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Herein lies the annual archiving of the books that occupied me this year.  I’m breaking this down into multiple posts to make it easier on all of us.

1. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

If you like Amy Schumer’s comedy and you want a good laugh, then you should go watch Amy Schumer’s comedy instead of reading this book.  If you are curious about the person behind the clown, it is worth reading. It’s written in the style of a personal diary – loosely organized thoughts about her family, her life, her loves, her stuffed animals, and her years of work behind her “overnight” success. She includes excerpts from a diary she kept in her early twenties with retrospective commentary.  It made me want to dig out the Winnie the Pooh journal I kept in my teens to remind myself what I was thinking back then.  As a whole, the book has a vibe of raw honesty that people rarely reveal to each other.

2. A Monster Calls

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

I paid too much for this book at the airport newsstand because it said “monster” on the cover. It was October 31 and I needed a way to mark the holiday that would be otherwise consumed by travel.  I crammed myself into a little airplane seat with my monster book and read it cover-to-cover. This book had me crying all across the sky on Halloween.

“…and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.”

–Patrick Ness

3. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Silberman has provided the most comprehensive historical perspective on autism that I’ve read in my 16 years of studying autism and working with folks on the spectrum. He also delves into the wide range of controversies, treatments, and organizations associated with autism. It’s a work that honors the varieties of human intelligence.

4. The Japanese Lover

 From a retirement home in San Francisco, an octogenarian recounts the events that shaped her life to her young Moldovan employee. Her recollections span from her immigration from Poland to the events leading up to her marriage and beyond. In the telling I learned a lot I didn’t know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII  – and that was just the backdrop for a short episode in the narrative.

It’s hard to say what I admire most about Isabel Allende’s novels:  Her settings are as nuanced as her characters. She makes history live and breathe on the page.  She also guards her characters’ secrets well.  You have to get to know them and love them before you gain their confidence.

5. Another Day

This was the much-anticipated sequel to Everyday [Reviewed Here], the fascinating story of a bodiless teen who wakes up in a different person’s body every day.  Unfortunately, Another Day sucked and I am kinda (irrationally) mad at David Levithan right now. It was the same story, same events, same characters as before, but it was told by the boring character’s point of view instead of the awesome one’s.   Ugh – Why do that?  Maybe because it was written more for commercial reasons than for artistic ones.

6. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism 

A friend wanted to read this book together, so we did. Drawing heavily from research in positive psychology, Cabane offers practical exercises to sharpen listening and speaking skills and to increase one’s general likeability.  The practices and advice were reminiscent of the principles from yoga teacher training, though Cabane couched them in the language of the corporate and academic world.

7. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works-A True Story


TV journalist Dan Harris attributes meditation to making him happier and generally less of an ass.  In his self-help/memoir hybrid he shares the experiences, ideas, and  research to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the type of happy that meditation provides.

8. Leaving Time

A psychic and a detective reluctantly join teenager Jenna Metcalf’s search for her missing mother, Alice.  The search centers around the elephant sanctuary where Alice worked as a scientist. As the story weaves back and forth from past to present, the author explores mother-daughter bonds, memory, and grief in both humans and elephants. The ending had a crazy turn that I did not see coming.

9. The Great Gatsby

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been a little obsessed with the 1920’s this year and because I hadn’t yet read this classic, I figured it was time.

10. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows

An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.

This book was not my idea.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was one member’s choice for next month’s discussion in a book club I was recently asked to join.  This is exactly the sort of reason I generally avoid clubs: people inevitably want you to spend a whole bunch of your time doing stuff you don’t want to do…like reading about a high school girl dying of cancer. But I begrudgingly decided to just do it because I like these book club people and because I am working to expand my repertoire of kidlit.

The story revolves around Greg (the “Me” in the title). During his senior year of high school he is guilt-tripped into hanging out with Rachel, the dying girl, by his mother who is friends with Rachel’s mom. Then Greg’s best friend and “co-worker” in film-making, Earl, starts hanging out with them too. Hilarity ensues. They begin working on a new film, but after several false starts, one involving sock monkeys, they decide to take a different approach:

“We were inspired by You Tube. God help us. Like whiny boring people all over the world, we decided that the best way of expressing ourselves was just to stare into the camera and talk.”

The whole book was delightfully funny.  On purpose, even. It had this whole meta-analysis narrative embedded in the story that fixed a lot of the problems that a book about a dying girl is bound to have for the reader.

