Books

BOOKS. I like them. I really hope you do, too. I ain’t really a “blanket statement” kinda gal, but here’s one for you: If everyone picked up a few more books throughout the year, I wholeheartedly believe the world would be a more empathetic, peaceful place. 

Even works of fiction can teach us about the human condition, place us in a person’s shoes that are so very different than ours, remind us of history, and teach us about topics we may never have breached otherwise. A few years after I started working, I remember feeling like I was literally getting dumber. It dawned on me that because I hadn’t been forced to read anything for school, I hadn’t read anything in forever. It probably also had to do with my ever-increasing phone addiction. Reading helps mitigate that in ways that are unmatched by consuming other media, even podcasts and long-form journalism.

I’m always hesitant when people ask me for book recommendations, because what people like varies greatly, so read the following reviews with this frame of reference: I am always looking for new authors who write beautiful, elegant prose. I really like historical fiction. Right now I’m gravitating toward books on spirituality and books written by people of color. Murder mysteries, fantasy, or dystopian stories don’t usually appeal to me unless they get at some larger, unique themes. And above all, I love a good coming-of-age story. Bring all of those to me.

Here are the books I’ve finished since April-ish:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 12.52.15 PM

Although The Book Thief took me months to get through (it’s heartbreaking at times and has very, very short chapters, making it easy to put down), it was one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. If you like creative, gorgeous prose that will stick with you, this one’s for you. It’s World War II through the eyes of a child. 5/5 stars.

“She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

img_1312

Trevor Noah, fairly new host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, is someone I didn’t know much about before I bought his book on audible, but I’ve always loved his lilty South African accent, so when I read that he narrated Born A Crime, I thought – why not? I was hoping his book would talk a little more about his career and how he got started in comedy, but the book is exactly what it says it will be: Stories from a South African Childhood. It’s an incredible look into South African culture during and after apartheid. 3.5/5 stars.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”

img_1311

I bought Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine after Reese Witherspoon endorsed it via instagram. I am equally ashamed of this as I am sure that Reese Witherspoon can do no wrong so of course that was all the prior research this book needed. WOWOWOWOWOW this book was good. At first you hate the narrator, Eleanor. She seems self-righteous and rude and she’s clearly lonely. Something’s off about her, too. The more you learn about her story, the more you root for her. I don’t want to give too much away, but this book almost brought me to tears. No easy feat these days. 4.5/5 stars.

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 9.51.26 PM

Through several short stories, author Junot Diaz tells the story of Yunior, a serial cheater who immigrates to New Jersey from the Dominican as a boy. I devoured this book so quickly on the plane rides to and from Mexico City that I feel like the whole thing was a fever dream, and that’s a little bit how it reads. Each story of Yunior’s failed romances are so raw and quick and the subject matter – the complexities of love and relationships – is my absolute fave, so naturally I really liked this one. I’d do anything to be able to write as colloquially and as precise as Junot Diaz. He gets at the heart of the human condition in such a casual, pointed way. I’m not explaining it well, but just read it, ok? 4.5/5 stars

“That night you lay in bed, awake, and listened to the ambulances tear down our street. The heat of your face could have kept my room warm for days. I didn’t know how you stood the heat of yourself, of your breasts, of your face. I almost couldn’t touch you. Out of nowhere you said, I love you. For whatever it’s worth.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 10.04.15 PM

Written as a letter to the author’s son, this book confronts the topic of race in America as he perceives it stands today. This book made me feel uncomfortable in the most necessary way. It’s beautifully written. It should probably be required reading for high school seniors. It is brave and does not shy away from somewhat controversial assertions. I listened to it and should probably buy a paper edition, as I imagine it will end up being classified as classic literature. 4.5/5 stars.

“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 10.07.35 PM

Anne Lamott is basically my spirit animal. She’s funny, wise, and irreverent, but earnest where it counts. Is there a better combination? This is a quick read, and I could have highlighted a quote on every page. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that “I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” That’s what Lamott is getting at here. When we say Help, it’s acknowledging that we can’t do whatever “it” is by ourselves, which is sort of freeing in a way. Thanks helps us see the bright side in every situation and circumstance. And Wow acknowledges the miracles of life, both big and small. I love Anne, and I love this book. 4/5 stars.

“You’ve heard it said that when all else fails, follow instructions. So we breathe, try to slow down and pay attention, try to love and help God’s other children, and – hardest of all, at least to me – learn to love our depressing, hilarious, mostly decent selves. We get thirsty people water, read to the very young and old, and listen to the sad. We pick up litter and try to leave the world a slightly better place for our stay here. Those are the basic instructions, to which I can add only: Amen.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 10.30.54 PM

This one’s for the girls. Jen Hatmaker is the friend every non-pearl clutching Christian woman wished they had. I mean, I wish she was my friend, that’s for sure. Women of all ages and classifications (single, married, young, old, Christian, not, etc.) will be encouraged by her stories of failure – none of us have it all together, but we all have the moxie in us to come out OK on the other side. She talks parenting, writing, sibling relationships, marriage, and Jesus. This one was fun to listen to and brought me to tears in the very first chapter. Give it a listen, ladies. 4/5 stars.

