Book Review: The Followers, by Rebecca Wait

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

The Followers starts in the "after": Judith is entering a prison to visit her mother, Stephanie, imprisoned for as-yet unknown reasons. Rebecca Wait (The View on the Way Down) then moves skillfully through time to reveal their life "before." The mother works as a waitress to support herself and her young daughter; Stephanie meets Nathaniel, a charming man who takes an interest in her difficulties. Mother and daughter move in with Nathaniel and his "followers" in order to pursue a new life with a new sense of purpose.

Book Review: The Distraction Addiction, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Every once and a while, a book comes along at exactly the right moment in time. The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul, was just such a book. This one first crossed my radar when Kim posted about it as part of her 100 Days of Books project, and her description immediately leapt out to me:

The Distraction Addiction starts with a good question: “Can we stay connected without diminishing our intelligence, attention spans, and ability to really live?” I like this approach because it addresses both the positive (more connections) and the negative (more distractions) ways that technology impacts our lives. Unlike many books about technology and the mind, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang doesn’t suggest we should get rid of our phones or go off the grid. Instead, he advocates for a more mindful approach where we make deliberate choices about how to engage with our devices and the world. This is one of my favorite books on the subject that I’m due to re-read soon.

Recently: Essays on Feminism, Gender, Race, and Identity

Without realizing it at the time, I've been on a bit of a kick with essay collections lately--especially those related to feminism, gender identity, and race--and particularly the intersection of the three.

Book Review: The Long Run, by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Every once and a while, a book comes along that rings all my bells--and then some. The Long Run is one of those books. Running. Distance running. Trail running, even. Grief. Loss. Meditation. Feminism. History. Feminist history. Memory. Writing. Literature. Books. Here's a book that manages, in the span of a few hundred pages, to talk about dactyls and iambs, trans rights, art history, the Ancients, and distance running without any piece of it feeling out of place. Yes, please, sign me up.

Book Review: Careers for Women, by Joanna Scott

This review modified from a review written for Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Careers for Women is a novel ambitious in scope: Spanning the late 1950s to the present day, Joanna Scott (De Potter's Grand Tour) uses the building of the World Trade Center as a lens through which to examine power, feminism, modernity, progress and the power of dreams to shape a life--or many.

Exploring Poetry: Milk and Honey; Love Her Wild; Delights and Shadows; Mary Oliver

I've long said that I struggle with reading poetry; it's like my brain can't figure out how to look at the words on the page and make them make sense in my head. I've found recently, however, that this is less of an inherent inability than it has been a refusal to slow. down. and read more meaningfully, purposefully. And so I've made a more conscious effort to explore poetry of late. A few stand-outs, in no particular order:

Review: A Line Made by Walking, by Sara Baume

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

A Line Made by Walking, Sara Baume's second novel, takes its title from a 1967 artwork by Richard Long. He walked back and forth in a straight line across a field and photographed the resulting flattened path of grass--a testament to Long's existence. In Baume's novel, Frankie, a young woman struggling with mental illness and an unsettling shift toward adulthood, attempts to find her place in the world--and prove that place and her existence in it have meaning. Even the mud on the stoop left by her boots is comforting in its own way: "so I know I must exist after all--that I must still be here." 

#SJBookClub: Our August Book is Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

Halloooo, strangers. Just popping in quickly to remind everyone that, despite a brief hiatus, the Social Justice Book Club is still very much alive and well. We'll be reading Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity for our August book, and I. Cannot. Wait. I've had my eye on this book since I first saw that Seal Press was publishing a new edition in 2016, and have heard nothing but stellar things about its thoughtfulness and intelligence.

If you're already a member of the Social Justice Book Club Slack group, look for the #whippinggirl channel over there. If you'd like an invite, comment below with your email address or email me at ofabookworm AT gmail DOT com and I'll get you signed up.


I keep thinking I'll come back to writing here, and eventually, I know I will. But in the meantime, I'm working on my return to reading for pleasure and running for joy, and writing is taking a bit of a back burner. Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.

What We Are When We Are Not the Roles We Play

I have worked hard, in my adult life, not to identify myself solely by my job. I am more than the forty hours of work that I do each week, no matter how much I may love what I do during those hours. I also strive to be more than what I am to other people. Of course, I am a wife, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a dog mom, a cat mom, a partner, a coworker, a volunteer. But those only describe me in terms of how I relate to other people; they do not answer the question of who I am.

For most of my life, I would tell you that I am a reader. For the last few years, I may have become comfortable with calling myself a writer. And in recent months, I've finally started to consider myself a runner.