The author, Jesse Andrews, nailed the description of the social atmosphere of high school. There was a fight scene — well if you could call it that; it was more of a get-beat-up scene — that summoned images of Lord of the Flies in my mind. It managed to be both oddly disturbing and amusing. The characters, even the minor characters, were quirky, multidimensional and layered. The view of other characters from Greg’s eyes were along these lines:

“Mr. McCarthy had a look on his face of deep concern. It was definitely out of character for him and it was sort of distracting me. It was like when a dog makes a human-style face at you and you’re temporarily thrown off guard by it. You’re like, “Whoa, this dog is feeling a mixture of nostalgic melancholy and proprietary warmth. I was not aware that a  dog was capable of an emotion of that complexity.”

And speaking of emotions of complexity, last night as I finished the book, I sat in bed a confused mess – literally crying and laughing at the same time over the ending while marveling over life and death in general.

And this is exactly the sort of reason I join book clubs.

Before I picked up this book, I’d never heard of Dan Harris, so I didn’t realize he was a big deal.  He anchors for Nightline, and is a correspondent for ABC News,  and a co-anchor on Good Morning America.  He’s reported for 20/20 and has interviewed all sorts of famous people like Paris Hilton, Ted Haggard, and Eckhart Tolle. (Who knew? I don’t completely live under a rock, I just haven’t turned on my TV in 4 years because of complications.)Now with his first book, 10% Happier, Harris is a best-selling author.  Juxtaposing self-help and memoir genres, Harris chronicles his career and coping mechanisms (from drug-use to meditation) in the highly competitive world of TV news. He does so in a beautifully authentic, warts-and-all sort of way.

It’s hard to say what I loved most about the book.  Harris has an excellent command of English, and knows how to weave a story that is funny, smart, and moving.  I enjoyed the “behind the scenes” stories about coworkers Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer and well as his skeptical views on various religious leaders he has met and interviewed. I smiled at the thought of the ambitious TV reporter and skeptic who found in meditation a practice that works as a way to live more happily and comfortably in his own skin. I appreciate that he’s extolling the benefits of meditating. There is so much good here.

If you too have jumped on the positive psychology bandwagon, this is a fun and informative book to take along on the ride. If you’ve already read it  you might also enjoy:

The Happiness Project

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

An Open Heart

The Power of Now

The Lost Art of Compassion

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.

-Jacob Portman (Ransom Riggs)

Reeling from the mysterious events surrounding his grandfather’s tragic death, 16-year-old Jacob Portman sets off to learn more about of his grandfather’s  life, the strange photographs he kept, and the fanciful stories he told about them. Jacob’s journey takes him to an abandoned orphanage on a remote island where a secret world hides beneath the ruins of the bombed-out wreckage.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high.

–Jacob Portman

As soon as I turned the last page of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on Sunday afternoon, I ran to the bookstore to buy the next book in the series. This is Ransom Riggs’s first novel and it is  riveting. Riggs has woven a story around the strange and creepy vintage photographs he collected from flea markets over the years, some of which are published in the book as characters and scenes. The pictures alone are worth the book’s cover price.

Though categorized as “young-adult fiction,” consider yourself forewarned, there is a significant amount of dark and violent topics touched on in the pages, including the Holocaust, bomb raids, murder, animal slaughter, animation of the dead, and slightly less scary non-human monsters of the sharp teeth and tentacled sort. In fact, there was a certain point, about mid-way through, when it began giving me nightmares, so maybe it’s not the best bedtime story. But it is a story worth reading.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

A young friend recently introduced me to this book, which is required reading in a local high school curriculum.  I was really not in the mood to read this sort of thing at the time, but once I started it, I was hooked. Drawing from sources in neuroscience, philosophy, history, and literature, Carr proposes that technology steadily alters our patterns of thinking. Our use of the Internet in particular is rewiring our brains in the areas of working memory, long-term memory, attention, and comprehension.  In a nutshell, the process goes something like this: with the abundance of information in hypertext links, posts, updates, emails, ads, crawls, and flippers, and various other pings, and dings that we’re multitasking,  our  concentration becomes fragmented, which overloads working memory, which causes information to not be processed deeply enough to find its way into long-term memory, which interferes with comprehension. So our brains get really busy and excited when immersed in electronic media, but not  in a way that promotes contemplation and comprehension.  Sustained attention is necessary to forge those deeper links.

The chapter on memory was my favorite — well-researched and simply explained.  The ideas raise all sorts of interesting questions.  What are the long-term consequences of outsourcing our cognition to machines – on an individual and societal level?

Will habitual use of electronic media, particularly among children, erode the desire, or even the ability, to develop sustained attention? Being in schools and classrooms across districts everyday of the week I see more and more “smart” technology being implemented in classrooms at earlier and earlier ages.  Given the hand-brain-cognition connection (see Levin’s book The Hand for a comprehensive review of that topic) do preschoolers really need to have more iPads instead of 3-dimensional toys to manipulate with their hands? What are the gains and are they worth the cost?

