book club calendar

I really love a good book club. So much so that somehow, over the course of the past year, I have involved myself in not one, not two, but THREE of them. You don’t have to be particularly bright to realize that three book clubs is way too many book clubs and fortunately for the sake of my sanity, I’ve now whittled it down to about 1.5 book clubs. Which is probably still too many. But for now, this will have to do.

One interesting thing about these book clubs is that none of them have happened in person. I’ve spent the last year doing a lot of moving around and thus, inconveniently, the people I love to read with have not been near me. No monthly dinner party book chats shared with a glass of wine happening over here.

But fear not, because the brilliant and highly literate Tuesday has come up with the perfect and most aesthetically pleasing solution for a long distance book club in the form of my Christmas present last year: A book club calendar. AKA the gift that keeps on giving.

Last November, Tuesday and I created a list of six books we each wanted to read in 2016 and she compiled them into a beautiful calendar with quotes from the books and seasonally appropriate images. Each month (sometimes twice per month if we’re really on top of it) we have a phone call to discuss the book and it’s such a fun and special time to share ideas and to stay caught up, both on our reading and our friendship.

Five months in, I have to say it’s one our better decisions of the year. Though there have been times where I especially have gotten really behind on the reading, it’s been such a beautiful experience. Everyone should make one of these — highly recommend.

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Here’s what we’re reading this year:

  • January – The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
  • February – Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss
  • March – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • April – The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • May – Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
  • June – The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  • July – A Widow’s Story, Joyce Carol Oates
  • August -Purity, Jonathan Franzen
  • September – Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
  • October – Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • November – Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • December – The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
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on creativity

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I grew up strongly believing that I was not an artistic person. Through grade school art class I came to understand, albeit falsely, that the creative kids were those who drew images of families that resembled something near to actual humans. Mine were lines connected to other lines with squiggles for hair. From this realization forward, I tried to avoid situations in which I had to physically make anything that might be judged on its pleasing or not-so-pleasing aesthetic. Some of this sidestepping almost certainly came from a fear of criticism, but it also came from entirely convincing myself that I did not enjoy making things. I’ve always liked to sing and took to cooking in late adolescence, but anything that my teenage brain classified as art? No, thank you. I wasn’t good at it and therefore I didn’t like it.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less firm in my self-classification as “uncreative”, though I still wouldn’t jump to the term “artistic” or any of its synonyms if asked for five words that describe me. I’ve also become vastly more willing to participate — and even to find enjoyment — in activities that I’m not immediately good at.

What might have been the last necessary push toward action in my years-long ruminations on creativity and my relationship with it was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic while I was in Hawai’i. I am a Gilbert fan (and not because of Eat, Pray, Love in case you were wondering; read her fiction and I think you will understand my fondness) and when her most recent title came out, despite my initial uncertainty on the topic and fear that it might be a bit too woo-woo for me, I picked it up at the airport. It’s been a number of months since I read Big Magic, but as I remember it, the mantra of the book is that each and every person alive is innately creative. It isn’t a trait that only a select few posses, but a function essential to the human spirit.

Gilbert writes, “Are you considering become a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the sense for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it. If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers–these are our common ancestors.”

When I arrived back to the mainland in January, I started taking a pottery class. My first pieces weren’t anything to write home about, but I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have my hands around the clay. The class time was scheduled for an hour and a half each week, and I ended up purchasing an additional hour. The time felt sacred and meditative and it was so fun to be surrounded by others of all ages and skill levels who have chosen to prioritize creating. As the weeks passed, it came as a great surprise to me that I too was soon able to make things! This afternoon, as I dirtied my hands planting a succulent in a pot that I’d dirtied my hands throwing, I felt very thankful to have taken the leap into something that was — and still is — new and foreign. It is now so clear to me that each of us are makers, and what a powerful connection that is to share.

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cooked

“surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.” – MP

Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about the incredible production I spent hours enamored by last Sunday: The new Netflix series Cooked by author/teacher/activist and all around brilliant man, Michael Pollan. Some may have read his words in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, The Botany of Desire, or another of his intriguing and educational books (maybe even Cooked, the one this series grew from.) If you’ve done so, you’re probably already sold on how great this guy is and how smartly he communicates his ideas. If you’ve never heard of him, make this show your introduction.

 

The program is split into four episodes, and each episode covers one natural element: Fire, water, air, and earth. Below are some tidbits from each.

Fire features a pitmaster in the Southern US and aborigines in Western Australia who continue to hunt wild game. It will give you a new understanding and appreciation for human heritage, the original diet, and beautiful pigs.