That’s all for now. Got any recs for me based on the stuff above? Come at me. Also let me know if you’ve read any of these so we can discuss and bond over our great taste in literature. (Insert nerdy glasses emoji here).

Advertisements

Summer by the numbers

When you live in a college town, and even if you don’t, summer ends multiple times, in multiple ways. In Columbia, it’s when the students start crowding my downtown lunch spots again, when classes officially start, when Labor Day weekend is over, when the temperatures drop, when football starts.

For me, summer was probably over for good when I went on that third and final float trip a couple weekends ago and took off my swimsuit for the last time until 2018 (although I suppose I should never say never – CAN I GET A HOT TUB?!).

I’ve had so much fun during the past few months that I’m tempted to drag it out a few more weeks until the official end – Sept. 22 (HA. That’s today. I’ve been working on this post off and on for weeks now), but let’s be real. All the above have happened. People are burning their tongues trying to get their first sips of Pumpkin Spice Latte. It was 50 degrees one morning this week. My beloved season is over.

But that’s really OK. Many of you already know that I truly lived it up this summer, in every sense. Even though it was 4+ years ago now, I still have visceral, fond memories of Columbia in the summer from our college days, and, remembering that fun, I ran around this town like a feral child for two months trying to make the most of it. I spent every second I could outside. I said yes to absolutely everything. I drank too many beers. I never slept in. I rarely watched TV or took the time to just be an adult and do things like cook and clean. Why clean your apartment when you can watch your 6th sunset at Cooper’s Landing?

This first (maybe of many) summer(s) back in Columbia is one I don’t want to ever forget, so without further ado, a recap of sorts, with my summer by the numbers:

3 float trips

To me, floating the river is the quintessential Missouri summer bucket list item. Not because you can’t float the river elsewhere, but because it’s truly a way of life here. If you’re from MO, you figure out when, not if, you’ll go floating each summer. Plus, they just do it better. Rafts are greater than canoes, are greater than individual inner tubes. Trust, folks. I’ve been around the river bend a time or two. On each of these trips I gained a new friend or became closer with people I had already met. One of them we took our sleeping bags out into a clearing and stared at the stars for a few hours. Cute, right? Another one was GIRLS ONLY, no boys allowed, and we didn’t just survive without boys packing our coolers, we thrived. I’m always thankful for the weekends spent outside, so these were some of the best I’ve had since I moved here.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 12.34.10 PM

1 county fair attended

There’s nothing more wholesome than a few small towns coming together for their annual county fair, is there? Lincoln County’s is a big deal (the fair queens are kind of treated like actual royalty), so I drove my butt 1.5 hours out there for just a night. On my way back, I shed actual tears when I thought about how lucky I am to be here, and how happy and full the past few months have been. I was also a little sad that I didn’t make the decision to come back sooner. Hormones are real is the only explanation I have for those tears.

4 books read

In the spirit of absolute transparency, I feel like I should tell you I listened to two of them, one I devoured almost entirely on the plane rides to and from Mexico City, and the other one I had been working through for months. In short, not a lot of actual reading happened this summer, but that’s OK.

The Book Thief – 5/5 stars
This is How You Lose Her – 4 stars
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – 5 stars
Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime – 4 stars

Several of you ask what I’m reading and if I liked it and why, so in another post I’ll review them more thoroughly for you.

1 bike ride

As a faithful follower of this blog (hey mom), you’ll remember that one of my 26 things to do before I turn 27 was to ride a bike to a new town. Mission accomplished with this year’s True/False Boondawdle ride. I bought a child’s helmet from Target the day of and off we went, 17 miles down the Katy Trail to Rocheport. If you’re not familiar, the Boondawdle is a fundraising event for Columbia’s True/False Film Festival. Participants dawdle down the trail, stopping at fun T/F themed stations along the way. (Our favorite was the station where you could ask an “advice machine” any question you want, and a custom typewritten answer would be given to you with the answer on it.) Once you arrive at Les Bourgeois winery in Rocheport, you’re given a delicious meal, and are among the first to see one of the films that will be at the following year’s festival. It was worth every penny. Can’t wait for next year.

img_1310

Side note: I do not recommend snap chatting while biking. I still have some mild scars to prove just how terrible of an idea that is.

2 new cities visited

First up was the Land of 1000 Lakes, or more specifically, Minneapolis. This was such a good weekend for me to reconnect with the OG high school peeps. The ones who know me best, the ones who relentlessly make fun of me. Minneapolis has sweet, midwestern people, a beautiful and clean downtown, the BEST restaurants, and a great outdoors scene. I like it there a lot. I probably wouldn’t like it in January, but that’s why I visited in July.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 12.33.54 PM

Literally three weeks later, I visited Mexico City. This trip was somewhat spontaneous. I barely knew anything about the city the week before I got there. I’ve been so busy that I didn’t plan, I was just along for the ride. And can I say that while I’m a huge planner, sometimes having no expectations for a trip can make it that much better? I feel so lucky to have gone when I did because just this week the city was flattened by a major earthquake. As of this morning, more than 270 people are dead, many of whom were elementary-aged children trapped in their school. My heart is breaking for a city that I knew nothing about just a month ago. I can’t describe to you exactly why the people there just felt so warm. Mexicans are familial people, and we felt their hospitality at every turn. The care they put into their food presentation, their patience with my terrible Spanish, the smiles from strangers on the streets. I felt so safe in such a large city that I was like “I could live here.” And I think I could! To those of you who think I’m crazy, who think of Mexico as a run-down country, you’re wrong, like I was. Go see it for yourself.

