Tuesday, August 20, 2019

My So-Called Reading Life, part 3: choosing what to read, podcasts, and the tyranny of my library hold list

Figuring out what to read next has always been a random process for me (in other words, if you're trying to figure out how to choose books, I'm not going to be much help).

Back before the internet, there were libraries and bookstores. There were certain authors I would always buy if they had published something new, but for the most part, I figured out what to read based on reading jacket flaps in a bookshop, or because of something I overheard or a friend's rec. Choosing a book because of a cool cover illustration was not unheard of.

Now there are more online ways to indulge my love of find books than I could possibly exhaust. There are email newsletters, blogs (yep), vlogs on YouTube, browsing online bookstores (besides Amazon, Powells, Page1, The Bookshelf, and Alibris are ones I've used recently), the bookstagram hashtag on Instagram, and my favorite-- podcasts.

Podcasts are great. I just enjoy listening to people talk about books. I have three that I listen to devotedly-- So Many Damn Books, The Front Porch, and I've told you before about What Should I Read Next-- and half a dozen more that I listen to occasionally (Reading Glasses, Currently Reading, etc.).

So Many Damn Books is two guys, Christopher and Drew, in NYC, I think in Brooklyn (although I'm always a little fuzzy on the boroughs having only been there twice). They love to read, and even though they're the age of my daughter, I love listening to them talk. If I were their age, I think Christopher would be practically my reading twin. On a recent episode, their guest asked what was the first book they stayed up all night reading. I think she was expecting them to say some amazing, life-changing work of art, or at least a thriller, but Christopher sheepishly said it was probably Redwall, and Drew--equally sheepishly--agreed. I heart those guys so hard.

And for the record, I've never stayed up all night reading, even when I was young. Which is weird, because on average, I stay up way later than anyone else I know. It's just never all night. I'm usually asleep by 12:30 (a.m.). And even when I'm reading something I can't put down, somehwere around 2:30 or so, my need for sleep is greater than my need to find out what happens. (or *blush* I flip over and read the end so I can sleep.)

The Front Porch is Annie, owner of The Bookshelf in Georgia, and her friend (and possibly bookshop employee??) Chris, who is a recently minted PhD in (something humanities). I rarely agree with them, but they are interesting and engaging and like I said, I love listening to people talk about books. In a recent episode (which had guest host Hunter instead of Chris), they actually convinced me to give The Goldfinch a try. I've heard so many negative reviews that I had decided it wasn't for me (even though I loved Secret History). But now I think I'm going to try it. Just not any time soon because my library hold queue is already full.

I've already told you about What Should I Read Next so many times that I'll just say I still listen and I still love it. Anne, the host, is not an exact match in taste with me-- she tends a little more toward the soulful, all-the-feels type of book. But there's enough overlap that I can usually figure out from the way she describes something whether or not I will like it. She recommended Good Morning Midnight, To Night Owl from Dogfish, and Less, among recent favorites.

Honestly, the real way I currently figure out what to read next is by my library hold list. Our library allows you to have up to ten ebooks on hold, and I usually have eight to ten books on there. Then I read whatever book becomes available next. It's pretty simple.

About a year ago, I decided I should try to be more intentional about what I'm reading, but now I've decided it's actually a pretty good system. As with everyone who uses their library queue, that means I have the occasional unfortunate problem of three books I've had queued for weeks becoming available within two days of each other, but I suppose there are worse crises.

Oddly, I've had several experiences lately of unintended similarities in the books I'm reading. I've read three books this summer that had to do (loosely speaking) with time travel or the ability to pursue alternate timelines (Dark Matter, Life After Life, and Doomsday Book). And I just finished a book about life in a great English house between WWI and WWII (Remains of the Day) only to find that my next book, a mystery novel called Justice Hall, is also set in a great English house between WWI and WWII. How odd is that?