Water delves into the ways in which climate change is impacting farmers and food production in India. It also explains how completely the act of cooking is chemistry, in both the home kitchen and the food processing facilities around the world which so many of us are increasingly eating from.

Have you ever heard the aphorism, “Man cannot live on bread alone?” Air, will give you all the details as to why that addage is false. You’ll also learn that the way we make bread in the U.S. is so spooky and that we should all start making our own. Needless to say, I began my sourdough starter on Monday.

Earth features an Abbey in Connecticut that I had the opportunity to visit a few years ago where they still make raw milk cheese out of a wooden vat. Not only is this methodology preserving a cultural tradition, it has created a surprising relationship with E. coli. Also, those dairy cows are called Dutch Belted and they are a critically rare breed in the U.S. and I want all of them!

I was feeling a lot of feelings while watching this show. I laughed, I had to blink a lot at certain moments to avoid tears, I considered that maybe I should procreate so that I could explain all of this information to my child, I was hungry, I was amazed that the human race hasn’t gone extinct, and my mind was BLOWN by just how much I still have to learn about food and nutrition, even after studying it at some length and feeling relatively confident about my knowledge of the subject. If you’re interested in food or cooking or food systems, care about what you put into your body or what your body does with it once you put it in there, or if you like looking at farmers and cooks, beautiful cinematography, or watching people enjoy the heck out of the things that they are doing, this is your new weekend plan.

If you don’t have a Netflix account, sign up for a free months trial (that’s what I did!) — just remember to cancel it before the 30 days end if you don’t want to continue your membership.

(I imagine this is obvious to anyone reading this, but neither Netflix nor Michael Pollan is in any way affiliated with my endorsement of this show and I’m certainly not being compensated for doing it. I just really really liked it and I think that you will too!)

a tree grows in brooklyn

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2015 was my year of books. I read voraciously, particularly titles written by women that I’d noticed were disproportionately absent from my existing repertoire. At the height of my performance, I was tearing through two novels per week. It was an enlightening time.

Though there are plenty of things I should be reading (more on that later), 2016 has been depressingly slow. I’ve been in a literary funk, working late many evenings and pouring over political articles or planning winter blues-busting activities. I’ve not been reaching for books — companions that show me how to live and have proven time and time again to be an enormous source of solace and enjoyment.

It’s time to jump start my reading habit. To do so, I wanted to reflect on some of the great things I read last year. I picked up several excellent new titles and also checked off books that had been on my to-read list for a long time. Some of my favorites were The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (read this while living on the South Side of Chicago and looking out my Canaryville window onto the stockyards — very meta), The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (beautifully woven story about a brilliant turn-of-the-century scientist with curiosities and abilities far beyond her time), and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Chicago Tribune says, “Anyone who has ever had a hard time facing a perfectly ordinary day will identify.”).

The absolute best thing I read last year (and one of the top five best novels I’ve read in the whole of my life) was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As I was reading, I was constantly having my mind blown and reaching out to bookish friends with my total shock at how rich and relatable this story was. I continually asked fellow readers, “Have you heard of this book?” “Have you read this?” For many of them, the answer was “Of course I have! How have you not?!” So it appears that I am very late to the party on this one. But just in case there are any other readers out there who are also behind the times, you really must pick this one up. For additional encouragement, here are post-reading thoughts on the book from my journal, written last September:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – LOVED. 10/10. Francie’s story felt incredibly real and true and heartbreaking and beautiful and I just loved reading it. In so many ways I could see my own coming of age in it, even though my situation was in many ways vastly different. Aside from a wonderful story, the writing was beautiful and descriptive — exactly the kind that I most love. Francie’s father and her relationship with him was so fraught with adoration and heartbreak. GAH it was all of the things and I felt so much reading it. Also, her relationship with her aunts and her mom and her brother, all of it really drove home the importance of family. The fleeting relationships with her friends and her struggle to find her tribe resonated deeply. Also her love for books and the importance of solitude and time spent outdoors. All of that felt so real to me. AND the disillusionment of being back in the place of your childhood and seeing things with fresh eyes. Like how the tins in the beautiful tea and coffee shop she enjoyed were actually horribly nicked and the lovely golden scale she remembered was in reality wonky and cheap. Man, I loved this. I will definitely read it again and recommend it to all the people looking for a good and true read. And I think Betty has a book of essays or something? Gotta hunt down her other stuff. Big love for this lady.”

So there you have it! All the people have been notified — you must read this. Pick up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and the other mentioned books!) at your local library or bookstore. Or, if those options don’t work for you, the books can be purchased using the imbedded Amazon affiliate links. (Or let me know you want to read them and I’ll mail you my copies.)