Tuesday, March 30, 2021

7ToT: I laughed at all of your jokes, my love you didn't need to coax

1. Since the last time I've posted a personal update, we flew down to Texas for a family wedding. It was the first time I've flown since February 2020. It seemed pretty safe-- I've had covid, and since there are many medical or medical-adjacent people in our family, most have been vaccinated. 

2. I don't think I told you that when I had covid last November, I didn't notice any changes to my sense of taste or smell. But then about a month ago, suddenly I could taste and smell again. It was subtle enough that I hadn't really noticed until it came back. Sort of like going from black&white to technicolor in the Wizard of Oz.

3. I've lived in Montana for so long now that I've lost the ability to dress the way people dress in other places. Around here, dressing up means you wear your new jeans. Or maybe your black jeans. I've never been to anything in Montana, no matter how fancy or formal, where there weren't people wearing jeans. Of course, if it's formal, some will dress up, but there are always jeans. 

4. The wedding in Texas was stated to be formal on the invitation, which is something I don't think I've ever even seen on a wedding invitation here locally. I ordered a couple of dresses from Nordstrom's, neither of which suited me or fit right, so finally I sent them back and pulled an old dress out of the back of my closet. Since I almost never dress up, even though it's an "old" dress, I'd only worn it once. It fit perfectly, and it was comfortable, and I had a pair of shoes to match, so I thought it was a total win. But there were no sequins or shiny bits, and I don't wear high heels. I didn't realize how under-dressed I was until I started looking at pictures after we got back. Oops. But I was only aunt of the bride, so probably nobody cared. 

5. This week's Interesting Listen: George Saunders (author of Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo) has a new book out and he's been making the rounds of several of the podcasts I follow. He is always interesting. I was fascinated by his conversation with the So Many Damn Books guys. He is both a great writer and a long time teacher of writing (at Syracuse)(where Mary Karr also teaches, an embarrassment of riches), so if you're interested in Saunders or writing or teaching writing, definitely worth a listen. 

5a) bonus listen. I'm more cheap than I am vain, so chances are slim I will ever do cosmetic surgery or procedures (never say never, I guess). But if you're curious about what exactly people mean when they say they've "had a little work done," I thought this episode of Laura Tremaine's pod was fascinating.

6. This week's Interesting Read: Also if you're interested in writing or teaching writing, don't miss Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses. It's about reimagining the writing workshop, which has been hallowed ground in creative writing programs since the 1950s. He talks about the experience of being someone who is not a white straight cis male in a system that was designed for white straight cis males. Even when I disagreed, it was fascinating, but usually I was nodding my head. (for the record, that is not an affiliate link).

7. I got so tangled up trying to write part two of that last post that I punted. And because the problem was that I really, truly couldn't figure out what I was trying to say, it led to several days of deep thinking (danger, Will Robinson). Which in turn led to the not-very-surprising realization that I need some time away. I told you I was going to do this a couple of weeks ago, but then I kept on posting. It's hard to get out of the habit! Thanks for checking in. See y'around.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

the morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age, which is terribly unfair.

I told you last fall that I suddenly realized I was a senior citizen, but I don't think I ever told you how that happened.

There were a bunch of small things leading up to it--a nick on my finger that would have been gone in a few days when I was 30 but now lingers for a couple of weeks. The sudden appearance of a muffin top with no changes to my eating habits. My total ignorance of 90% of the people who appear on the cover of People.

But what really made me wake up to my senior status was listening to younger women talk. In the middle of a pandemic, it wasn't my usual habit of eavesdropping in a coffee shop. I was listening to podcasts.

I somehow got into a circle of smart, interesting, thoughtful podcasts by women who were talking online about their reading, their houses, their kids, their skin-- really, they were just talking about their lives. They all seem to know each other. They appear on each other's podcasts, they @ each other on Instagram, they blurb each other's books.

Some of them are enormously appealing, and I found myself listening avidly, as if they were truly friends of mine. But the things they were talking about were... well, they weren't quite right.

You'll remember my frustration with their obsession about skincare. And then their endless discussion of home organizing techniques and "life hacks" -- everything from how to organize your spices to menu planning to how to work more reading into your day.

It wasn't that I don't care about those things, but I would see the topic of the podcast and think it was something I would learn from, and then I'd listen, and their advice would be so basic that I'd end up thinking, wait, you don't know that? You haven't figured out how to organize your kitchen drawers? 