What, then, happens when we remove those labels? In recent months, I've been on some kind of continual reading slump. I finish books, sure, but nothing clicks the way it used to, the way it did when I first came to identify as a reader. And short of deadlines I try not to miss (because I am on time), I haven't written much of anything, and what I have written has been fluffy at best. So I have not been much of a writer lately either.

I typically run several days a week, and recently completed my first ultramarathon, so I'm comfortable enough calling myself a runner. But I fell--hard--a while back, and found myself unable to run for over a month. Even now, I'm not back to my many-mile self, the one who wrote after running a 50k that I hoped to keep up 20-30 mile weeks. I'm lucky if I eek out 15 of late, and none of those miles are pleasant ones.

Which has me thinking: what are we when we are not the roles we play? What defines our day, shapes our selves, fills our time, sets our direction?

I don't have the answers, yet. Just the questions. So maybe for now I'm a seeker, or a questioner, or a breather. Or maybe I need to learn to end the sentence after "I am."

I am.

I am.

I am.

And just be.

Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k Trail Run

I didn't wear closed-toed shoes for four days after this event, but otherwise, felt pretty ok... (this is my doofy-tired-proud face)

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have proudly stated that I had no interest in ever running any distance longer than a half marathon, thank-you-very-much. And then I ran 15.5 miles at a trail race in the fall, and I was hooked. Moving off roads and onto trails, up mountains, and over streams made something click for me. With very little convincing from some fellow trail running buddies, I signed up for my first take at an ultramarathon: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k.

Week in Reading (and Mostly Running): May 8th

It's May! It's May! The lovely month of May! With my two big races* of the spring behind me, I'm hopeful that some (desperately needed) recovery time in the next few weeks will include books, books, and more books (and a little bit of television**). Here's what's on deck:

I seem to be on a kick for historical Essex-based novels about (possibly) supernatural forces. After finishing The Essex Serpent this weekend (review to come in Shelf Awareness for Readers), I'm just starting Strange Magic. The former was a quiet, contemplative novel that ruminated on good and evil, nature and faith, love and regret, and the human condition. The latter, so far, looks to be about 16th-century witch trials in Essex and a modern-day museum preserving their memory. My book clubs this month are reading Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (a re-read for me) and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (a new book from a much-loved author). Maybe somewhere in there I'll work in something that's not for a deadline, but right now, it's not looking promising on that front...

I'm also re-reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (the Pulitzer-prize winning work by Matthew Desmond) for the Social Justice Book Club this month. It's not too late to join in if you'd like; sign up for an invite here, or if you're already in the Slack, just add yourself to the #evicted channel over there.


*I finished my first ever ultramarathon! 31.7 miles of trails on a 90+ degree day, and I didn't die. Full race report to come later this week. I followed that up with a "recovery" run at the Frederick Half Marathon, and plan to sit on my butt and sleep a lot this week to apologize to my poor feet.

**In the queue: The Handmaid's Tale, American Gods, and catching up on Timeless.


What are you reading this week? What else should I be watching? What are your favorite rest & recovery regimens?

Readathon Mini-Challenge: Pay it Forward

I'm super bummed I can't be participating in the readathon as actively today as I may have liked... but I'm so, so glad to be able to join in as a mini-challenge host! In keeping with the spirit of giving that Dewey was known for, and that this round of Readathon is embracing, I'm changing things up a little bit. Instead of competing for a prize for yourself, let's spread the love of books and literacy with reading-related charities around the world...

Lyndsay Faye, Sherlock Holmes and The Whole Art of Detection

I'm a long-time fan of Lyndsay Faye's work: her Timothy Wilde trilogy rang all my historical fiction bells, and I loved the cleverness of Jane Steele. And so it was an honor to be able to interview her about her newest book, The Whole Art of Detection, a collection of Sherlockian stories that perfectly capture the essence of Doyle's original tales:


Interview with Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye has been reading Sherlock stories since she was 10. "I loved them," she says, "and then I never actually stopped reading them. Lacking the Internet, it wasn't until I was a teenager that I discovered there was such a thing as pastiches and fan fiction out there. Then I read as much of the non-canonical material as I could find--probably thousands of stories at this point, no joke." 


Review of The Whole Art of Detection

The 15 stories in Lyndsay Faye's The Whole Art of Detection will prove purely delightful for fans of the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. With two entirely new stories, and 13 others culled from previous anthologies and magazine contributions, the collection stands as a tribute to Faye's way with words and witticisms, both of which combine to reinvigorate Holmes and Watson (as well as their surrounding casts of miscreants, assistants and unassuming bystanders).

