my nightstand stack.

Confession: I’m a library fanatic. One of my first acts anytime I move is to get a library card. I remember being nearly distraught when I didn’t have an electric bill to prove I lived in my first apartment. I think I’d lived in my new place all of two days and it felt terrible to not have a library card yet. An eternity later (aka two weeks) I had my electric bill and rushed to the library with my proof that I was worthy of their books. Thankfully, in our new city, an electric bill isn’t necessary; mail with my name on it was good enough for them.

There’s lots of reasons I love the library (and I won’t monologue on them in this moment) but one of them is the ability to get almost any book you want to read in your finger tips in a reasonable amount of time. Even if my particular library doesn’t have the book I want, all I have to do is search online, place a hold and before long, the book I want is waiting for me at the library. It is glorious. Truly glorious. (I recently discovered that our library has a limit of 15 holds at any one given time, which I apparently have no trouble reaching in a matter of moments. Not to worry. Since then, I’ve picked up all of my books and started to work my way through them. I think I may have shocked the librarian a little with my stack of books though.)

I love seeing what’s on someone’s coffee table or nightstand (if we’re friends and it isn’t creepy or weird for me to be in your bedroom.) I love getting a glimpse of what they’re interested in or learning about. And usually I get one or two book recommendations out of the deal, which I’m a fan of. I like knowing what my friends are reading and learning about. I’m always hungry for a new book.

And in case you’re like me, here’s what’s made an appearance on my nightstand over the last few weeks (and all with the exception of Matilda were library books):

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Matilda

A dear friend sent me this book via another friend, all the way from the Philippines. In her note she said, “I heard in a writing lecture once that one of the best ways to get creative juices flowing is to tap into that time when our creativity flowed without fear of failure-our childhood. So…for the sake of your writing, keep reading children’s books!” I took it with me on our beach weekend and read it in one sitting. Somehow I think I missed reading it in my childhood, so it was a fun surprise now. Roald Dahl isn’t my favorite children’s author. He tends to be a little grim and writes at least one character that I find tremendously creepy. This book was no exception, but I enjoyed Matilda’s love of books and her kindness. The book reminded of me of Harry Potter‘s interactions with the Dursleys. But instead of going to Hogwarts, Matilda stays with her equivalent of the Dursleys for the entire book. It was a fun read in the midst of my many grown-up books, and I’m ever grateful for having my imagination cheered on, in the form of this book. It was the perfect thing to bring on vacation.

Dinner: The Playbook

I love cookbooks, especially ones with pictures. This was just such a book. The author is a blogger and has a conversational way of writing. I appreciated her desire to want her family to be more adventurous in their food, eat together and for it to be attainable for working parents. She seemed to cater to her kids’ preferences a little more than we tend to do in our parenting, but I could still get behind her desire to find some middle ground between pizza/hamburgers/fish sticks every night and the fun cooking of her early married years. She gives good tips on how to help yourself have time to cook and what can be done ahead of time.

Even if most of the recipes in the book were garbage (which based on the few I tried, they are not) the peanut sauce would redeem them all. I fell IN LOVE with the peanut sauce recipe she provides to match with her coconut curry chicken. It was incredibly easy to throw everything into the blender and you get a magical sauce on the other end. If you want the recipe, write a comment and I’ll send it to you. Peanut sauce = MAGIC.

Still: Notes on a mid-faith crisis

Lauren Winner shares an honest look at her life after her mother’s death and after her own divorce. Her writing is artistic and poetical. I liked her honesty of what it is like to wrestle with failure, what it looked like to not know how to pray anymore and to keep showing up. It is messy and full of grace and looks a lot like trust. I loved this quote, taken out of a story she tells about someone who is scared to be confirmed because they aren’t certain they can commit to believing those Christian things forever:

“What you promise when you are confirmed,” said Julian’s father, “is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” (172)

Fresh Eggs Daily

We eat a lot of eggs. I usually buy the carton of 7 and 1/2 dozen from Costco which lasts us about two, maybe three weeks. Because of this, my husband and I talked about having chickens in our new place, so I got this book from the library to learn more. After hearing about them from a few friends and reading the book, I think we decided that chickens might be more work than we’re ready to commit to at this particular time. But I was truly fascinated by this woman’s commitment to raising her chickens without pesticides or any hormones, and the love she has for her birds. She feeds them lots of herbs which acts as preventative care for many common chicken ailments. (Did you know that chickens often suffer from respiratory difficulties?) She gives her chickens homemade apple cider vinegar in their water, which fights infection and they seem to love it. I appreciated hearing how her natural, preventative methods were incredibly effective and would definitely consider her methods if we ever have chickens in the future.

Happiness for beginners

I sometimes have trouble finding adult fiction that I like. Christian fiction is sometimes too predictable and perfect feeling. Other fiction sometimes is distracting with sex or swearing not relevant to the plot. This book was on the end of an aisle at the library, and the only reason I picked it up was because I saw Brene Brown had recommended it. I figured I’d enact my thirty pages rule* and give it a try. I’m so glad I did. It was a great read. The main character, Helen is likable and funny and real. On page 21, she has this one line that made me like her even more than I already was:

“I really, really wanted a slip of paper that proved, at last, that I was okay.”