I've rambled on long enough that I'm even boring myself. As far as I know, everybody who reads this blog is also an avid reader, so you probably don't need any advice about how to pick books. So, one might ask, what exactly was the point of this post? And I can't say I know. But now that I've typed it out, I'm posting it.

Because it's 12:15 a.m. and it's time for bed.

Other posts in this series:
My So-Called Reading Life, part 1: writing book reviews
My So-Called Reading Life, part 2: rating books

Friday, August 16, 2019

7ToF: keeping the beat

1. Last time I told you about my foray into playing percussion, I was in the early stages of learning to play the concert bells. I'm way better at it than I used to be, but still not great-- probably I'm at about the skill level of a high school sophomore. We've had two concerts this summer, one on the Fourth of July, playing patriotic tunes at a local historic landmark, and the other one was this morning at the Northwest Montana Fair, playing some of the same patriotic stuff plus medleys of Sam Cooke and Tijuana Brass, etc.

Bells' eye view of 4th of July concert

2. Aside: I love the fair. Dean is not a fan. He thinks it is dirty and the people who work there are a bit questionable and it's often hot and dusty. But I grew up going to the fair and it is so fun. I used to take the kids every year, and we'd visit the draft horses and the goats and the chickens, and then go to the arts and crafts building to see the quilts and the photography. And of course there's the food. How can you not love fair food? Corn dogs and elephant ears and huckleberry milkshakes, barbecue sandwiches or noodles crisped up in a wok-- and that's only scratching the surface. Totally miss having kids the right age for going to the fair.

3. I'm still the only person in our community band that's willing to play the bells, so that is my main job. But I've also been drafted by another group to play the actual drums, so I've been learning-- snare drum and bass drum, and most intimidating of all, the drum set. I am not a good drummer. Or at least, not yet. I've been working my way through various rudiments, and I'm probably about as good as the aforementioned high school sophomore on snare. On drum set, I am kind of a disaster.
Last week, the dog. This week, the cat.

4. It is entirely different than playing a melodic instrument. In fact, it requires not just different physical skills, but an entirely different way of listening to music. Since I was a flute player and a member of a choir, I've spent my entire life listening for melodies and harmonies. PellMel played the bass, so I made a stab at learning to listen to a bass line, but even so, that is different than listening for the drums. Try it sometime. Drummers are amazing-- frequently their hands and feet are doing entirely different things. Sometimes it's hard to believe it's one person.

5. Honestly, every time I sit down at the drum set I am terrified. (We bought an ancient set for $250 that had been sitting in someone's garage and it is crappy, but sufficient for learning to push foot pedals at the same time that you are playing snare with one hand and high-hat cymbal with the other). I'm so afraid of the damn thing that it's hard to make myself practice. Progress has been slow. I think the people who asked me to play drums with them are starting to regret it-- even though I told them! I told them I was a rank beginner! I think they thought I was just being modest.

6. But I have come far enough that I no longer think of myself as a flute player, and that is cool. I'm not quite to the point where I think of myself as a drummer, but the days when I sat under the director's nose in the front row seem like a distant memory. There I am in the back with the drummers, hanging out in the percussion section. I love that.

Cool nest spotted right at eye level
7. OK, I think we've exhausted the topic of my drumming skills. Or lack thereof. What else can I tell you about for one more thing? Best books I've read this summer? Well, that's easy: The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai, is probably going to be my top book of the year. It's a heartbreaker (in the best sense) about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the mid-80s. It's a slow start, but once you get immersed in the story, it's terrific. My other two five-star reads probably aren't going to be for everybody-- The Friend by Sigrid Nunez will probably only work for people who have taken a creative writing class or hung out with creative writing students (??? not sure about that, I just know that reviews on goodreads are pretty evenly divided between people (like me) who found it thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious, and the people who thought it was a dead bore). And I just finished Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a time travel novel published in 1992 that feels a bit dated (she couldn't imagine cell phones in 1992?), but still has Willis's trademark lovable characters and absurdist humor, even though reading it is sometimes like wading through jello.