 

Our air bnb flooded one night. But it was fine, it was all fine.

26 miles run

What’s that you say? Some people run this in mere hours? At one time? Good for them, I suppose, but to me that mostly sounds bad for you. My miles logged this summer were few and far between, but instead of beating myself up for being so inconsistent, I just relished the way each run made me feel at that very moment. This summer I ran for my sanity, not my vanity, for maybe the first time. When I started to feel excessively tired, anxious about things out of my control, and stressed, I knew 30-45 minutes on the trail would be the cure. Something about sweat pouring, breath tearing through my lungs makes me feel the most alive and helps keep stress and anxiety at bay. I get it, work out people. I really do.

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 11.11.00 AM

2 lake trips

Lake days are the best days, amirite? Make friends with someone who owns a boat. Bribe them to take it out. Your summer will be better for it. Also, dare to venture beyond the Lake of the Ozarks. THERE ARE OTHER LAKES IN THIS STATE. And they’re good ones, too. I promise.

1 job transition

It’s no secret that for various reasons, Mizzou is experiencing some tough times budget wise. Extension’s budget was cut along with everyone else’s, and some people lost their jobs. Luckily, I was not one of them. But in June, I was told that what I was hired to do (edit extension publications) would now be outsourced. My role has completely shifted and I’m doing things that frankly, I have no clue how to do. This is good for me, but it is not easy or fun a lot of the time. I feel stupid and feel like I’m asking stupid questions every day. While some people are perfectly comfortable with this, for me it’s mentally draining. I am looking forward to the time when I again am good at my job and comfortable in my role, but this week, this month, and maybe even this year are not those times.

0 houses bought

It’s not all gloom and doom, though! This is a good thing. I’ve kept my eye out on houses ever since I moved, and when I found out about all the chaos about Mizzou and my job (which I feel is never guaranteed), I just felt a wash of gratefulness that I hadn’t yet taken the plunge. If I had just dumped my life savings into a down payment on a house and then got laid off or was constantly worried I would want to find a new job soon, I’d be panicking. Insert cheesy line here about thanking God for unanswered prayers. It me.

1 total solar eclipse viewed

Y’all. There are no words for the experience that is being in the path of totality. I thought this whole thing was way overhyped, but it wasn’t. On the first day of classes, me and hundreds of my closest Mizzou friends gathered on the quad with our glasses and watched as the moon perfectly eclipsed the sun. Everything had a weird glow about it, the streetlights came on, the locusts started screaming like it was 7 p.m. It was real cool. I now understand why people become career totality chasers. Sometimes experiences that make us feel small are humbling and sobering — we’re so small and in control of so little, and likely still have only scratched the surface of all there is to know about the sophisticated design of our vast universe. But to me, it’s freeing. We’re just a speck of bones and blood on this earth for a blip of time. So let’s not take ourselves quite so seriously all the time, ok?

Please for the love of all that is holy do NOT listen to the audio on the below video.

img_1342

As I reread this post, I feel like it’s not doing justice to all the life I managed to cram into this summer. All the little nights spent with girlfriends with wine on patios or time spent holding a new person’s hand, or walks at Rock Bridge State Park aren’t significant in themselves, but they’re the little nights that make a life, and mine has been good good good. At least four of you have responded to a snapchat with “I feel like you’re having SO much fun,” or “You seem so happy in Missouri,” or other variations of the same sentiment, and it’s mostly true.

Even with all the turmoil at work and with the University, I’m glad I’m here. It feels right and good, but maybe not as permanent as I’ve previously assumed on my very best summer days. The older I get the more accurate it feels to not assume anything, to not hold onto anything very tightly. I shouldn’t assume I’ll still want to call Columbia home in five years or maybe even two.

And while that mystery is sort of frightening – I think a lot of 20 somethings, myself included, want to feel settled – it’s also sort of fun, too. The future is uncertain, but the world is always our oyster. Life is strange and meant to be enjoyed, and I don’t think anyone doubts that I enjoyed my summer this year.

As we move into the next few months, some things I’m looking forward to:

  • A real temperature drop at a normal fall time
  • Football. Even though Mizzou is already making that rough on us.
  • Mizzou basketball
  • Slowing down. Cooking more.
  • Warm coffee
  • All the weddings
  • Crying over the leaves changing. Because that’s just the sort of weirdo I am. It’s just so pretty here and seasons come and go so quickly, and the transition is beautiful and EMOTIONAL, okay?
  • Visiting home

If you’re still somehow reading this – thanks for sticking with me. I hope to see your face at some point this fall. Really, I mean it.