But you know, if I'd heard this when I was in my late twenties or early thirties, I would have thought it was great. Because back then, I was figuring out the same things. But now, I'm not. Our house is never as organized as it could be, but it's organized the way I like it. I might pick up a tip or two, but for the most part, it is clear that I'm not their target audience.

I need to declutter (as always), but it's on an entirely different level than what they're talking about when they describe taking last year's fashions to Goodwill, or clearing out toys that their kids have outgrown. 

We married in 1984. I'll save you the math and tell you our 37th anniversary is coming up in May. If I had only accumulated one box of stuff per year, that would still be more boxes than would fit in any closet not owned by one of those people on the cover of People. The easy stuff-- the clothes I no longer wear, the books I've lost interest in, the DVDs we'll never watch again-- I know how to declutter those, and I do it regularly.

My problem is the boxes of stuff that are pushed to the top shelf of a closet and I'm not really sure what's in them, and when I open them, there's so much miscellaneous crap that I just close the lid back up again. There's a two foot high stack of flute music. There's Doug's old coin collection (which has not been added to in 40+ years, but probably has some valuable coins in it). There's a set of four silver wine goblets from my grandmother, and a shelf of cranberry glass, some from Doug's grandmother and some from my great grandmother. 

There's an entire double-sized crate full of travel books and maps. Who wants old travel books? How do you get rid of them? And my beloved literature textbooks, which are so horribly out of date that they have no value to anyone but me. I've even thought about burning them, because the thought of sending them in a box of scrap paper to the recycling center just breaks my heart. At least I could imagine it as a ritual funeral pyre or something. 

It's an entirely different level of decluttering than the kind you need when you're 38. Compounded by living in a town where nothing sells at a yard sale if it's priced over a dollar, and the only estate sale/auction company specializes in farm equipment and auto parts. We've used them for some big ticket items-- large pieces of furniture, our old pickup camper-- but would they know what to do with cranberry glass? I haven't even tried to find out. The whole thing exhausts me before I've even started.

This is not the series I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, but I can already tell it's going to be two or three parts. Have a great day, and apologies for posting late. This was supposed to go up yesterday, but even though we're no longer locked down, I'm having trouble remembering the day of the week. (just me?)

Friday, February 26, 2021

7ToF: Flatly I'll stand on my little flat feet and say: this post is all over the place. Good luck.

1. For some reason I had the urge to watch South Pacific this week, the 1958 version with Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie Forbush. It's an experience. My mom was a big Rogers and Hammerstein fan, so we listened to the soundtrack obsessively when I was in elementary school. Watching it again after not having seen it in at least 20 years was like being dumped right back into another time and place. 

It's often embarrassingly cringe-y. Bloody Mary, the white actors in full-body makeup playing Polynesians, middle-aged Emil creepily singing that he needs someone young and smiling-- Nellie can't be half his age. 

But considering the times, it's sometimes surprisingly sophisticated--that racism is carefully taught, not inborn; the hints of transgenderism; the moment between Nellie and Joe Cable, both of them madly in love with someone else, when they struggle with their pre-war small minds and the wider world they've encountered. (That's my favorite moment in the movie. Among other things to love--eg, the hauntingly bitter "My Girl Back Home"-- I can't think of another movie of that era that has a similar moment of pure friendship between a man and a woman. It's rare enough even now.)

2. But half the reason to watch it is so that you get the full impact of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles' ironic South Pacific Medley. It's priceless.

3. There are a million and one reasons to be upset with the GOP leadership for caving in to Trump for the past four (five) years. But one of the worst is that they have erased the path out of the QAnon lies and conspiracy theories. There's not a chance in hell that the people who have been sucked down that rabbit hole are going to believe a Democrat, ever-- after all, we're the ones who are colluding in a Satanic pedophile ring, right? And we're bringing on Armageddon and the downfall of moral society and the demise of the family and all that rot. But no one the QAnon folks would be willing to trust is saying, "Look-- we're conservatives and we agree with you about a lot of things, but Trump is lying to you. There was no election fraud." (I mean, if the Dems had rigged the election, why did they lose pretty much every contentious down-ballot race?) So the QAnon people have no path out. Maybe that is the biggest failure of the GOP right now.