OK, that's more than you wanted to know. Drum up a storm this weekend. (Not literally. Dean and MadMax are on a three-day float trip, so no storms allowed.)

Friday, August 2, 2019

7ToF: it's hot and I'm in a gripey mood

Black-eyed Susans
 from our garden
 1. Do you remember the months when I was griping about how cold it was and when would the weather ever get better? Yeah, well, now it's hot and I'm griping again. Dean says I have a two-degree range of comfort temperature-wise, and I suspect he's right.

2. A few weeks ago, when the weather finally got nice, there were a bunch of movies that I wanted to see, but it was so beautiful out after that long winter that we couldn't stand to spend our precious summer hours in a dark movie theater. Now that it's beastly hot and I would actually enjoy sitting in an air conditioned theater, there's nothing I want to see. Darn it.

3. I'm completely opposed to piracy of music, movies, books, and any kind of art. Use it legally. Pay for what you want to read or watch or listen to, or rent it or borrow it from a library. I've said it here before, and I'm saying it again.

4. But you know what makes me gripey? The assumption on the part of people who are outraged about piracy that every time someone illegally reads a book or downloads a movie or a song, it's a lost sale for the artist. I don't know that I've ever illegally downloaded anything, but back in the dark ages when we were making mix tapes on cassettes and passing them around, I wouldn't have bought that music. If I didn't have the tape, I would have just not had the music. I couldn't afford to buy that stuff. Sometimes I even recorded things off the radio, and I would be so mad when the DJ talked over the beginning or the end of the song. But I wouldn't have bought it. A pirated copy isn't always a lost sale.

Can you see what Sadie is staring at?
5. Speaking of legally listening to music, my kids convinced me to abandon Pandora and move over to Spotify. It's way better, mom, they told me. So I cancelled my Pandora membership and transferred over to Spotify. And I tried to like it, I really did. But either I never really figured out how to use it (entirely possible), or I am just a Pandora person. So I am back on Pandora.

6. Pandora lets you start a channel of music by choosing an artist or a song that is in the style you want, and then it magically plays other similar songs. If it plays one that you don't like, you press "thumbs down," and if there's one that you especially like, you press "thumbs up." So over time, Pandora learns what you like, and really it is kind of astonishing the way it chooses music to suit the channel you've created. For example, I have a channel that I started with James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt that plays 70s/80s soft rock, one that I started with the Oasis song "Wonderwall" that plays all my favorite 90s music, and one started with Lorde's song "Royals" that plays a really surprisingly good mix of music from when MadMax was in high school. #Pandoraforthewin

View through the binoculars
7. Back in the 80s, independent coffee shops and sandwich shops were springing up in college towns and tourist towns and it was something new and different. The menu was always on a chalk board, and there were quirky things on the menu that you'd never tried. Now that kind of place is practically a cliché, but once upon a time, they felt cutting edge. Anyway. Once in about 1985, we were at a café in the mountains in Vermont, and the chalk board menu described a sandwich called the "Four Fat Sandwich" that had bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado, and mayo. Possibly the best sandwich I've ever had. Thirty years later I still think about it --although now I would sub deli mustard for the mayo. #foodmemory

Huh. Well, that was a strange mix of stuff. What weird things have you been thinking about? Have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

My So-Called Reading Life, part 2: ratings

There has been a push recently among some readers to stop rating books. It's not fair to authors, the argument goes, because ratings have become disproportionately important in determining all kinds of things in this age of data mining--things like product placement and print runs and search result standings.

What could mean nothing to you-- a bad rating that you gave on a day when you were already in a bad mood-- could mean all kinds of dire things for a self-published author who is trying to make a living in competition with publishing conglomerates.

And also, if you find someone who is clever enough to know how to get away with it (they're definitely out there), and you can afford to pay for it, the system can be gamed by posting fake reviews--either positive for your own products, or negative for your competitors.

