways. I wanted to see Lazarus soar to the skies with his new wings, with the lesson learned about flying too close to the sun.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the internet is what ends up destroying us. We just can’t have nice things.


Have you read Ready Player Tw0? Did you read Ready Player One? Or watch the movie? Comment and let me know what you think!

Read my previous post about Ready Player Two, Reality is Not the Curated Fragments of Life in the Media.

If you’re interested in my monthly reading newsletter, where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts of the books I read, along with various other hilarious tidbits, subscribe by signing up for it on my Autobibliography page!

“The 28 Mansions of the Moon”

The 28 Mansions of the Moon book cover on a Joshua Tree.

This book is special because it is the first I’ve purchased and read because I followed the author on Instagram. I loved his posts and then saw that he had a book out…had to get it. It doesn’t take much for me to want to read a book, that’s for certain!

I’m thirty pages in today and enjoying it immensely. It’s different, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to read more and maybe learn more about what it’s based on.

You can find the book on Amazon here and follow the author on Instagram here.

“The 28 Mansions of the Moon” is also my first new read of 2021.

This year I plan on doing something different and read one book at a time for a while. I used to have two books going because one was usually a slow, difficult read that I could only focus on for about twenty minutes before my brain hurt. I may pick up one of those reads again and need to have two books going at once, but for now let’s see how this goes!

Cup of tea and a book journal.
Afternoon Tea

I have a brand-new book journal for the occasion.

Believe it or not, I found this lovely little book over a year ago in a shop in San Diego. I picked up and thought…no, I’ll just lose it before I need it…but it’s SO cute! Yep. I bought it and now I finally get to use it. Yay for keeping track of things!

Happy New Year Everyone!

If you’d like to know my thoughts on this book, you’ll find them at the links below.
What Does it Mean to be Human? Contradictions!
Negativity Bias Can be a Positive Force


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Who Are You, Really?

“Carmel wasn’t wearing a body. It was so wonderful and relaxing not wearing a body. No thighs. No stomach. No bum. She was just Carmel, without her body.”

Nine Perfect Strangers by liane Moriarty

This book was one of those stories where the whole picture was beautiful. It has been difficult to pull out a quote and riff on it because it wasn’t the line that triggered my thinking, it was the whole chapter.

This quote is a perfect example. Just reading that line without the context probably wouldn’t have given me any of the feels whatsoever. I’ll elaborate on this one anyway and see if I can’t convey the idea through my own lens.

Who are you?
Are you a collection of traits and attributes?

I think we are far more than that.

With a bit of encouragement, we can easily wrap our minds around the idea that we are not the car we drive or the house we live in. But when we look in the mirror and see our strangely shaped nose, over-curly hair, or much too wide middle, we immediately thing, “I am hideous!”

And it’s not just a female thing. Men have a rough time when they feel like they don’t measure up or they’re getting older and feel less attractive.

But how we look is not who we are.

Who we are is much more elusive. The concept of “soul” or “spirit” is closer to who you are. Need proof that we are not our bodies? Identical twins look exactly the same, but are they not different people? I wonder…if we could clone an adult human, replicate one sci-fi style, would they not be different people? What would it be like to talk to that person?

We put on a physical body and use it.

We’re all born as that “person”, whole and complete the moment we enter the world. We put on a physical body, use it (wisely if possible), decorate it like a high school pee-chee folder, and when we die we leave it behind and move on to…who knows where.

That person that feels, makes decisions, considers, and stores up information…that’s YOU. What would it be like to just be you without the body, without the stuff? Hard to wrap my brain around, that’s for sure.

You Can Tame Your Thoughts with a Mediation Practice

“It wasn’t that she’d found any solutions or experienced any earth-shattering revelations, but the act of observing her looping thoughts seemed to slow them down, until at last they came to a complete stop, and she’d found that for moments of time she thought…nothing.”

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Meditation. When my sons were pre-school age, I started seeing a therapist and she urged me to give it a try. I fought against it for years. I wish I hadn’t.

About five years ago, I finally succumbed to peer-pressure, or Facebook advertising, and tried the 7-day free trial of a meditation app called Calm. It changed me. Delighted, I rolled right into the next 30-day trial and have been buying it every year since then.

Making Time for Meditation and Re-Focus

Lately, I’ve fallen away from daily mediation instead of increasing my sit time and I keep getting reminders like this one about why I should re-focus and make time for it.

Peace.

Meditation brings me a few minutes of peace from my looping, anxious thoughts. The instructions that the Calm app gave me were different than any other in that they didn’t ask me to clear my mind or stop thinking. They said focus on something simple, like my breath coming in and out of my chest. Every time I lost my focus, I’d take a deep breath and start again. I hadn’t failed. I had built up a practice. The point was to recognize that my mind had shifted focus and bring it back. The bringing it back was the practice. And I was getting good at it.

I’m a classic “over-thinker.”

It’s actually a sore spot for me. People that point out that I’m overthinking something usually get the nastier of reactions in my repertoire. My thoughts usually run immediately to, “Maybe if more people did SOME thinking, I wouldn’t have so much on my plate to consider!” It bugs me that most people shun any type of thinking, as if those that put time into considering options and the consequences of their actions are just crazy and need help.

I want to do a little justifying myself for a moment. One reason that I overthink some things is that I hate miscommunication. I tend to fly off the handle with people. I’m reactionary. But I don’t want people to think badly of me, so now I try to consider everyone’s point of view and ask a lot of questions. I’m trying to understand. Then people get offended, as if my quest to understand is questioning their choices. I get angry and defensive and then spend more time in my head wondering what I could have done better. How can I do that without asking more questions?! Anxiety builds.

Enter meditation. Like the quote says, I don’t have any blinding revelations while I meditate. What I gain is time.

Meditation has taught me to think in one direction, realize when I’ve stopped, and refocus.

It puts time between my impressions of people and my reaction to the things they do or bring up in me. It has created a space for me to think before I act.

Mental Health Opportunity?

“A well-managed breakdown can turn out to be a good thing. Try to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow and learn about yourself.”

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Can we use a mental breakdown as an opportunity for growth?

Yeah! That’s the ticket! An opportunity!

I’m imagining Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live. Remember that skit?

Sometimes I swear I’m only lying to myself, trying to put a brave face or a good spin on terrible behavior. A meltdown is a meltdown and, dammit, at my age, shouldn’t I have already learned to keep my mouth shut and walk away?! I know better. I know better even as it’s happening. And yet, here I am again, losing my shit and taking everyone within earshot with me.

It’s just sad.

But…then again…don’t we all learn at our own pace? I am better today than I was in the past. Each time I live through a confrontation, I do learn something, and I respond better the next time. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Win or lose, climb or fall; since the day we were born, each time we interact with the world we learn a little more. Some of us are born farther ahead than others, some move more slowly, some gain ground more quickly, but we are all at least moving.

What happened? What could I have done better if anything? And my favorite, can I just let this setback go this time instead of holding onto it like a heavy anchor?

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