February: A Monthly Round-Up

February has come and gone, ya'll, and with it that absurd holiday and the last of my pre-race taper. I'm gearing up for my first ultra attempt this weekend, and am battling a frustrated IT band and sore knee plus a forecast for 40mph winds all day. So, we'll see.

The upside of tapering is that it opens up a startling number of hours in each of my weeks (I went from an average of 5-6 hours/week of run time to an average of 1.5), which I filled with books as often as possible. Some were good. Some were... not so good.

February Reading:

Titles link to Indiebound listings for publisher and purchasing info, if interested.

The Year of Less, by Cait Flanders: I've been reading a bunch about minimalism lately in an effort to streamline things in my own life (including my physical possessions). Flanders' experiences around a year of no shopping made me think differently about my own acquisition habits (I browse online shops when I'm stressed, for example, which is actually more exhausting than napping, going for a walk, reading, or just about any other thing I could be doing). Her extreme approach to cutting down on what she already owned was just a bit too far over the edge for me (Six pens!? I have six pens in each of the more than six purses in my closet...), but I think it's valuable to understand the extremes of any approach, as I'm usually adapting what's in the middle for my own use anyway. Definitely worth checking out, just be prepared for an eyeroll or two if you aren't as far into your own minimalist journey as Flanders.

Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips: My best friend suggested I read this book "so we could talk about it," and I took her at her word and started it on audio. As we discussed in subsequent texts about the book, I don't think I've ever been more stressed while reading a book than I was while reading this story of a mother and her young son caught in a mass shooting at their local zoo. It's non-stop pressure from the first chapters, and relentless in asking tricky questions about the primal nature of a mother's love. Recommended if you like stressful books. Maybe not recommended if you have kids? I'm honestly not sure I could have handled it if I was a mother myself. But it's excellently done, either way.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See: This was a book club read. The story itself was fascinating, delving into cultures and traditions of the Akha tribe in China in the 1980s-90s, and the puer tea trade. But the writing here was so clunky that I really struggled to get through it; the narration (told in first person) never felt authentic to the age or place or context of the narrator, never changed as the narrator's age and place and context did (by 20 years and multiple continents), and was full of asides about Chinese history that were at once crucial to understanding the story and yet felt entirely out of place.

The Alternative: Most of What You Believe About Poverty is Wrong, by Mauricio Miller: I've written before about the dearth of books about poverty and related issues written by people who have actually experienced poverty and related issues. So I jumped at the chance to read The Alternative with an affinity group for work. The book isn't perfect--some of the arguments are thin and too heavily reliant on one or two anecdotes, and the data is hard to parse from the charts and graphs depicted in the text--but it offers a challenging perspective on social programs, charity, philanthropy, and poverty in the United States that anyone involved in this sector should take the time to think about.

Design Your Day, by Christina Diaz-Ortiz: A short book on productivity and designing one's day in such a way as to achieve one's goals without working all the damn time. Nothing here is new or revolutionary, but for a one-sitting read, it could be interesting if you haven't already devoured most business/productivity/social science books mentioned in it already.

The Birds Fall Down, by Rebecca West: It's hard to do this book justice in a short blurb like this, so I expect I'll go into more depth on this one in a later post. We read this for the February Readers Workshop long-distance book club, paired with Francine Prose's chapter on sentences, and though it was slow to build (seriously, nothing happens for the first 100 pages), it ended up being an incredible, insightful, complex, nuanced, subtle story of politics and absurdity and feminism and Russian history. Highly recommend, if you're willing to read it slowly and patiently and look for all West has to offer. (Unfortunately, it's out of print, but I was able to find a used copy with about 20 seconds of searching online, and it has been re-issued as an e-book if that's your jam.)

The Clockwork Dynasty, by Daniel Wilson: I was really excited about this steampunk-historical-fiction mash-up, but it was tedious and confusing. Detail on the characters and context was sorely lacking, but overly detailed scenes of battles and fights slowed down the pacing. Did not finish.

Stray City, by Chelsey Johnson: Johnson's story is a delight, a love letter to the queer community, to community in general, to Portland of the late 90s, and to making a family of one's own. Out in hardcover in March, review to come in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Highly recommend.

Ms. Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson: Am I the last person in the world to read this book? Probably. Highly entertaining and thoughtful, especially if you love superheroes, the Avengers, and graphic novels.

Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson: Woodson's writing is lyrical and poetic, and her exploration of what it means to grow up in Brooklyn, to come into a woman's body as a young girl is deep and probing. This is a short book, but one dense with thoughtful reflections on race, body, femininity, friendship, and family. Highly recommended, and will likely re-read.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich: Continuing my trend of listening to harrowing, heartbreaking stories this month, The Fact of a Body is a true-crime story of a young boy's murder (and possible molestation) and the death-row trial of his convicted killer. It's more than that, though -- it's also Marzano-Lesnevich's account of her own victimization, her own experience with molestation and secrets and repression. The two stories are entirely unrelated, and yet Marzano-Lesnevich succeeds in combining them to great effect. Why do we do such terrible things to one another?, she seems to be asking. How do we heal? What does it mean to be compassionate with those who have hurt us, and is that compassion the same thing as forgiveness? Narrated by the author, highly recommended on audio if that's your thing.


February Writing:

Book Review: Endure, by Alex Hutchinson

Reading Joyce for "Fun" // Responding to a questioning dentist who couldn't imagine why anyone would read Joyce if it wasn't assigned.

You Are Doing a Great Job // On a new running mantra (pulled from Endure), and how it's serving me in both running and in all the other things.

The Last Days of Winter // Recommended winter-themed reading for the continuation of winter predicted by one shadow-spooked groundhog this year.

Presidential Histories // Celebrating Presidents Day with presidential reads.

Review: The Tiger and the Acrobat, by Susanna Tamaro

Review: Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Meaning, by Anjali Kumar

What Donors Should -- And Shouldn't -- Do When Meeting With Grantees // I don't often cross-post work-related things with blog-related things, but I was pretty proud of this response to an objectionable op-ed I read in January. The response ran in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, an industry newspaper for fundraisers, nonprofits, and philanthropy, in February. [Subscription required.]


And the rest of it:

Watching: Outlander Season 3

Listening to: Dear Sugar Podcast (always), Sincerely X (it's like TED talks... but anonymous ones), Louise Penny's Three Pines series on audio

Digging: Quality Time app (Android only; Moment is a similar iPhone app)

Drinking: Attaboy "Guava no Guava" IPA (aka the only IPA I've ever liked)

Racing: Prepping for my first 2018 50k attempt this weekend, then nothing else until April

Baking: Cookie-butter pinwheels

Grateful for: Space to read slowly and with friends, near and far.

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