Quick Lit

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It’s that time again when I participate in Quick Lit, a down-and-dirty review of the books I’m reading, for better or worse.  I’m on a binge these days, which is how my reading life seems to go half the time.  During the other half I realize I’m reading nothing longer than an article or, heaven help me, a blog post.  Happily, I have a list going just in time for the link-up.  On my nightstand are

Beyond the First Draft, John Casey.  This is a writing craft book but it reads like a memoir and, well, I loved it.  Some craft books are so technical I feel like I’m inside a Swiss clock when I’m reading them.  Others are so woo-woo I might as well be watching Oprah.  This book is a collection of essays and it’s both beautifully written and informative.  Yes, please.

Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin.  This book is helpful for deciding on and implementing useful daily habits.  Padded out with research and plenty of anecdotes, it’s both a practical and breezy read.  Rubin posits that habits make us who we are and that we can and should develop ones that propel us toward living according to our values.  While the author comes across a little heavy-handed at times, her writing style allows the reader to clearly “hear” her voice.  A good thing.

Woe is I, Patricia O’Conner.  OK, it’s a funny book on brushing up on grammar that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I’m a writer and I have to remind myself how to use the tools of the trade.  Did I mention it’s funny?

The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis.  This one’s for my kids and it’s the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, a beloved series I started reading to them at the end of last school year.  Fast-paced and layered with meaning, it may be my favorite of all the books in the series and seems especially apropos in dark times such as these.

That’s all for now.  Well, not really.  I’m skimming Decoding Your Dog and already feeling guilty about making my dogs kiss me when they’d (apparently, according to the authors) rather not.  But, you know, I’m trying to get better.  And that’s my list for now.  What’s on yours?

 

 

 

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Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

It’s February, the shortest month that lasts forever.  Of course, I kind of like it because my birthday is in February, along with my mom’s.  Still, it’s a gray month if you don’t count all the pink and red from Valentine’s Day.

Though there are plenty of things that seem to suck the life out of us during the cold months, over at Modern Mrs. Darcy people are talking about how they’re surviving, and even enjoying, winter in a series entitled ‘Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now.’  I’m adding my two cents below.

  • Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice Tea and Half-Caf Coffee.  This tea is heavy on cinnamon and is caffeine free.  It’s sweet, too, without any added sugars.  I’ve been drinking it throughout the day, and at night before bed.  As for the half-caf, it’s my weak attempt at ever-so-slowly reducing the amount of caffeine I consume because I read that higher levels of caffeine are linked to anxiety in women (something I battle).  In the end, I just can’t give up coffee right now because the warmth and ritual of drinking it is so powerful–especially in the winter when it seems I never get truly warm for more than a few minutes.  I don’t want to go cold turkey and drink full-on decaf coffee, either, because I’m chicken about the headaches and flulike symptoms of withdrawal.  Half-caf is my solution for now.
  • Music on Pandora Radio.  This is not new for me, but music becomes even more important in the winter when the sun is stingy.  I have a couple of favorite stations I play on the laptop (I work from home) while tidying up the house in the morning.  The good news is that the right music can set the tone–pun intended–for the entire day.  The bad news is certain kinds of music can be depressing earworms that also set the tone, but not one I want.  I try to choose carefully.
  • Reading Aloud to My Teenagers.  I kind of thought we were done with this aspect of our family life since my kids are voracious readers themselves and increasingly seem to have their own agendas for…everything.  It turns out, though, that spending a few minutes a day re-reading a favorite series while my teens loll on my bed and stare at the ceiling has made winter more bearable so far.  I didn’t plan it, i.e. we fell back into reading aloud from sheer weather induced boredom, but we’re all secretly becoming attached to this ritual again (some of us not so secretly).
  • Very Hot Baths with Epsom Salt before Bed.  Again, not something I actually planned because I’m not old yet.  But it happens that old timers have lots of wisdom.  When they say that Epsom salt is the solution for several of life’s little problems, including muscle ache, fatigue, and trouble falling asleep, they’re right.  At least in my case.  I’m taking hot baths for a few minutes before bed, soaking up the magnesium found in Epsom salt through my skin, and heading under the covers soon after.  While I may not fall asleep immediately, at least I’m warm to my bones for a while and feeling relaxed.

Those are a few things that are saving my life this winter.  Of course, prayer, off and on all day, everyday, is my actual lifeline.  And then there’s poetry reading and writing, which feels increasingly like its own kind of prayer.  But these are things I cling to even when the sun is out.

What are some things that are saving your life this winter?

Helpful

abridged-classics

Thanks to my nerd friend, Nikki, for this helpful classics synopsis chart.  I have about 75 more titles I’d like to see reviewed…  If you can think of a funny, super short synopsis for a classic, feel free to leave it in the comments. 🙂

What I’m Reading (Quick Lit)

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Over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, people are talking about what they’re reading this month in a lighthearted series called Quick Lit.  I decided to join in the fun since I’m always reading something or other.