They have a point. But with all the book ratings I've seen and reader reviews I've read, I've only seen one example where I felt like there was a serious misuse of the system.* I've read about a few others, but overall, I'm not convinced there's a problem here. Generally speaking, good books have good ratings.

So I use the star rating system on Goodreads. It's useful to me. At the end of the year when I'm trying to remember my favorite books, or when I'm having coffee with a friend and she wants to know what's the best book I've read in the past couple of months, I can just scan down the list on my phone. Otherwise I'd have to go through and read the individual reviews to remember what the book was about.

And if you're thinking, if you can't remember the book three months later, it must not have been that great, you have a point. But I also think that if you thought that, you are under the age of fifty. Half the time I can't remember my children's names and birthdays if I'm put on the spot, let alone the name of that great book I read a month ago.

The Goodreads system is one star (not good) to five stars (great). The stars, of course, mean different things to different people and I'm no exception. My concession to the people who are worried about authors' feelings is that I almost never give below a three-star rating.

My rating system is: three stars=meh, four stars=liked it, five stars=loved it. It works for me. For the most part, if I don't like a book, I stop reading it, so those books don't make it onto my Goodreads shelves anyway.

When I first started using Goodreads, I thought I needed to give low star ratings to lower quality books because I had to prove to the world that I have good taste. But a couple of years ago I realized how nonsensical it was to give a three-star rating to a book I loved just because it was genre fiction.

So, now my ratings are purely based on how much I liked the book-- although I'm unlikely to enjoy a really dumb book, so there's that. In my last three books, I gave a four-star rating to both Evvie Drake Starts Over (a rom com) and Life After Life (literary fiction), and a three-star rating to The Idiot (brilliantly intelligent, but tedious to read and ultimately--in my opinion--clichéd). If that offends your literary sensibilities, you are welcome to not look at them.

(My Goodreads page, which I forgot to give you in Part One.)

* it was a YA book published by a Big5 publisher that had a suspicious number--like hundreds-- of short five-star reviews like "Loved it!" or "Great book!" compared to dozens of one- and two-star ratings with long, passionate reviews by readers who felt betrayed by the author over a controversial ending. It was hard not to think that the publisher had somehow used a bot to stack in the positive reviews in an attempt to gloss over an almost universally reviled ending.

Friday, July 26, 2019

7ToF: Catching up, reunion version

1. Remember how I smugly told you in my last post that I never buy books from amazon anymore? Yeah, well, less than TWELVE HOURS later I bought a book from Amazon. I didn't even realize the horror until several hours later. *rolls eyes at self* But I also said the exceptions were gifts and Kindle sale books, and it was a gift to myself. That's my story.

2. It was a gift to myself because yesterday was my birthday, so I am now 58 years old and sixty is looming ever closer on the horizon. I can't quite believe I'm this old, but other than that, it feels pretty good. I don't think sixty will bother me the way fifty did.

aside: I think the age I feel is mid-forties, maybe 46? Some days it's even mid-thirties.

3. The book was Evvie Drake Starts Over, which had been recommended as a fun read at least half a dozen times recently. Since it was my birthday, I let myself read a lot longer than I usually do and I finished it late last night (with some time out for a) boring errands and b) birthday fun betwixt). It is indeed a fun book, and even made me laugh out loud once or twice. It's fairly short--less than 300 pages-- and that is both part of what makes it fun and part of what makes it a little thin. There were a few things that felt under-developed. But you know, fun reading isn't supposed to be dense and heavy. I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

aside: I decided after typing that that I am going to make a push to bring back the use of betwixt. Great word.

4. So, I think I told you that I had three reunions in a row during my two week vacation. There was a week in South Dakota with us and 30 of my cousins and their families, my mom, and an aunt and uncle. Fun and relaxing. Then there was the one night 40-year high school reunion, which was also fun, but since it involved four plane flights in about 48 hours to make it happen, it was a little stressful. Maybe I will write more about it later. It was fun to reconnect with people I hadn't seen in decades, and also to see a couple of friends that I do see more regularly. In fact, that was the best part.