The Stranger in the Woods: Giving Context and Meaning to the Life of a Modern Hermit

Michael Finkel has an interesting past as a journalist. Once a reporter for the New York Times (he was fired after it was revealed that he created a composite subject out of many sources), his first book, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, told the story of a fugitive who used the name "Michael Finkel" as an alias while on the run from police--a true (if stranger than fiction) story. His newest book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, is once again a true tale that feels stranger than fiction, detailing the solitary life of Christopher Knight, who lived (voluntarily) as a hermit in the Maine woods for 27 years.

Week in Reading (and Running): April 9th

two hikers sleeping on rocks overlooking the potomac river on the appalachian trail
Caught Lounging: Two Hikers on the AT

This past week was a recovery week in more ways than one: after last weekend's back-to-back high-mileage runs (totaling 26 miles in two days), the training plan for this week called for two easy-paced 45-minute runs and only 8 miles for yesterday. I ran two easy-paced 30 minute runs, did a session at the physical therapists, and barely eked out 5.5 miles on Saturday's run before calling it a dud; despite the low mileage all week, my legs were still absolutely exhausted and just would not get themselves into gear. After the dud run and a short hike yesterday (see photo above), today is all rest, rest, rest, stretch, and a bit more rest. Like Tara said in her running recap this week, someone remind me to keep up these PT and stretching exercises post-injury, yeah? They're exhausting but I think it's probably telling that they are so. Race day in T-3 weeks. But who's counting?

Social Justice Book Club: Q&A with Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey (the March pick for the Social Justice Book Club) answered a few club questions for us to add on to the discussion of her book (see my recap of the month here).

Social Justice Book Club: Enrique's Journey, by Sonia Nazario

Another month gone, another Social Justice Book Club book under our belts. In March, the group read Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother, by Sonia Nazario. The book, originally published in 2006, was revised and updated in 2014 to reflect the ever-changing story of immigration in the United States from Central America. The story began as a series in the Los Angeles Times (for which Nazario received a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing), and offers an in-depth account of one boy's journey from Honduras to reunite with his mother in the United States, often atop dangerous freight trains surging through Mexico.

Looking Back: March Wrap-Up

three photos in a row: the first of a view of tree tops and a river taken from a high point on the appalachian trail, the second a sunset over an island in the carribbean with beams of light shooting up and a sailboat heading into the distance, and the third of a small brown dog looking at a pack of cows from the other side of a farmyard fence on a grey, cloudy day

In like a lion, out like a lamb... with a small snowstorm thrown in the middle somewhere around there. Said snowstorm meant a cancelled return flight from our sun-soaked vacation, which meant a few extra days of mandatory vacation reading, but despite the built-in reading time, this month still felt vaguely slump-like in the long run. Hoping for some seriously good reads to kick me out of it in April, but in the meantime, let's not overlook what was good about last month:

Jami Attenberg, Old and New

side by side image of the covers of two Jami Attenberg novels (The Middlesteins and All Grown Up) with "Jami Attenberg: Old and New" overlaid

I recently, entirely accidentally, read two Jami Attenberg books simultaneously: The Middlesteins and All Grown Up. Both were impressive examples of Attenberg's powers of observation and her ability to write about the mundane, the everyday, the ordinary in ways that feel unique, universal, and extraordinary. Both are packed with an emotional depth and honesty that resonated with me in ways I'm still working out.

But at the end of the day, I loved the former and struggled through the latter. I've spent the last week muddling over why, and I still have no clear answer. So I want to know: have you read these both? Did you love them? Hate them? Want to fall into them or throw them against a wall?

Week in Reading: March 27th

*tap tap* Is this thing on? It's been a while since I've done this, so pardon the rust as I get myself back in gear. How many idioms can I cram into one opening sentence? Is this considered burying the lede? Ahem. Without further ado...

I've had a few weeks of good reading, though it all feels vaguely slump-like to me despite enjoying several recent selections. I'm trying to cut myself some slack, but at the same time, I miss reading. And thinking about what I'm reading. And writing about reading. So here I am, trying the writing part in hopes that perhaps it will kick the rest of my reading self back into gear.

Looking Back: February Wrap-Up

It's been a minute, friends. I expect I'll continue to post here rather intermittently for the next few weeks, but as I've started to once again find a groove with some good books, I wanted to check in with a few recent reads and a few books I'm looking forward to devouring in the coming weeks.

Recently Read:

Social Justice Book Club: February Wrap-Up and March Announcements

The Social Justice Book Club read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in February; did you join in? I, for one, was not able to read along--I had an unexpected delay getting my hands on the book, and a death in the family railroaded my reading (and general life) plans for February. And so my "wrap up" of the month here is sorely lacking, but if you read along, I still want to hear what you thought!