4. At the end of Avengers' End Game, I declared that I was done with Marvel. I've told you before, I really enjoyed the Marvel movies, especially some of the later ones (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy). But it felt like they had their run and I wasn't willing to go back for more of the same. How many superhero stories can there be? I mean, when you get to the point where your superheroes are fighting each other (as they were in Captain America: Civil War), maybe the well has run dry. Enough already.

5. However. I keep hearing that WandaVision is really good. Hmmmm. Might have to try it. Let me know if you have.

a blonde girl, seven years old
Me, age 7
6. The photo is of me, as my ultra nerdy seven-year-old self. I'm putting it here this week because I've been thinking quite a bit about the blonde thing. I heard a black woman say in an interview last year that there is no more privileged person in the world than a blonde white woman. I wanted to object-- there's still the whole patriarchy thing going on, and you have to put up with blonde jokes and having your intelligence underestimated. But I also get what she meant. There are a whole bunch of men who are captivated by blonde hair. I don't understand it, and I don't buy into it for sure, but I also can't say I've never taken advantage of it. 

6a.  To be clear, I've never, ever, ever cried in front of a professor to get a grade changed, or to a police officer to get out of a ticket, or any of the other stupid things blonde women supposedly do. But I've politely accepted that certain older men are going to flirt or take extra notice, because even when it was annoying, it seemed fairly harmless.

7. You can see from the photo that I've been blonde for a long time. Sometime in my 30s, my hair darkened up enough that up until the pandemic shut down hair salons, I'd been getting it highlighted 2-3 times a year for ages. Once I couldn't get it done anymore, I decided that I would let it grow out and see what my natural color is at age 59. Honestly, I kind of liked it. It was a sort of caramel-y color, and in the summer when I was in the sun fairly often, it still had blonde-ish highlights. But over the winter, it really darkened up. So yesterday I went in, got an inch and a half hacked off (it was down to my shoulders), and got the highlights again. Mea culpa. It's the dumb blonde life for me.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, February 19, 2021

out of the deep freeze I cry. too dramatic? it's been pretty dang cold.

My family in Texas has had a rough week. My mom went to stay with my sister since the power at her senior apartments was out for four days. Not sure who was getting rolling blackouts, but my sister has had power all week, and my mom's place had no power from Monday until last night. But even with power it was a bad week because nobody had water. I'm not sure exactly why that was (the power was out at the city water plant?) but they were all relieved to have water again last night and be able to take showers etc. It's easy to snark about Texas's lack of preparation unless your loved ones are involved. 

We also had a bad weather week, but we're much better prepared. I've been able to hear the snowplows going up and down the highway several times a day all week, and the guy we contract to plow our neighborhood road has been by most days, too. Last Friday we woke up to -16 degrees, which is way too cold. There's winter, and then there's below zero, and I do not like below zero temps. For one thing, it's usually accompanied by barometric pressure swings, which means migraines. It was not a good week for me, but at least we had heat and electricity and running water. And even if our heat had gone out, we have a wood stove and good insulation and a closet full of down blankets.

In other news, I told you last fall that I would finish reading the books about racism that were still in my stack and let you know which one you should read, if you're only going to read one. It's an easy choice-- read Isabel Wilkerson's Caste. From my goodreads review: A few of the books [on racism] I read were heartbreaking but didn’t really change my understanding of race in our country. A few of them really did completely re-orient my thinking but were on the academic side and not something that a casual reader would push through. Then I read this one, and this is it. It’s mind-blowing—as other readers have said, there’s before you read it, and there’s after you read it— but it is readable and accessible. I would never say that it is an easy read— it’s too uncomfortable for that— but it’s not difficult to follow, and she manages to avoid the guilt/shame dump we've discussed before. Everyone should read this book.

I'm going to try pre-writing a series of posts, so I will be hit and miss for awhile. Since I already missed last week just because of weather and headaches, it's pretty clear I won't be able write two different sets of posts at a time!

Have a great weekend. Stay warm.

Friday, February 5, 2021

HEALTH.

I've told you before about my Thought for The Year. One year it was "lighten up," last year it was "pay attention." During 2020, there were some moments when the phrase "pay attention" would pop into my head, occasionally in surprising contexts, but also weeks went by when I didn't think about it at all.