5. Then the second week was here locally-- we rented a place on a lake near here and Dean's siblings and their families and his dad and wife came and spent the week. We weren't really officially hosting since we've all known each other forever and we don't really need a host. But still, it's our home town and we felt responsible-- and the weather was not good. Unlike our usual pristine July weather (which coincidentally we are having this week), last week was rainy and windy and cool. No one --including us-- wanted to hang out and swim at the lake, which was pretty much all we had planned. But we managed to come up with things to do, and I think everybody ended up having fun, even if it was a little disappointing.

6. All of that meant that when things finally calmed down this week, I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. I was worn out, and you know-- introvert with two solid weeks of fairly intense socializing. Ouch. I plowed through the mountains of laundry, dealt with leftover food from the rental last week, unpacked, ran errands, paid bills, etc etc and then yesterday for my birthday, I gave myself the day off. It was great. I don't usually do much about my birthday because I've never seen the point of big birthday celebrations-- it always feels like just another day to me-- but it was pretty nice yesterday.

7. So, back to it today. I shouldn't even be sitting here typing this! Hope you have a great weekend, and that you get to relax and read a fun book.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

My So-Called Reading Life, part 1

I kicked off the summer with a bunch of 4- and 5-star reads-- in fact, if you go back to the last week of May, there have been TEN. That is unheard of for me. I was thinking smug thoughts. I've got this book picking thing nailed!!

But then I read four that weren't so great, three of them back to back, so it must have just been coincidence. That sounds like a lot of reading to some of you--doesn't she have anything real to do?  (hey! I've been on vacation! and there were four days of airports and planes!). Others are thinking only a dozen books so far this summer? slacker!!  

Whichever category you fit into, this post and the next one or maybe two are about reading, tracking your reading, reviewing books, figuring out what to read, bookstagram, etc etc. You've been warned.

Years ago, I spent quite a bit of time agonizing over the "right" way to do book reviews. One of the main reasons I started blogging lo, these many years ago, was because I wanted someplace to write about my reactions to the books I read. I don't know many readers around here, and even fewer who share my tastes.

But I got a fair amount of pushback when I posted negative reviews. And since it was much more fun to snark about books I didn't like than prosing on about books I did, the negative reviews tended to be longer and funnier and more numerous.

But what about the author's feelings? I heard. Don't you need to be respectful of the author and all the hard work they put into writing a book? And honestly, I have to say that had never even occurred to me.

First of all, in my mind, authors were godlike creatures that exist in some kind of Elysian Fields where they are far too lofty to notice individual book reviews. And secondly, if they did happen to read my review, why would they care what I think? I'm just a lone reader in the hinterlands of Montana. What possible difference could it make what I think about their book?

But once it was pointed out to me, I got it. If I were an author, I could scan through thirty positive reviews and smile, but it would be the one negative review, no matter who wrote it, that would stick in my craw. So in spite of the unlikelihood of an author running across something that I wrote here in this little space, I quit reviewing books-- other than telling you when I read something I loved, like Less or The Intuitionist.

Unfortunately, reviewing books in my blog was how I had been tracking my reading. I needed a replacement for that, so after trying several different things, I've ended up using Goodreads. I signed up for it ages ago but never did anything more than poke around until a couple of years ago. At first I just marked the books I read and gave them a star-rating (more about stars in Part Two).

Then last year I started adding short reviews. I'm pretty sure that no one reads them, but it helps me to remember what I read and why I liked it (or didn't). No matter how negative I am, there are always a bunch of reviews that are far more negative (Goodreads reviewers can be vicious), so I don't have to worry about posting negative reviews anymore-- although I do try to be polite and respectful.