She learns a lot about herself and what it means to be happy and brave through the course of the pages. She learns what it looks like to offer grace to herself and to others. And a lot of the story takes place during a fairly intense backpacking trip, which took me back to the great and terrible parts of my three times on Walkabout in college. I read it in a weekend. It was a good, engaging story and had some good truth about courage and contentment thrown in the mix.

Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs:

“As I made my way around the field, picking dandelions for real now instead of wildflowers for pretend, I tried to construct a plan to be less miserable. At the beginning of this trip, I’d wanted to learn how to be so tough that I was untouchable, but instead I’d gone the other way: I’d become all-emotions-all-the-time. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely a bad thing, since at least I wasn’t numb anymore…”Be brave,” Hugh had said. And Windy had said, “Having doesn’t make you happy: appreciating does.” Maybe not having what I wanted would force me to appreciate what I did have. It was possible, at least. All I could do was try. Even just trying, I decided, could be an act of bravery in itself.” (192)

[I’ll warn you, there’s a handful of cursing (not excessive) that fits with what you might hear a typical person say in the course of some stressful circumstances. The author assumes that sex for people who aren’t married but who are attracted to each other/like each other, etc. is permissible. It isn’t overly graphic or anything, but if you’re sensitive to it, there’s some of this sprinkled throughout, and quite a bit of kissing. If it was a movie, it feels like it would probably be PG-13.]

*The thirty pages rule: if after thirty pages, there does not feel like any interest on my part or any hope for the book to improve, I don’t waste any more time with it. I’ve wasted too many hours on books that weren’t worth my time, simply because I felt obligated to finish them. I have to remind myself that I’m not being graded on my reading. A friend once talked to me about a book she was reading and admitted to not getting much out of it. She said she’s working on taking what is helpful and leaving the rest. I am working to do the same. And if a book shows no hope of being helpful by thirty pages, I’m leaving the rest. My husband and I do the same with movies now and have enacted the thirty minute rule after sitting through a few terrible movies that could have been prevented with the thirty minute rule. I highly recommend it.

The Fringe Hours

I’ve taught classes and workshops on self-care, but even I need to be reminded of how to prioritize time to do life-giving things. This book is specifically geared towards women/moms. While I think the principles and truth she shares are universal, her examples are geared towards a specific mom-ish audience. I think that part was actually a little hard for me. I know I’m a mom now, but I don’t always relate to things geared for moms. Despite her permission to do self-care in the way that makes sense for you, it was sometimes hard to get visions of scrapbooking and curtain making, out of my head during my read. Otherwise, I liked the book. She does a good job of giving some practical steps to live out the theory she starts her book with. I loved her list of ten creative ways to say no. This quote was one of my favorites:

“Honestly, I don’t know how you find time to do it. I’m too busy.”

To which I reply, “No, you are not.”

You are never too busy to make time for what you love. It’s just a matter of prioritizing–evaluating how you spend your days and dedicating time for what you value. If something is really important to you, you will find a way to fit it into your life. (83)

How Pleasure Works

This book was really fascinating. It is pretty scientific, but there’s lots of interesting studies on how humans are wired, what makes us happy and why we like what we like. I’m still working through some of what I’ve learned. Pleasure isn’t as cut and dry as I originally thought.

Here’s one of the studies that I can’t get out of my head:

A clever study scanned people’s brains while they tasted wine. it was always the same wine but it was described as costing either $10 or $90. As you would expect from the studies described above, people reported liking the wine more when it was described as expensive.

A similar study was done in which scientists presented people with an odor described as either “cheddar cheese” or “body odor” (it was isovaleric acid with some cheddar cheese flavor); this description had the expected effect on their experience and led to an activation difference in the same part of the brain. The studies suggest that once you know the answer, you’ll experience the smell differently.

The point, then, isn’t that sensation plays no role in experience. It is rather that sensation is always colored by our beliefs, including our beliefs about essences. (48-49)

I’m learning that the story we tell ourselves impacts us more than we think, about how happy we are and how much we like something. This book really seemed to confirm that.

[And no, this book is not ALL about sex, although there is a chapter on it.]

Quiet

I’ve already written about this book, but it continues to be a revelation to me. I am an introvert who didn’t know it until last month. Whether you are an introvert or just know some (I’ll guarantee you do), I’d HIGHLY recommend this read. It is fantastic. I ended up buying after getting it from the library. It is that good. 

And last but not least, two excellent children’s books:

This Moose Belongs To Me

I love Oliver Jeffers. I’d read this one before, but it had been a while. I love what it says about free will and control and what it looks like to truly enjoy someone else. And it is just funny. You’ll read it in three minutes and won’t be sorry.

The Day The Crayons Came Home

This is a sequel to a genius book about crayons writing letters to their human. This one was incredibly clever and endearing. Love and grace is messy and beautiful, as these crayons prove. And Estaban is definitely my favorite crayon.

What are you reading? I’d love to know what’s on your nightstand stack.

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