So it seemed kind of pointless. This year, the first week in January, I decided that I wouldn't do one this year. Before the thought was even fully formed, the word HEALTH popped into my head. 

Me: That "phrase of the year" thing didn't really do any good last year so this year I'm not ...

HEALTH.

Me: No, seriously, I'm not going to do one th...

HEALTH.

Me: Health? 

Yes. HEALTH.

So, OK, looks like HEALTH is my word for the year. 

The word health in blue block letters on a green background

And honestly, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I didn't exactly let myself completely go last year, but it was a shitshow of a year, and there were times when my own well-being just didn't seem all that important compared to everything else going on.

By the end of the year, I was no more stressed or exhausted than anyone else, but I was definitely stressed and exhausted. I had arrived there in my own individual way, and learning my way back has to happen in my own way, too. 

I've learned some things from all that lockdown time, some things about myself that I'd never really known, because who the hell thinks about what it would be like to be shut down for six months before it happens? 

First and foremost, I figured out that mental health takes some work. I've told you before that I have periods of depression and paranoia, and over the years I've figured out some ways to jostle myself along when I'm in the pits. But I don't think I fully realized that being responsible for my mental health means being proactive-- because at least some of the things that I need to be proactive about are things that happen without any effort when there's no shutdown.

For example: making it a priority to spend time with people I love, even if it's just a zoom call. Seeking out fun and laughter. Not letting myself get too bored.

And that's on top of the things that I already knew: avoid sugar and too much caffeine. Stay away from books and media that will leave me feeling dark despair. Get some exercise. Get outside every day, even if it's just for a few minutes. Hold on to my sense of self, the things I know about myself, so that I don't give in to pressure from others to do things I know I don't want to do. 

Vibrant health has a lot of components: healthy body, healthy mind, healthy spirit. Feeling loved and loving others. Knowing that you have something to contribute. 

I'm figuring this out as I'm typing. Maybe this will be an ongoing topic going forward. My version of health will be different than yours, but maybe we can think about this together. 

p.s. I hope you've been around long enough to know that I don't seriously believe I'm hearing a voice in my head. But I do have these thoughts sometimes that feel like they are from some other source. Sometimes I think it's because I spent so many years in therapy when I was in my 20s and 30s. I have an internalized therapist. Maybe I should give her a name. For example, a couple of weeks ago when I got in a weird situation with an acquaintance, my therapist voice wisely (and somewhat irritatingly) suggested that maybe a little KINDNESS and HUMILITY were in order. Apparently my inner therapist speaks in all caps. 

Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Unsubscribe Day on February 8th

lake view under blue sky with mountains in the background
Irrelevant pic from last summer bcuz its January
I know from my days of working in IT that you should mostly just ignore spam and robocalls. Tighten up your spam rules, or use a provider that has spam blocking, and then ignore whatever gets through. 

Here's the reason: spammers buy a database of email addresses or phone numbers, and the information may be months or years old. The spammers have no way of knowing which phone numbers/email addresses lead to a real live person, and which ones are dead ends that are a waste of their time.  

So if you answer the phone, or reply to an email, they know they've got a working, functional contact. That immediately moves you to a different list, a list that they can then re-sell to someone else for more money because these are numbers/addresses that actually work. 

You see the problem. I no longer answer the phone unless I recognize the caller ID. If it's someone that legitimately needs to talk to me, they'll leave a message-- and I'd say more than 90% of the time, there's no message, just a hang-up. If I'm going to be home during the day, I even turn off the ringer (we are one of the seven households in the country that still has a landline.)

That has worked pretty well for the phone. Everyone once in awhile we'll get a day or two of frequent robocalls (and of course, during the election season, it was ridiculous), but if we don't answer, the calls tail off and we're good again for a few weeks. 

But over time, my email situation has become ugly. Once, about ten years ago, we contributed a fairly small amount to an acquaintance's political campaign. We immediately started receiving daily emails, and then several a day, and then a dozen. Not just from that candidate, but from his party, and then from various PACs (fundraising organizations) as my address got passed around. I've never contributed another dime to a political campaign. 

But then even weirder-- somehow my address was passed to "the other guys." I guess they figure everyone in Montana wants mail from gun rights groups and conservative PACs. It got way worse. Last spring, after the primaries, I got sick of seeing all the absurdly overblown subject lines (from both sides, honestly), and I thought at least I needed to get rid of the conservative ones. So I went through and unsubscribed.