A quick review only takes a few minutes (usually), and I love being able to refer back to them. Since the Goodreads app is on my phone, it's easy to do no matter where I finish a book (on vacation, sitting in a doctor's office, in bed in the middle of the night)--unlike a journal or notebook or a file on my laptop. I can mark a book as read and give it a star rating in less than a minute, and seeing it there reminds me to write a review later.

I know some of you refuse to have anything to do with Amazon, and Goodreads is owned by Amazon, so there's that. But you don't buy anything on Goodreads, so I think their profit is mainly from advertising. Presumably they're hoping you'll learn about great books on Goodreads and then buy them on Amazon, but for the most part, I no longer buy books on Amazon.

Yep, you read that right. I check out kindle books from my library, and I buy books at indie bookstores when we're traveling, and at Target and Costco when we're not-- they're not indies, but they are local and create local jobs, etc. (We don't have an independent retail bookstore in our town, as I've told you a bazillion times now, although we do have a lovely, very good used bookshop.) The only exceptions are for gifts, and also I subscribe to a couple of "kindle deals" newsletters, so I buy kindle versions of books I want when they're on sale for $1.99 or whatever.

This is entirely too much on this topic, but believe it or not, I'm not even close to done. Enneagram 5: loves to go on and on about topics they're interested in, even if their listeners' eyes are glazing over. I will move on to more interesting things soon. (More interesting to you, but probably not to me-- I can't tell you how much time I spend thinking about this stuff.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I'm not one to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or do anything elaborate, but I don't actually mind cooking. What I really don't like is having to think up what we are going to eat. Like everybody, I have about four old reliable recipes that I use over and over, and I get just as bored of them as everybody else in the house.

So I tried Hello Fresh (a couple of years ago) and Blue Apron (last year), and I liked them. A lot. Somebody else thinks up what you're going to eat, sends you the ingredients, and then you just cook it up. The recipes from both services were simple, but they had sauces and marinades and sides that I would never have thought of. It was great. 

(It wouldn't have worked when the kids were still living at home, though, even if I ordered the family box-- it wouldn't have been enough food for MadMax in his Teen Eating Phase, which was astonishing. The boy can eat.)

But there are some problems with the whole system. One, of course, is the massive amount of packaging. You get a big cardboard box that is tightly fitted with another big styrofoam box, and then everything inside is individually packaged. And there are several fake ice packs. The only thing we can recycle around here is the cardboard box. The services go to great lengths to remind you that you can reuse the ice packs, but still they pile up. Who needs thirty ice packs?

The other problem is the same problem you get with any subscription service: the weekly shipment comes unless you remember to cancel it. With Blue Apron last year, you could schedule (or cancel) your shipment up to five weeks in advance (if I'm remembering right). I knew I wouldn't want any shipments in the summer when MadMax was home, so I went online and cancelled five weeks out.

Then of course I forgot all about it. The five weeks happened to run out while we were out of town for two weeks, so when we got back, there was a food box that had been sitting in our garage for a week, and another one that arrived the day after we got home. And then, because you have to cancel about a week in advance, we got ANOTHER box the next week. I used some of it, but most of it just went in the trash. *fume*

Now I'm trying something else, and so far I love it. It's called PrepDish, and instead of getting actual food, you get a weekly menu, with recipes for four dinners, a breakfast, a salad, and a snack. You also get a beautifully organized shopping list and a prep plan. The idea is to spend two hours one day per week doing all the prep work for all the meals--chopping, making sauces, baking potatoes,etc. Then most of your work is done and you can throw dinner together in 20-30 minutes. 

Honestly, I have yet to do the whole prep day thing, but it's worth the price (less than $10/month if you get the annual plan) to have someone send me menu ideas and organize my shopping. The meals are good ones: simple but different than the kinds of things I normally think of. I've modified them some-- we don't get good seafood in land-locked Montana very often, so sometimes I sub in chicken instead of fish or shrimp--but usually I just need the ideas. So far, thumbs up.