The links I’ve included in the titles refer back to previous blog entries on the books or topics.


1. The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

There are at least three stories embedded in The Storyteller: The individual and interwoven stories of Sage, a baker, and her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. There’s also an intriguing fairytale interlaid between the two.  On the whole, it’s masterfully written — an intricate work that is simultaneously beautiful and horrific. It’s hard to leave a Picoult novel without feeling jarred.

2. Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult

A newborn baby is found dead in a barn in an Amish community. Jarring already, and that’s just the beginning. A secret teen-age pregnancy, lawyers, cops, and…ghosts? …and ghost hunters?  Somehow it all seems plausible.

I did not like the ending. I saw it coming and I did not want to go there, but we went anyway.  Oh well.  I still loved the Amish world.  I could live there, sans the murder, drama, and ghosts.

3. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

Dawkins describes at length all the irrationality inherent in the belief in God and warns of the danger of such beliefs. I enjoyed reading the science in this book, not so much the theology.  The haughty “voice” he writes in is a bit distracting, especially when he’s unnecessarily churlish, which he so often is. He could dial it down a notch and still get his points across.


4. Push Comes to Shove, Twyla Tharp

A life devoted to dance —  I got to live vicariously through Twyla’s autobiography.  It was an engaging and fun read.

5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic was fluffy and sweet like cotton candy. It was the complete antithesis to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.  I prefer Gilbert’s metaphors to describe her relationship with  creativity  better than Pressfield’s. I’ll take the fairies and magic version any day over the bleeding and tortured artist-warrior.


6. Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, Tony Crabbe

I’ve had a lot of busy in the last year, so I definitely needed the tips and reminders on how to deal with it. Specifically, the shift to managing attention instead of time was good advice. Also, I needed the reminder to “practice the pause.”


7. The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself,  Veronique Vienne

This book was a gift from El-D.  He knows me so well. 🙂 Again, another good reminder.


8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Gee, notice a theme in the last three books?  Yeah, I read this one at the least quiet time in my entire life. Cain taught me why introversion is my superpower and why I need to appreciate that gift and protect it. Lesson learned.


9. Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvia Reynard

I didn’t particularly like this book. I am not a fan of the romance genre. Both the heroine and the hero annoyed me. The professor-student love affair was creepy. However, there was a superficial smattering of Dante stuff embedded in the story that interested me and kept me reading.


10. The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

I figured I’d just go to the source himself – Dante – to see what the fuss was about.  This read was research for a choreography composed earlier this year.

11. Whatever After: Bad Hair Day, Sarah Mylnowki

This the fifth book in a series, but the first one that I’ve read. Each book centers on a different fairytale that gets thoroughly messed up after a brother and sister enter the fairytale world through a magic mirror. This particular book was Rapunzel’s story.

I read it over the summer with a couple young friends. Cute, safe kid-lit.


12. Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

This is a young adult novel that features a coming-of-age love story with homosexual themes. It has received a lot of awards, which is baffling and which probably has more to do with the zeitgeist than the story’s merit.  It wasn’t terrible. But it also wasn’t great, especially considering the next book I read…

13. everyday, David Levithan

Everyday was also intended for the young adult audience. It handled gender and identity issues in a very intelligent and creative way. I loved the story and finished it nearly in one marathon sitting. I would have given the awards to this one personally.


14. Naked, David Sedaris

David Sedaris, hysterical as always.

15. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson

Another memoir from the author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. This one focuses on dealing with mental illness.  It was a quick read.

16. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is a memoir chronicling a year’s worth of resolutions that Rubin made to create more happiness into her life. It was aggravating and inspiring in equal measure.  After reading it I finally got around to setting up my 2015 resolutions/goals (in July). I’ve been tracking progress on these goals on a daily basis and summarizing the results monthly. OCD, I know. Earlier this week I read that people who write down their goals are nine times more likely to accomplish them than people who do not.  I can attest that writing out my goals down has helped, but a system of tracking them has been even more beneficial.  So, in the final analysis, this was probably one of the more life-changing books I read this year.


17. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell uses stories, examples, and data to uncover the strengths hidden inside what appear to be disadvantages. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the book.  It details the life and work of Emil “Jay” Freireich, a physician who helped develop a successful treatment for  Leukemia.

18. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage it Takes to Create a  Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Parker Palmer

It’s become my habit to read at least one Parker Palmer book a year to renew my faith in myself and in humanity. He never disappoints.

19. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

Another memoir. Aside from the backstory, it’s quite different from the Orange TV series. Piper is front and center in the book.  The other women steal the show on TV. Both good in their own way.