(aside: by law, every mass email has to include an unsubscribe link. It may be in tiny print down at the bottom, but it has to be there.)

Unsubscribing worked great for a day or two. But before long, I was getting double the number of emails from the Democrats. Not kidding. There's some kind of sharing going on there. And then within a couple of months, I started getting the conservative ones again ("Dear fellow conservative, help me fight the FAR LEFT TAKEOVER OF OUR COUNTRY").

It is a little better since the election-- for whatever reason, I'm down to 3-4 messages from the left and 6-8 from the right. But it's still really IRRITATING. So, that's why I'm having unsubscribe day on Feb 8th. 

Well, that and also I need to unsubscribe from the previously mentioned trial periods I never cancelled. For example-- I kept a list for a couple of years of Kindle Unlimited titles I wanted to read (Kindle Unlimited has hundreds of thousands of titles that are available for "free" if you pay $9.99/month). When I got up to a dozen, I signed up for the free month. The problem is, six months later, I've only read one or two-- and for the $60 I've spent, I could have bought those two plus three or four others. Thus: Unsubscribe day on February 8th. Since I've told you about it, now I have to do it.

I think this qualifies as MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW. Here's to my dream: Spam- and robocall-free living.

I'm going to start posting once a week, probably on Fridays. Twice a week feels like too much. 

have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Fashion for Seniors

When I was in high school back in the 70s, there were all kinds of fashion trends that were way out of my financial reach--especially designer jeans, which were newly in fashion, even though it was a bit before Brooke Shields famously declared that nothing comes between her and her Calvins in 1980. 

But there were two fashion faux pas that were to be avoided at all costs: your bra strap showing, and highwater pants (pants that were too short to buckle on the tops of your shoes). 

We're so used to people flaunting their undergarments now that it's hard to even remember that feeling of intense embarrassment we had over a wayward bra strap. Ah, a more innocent time.

But the ideal of jeans gently bent on the top of your shoes was so deeply embedded in me that when cropped pants and capris came into style in the 90s, it was several years before I could bring myself to participate. 

Aside: as I'm typing this, I remembered the 60s. When I started elementary school in the midwest in 1966, we weren't allowed to wear shorts to school. We could only wear shorts under a dress or skirt. When we moved to Dallas in 1969--new for me, but a return to Texas for my parents-- our school allowed shorts as long as they were longer than your fingers when your arms were straight down at your side. Same for the length of skirts.

Anyway. Back to pants. Here is an approximation of a conversation I had with my 30-year-old daughter last month.

Me: (holding out my leg with my skinny jeans carefully rolled an inch or two above my shoes): I've noticed that we're rolling our jeans now

(Daughter smiles, holds out her similarly rolled jeans)

Me: But I was surprised to see bare skin showing over booties even when there's six inches of snow

Daughter: Well, we're trying to avoid this (in a tone of voice that indicates a moral travesty has occurred, as she rolls her jeans down to the exact length that I have always considered to be perfect)

Me: (looking confused) what's wrong with that?

Daughter: (as if stating the patently obvious) It just looks so messy

Whaaaat? I have subsequently read in a couple of instagram posts something to the effect of "neatly rolled" or "neatly cuffed" pants, so I guess that is the prevailing wisdom. 

a pair of legs wearing blue jeans that buckle at the top of a pair of gray sneakers
We're gonna dress like it's 1979
It occurs to me that when women our age are wearing something sadly out of date, it's not that we're "still wearing the styles that were in fashion in 1980," as we are sometimes accused. 

It's that we've been through so many different variations of hemlines (mini skirts, maxi skirts, midis, skorts, just below the knee, just above the knee, micro-mini), types of shoes (platforms, earth shoes, flip flops, gladiator, ankle straps, mary janes, ballet flats, block heel, stilettos--remember when 2 1/2" was a "high heel"?), length of shirts (belly shirts, low neck, tunic length), types of pants (bell bottoms, stirrup pants, jeggings, gauchos, flare legs, low rise, mid rise, high rise, and lord knows what else)-- we've been through so many of those, that we just can't be brought to care anymore. 