Oh, and one other thing-- she has three menu choices: paleo, gluten-free, and keto. We don't need any of those diet options, but it's easy enough to modify to suit yourself. Paleo is low carb, so I use that one and add a side of rice or whatever. 

Have you tried a menu subscription service? What did you think?

As always, this is not an ad, I don't get anything from it. Just telling you my experience.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Less is More

You gotta feel for the Pulitzer Prize committee. Everybody knows that the one inescapable, inarguable contribution that the US has made to the global scene is entertainment-- and especially, that glitzy, slick, nine-figure-budget that is the summer blockbuster movie, the superhero extravaganza, the self-defined epic space opera. (And I'm a charter member of the blockbuster fan club so no disrespect meant.)

But this doesn't exactly sit well with those who are concerned with the higher echelons of American ART. What are the judges for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction going to do? They can't just throw up their hands and hand the Pulitzer to James Patterson (with apologies to the prolific Mr. Patterson, who successfully writes more novels in six (three?) months than I have written in my entire lifetime). They must feel the need to recognize something or someone that lends some gravitas. Some credibility. There's a certain need to prove that American capital-A Art isn't all about the glitz, the latest advances in CGI.

Unfortunately, that means the Pulitzer prize-winner often ends up being a book I don't want to read. It's not that I'm a literary idiot. I have my cred. I wrote my master's thesis on Ulysses, which I have now read four times. I somehow managed to maintain a 4.0 en route to my master's degree, which I finished when I was 52. But at this moment in my life, I don't want to read dense, difficult, existential plodders, or atrocity-filled horror stories, even if they do accurately portray the dark side of the USA. I know horrible things have happened and are happening, but reading fiction about them gives me nightmares. Literally.

So you can imagine my happiness while reading Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, which won the Pulitzer in 2018. It's the story of a middle-aged gay man who is escaping the country so he has a legit excuse for missing his long-time now-ex lover's wedding to someone else. It's poignant and literary and erudite (air-you-dite or airoo-dite, which are we choosing?), but it's also witty and absorbing and even outright hilarious at times. I started giggling so hard about something or other while reading next to sleeping Dean the other night that I was afraid I'd wake him up. Less is actually fun to read. Highly recommended.

p.s. I wonder how much push-back they've received from people who think the Pulitzer winner should always be serious. Hmmmm. I don't follow that stuff enough to know.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Fwd: 7ToM: Things you do. As one does.


Lily pads in bloom at the pond near our house

1. In the early Facebook days, I had a set-in-stone rule for myself that I would never click on the ads. It was pretty easy to follow because there was rarely anything I was interested in. I'm not on FB very often anymore, but I have to say their ad-targeting algorithm is a lot better than it used to be. I'm often tempted to click these days, they've got my tastes nailed. (So far, if I'm really interested, I leave FB and google it instead of clicking on the ad, but I'm not so naive as to think that FB isn't figuring that out.)

2. I'm less good about clicking on things in my Google news feed. Partly this is because it can be hard to tell when something is an actual news story and when it's an ad. I try to always notice the source of the headline and only click when it's a source I recognize-- Reuters or AP or CNN or whatever. 

3. But I'm not sure about Buzzfeed. Is it real content, or is it just fancied up ads? (Is there any difference?) I click on their stuff all the time-- 27 highest rated Amazon life hacks, 18 best YA books of 2018, 21 Things Europeans can't believe Americans Do (one of them is wear white sneakers (trainers)-- and I'm having reverse disbelief that this could be a problem. Why wouldn't you?) I've learned about some great stuff from them, like my current favorite gizmo, the Smart Funnel, which makes it easy to salvage the last few drops of your shampoo. Makes my cheapskate little heart go pitter-pat.