20. The Circle, Dave Eggers

The Circle is a story about the unimaginable evil lurking in dark corners of the world’s most powerful Internet company. It was so very different from Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  The writing style was very dry and on the surface the story seemed shallow, but underneath it was scary as hell. I highly recommend this one.


21. The Midnight Witch, Paula Brackston

I rang in October with some witchy reading.  All three of Brackston’s books were perfect for the month. The Midnight Witch is about a secret coven of necromancers who mingle in high society of Edwardian England. The young Head Witch, Lilith, who governs the coven creates all sorts of drama when she falls in love with a mere mortal.

22. The Winter Witch, Paula Brackston

Morgana is our witch in this story. She doesn’t speak, which makes her all the more endearing. She is married off to a man she just met and is whisked away to live at his home. There’s a powerful old  witch there who has her own agenda for Morgana’s husband and his land.

23. The Witch’s Daughter, Paula Brackston

The story of the hedge witch Elizabeth spans nearly 400 years.  A mean old warlock has been stalking her for centuries. I won’t tell you why.

24. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, Judith Hanson Lasater

This year’s reading list was heavy with dark themes and I really needed to end the year on a positive note. This was a good book for that. Each chapter was devoted to practical application of yogic philosophy, with topics like Compassion, Truth, Love, Patience, Relaxation, and Courage. Lots to work on here.


I realize that most people probably think other people’s resolution reports involving statistics do not make for interesting reading material.  I get it, I do. But whatever. It’s my blog. I do what I want!  If I want to whip out a t-test or a flowchart, I will!  Just try and stop me.

Actually, October is not a month for t-tests. October is a month for life beyond spreadsheets; it is a month for magic-y magic and wild, wily witchery.

subdued witches

subdued witches

not so subdued witches

not so subdued witches

Poetry Witches5

I might have been on a bit of a witch kick.  I tore through three of Paula Brackston’s books:

The Midnight Witch

The Witches Daughter

The Winter Witch

I haven’t bought The Silver Witch yet, but it’s on the list. I love this author! Necromancers, hedge witches, and warlocks, oh my! Each story was set in a different period with unforgettable characters. The language was beautiful and the magic strange.

And as if by magic, I did manage to make some progress on the resolutions…

1. Cook something fabulous and complicated every other week.

I did! Four times fabulous with varying degrees of complicated.

2. Eat dinner before 7:30

I had a 61% success rate here — up 8 points from September!

3. Tend the garden.

I spent over 9 hours out there planting mums and pansies, pulling weeds, removing dead flowers, picking arugula and planting Brussels sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, and lettuce.

MoonPie smells the roses

MoonPie smells the roses

4. Finish Inferno choreography.


5. Write a book.

I got a whooping 5 hours in his month.  Better than last month, but I need to invest way more time here.

6. Meditate 15 minutes a day.

Not even close. Only got in 2.5 hours.


What were your happy accomplishments in October?

Grace Flow Yoga

If you’ve ever experienced the “tumbling piles of fear” that can come with living a creative, authentic life, the video below is for you.  Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat. Pray. Love., Committed, and Big Magic, shares how she handles fear.  I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!

View original post


books on the dresser

I bought a new book yesterday. It’s getting a little  out of hand…

books on the stairs

books on the stairs

I keep giving them away, yet they seem to be multiplying like rabbits.

books on the nightstand

books on the nightstand

There are actual bookshelves in this house…

books on the bathtub

books on the bathtub

There are several bookshelves actually, with books on them….

more books

more books on the dresser

See that book up there ^ with the ripped cover?  The title is “Getting Things Done” … I started it several years ago and never got it done…

books on the coffee table with MoonPie eying them warily

books on the coffee table with Moon Pie eyeing them warily

…and don’t even get me started on the journals…

journals on the floors

journals on the floors


 “The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations–all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen.  In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.”

-David Levithan

I started Every Day yesterday and finished it before 9 this morning. I slept and dreamt in between, but the story called me awake early this morning. I’m not sure if it consumed me or if I consumed it, but I do know I haven’t read a story that held me hostage like this in a very long time. This is the tale of a body-snatcher….kinda.  “A,” the protagonist, wakes up in a different person’s body everyday, though (s)he has no control over who and where. Sometimes A is in a male’s body, sometimes in a female’s body, and (s)he doesn’t particularly identify with gender one way or the other. This is how it’s always been since A’s earliest memories. Each host is A’s chronological age – 16, and (s)he can access the hosts’ memories to get through the day without messing up the host’s life, which is typically A’s goal. That changes when A falls in love with the girlfriend of one of his hosts.

This is such an original and fascinating premise for a book. The ending vibrates.  David Levithan, please, please write a sequel!

“If you want to live within the definition of your own truth, you have to choose to go through the initially painful and ultimately comforting process of finding it.”

–David Levithan

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