That's right. We just freaking don't care. Wear what you like. One of the joys of age-- you can ignore the trends, and instead of being horrified, people will just condescendingly assume that you're doddering on into old age. And secretly, we know exactly what we're doing because given the whole wide world of styles to choose from, why not wear what is comfortable and feels good. 

Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

7ToF: phew. what a week.

 1. Things I've tried so you don't have to: Native brand deodorant. This gets advertised quite a bit on various podcasts, and the hosts will give you a discount code for ordering it online. But just so you know, you can also buy it at Target and Walmart. It has no aluminum, no parabens, etc etc. So if those things bother you, it's a great choice. It smells great, and it actually works, unlike the last natural deodorant I tried. But it costs twelve dollars for 2.7oz. It would have to be way more amazing than it is for me to switch from my usual deodorant, Old Spice Wolfthorn, which works just fine and costs $4.99 for 3 oz (and is frequently on sale for less than that). It's in the men's section, but it doesn't make you smell like a guy.

2. Trivia that I don't know why I know: anti-perspirant usually has aluminum in it, deodorants usually don't. Aluminum makes me itch, so I've never been able to use anti-perspirants. Deodorants don't bother me, even when they contain parabens or propylene glycol. Just make sure you look at the label-- it will say right on the front whether it is an anti-perspirant or a deodorant. Wolfthorn, the one I use, comes in both an anti-perspirant version and a deodorant version so you have to read the label to make sure you're getting what you want.

3. I'm so tired of everything. Just thought I would tell you that. Politics, paperwork, the driver's license bureau, not going to restaurants, more confusing conversations with friends, and above and beyond everything else, the freaking pandemic. (cue stirring music) Frodo: I wish it need not have happened in my time. Gandalf: so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.

OK, so maybe that's a tad melodramatic. Whatcha gonna do? It's not even that bad around here, so I'm sure some of you have had much more trouble with it than we have. I'm just whining. Rough week.

4. I may have given the impression in my reading report that we never watch TV, which is not true. Our TV is often on in the evenings (almost never during the day). We watch a lot of sports, and some movies. We are especially bad about re-watching our favorite movies. And recently we have also tried The Mandalorian, Schitt's Creek, and Queen's Gambit. They are all pretty good, but I max out at two episodes per night so other than Queen's Gambit, we're still working our way through.

5. My unpopular opinion for this week: I have never, ever seen an episode of the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. I know that makes me a party pooper and I am missing out on a lot of fun but honestly, the whole concept just horrifies me. I told you, unpopular opinion.

6. Speaking of movies we re-watch, one we did this week was Pirates of the Caribbean. Sometimes when we watch an old favorite, it hasn't survived the passage of time, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I know Johnny Depp is problematic these days, but I'm going with the headline that said his "issues" are recent, and since Pirates came out almost 20 years ago, I'm giving it a pass. 

7. I'm declaring Monday, February 8th Aunt BeaN's Unsubscribe Day. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I've signed up for three trial periods of services that I no longer use but I'm still paying. Oh, lord, the more I think about it, the more I think maybe it's four, or five. Add to that the one billion political emails I receive for the party that I do not support and have not voted for since 1980. On February 8th, I'm unsubscribing from all of them. I have to work up to it. Join me? More on this topic next week.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Reading Report 2020: part two, book report

At the end of the year, I always have a few books that stand out in my mind as the "best" books I read-- and "best" just means the ones that meant the most to me, or had the most effect on me, or that I was still thinking about days or weeks after I read them. Those books for this year:  

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Then there is a new-to-me category this year, books that I'm thinking of as "quirky-nerdy" that are my new favorite kind of book. They're smart and layered, but they have a sense of humor and a bit of optimism about the human race. I'm happier than I can tell you that I found books that were both literary and fun this year, although a bunch of them are not recent (which tells me maybe I've just been reading the wrong books).

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
    (I know, everyone else has already read it)

And there's always a few Sci-Fi/Fantasy:

The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
The Fifth Element by N.K. Jemisin
The Library at Mt. Char by Scott Hawkins
Kings of the Wyld
by Nicholas Eames

And then the promised romance novel titles. If you're not familiar with the terminology, m/m is male/male, m/f is male/female. (if you're searching for romance novels, you can use any combination of those to find what you want. Just so you know.)