4. Here is my favorite Buzzfeed article so far, though: 27 Things Everyone Over the Age of 40 Does For Absolutely No Reason At All. It's my favorite because I am proud to say I only do three of them, maybe three and a half, so it makes me feel not quite so irrelevant. And I'm OK with those three because they're wrong-- why does everyone over the age of 40 think having holes in your jeans is so funny? Because paying for jeans with holes in them is ridiculous. I mean, if you get an artistic rip or hole in your jeans due to wear and tear, of course you wear them. But to PAY for jeans with holes already in them is silly. Amiright?

5. Or #24, why does everyone over the age of 50 hold their phone with two hands? Because aging wrists, obviously. The dang phone gets heavy after awhile. 

6. But I don't love coleslaw, I don't double-click on links, I use my thumbs for texting unless my thumbs are getting sore, and I never dictate my texts (although I confess that is mainly because I have tried and I can't get it to work).  In fact, Siri never works for me. I've always blamed this on MadMax. Once not long after I got my first smartphone, I came upon him and his friends making rude 11-year-old jokes and fart noises to an increasingly confused Siri. I don't think she's ever forgiven me. The only response I ever get from her is some variation of "I'm sorry, I didn't understand that."

7. Here is one thing you should never do: shop for underwear online. My sisters and I have a long-standing tradition of restocking our underwear supply at our every-other-year family reunion. It's in Destin with its enormous outlet mall, and we go to the rhymes-with-hockey outlet and stock up. But for some reason this past year I never made it to that store, and a couple of weeks ago I noticed that my underwear was in tatters. So I went online to the rhymes-with-hockey website and ordered more. Now everywhere I go, my browser is plastered with underwear ads. Just what I wanted.

I'll get back to the mental health topic later. Have a great mental health Monday!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I know. I'm late.

Years ago, I said to Dean how lucky we were that we have had no major health issues in our family. He looked at me blankly. It took me a few minutes to figure out what he meant-- at the time, I was having chronic migraines (according to my neurologist, more than 15 migraines a month="chronic"). For some reason I don't think of migraines as a health problem, they're just something I deal with. It hadn't even occurred to me that from the outside, chronic migraines would seem like a major health problem.

(The migraines are way better now-- I've had only two in the past month, and since I have meds that mean I can still be up and about while I have one, it's not a big deal anymore.)

But I've discovered a similar attitude in myself about mental health. I have intermittent draining-but-not-devastating depression. We've talked about that before. I also have problems with paranoia (more about that in a minute). But I've never thought of myself as someone with mental health issues. At all. Never crossed my mind.

But last month on Instagram, there were a zillion posts about May being Mental Health Awareness month, and people were posting about their mental health issues, and suddenly some of them sounded pretty familiar. OH. I guess I have mental health issues. And then suddenly, everywhere I turn I've encountered people, books, blog posts, and conversations about mental health. I'm trying to pay attention.

I seem to be immune from the national-level conspiracy obsessions (how in the world would Hillary have had time to run a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor while she was campaigning sixteen hours a day and was one of the most watched people on the planet? it doesn't even make sense) but I can drive myself pretty nuts with paranoia in my personal life.

Part of it stems from being A BIT hypersensitive-- a small unexpected reaction from one of my friends can lead to days of absolute certainty that I've offended her and now she's turning all our other friends against me. Dean has a new job as of a year and a half ago, and his enthusiasm and new-found absorption with his new responsibilities has on two different occasions led me to confront him with his supposed affair, because why else would he suddenly be so happy to go into the office on weekends? (and half-a-dozen other perceived certainties).

And I am not just suspicious. I am dead certain. To the point where I was already thinking about how we would tell the kids and where I would move and what furniture I would take with me. It's, if you'll pardon the colloquialism, CRAZY. I'm discovering that I'm a little nuts.

Hmmmmm. I haven't even made it to what I set out to say but this is already long and I have other things I need to do today. To be continued. Maybe. Do I even want to get into this? I will hit send before I have a chance to second guess.