Janani is having some computer difficulties, but will have a proper wrap-up post for the February book up within the next few days.

Week in (Very Little) Reading: February 13

Italy, 2012

The world lost a big, imperfect, loving, generous, passionate, kind, and wonderful man this weekend. He traveled widely, loved fiercely, argued strongly, and gave generously of his time and his self. He will be sorely missed.

Week in Reading: February 6, 2017

It's been an unsurprisingly light week in the reading world over here. Work's work, but my spare time has been spent almost exclusively visiting a sick family member and running myself into the ground--not necessarily in that order. Luckily, getting to these visits means plenty of time for audiobooks, and my long run this weekend--my longest to date!--went well and didn't kill me. So, small things. Focus on the small things.

book cover collage of the autobiography of malcolm x, the unquiet dead by ausma zehanat khan, the sun is also a star by nicola yoon, american pastoral by philip roth, and fried green tomatoes at the whistle stop cafe by fannie flagg

Social Justice Book Club: Hope in the Dark Wrap Up & Announcements

I'm going to start by seconding what Janani said in her wrap-up post for this month's reading... thank you. I am amazed at the growth this club has seen in just one month, and so, so excited to see the energy and enthusiasm around reading important books on important topics. It truly makes my heart break a little less every time I read the news, knowing there are so many people interested in digging in on tough conversations each and every day.

So, that said, on to Hope in the Dark. We chose this book for January because it felt timely following the results of the 2016 election... and truly, I couldn't have predicted how timely it would become in the weeks following the 2017 inauguration. With no apologies for block quoting:

A Month in Reading, and Not Reading: January 2017

Well. It has been a month. My heart is heavy with headlines, and I've found myself paralyzed by how overwhelming everything seems right now. I'll be completely honest: in the face of all that's come in recent days, and all I expect will continue to come, I'm finding reading--let alone writing about reading--to be small and mundane and hard to accomplish. But I'm also trying to find some balance, something to hold on to, and books have been a constant source of comfort and strength for me--and so, so many others. And so maybe I'll find my way back to writing about them again. Consider this a practice run.

book covers of the young widower's handbook, the moons of jupiter, destiny of the republic, the underground railroad and among the ruins

Of late, I've read mostly things by deadline: review books, author interviews, and book club meetings. There's something about the sense of control that comes from reading on a deadline that is at once comforting and joyless. Some of these have been truly excellent reads: The Young Widower's Hamdbook (out in February; read with tissues nearby); Moons of Jupiter (short but dense and exceptionally powerful short stories by Alice Munro); Destiny of the Republic (I'm finding unexpected comfort in the chaotic annals of American history; perhaps there are lessons there we can apply to the present); The Underground Railroad (yes, I know, I'm the last person on earth to read this, and yes, it lives up to every bit of hype surrounding it); Among the Ruins (the third in the Detective Esa Khattak series, and you bet I'm now going back to read the first two).

Looking Back at 2016, By the Books

2016 was the first time in a long time I didn't break 100 books read. I didn't get to many of the buzziest books I heard so many good things about. I didn't read a single one of my Book of the Month books (is that some kind of new record)? I didn't finish a single one of my reading challenges.

And I'm not even a little bit mad about it. Because looking back at this year of reading, there were still some really damn good books. Why I liked them, and links to review where available, are included below:

The Year Ahead: Reading, Writing, Living

It's been a quiet little blogosphere around these parts of late. While I'm tempted to apologize for that, one of my goals for the year is to be less sorry and more thankful... and so I'm not going to say I'm sorry I've been distracted, but instead observe that I am thankful that you, whoever you may be, are still here, reading whatever strange musings I fling out into the interwebs, sparse as they may be.

Which brings me to resolutions, focus, and my lack thereof for 2016.

My word of focus for 2016 was "savor." At the end of 2015, feeling burnt out from a year of too much yes, too much joining, and far, far too many to-dos, I wrote,

I will savor the moments that bring me joy, and the people and activities that are part of that.

I failed miserably at this focus. I continued to say yes--travel! weddings! presentations! volunteering!--and did not create the space I needed to be able to sit back and savor the moments I so craved. I got hung up on small disasters, allowing them to derail my sense of purpose. I focused on large disasters--of which there are many, many many--and found myself paralyzed by the horror of it all. I tried to move my life away from lists and to-dos by refusing to mark pleasure activities (reading, hiking, day trips, dates) on a list of "Things to Accomplish." Unable to move completely away from lists and to-dos (my brain can't hold everything, after all), my list of "Things to Accomplish" became little more than household chores and business tasks, and drained the savoring right out of my everything.