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJKlune, m/m
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, m/m
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, m/f
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, m/m
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, m/f
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert, m/f
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, m/f
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, m/m

The re-reads that kept me going through lockdown: a half dozen Georgette Heyers, the first three Murderbot Diaries, and the Earthsea trilogy. And some good mysteries: Attica Locke, Elsa Hart's Li Du series, and I finally read a couple of Vera Stanhope mysteries and loved them. The classics I finally read this year: Mrs Dalloway, Go Tell it on the Mountain, Sister Outsider, This House of Sky.

I'm looking over my big list and realizing I could go on and on. So many good books this year. But that's enough. Check my goodreads page for more (if that link doesn't work, just search for Barb Nelson in Montana on the community page), where I write short reviews of every book I read (usually).

Friday, January 15, 2021

Reading Report 2020, part one: to read, or to watch? that is the question

a woman reading with her feet propped up on a chair
Reading at the laundromat (RIP dryer)
(This post is about my reading year, a topic that sounds boring to me before I even start, and the next one will be actual book recommendations. You've been warned.)

One good thing about 2020--I read a lot more books than usual. The previous two years I'd been right at a hundred books; in 2020, I read 120. That might sound like a lot, but I've heard plenty from people who read two to three hundred during lockdown. That doesn't include the many that I started and didn't finish (was I the only one who couldn't settle on what I wanted to read? I feel like I bailed on two for every one I finished, but I don't know for sure since I don't usually track DNFs). 

During the spring, Doug was working longer hours than ever. He and the pandemic team at our hospital spent 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, figuring out how our hospital would respond to COVID-19. Which meant that I was home alone, like a gazillion other people, for weeks on end. So I read.

I'm not sure I can explain why I prefer to read than watch TV. Since it's what I like, of course I think it's "better," but objectively, there's no reason for that. Plenty of people who are way smarter than me have said that the best writing and creative work of the past dozen years have been in television-- more than in movies (taken over by blockbusters and superheroes) or print (because serious literary fiction has become so dense and impenetrable that nobody wants to read it). 

TV feels like too much to me. It might even be a neurological thing. The way my brain is wired, the combination of visual stimuli and music and characters coming to life on the screen feels overwhelming, especially if those characters are being bullied or tortured or oppressed. It feels like I'm handing control of my brain over to someone else, opening the door and inviting in images of devastation and despair. It's too much. Things inside my brain are dark enough without inviting that stuff in.

So I'd rather sit with a book, preferably not one of the dense/miserable/despairing types. And anyway, it seems to me that there's been a movement away from literary despair in the past year or two. I read a handful of books this year that were intelligent, self-aware in literary terms, and fun to read. Ten or fifteen years ago, you couldn't claim to be a serious writer if your book ended in anything other than hopelessness. I think that's starting to change.

Of course, that has never been true of romance novels, and it's one of the reasons romance has been derided as frivolous and negligible. (It's also a typical strategy of the traditional patriarchy-- restrict women to the world of home and relationships, and then define any art that deals with home and relationships as unimportant or silly.) 

I've told you before that I am an ardent defender of people's right to read whatever the hell they want, whether that is a steady diet of romance novels or anything else. But I haven't been entirely forthcoming with my own reading of romance novels, because tbh I haven't read a romance published in the last few years that I liked. Readers of romance get enough criticism without me piling on, and if it's what you like, then it makes no difference what I think. So I just didn't say anything.

It seems to me that the current trends in romance are either to concentrate on the sexual attraction between the two characters almost to the exclusion of anything else (like a plot), or to use a strange type of narrative that irritates me no end-- there will be one line of dialog, then several paragraphs of interior monologue, then another line of dialog and a page and a half of interior monologue, and then another line of dialog.... etc. 

The first time I read one, I thought it was kind of odd, but okay, I can go along with this. But now it seems like every one I pick up is that way, and I am so done with it. Sometimes it feels like you've read a dozen pages for a five-minute conversation. Yawn. Other than the occasional novella that bucks the trend (for example), until recently it had been years since I read a currently published romance novel all the way through. It's really disappointing to me, because it used to be a reliable way to cheer me up-- a fun rom-com about people figuring out their relationship, with a happy ending. What's not to like? 

That seems to be changing, though. I read several romance novels I liked this year, and three that I loved. Two of them were by British authors (is that relevant?) and two of them were LGBTQ romances (is that relevant?). Titles to come. Stay tuned.