This month I happen to be tackling

Crime and Punishment by Fyoder Dostoyevsky.  I’m not far into this book yet but I’m already hooked.  I read The Brothers Karamazov while living in India and I found it to be both deep and morally compelling (if dense to the point of being turgid, sometimes).  This book promises to be a faster read than that one, but no less moving.  What can I say?  I can’t stay away from the Russians.

All the Small Poems and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth.  This collection is utterly delightful.  The poems are meant for children but they aren’t sappy, silly, or stupid, as (forgive me) so many things written for children these days are.  They’re written with insight and beautiful attention to craft.  Ms. Worth must be of the same mind as C.S. Lewis, who said,

“A children’s story that can only

be enjoyed by children is not a

good children’s story in the

slightest.”

Valerie Worth writes poems anyone can enjoy.  I highly recommend it.

Onward:  Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore.  So far, so good.  Beyond the practical advice and the encouragement to look more closely at our cultural assumptions as Christians, Moore offers…wait for it…good writing.  Every fourth sentence hits the reader between her eyes and demands a re-read.  I’m going slowly through this one and feeling both challenged and heartened.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.  It’s a re-read many times over, but the kids and I return to the Narnia series whenever we need to feel a certain something.  This book is one of our favorites, though, strictly speaking, The Horse and His Boy is number one for me.  Lewis’ writing is clear and straightforward.  He never wastes words, never tries to be clever, never obfuscates while reveling in his own literary talent.  This is saying something, folks, because it’s rare.  Lewis is one of the modern greats for a reason.

I’m interested to know what you’re reading this month.

Avoiding (and recovering from) the Dreaded Goal Drift

DSCN0939Drifting.  It’s something we all do, I suspect.  We start out with plans or goals, and for a while, if we’re very motivated, we implement them.  After some time, new habits start to feel kind-of normal, and we think, “This is it.  I’m a changed person.  Look at what I’m doing these days.”  We’ve turned a corner and now we’re unstoppable.

And that’s when it starts to happen:  the drift–the sliding, ever so slowly, away from our original intentions.

It may be that we’d committed to eating better, and for a while we do.  But then, after a month or so, when we’ve shed a little weight and kale is our friend, we indulge in fries once.  Then twice.  Then three times a week.

In my case, I’d been waking up well before my kids for several weeks.  When my alarm sounded each morning, it felt wonderful, if also a little painful, to know that the sun wouldn’t be up for a while, and that I had loads of time to read, write, and pray.

But then, little by little, I started to shut off my alarm a couple mornings per week.  Sleeping in felt wonderful, too.  I began to want sleep more than I wanted to observe my morning routine.  Before I knew it, I was consistently using all of my reflective, alone time in order to sleep in.  This meant that I tried to grab that time during other windows in the day when it was much harder to protect.  I grew grumpy, as if this predicament were my kids’ fault (it wasn’t).

Furthermore, even with the extra sleep, I didn’t feel more rested.  I felt irritable.  I knew I needed to revisit my original goal.

These days, I’m waking up early again, and it feels great, just like it used to.  I’m reminded why I made this decision in the first place.  Instead of beating myself up about my previous drifting, I’m simply savoring the return to this happier (more disciplined) state.  My hope is that, if I pay attention to how good it feels to wake up early, the next time I’m tempted to drift, I’ll remember why I chose to do it in the first place.

Because, in the end, joy and contentment are better motivators than guilt and fear.

On My Nightstand (and in my purse, and on the table…)

I’m a feast or famine kind of girl when it comes to reading.  Seems like I’m either in binge mode, staying up far past my bedtime with an un-put-down-able something or other, or I’m not reading much of anything (except those books I read aloud to my kids).

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This year I decided to change all that by putting myself on a bit of a reading plan.  I say ‘a bit of a reading plan’ because I follow it somewhat loosely.  If, say, I come across a book at the library that looks especially interesting, and it’s not on the plan, I end up grabbing it anyway.  Still, having the plan in place means that I’m never looking for a new book.  It saves me time and means that I’m reading more consistently than I have in the past.

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Historically I’ve read one book at a time because I don’t enjoy having myriad plots and premises floating around in my head.  But this year, for one reason or another, I’ve broken my own rule and am currently working through several books at once.

They are:

Age of Opportunity, by Paul David Tripp (non-fiction, on parenting teens)

New Collected Poems, by Wendell Berry (with the kids)

Cousin Betty, by Honore de Balzac (on my own)

The First 50 Pages, by Jeff Gerke (writing craft book, on my own)

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo (with the kids)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill (play, on my own)

What about you?  Do you read as the mood strikes, or do you have a list you’re working through?  Do you have any good book recommendations?  Feel free to share them in the comments.